I’ve always been pretty eclectic when it comes to my reading matter. In fact, as a writer, I wouldn’t even consider myself particularly well read. From the moment I discarded my Judy Blume books when I was eleven, in favour of Domain by James Herbert, I have literally restricted myself to a very small group of authors. Unless it contained vampires, ghosts, ghoulies, aliens or serial killers, I was never terrible interested. Over the years I have deviated occasionally. There was the fantasy era which mostly consisted of Terry Pratchett or David Eddings. Then there was the Da Vinci Code-esque period – so anything involving the Knights Templar religious artifacts and scary monks.
But the point is I rarely wrench myself away from my favourite genre.
So when somebody comes along who arouses my interest in a hitherto un-discovered genre, I am always surprised and feel it’s worthy of a shout-out.
I first discovered Alison Watkins, author of Kings of Leon fan-fiction ‘Howling for You’ via twitter and Tumblr. I’ll be honest here. The main reason I wanted to read Alison’s work was because there was such a buzz about it but I really didn’t expect to like it. Not because I didn’t expect it to be good (because it is in my humble opinion, bloody brilliant) but simply because I don’t do fiction without the blood, sharp pointy teeth and general fear factor. And this contained none of the above, it contained rock stars. And sex. Lots of sex in fact. But, I soon realised, it was about so much more than doing it with rock stars. The story line was constant and unwavering. The characters were captivating and people you could identify with. I smiled, I blushed, I shouted at the screen and wanted to shake my fist a number of times, I laughed and most importantly, I wanted more as soon as I got to the end.
Alison Watkins is definitely worthy of a shout-out, so here are a few questions I posed to the lady in question. I hope it arouses your interest as much as it did mine!
1. So, I am new to the fan fic genre and credit you with introducing me to a genre I had never once come across before! How much fan fic had you read before and how did that influence you?
Before I started writing Howlin’ For You, I’d read about four other fan fics. While they all had their merits, I noticed that in a couple of them there was a common theme of Jared being portrayed as a shady, quite unlikeable character. Being a Jared fan, that didn’t sit well with me so I wanted to put things to rights! However, on the whole, the fanfics I read beforehand were very good and showed me that the stories can be longer and involve more than just a romp in the sack. As a reader I like to feel involved and though the physical side of fan fics is fun, I prefer to have some context. I tried to put this across in Howlin’.
2. I was struck by how much I liked (or disliked) the characters and was always rooting for Amber, how important was it that your reader focused on and empathised with Amber, rather than just on Jared?
Thank you! I am incredibly difficult to please when it comes to female protagonists in any kind of fiction. Too many of them are either implausibly perfect or vapid and one-dimensional. I didn’t want Amber to be just a piece of arm candy for Jared and I didn’t want her to be impossibly perfect. I was very conscious of trying to write a character that I liked, first and foremost; someone with flaws and sometimes questionable judgement. When people started to send me feedback and saying they liked Amber and really cared about what happened to her, it was a massive bonus for me.
3. I remember seeing you ask lots of questions on twitter to ensure you were factually correct, one question in particular springs to mind when you even wanted to know the weight of a bass guitar. Was this something you felt very conscious of getting right so as not to upset the fans?
It was important to me to be as accurate as possible with the details of the story. I have experienced very few of the luxuries and none of the travel that Amber experienced, so I relied heavily on Google and friends who were kind enough to help me out with portraying these things as realistically as possible. Sometimes I got conflicting information and had to go with my gut instinct, and sometimes I got it wrong all on my own, but I’d like to think that on the whole I got it right and that the little mistakes here and there didn’t hinder anyone’s enjoyment of the larger story.
4. How easy was the writing process and how much did the fact you were writing about a band you love help or hinder you?
The writing came in fits and starts. Sometimes I would find myself scribbling down ideas at 4am in the dark; other times I would stare at the page and wonder how to move forward. Likewise, sometimes I felt in the mood and other times I lost the writing bug for days or weeks at a time.
In terms of the band’s influence, it also varied. Because these are real people, there was a certain amount of pressure to make them realistic and recognizable. I think I achieved this better with some than with others. I enjoyed writing Nathan, for example, because we know more of his character and his fun, big-brotherly personality was easy to run with. Matt and Caleb were much harder to write as they’re more absent and enigmatic for me, hence why they appear less. I’d rather they were less prominent than get them completely wrong!
Jared was an awkward balance, because I needed to make him believable but also expand his character into areas that we know nothing about – namely, what he’s like as a boyfriend. I tried to combine what we know about him – that he can be playful and funny, but also moody and more than a little vain – with what people wanted him to be like as a boyfriend.
All in all, I think my love for the band was more a help than a hindrance, because it allowed me to explore what we know about them and expand on that, and it encouraged me to try my best to get it right.
5. You chose to write and publish a chapter at a time. You and I often discussed how you felt pressurised to get the next chapter out there due to high demand. Looking back now are you happy with the way you worked or would you do things differently now?
Given the chance again, I would absolutely not release any chapters until the whole story was finished and checked. I don’t work well under pressure and at times I felt like I would be letting my readers down if I didn’t get the next chapter out within a week or two, which is difficult if you’re struggling with writers’ block. Finishing it before publishing in future would also allow me to view the story more as a whole than on a chapter-by-chapter basis. When I started Howlin’ For You, I never planned on it being such a long story and, as such, there are a few inconsistencies (if you look hard enough!) with dates. When it’s read in one go it also seems like all they do is have sex! That’s something that perhaps wasn’t so obvious when it was released one chapter at a time. But it was a learning curve and now I know how not to do it next time.
6. We know that the band are aware of some of the fan fic about them. Do you know if Jared ever read any of Howling For You and if he did, what would you hope his opinion of it would be?
As far as I’m aware, Jared has never read it. It was always something I was always a little uncomfortable with and was one of the factors that led me ultimately to delete my blog and send the chapters out via email instead. If he has read it, I’d like to think he found it flattering and maybe a little amusing, and not just extremely creepy!
7. Did you achieve what you set out to achieve? Not just in terms of satisfying your reader, but also were you personally happy with the final version?
Overall, I’m fairly happy with the story. There are things I would change, but I’m proud of it and glad that I stuck with it. I did enjoy it the majority of the time, but I think I ended it at the right time. I was starting to struggle and if I’d kept going, I think it would’ve become boring and I couldn’t have done it justice. It was the kind comments and encouragement of friends and readers which spurred me on to see it through to the end.
8. So after the success of Howling For You, what’s next? More fan fic or something new? (you know I’m asking for purely selfish reasons as I am excited to see what you do next!)
Since a few weeks before I finished Howlin’ For You, I’ve been writing another fan fic about a different band. I haven’t got any plans at the moment to release it to anyone but a few close friends and I’m determined to work at my own pace this time, so it’s extremely slow progress, but I’m enjoying it. In the longer term, I would love to write a proper novel, but in the meantime I’m happy to keep working on my writing with these smaller projects.
Thank you Alison!