It’s been a year of firsts for Colleen Houck. Her first novel, Tiger’s Curse, the first installment of a five-book series, was the first release from Splinter, Sterling’s YA imprint. That fantasy-romance tale was followed by Tiger’s Quest, and the third novel in the saga, Tiger’s Voyage, has just been released. The three novels have a combined in-print tally of 500,000 copies, and each reached the New York Times bestseller list, with Tiger’s Voyage making its first appearance this week. Bookshelf caught up with the Oregon author by phone while she was in Miami—her final stop on a national tour promoting her new novel.
Was writing young adult fiction a longstanding aspiration of yours?
Not at all! At one point I made a New Year’s resolution to write something someday. I’ve always loved reading romances, so when I first started writing I wanted to write clean romances for women. But I kind of gave it up, since the genre was getting too steamy for me—it seemed that there was not a lot on the market that wasn’t steamy. I was interested in writing fiction that was romantic, but not as explicit.
And that interest led you to try your hand at YA?
Actually, I was inspired to write YA by the Twilight series, which I really wasn’t that interested in reading at first, but my sister said I needed to. So I did, and I fell immediately in love with the novels. I did some research about Stephenie Meyer and found out that she was a mother who had a dream, and decided one day to write a book. And I knew that J.K. Rowling had a similar kind of story. Even though I’d never thought about writing as a possible profession, I thought to myself, ‘If these women can write books like these, what’s stopping me from having a try?’
What was it about the Twilight books that so inspired you?
Number one, I liked that it was a clean romance. And I also liked that you didn’t know who the heroine was going to end up with. In adult romances, that is usually pretty obvious from page one. So I was drawn to the idea of writing a romantic story where readers weren’t sure of the ending. It’s kind of nice to have a surprise at the end.
In your Tiger’s Curse series, a teenage girl encounters a mysterious white tiger (and cursed Indian prince), and sets out to piece together an Indian prophesy to break a centuries-old spell. Where did those plot elements come from?
I picked “Beauty and the Beast” as a kind of theme to work with. I’ve always felt that the Beast was a tragic hero who caused his own problems and had a lot more substance and character than most male fairytale characters. Then I came up with the idea of the tiger, and I initially thought of setting the story in Russia. And somehow Russia led me to India, and I started researching Indian tiger myths, legends, and lore, and discovered what a rich culture it is. That sparked my imagination, and that’s when the plot came alive for me.
Once you had your premise, did the writing come easily to you?
It did, because the story was pretty much plotted out before I started writing. I am quite a meticulously organized person. I figured out everything that was going to happen in the series ahead of time, which let me add some foreshadowing early on. I’ve really had the whole story in my mind for years now.
Once Tiger’s Curse was finished, you followed quite an unorthodox path to get it published.
Yes, I really did everything kind of backwards! After finishing the first two novels, I sent query letters to agents for a while, but didn’t get any hits. So I thought, ‘OK, writing will be just a hobby for me.’ But as people read my novels and began talking to others about them, it seemed that more and more people wanted to read them. So my husband and I decided to self-publish Tiger’s Curse and Tiger’s Quest as e-books, and we put them up on Kindle. A couple of months went by, and in January 2010, Tiger’s Curse soared to the top 20 list of Kindle bestsellers, and I went from selling 300 books a month to 300 books an hour.
And that exposure kindled the interest of others in the publishing world?
Actually, the novel’s position on that bestseller list attracted the attention of some foreign publishers, and I sold the self-published e-book version to publishers in China, Korea, and Thailand. And then my series got optioned for film.
By which studio?
I optioned the film rights to Raphael Kryszek, who had just started Ineffable Pictures. He wanted to do a film based on the Tiger’s Curse series that would kick off his production company. It’s a similar story to my books landing at Sterling as the first series for Splinter, since both companies are on the cusp of starting new ventures.
So how was it that your series found its way to Sterling?
After Tiger’s Curse ended up on the Kindle bestseller list, I got a call from Alex Glass, an agent with Trident Media Group, who said he wanted to represent me. And I said, ‘Are you sure? You know it’s a romance.’ And he said that he did know that, and we decided to give it a shot.
And he then placed the series with Sterling?
Yes, he sold it pretty quickly to Sterling, which was looking for a series to kick off its YA imprint. It’s been very exciting to be Splinter’s debut series. Not only I, but the publisher too, is very invested in the series. Everyone in the company has been so supportive and has jumped on board to make it as big as they possibly can.
Well, the first three Tiger’s Curse tales have certainly made quite a splash, with each novel landing on the New York Times bestseller list. That must be quite gratifying.
It’s been very, very exciting. But for me, the best part of writing is the fans. I’ve met so many on this tour, and it is so much fun to interact with them. The younger readers are especially cute. Some come to events with t-shirts they’ve made or with stuffed tigers. And I even get fan mail from elderly people who say they are reading my books along with their daughters and granddaughters. It is so much fun to know I’m writing stories that appeal to a multigenerational audience.
Have you had positive feedback from fans about Splinter’s accelerated publishing schedule that’s brought three of your novels out in a single year?
I do think publishing the novels in quick succession has made fans really happy. When I was picked up by my agent, I was a week away from self-publishing my third book, and when I told my readers that getting an agent was exciting news, but I wasn’t going to be able to get the third novel out as quickly, some of them called Alex the devil in disguise! Sterling’s decision to get the books out so fast has kept old fans on board and helped find new fans. At every signing on this tour, readers have asked me where the fourth book is. They want it immediately!
So it sounds as though you’re pleased that you decided to give novel writing a shot?
Yes, I am very grateful that I read about Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling making their dreams come true—and so happy that I decided to try the same. Every day I think that this is the most wonderful thing that I can imagine—having people not only reading my books, but loving them. It really is a dream come true for me.
Tiger’s Voyage by Colleen Houck. Sterling/Splinter, $17.95. Nov. ISBN 978-1-4027-8405-7