Hanna Howard: Sharing a Message of Perseverance
Hanna Howard is shining a bright light during the COVID pandemic darkness through her new book Ignite the Sun. Ten years in the making, it offers a timely message that resonates well with its teenage audience and pushes readers into another world that is imaginative and inspiring. The storyline is unique and impactful – even incorporating a character who struggles with anxiety. The premise teaches readers that decisions have consequences and while taking action might be difficult, it will eventually yield the desired results if they persevere.
Author Hanna Howard and family. Photo by Anna Schroeder
TK: Tell us about yourself:
Howard: I grew up in Tulsa and graduated from Jenks High School in 2004, then I attended college at Oklahoma Baptist University. I got married in 2017 and the day that Tulsa went into quarantine, I had my first baby (born on St. Patrick’s Day!).
TK: How did you become interested in writing?
Howard: I’ve always been a reader, and really got into writing in high school, after my best friend encouraged me to start writing down the stories I made up. Both my parents were always very supportive, too. My dad was himself an artist and encouraged us kids to pursue our passions instead of money. When my dad was still living, his morning routine always included a text to me to see how my writing was going that day.
TK: Being a new parent, do you have any advice for parents on how to support their kids dreams/goals?
Howard: Parents, encourage your kids to do what they love. If you push them exclusively toward monetary success, and ignore their actual interests and talents, you might just stifle something that could be of real value to the world. And remember that your encouragement is a powerful thing. I would never have fought through 12 years of literary rejection (incidentally, not an unusual amount of time in the publishing industry) if it hadn’t been for my parents’ spoken belief in me. My dad’s texts every morning – usually something as simple as “You up? Writing?”-were like a stimulant to my perseverance when it was lagging.
TK: The main character in your book struggles with anxiety. Can you share your journey about being diagnosed with Clinical Anxiety and Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Howard: I remember the exact day I had my first panic attack. It was Nov. 1, 2010, the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMO) where the goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. Prior to this point, I had been focused hard-core on getting published. That morning, I woke up at 5 a.m. and got ready to write. I was rushing around, getting breakfast, when all of a sudden, I had a physically crushing feeling and felt like I was going to die.
My Seasonal Affective Disorder was intense, especially during that time. I remember the outside weather being a mirror of my internal feelings – cold, dark and oppressive. I also remember writing most of every day during the ice storm. It was therapeutic for me because I was dragging things out and processing them through the lens of the story, which in the end helped me to understand myself and my internal experiences much better.
TK: Tell us about the book:
Howard: It’s a teen fantasy intended for ages 12-18 years old. It’s about a 16-year-old girl who grew up in darkness, but finds out she has an elemental magical connection with the sun, and because of that she might be able to restore sunlight to the place where she lives.
My first idea about this book came when I was walking my dog in the springtime. Every time I walked into the sunlight it just felt wonderful – eventually I felt an uplifted feeling in the sunlight and that got me thinking about flight. The second thought sparked while at work at Southwood Nursey when I thought I heard a little boy mention The Darkness, which sounded like some kind of entity. I wondered what that sort of Darkness could be, which led me to wondering what it would be like to be only in the dark. Eventually, I realized that I could put those thoughts together into one story.
TK: Can you shed some light into the process of writing this book?
Howard: It took almost 10 years! Unfortunately, I took the slowest, most meandering route I could have taken. I think of myself as a recovering “pantser” – flying by the seat of my pants. Now, I’m a “plotter” so I do more outlining before I write and feel more organized that way.
TK: Any tips on your writing schedule?
Howard: Ideally, I try to write every day, which admittedly is much harder with a small child! My favorite time to write, though, is in the early morning. My old apartment had a balcony, and I used to get up and watch the sun rise as I was writing. Building a routine helps your body become used to the schedule you want to keep.
TK: Which of your characters can you most relate to and why?
Howard: Although my main character, Siria, looks the most like me and also suffers from anxiety, I can relate most to Linden, her friend and eventual love interest. His earthiness, interest in gardening, and mostly unruffled attitude probably reflect more of my adult personality.
TK: What was the publishing process like for you?
Howard: Getting published was a long process. I had been pursuing a couple of projects including a book that I was trying to publish prior to this one. The agent rejections were in the hundreds, which most people are stunned to hear is incredibly common for an unknown debut writer. Once I eventually signed with my agent on this book, we got to work on the hardest (and best) revisions of my life, which took an additional three years to finish before we were ready to pitch the book to publishers.
TK: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Howard: Perseverance is the number one trait you must have. The publishing world can be brutal, and it’s really easy to get discouraged. The people who get published are not necessarily any better than the others – they just don’t give up. Also, whatever you do, you have to love it. If you want to be a writer, make sure you love the craft, because the process just isn’t worth it otherwise.
TK: What’s next for you?
Howard: More books, I hope! I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I want it to continue! I’m enjoying the process of promoting this book, but have also started working on the project that I hope will be next.