Interview with AG Howard, author of ROSEBLOOD

I’m delighted to welcome AG Howard to talk about her new YA Phantom of the Opera-inspired retelling, RoseBlood! The book is out today with Abrams and Chronicle.

Kate Ormand: Congratulations on your new book! Can you tell us a little about how The Phantom of the Opera inspired you and why you chose it as the inspiration for a new story?
AG Howard: Thank you, and thanks for having me over for an interview! As for the move to Phantom, just like all things Alice, I’ve always been a huge PotO fan. From the time I first discovered Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera in high school, I was captivated by the tragic, dangerous, and often sardonically humorous anti-hero, Erik. I can’t get enough of Leroux’s novel, the movies, and the musical. And since my AiW spinoff was so well received, it gave me the confidence to tackle the Phantom’s spinoff possibilities, something I had been toying with in my imagination even before I wrote SPLINTERED. I’ve seen other adaptations of The Phantom — a lot of them actually — and one prequel that I adore (Phantom by Susan Kay) but not many spinoffs or continuations. So after thinking it through — mentally twisting and twining the original backstory into the here and now — I fell in love with Erik’s maniacal brilliance and wit, broken soul, and talent all over again. I had to give him a modern stage on which to perform, so I could see what horrors he might stir up for one unfortunate occupant of an opera-themed boarding school.

KO: When researching, what did you particularly enjoy looking into?
AGH: My favorite research was into Christina Nilsson’s life. Having had success with fashioning a character for SPLINTERED who was related to Lewis Carroll’s real life Alice inspiration, I opted to go a similar route with ROSEBLOOD and include Leroux’s real life inspiration for Christine, rumored by many to be the world-famous Swedish operatic soprano who went by the stage name Christina Nilsson (birth name: Kristina Jonasdotter). As I began looking into Christina’s timeline from birth to death, I was fascinated to find how accurately her life ran parallel with Erik’s history, with only a couple of minor discrepancies that were easy enough to explain away in the pages of a novel.

KO: I love how the RoseBlood cover ties in with the Splintered series. First impressions on seeing the cover?
AGH: Thank you! Well, that’s actually an interesting story. The cover we went with was the third of three mockups (all of which were crafted Nathalia Suellen), pictured below.

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Mockup #1 was an attempt to capture the mystery and romantic elements of the book. But it had a 1950’s romance/Nancy Drew vibe, and the story is so much more than that. It’s musical, atmospheric, eerie, dramatic, and magical. Not to mention, contemporary. The first mockup felt flat and static, and didn’t capture any of the latter elements.

In mockup #2, the contemporary drama and musical flowing atmosphere were captured perfectly. As was the magic and eeriness. But the panoramic-stage scene felt a little too distant from my other book covers, and my publisher wanted to keep that close-up aspect so Splintered fans would know it was by the same author just by looking. So, we traded that one for a more Splintery-feel with the final mockup.

Mockup #3 almost had it all, but needed some tweaking still. We had to lose some of the roses, especially the ones in Rune’s hair. Her eyes were too blue and needed to be deepened to green. And the mask looked rather mechanical, resulting in an android/sci-fi nuance. So we whitened and cracked the mask to make it more Phantom-ly, incorporated an eerie blue mist to the background (to make Rune’s green eyes stand out and add a theatrical element). Then we let the thorny vines take the stage … all the way to the back of the cover and the red curtains set slightly off-kilter to represent the eerie twists and turns of the read.

All of it came together splendidly, as you can see by the final result represented by the book jacket below:

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KO: Music plays a big part in RoseBlood. Did you listen to music a lot while writing? Any tracks you can recommend that tie in well with the mood of the story?
AGH: Yes, I always listen to music while I write. In fact, for each book I make playlists and I love to share them with readers. Here’s my Splintered Series playlists, for example.

There are five songs that had special roles in the writing of RoseBlood.

Nature Boy by Aurora

This song is a perfect reflection of Thorn through Rune’s eyes: the enigmatic, broken, masked boy who appears and vanishes as if by magic, who seems to know all of Rune’s secrets and how to heal her soul sickness with his violin, who’s trying to find his own truths, while trapped between loneliness and loyalty, and humanity and love.

In My Dream by Fyfe Monroe

Just as Christine sings in the Broadway musical: “And do I dream again, for now I find, The Phantom of the Opera is there inside my mind,” Rune’s own dreams become more substantial than reality at times. This song embodies the eeriness and mystery behind those interludes.

Midnight by Coldplay

This ballad provided the perfect mystical, otherworldly mood for the romantic moments in the book, most especially during the rooftop scene, my personal favorite. I get all swoony just thinking about it…

Bittersweet by Apocalyptica

Thorn and the Phantom have a strained relationship throughout the story, a rift caused by Rune’s presence at the academy. But this isn’t a romantic love triangle. If anything, it’s a triangle formed by a boy torn between his love for his father, and his blossoming feelings for a girl he has an otherworldly connection to. I could almost envision the father and son performing this duet as Thorn plays his violin (in place of a cello) — the Phantom lost to bitterness from past experiences, and Thorn craving the freedom to have those very experiences for himself.

Sacrifice by Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke

Where would a Phantom of the Opera retelling be without some operatic inspiration? This particular heartbreaking melody inspired me while writing chapter 12, one of the most visceral, emotional, gritty, and riveting scenes of the book … IMO, anyway. Stepping back in time into Thorn’s childhood, and a pivotal moment between him and the Phantom that sealed their fates and destinies forever.

However, there are 48 more songs on my official RoseBlood playlist, and they can all be found at this link.

KO: And to wrap up, can we end with a quote from RoseBlood?
AGH: “Pretty faces were no more than masks worn to justify laziness and intellectual monotony. Since Erik had been born without one, he’d crafted a myriad of his own—masks that gave the illusion of conformity, but could be cast aside whenever he wished to unleash the true, blinding radiance of deviation.”