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Author interview with Penny Fairbanks

Awaken the Heart comes out in a few days! Penny was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

You can get your copy of this delightful historical romance HERE!

Did you always know you wanted to be an author? What is the first story you remember writing? How did you get from there to where you are today?

Like most kids, I had days where I wanted to be an astronaut and others where I wanted to be a fairytale princess (still do!). But my dearest dream from as early as I can remember was to be an author!

As soon as I learned to read, I fell head over heels in love with books and my own imagination ran away with me. Nothing seemed cooler than being able to create stories and characters and worlds like my favorites! I have my parents to thank for reading to me as much as they did and always supporting my passion for both reading and writing. They were my very first fans and have been cheering me on since I wrote my first story about the different textures on the inside and outside of a seashell and how people can be like that too.

I’ve been writing ever since in huge part thanks to them, my brother/first best friend, and of course my wonderful husband. In fact, it was his encouragement that helped me finally finish writing my first novel after lots of abandoned bits and pieces and short stories. He’s read every single word I’ve written! 

What drew you to the era you write in? Is there something about the time period you think most people don’t know about? What do you think would be the most difficult part about living in that period?

Like many readers and authors, my gateway into the Regency period was none other than the amazing Jane Austen herself! I kept a dictionary with me at all times when I first started reading her in middle school and loved looking up all these words I didn’t know while in the middle of being swept off my feet by these characters and emotions that were so relatable two hundred years later. That’s a remarkable feat! So much so that we still love the period today and I couldn’t be more grateful that I get to spend my days immersed in it as my career.

I’m not sure how obscure it is, but one of my favorite tidbits that surprised me early on in my rabbit hole of all things Regency is the popularity of pineapples during the time! In fact, they were basically status symbols, meant for admiring as centerpieces at grand events or shown off like accessories rather than consuming. They could even be rented out, which makes sense considering they could cost into the thousands. Learning about things like that always makes me wonder what else people of the era would find shocking—certainly the price of pineapples!

As much as I love to fantasize about being a Regency era heroine (don’t we all?), I know I would not love the reality of all those social events, especially during the London Season. I’m a big time introvert and homebody so I’d probably rather hang out in the drawing room reading, have a nice tea in the garden with my friends, or attend a neighborhood ball with familiar faces. Luckily I can live vicariously through books when I want that dose of drama.

Do you know where the story is going before you begin, or does it come to you as you write? Do scenes come to you fully formed or are you as surprised as the reader?

I’m definitely a plotter, so once I know who the characters are and the main idea for the plot, I like to create a pretty detailed outline of each chapter. This gives me a chance to discover more of the story, jot down ideas, and move things around as I need to so that once I start the writing process, I can keep my focus on my outline and let the words flow without stopping to think of what comes next. As I started experimenting with and refining my writing process, I realized that having a blank page in front of me is way too intimidating, but a list of bullet points broken up by chapter gave me a jumping off point.

That’s not to say that I don’t still get surprised! Since my outline is my discovery phase, I find a lot of surprises as I build moments and scenes on top of each other. Some elements of the plot or some characters might end up becoming more emphasized than I thought they would. That can happen during writing, too, even with my outline. I see it more as a guide and if a scene takes a turn while I’m writing or a character does something I didn’t expect, I’ll roll with it. It usually works out for the best and I’ve learned more and more to trust my author instinct even if it doesn’t line up with my original plan.

What do you like to read when you’re not reading in your genre? Did you have a favorite book or series when you were growing up?

Fantasy is my other great love! I grew up as the Harry Potter books and movies were coming out so those definitely had a huge influence on me and got me engaging more with other fans not just of Harry Potter or fantasy but of reading in general. I’d be remiss not to include a special shoutout to Lord of the Rings, which absolutely blew me away and when I began reading Jane Austen some years later, I saw many similarities in the hearts and heroism of fantasy and Regency characters alike. Naturally I’ve been loving fantasy romance lately—a perfect marriage between my two favorite genres!