PORTLAND, Ore. — When author Colleen Houck wrote about the meeting of her two main characters in "Tiger's Curse," she knew it would change their fictional lives. But she didn't know it would also change her own life.
Houck, a sign language interpreter for 17 years who served an LDS Church sign language mission in Riverside, Calif., had devoted time to studying and developing signing skills. But things changed after she researched her favorite authors. As a fan of the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" book series, Houck learned that authors Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling were both just "regular people" with no formal writing experience.
"Stephenie Meyer was just a regular mom who woke up one day and decided to write a book," said Houck, of the Portland Heights Deaf Branch, Portland Oregon Stake. "J.K. Rowling was a regular person who had this great idea. She never thought she was going to be a writer but she got up one day and did it. I thought, maybe if these two ladies could do it and be successful, maybe I should at least give myself the opportunity to try."
That night, Houck began her first book.
Houck decided to use a "beauty and the beast" theme because she had always loved the story of the Beast and felt sorry for him. She also liked the idea that the girl had to save the beast. But writing about a beauty was the easy part. Picking a beast was much more complicated.
And so she began her search for the right beast, heavily considering a bear and a bird before thinking of big cats. As she looked into lions, jaguars and tigers, Houck remembered white tigers.
"For me, white tigers represented something exotic and beautiful; something mysterious and ethereal like a unicorn," Houck said. "It has its own element of magic about it."
The story began to almost shape itself after Houck selected her beast. Initially, Houck determined that her story would be set in Russia because of her belief that all white tigers came from Siberia. It was through research that she discovered that white tigers had all descended from one white tiger, captured in India in the 1930s.
"I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible but I didn't know anything about India," Houck said. "It intimidated me because I didn't understand the culture very well and the mythology is complicated. But the more I researched India, fun and interesting ideas came to my mind, and the book fleshed out through my research of white tigers in India."
Instead of starting with chapter one, she began with a later chapter, when Ren, the prince cursed as a white tiger, revealed his human form to another character, Kelsey. Houck took that chapter to work and asked colleagues if they would be interested in reading more. After a positive response, Houck wrote the beginning chapters.
"The first four or five chapters took several weeks to get going. (They) were the hardest to write for me," Houck said. "After that I kind of got into a groove and wrote for three or four hours each evening."
Seven months later, with help from an editor in India to make sure her facts were correct, Houck finished "Tiger's Curse." Because Houck was writing as a hobby, she self-published "Tiger's Curse" and the second book, "Tiger's Quest." She was on the Amazon ebook best-seller list when her books were picked up by Sterling publishers. Both "Tiger's Curse" and "Tiger's Quest" have been in the top 10 on New York Times children's chapter books best-seller list.
But publishers weren't the only ones with their eye on "Tiger's Curse." Movie producers approached her about the story and purchased the entire five-book series for three years. Purchasing the idea of the story allows one producer to raise money for the film and gain interest from a Hollywood studio. Development of "Tiger's Curse" as a 3D movie using real tigers has been going on for a year. Each book in the "Tigers" series is based on an element: earth, air, water and fire, and the element for book five Houck is keeping a secret, even though the four books will contain clues.
For Houck, who always believed she would be a teacher for deaf kids, the process has been shocking and quick. With three more books to write, she stopped working as an interpreter to become a full-time writer.
"Sometimes I feel like a babe in the woods as a writer," said Houck, who was married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1994. "I feel like I'm behind in the game because I never thought this would be my career. I had to change my whole way of understanding the world by changing jobs. It's been a fun and exciting thing."