Last week I wrote about 12 year old Daniela meeting author Lauren Kate.
After Daniela had her quality time with Lauren, we all sat down for a nice chat (okay, so technically the title should be two on one!), talking about books, angels, and the paranormal genre.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Q: How did you get started writing?
A: When I was a kid, my friends would come over to my house and we would write plays, short stories, songs, so it’s just always been something that I’ve done. I think as I got older, probably when I was in high school, I began to funnel all that storytelling mainly into fiction, and I started writing novels when I was seventeen. From there, everything I have done has been, I think, sort of preparation for this — I majored in creative writing when I was n college, i worked at a publishing house after that, and I got a master’s degree in fiction. It’s always something I’ve wanted to do; I never knew until a year ago, when the book got published, that it was something I could do. Because you know, it’s not like medical school — you go to school, and you know that at the end of it you can be a doctor. It’s like, you can try and you can hope, but it always felt like a dream. So when I sold Fallen, well, I’m still recovering from the shock of doing that!
Q: Who are your literary influences?
When I was a kid, my favorite author is Roald Dahl, and Matilda changed my life when I was a little girl, and I still think it’s one of the most perfect books. I love Phillip Pullman, I love Suzanne Collins, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald — I’ve got a long list, and this could go on, but those are the big ones.
Q: What inspired Fallen?
A: I started writing (and conceiving of) Fallen when I was working on another story. I had been writing this other novel for five or six years, and I was very interested in the characters — it was a tragic love story, a doomed love story, but I couldn’t see the end of it; it didn’t feel like it had enough traction. I cared about the characters, but the story wasn’t bigger than them, and I was looking for something that could be bigger, have more depth, and could become an epic, versus a little love tale. At that time I was in graduate school and I was taking a class about reading the Bible as literature, and there was a line in Genesis that I read about a group of angels who were in heaven, who looked down on earth and saw a mortal woman there and thought that they were beautiful, and fell in love with them and eventually gave up their place in heaven for that love. To me it was the answer to what I had been looking for, something that could be a bigger story. It could be tragic and beautiful and complicated love story, but it could also be bigger than that, and draw in questions on what is good and what is evil and answer our questions about larger mythology. It became a really fun challenge, to think about writing a four-book series from this one simple line.
Q: (This is Daniela) Who’s the girl on the cover of the books?
A: The girl on the cover is a Brazilian artist. She photographed, does all the special effects, and is the model for the covers. I don’t know how she does it, maybe she sets up the whole thing and has a self-timer, I don’t know, but it’s incredible. She sent me an email recently to thank me for letting her art be on the books. I guess she’s getting a lot of people writing to her because of it, but to me I can’t separate the books anymore from those sweet images, and I’m so grateful to her for the images.
Q: What inspired the reform school setting?
A: Setting is really important to me, I love to read books where settings become kind of like characters – they’re so important to the plot that they take on their own identity. I had been to Savannah several times when I was in college, and there was something about the place that stuck with me, a very haunting atmosphere and I’ve always wanted to write about it. The reform school, people always ask me if I ever went to reform school; it’s a hundred percent fictional. I wanted Luce’s journey to be as difficult as possible so she’s moving towards the light, revelation after revelation, so she can move towards redemption in the end. I wanted her to start at a place as low and dark and challenging, and that’s where Sword and Cross came in.
Q: How do you feel about killing off characters? How did you deal with it in writing the series?
A: (I’ve bleeped the names so as not to spoil the story) I think it would be really hard to do it at this point. In Fallen it happened and I didn’t intend for it to happen. I had written the whole first draft of the book and everybody lives through it. And when I was doing the revisions I was thinking about a few things that needed to change for reasons that would be explained in later books. And I knew that *** had to go from very good to very bad very quickly. I didn’t think too much about how I would express that and I just sat down one day and rewrote that scene and *** ended up dying. It was one of those moments when I deviated from my plan; I didn’t expect that to happen and I didn’t want that to happen but it did — the story got away from me. And I didn’t look back after doing that and sometimes I wonder if I had thought too much about it if I would have changed it; I may have because I would have started to feel terrible. But I didn’t and I was on a roll with the revision and I kept going and I guess that’s how it happened. But at this point, because I’ve known these characters for so long — I’ve been with them 1500 pages — I think it would be really hard; it would be a really delicate situation.
Q: What research did you have to do for Fallen?
A: I didn’t really know anything about angels before this, but I’ve always been interested in the narrative of the Bible. I sat down with a divinity scholar at the college where I was getting my graduate degree and she just gave me a list of books on angelology and I went to the local library and I think I terrified a couple of librarians because I had a stack of books about the devil. I read up a lot about the history of heaven and hell. Paradise Lost was a big influence; I looked at the Inferno. I looked at the Bible and I looked at the apocryphal text, the extrabiblical text that were written around the same time, which had a lot of really juicy angel narratives like the books of Enoch and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have fascinating and beautiful descriptions of angels and the things they could do.
Q: When you wrote Fallen, did you set out to write for young adult audience?
When I wrote my first book, The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove, I think that was the time I began to learn I was writing for a young adult audience. I started writing stories mainly when I was about seventeen, and ever since then, all the protagonists that have come to me are seventeen year old girls. It’s a voice that comes naturally to me, and I’m very comfortable in that world. But you can write from the point of view of a seventeen year old girl, and gear it towards older people, and I’ve done that before too, but it was less a choice than something that came naturally and I can’t see for a long time writing out of this age group. It to me is a such an exciting place to be writing, and there’s so much openness and possibility to a character who is seventeen, and it seems a very good place for me to stay for now.
Q: Why do you think the paranormal genre is popular among this age group?
A: I think it has to do with escape, a little bit. There’s obviously a lot that’s really exotic about paranormal characters. I’ll speak about angels — the reason they appeal to me is because they are removed from the norm, but there’s always something we’ve all grown up knowing about, thinking about, maybe having gut feeling about them, and you can never really get to the bottom of what they actually mean, or do, or what purpose they exist for. So I think there’s a lot of familiarity there but there’s also a lot of exoticness. And I think that there’s a balance between what you can touch and access and feel comfortable with and is relatable to you — what’s great about the paranormal is that there’s always a mortal character who’s supposed to be just like you and gets to experience things you would love to experience.
Q: What’s the story behind Fallen getting published, and how was the journey getting there?
A: The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove was a much smaller release. It was a friend of mine who was working as an editor, and the two of us talked about it and she signed it up. Around the time it was being published, I was talking to an agent and told him this idea for Fallen and we talked about it. I’d only written, I think, five chapters of Fallen, and I had a very loose outline for the rest of the series (and everything has changed from the beginning, nothing has turned out the way I thought it would be), and my agent was very excited about these first five chapters and he ended up sending it out to publishers based on that proposal. It’s not very usual — usually you finish writing the entire book and send it out, but I think maybe because I already had a book published I was able to sell it on speculation. The agent drummed up a lot of enthusiasm, and we got a lot of good feedback, and the first editor that responded, who was enthusiastic about it from the beginning, was the one we ended up selling it to. I’ve been so excited and happy about my publisher; I think they’ve done amazing things for the book, especially the jackets, which I think are so cool. They’ve been behind the book in a very strong way from the beginning so I’m always grateful to them.
Q: How has your life changed since Fallen?
A: It’s become all angels, all the time. It has become a full time job and more than that, and I love it. I’ve been traveling for the past three months, in the US, the UK, Germany, and then here… things that I never could have dreamed of happening. I thought it would have been enough to have one book published my whole life, and now I’m working on number four. And getting to meet all these readers and go to events like this… (Looks at Daniela) I feel just as excited as you do; I think that getting to do this is really really special, and I don’t take any of this for granted. But it has definitely changed my life in so many unexpected ways.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned the book made it to the NY Times Bestseller List?
A: When Torment came out recently, and it debuted and I got a call from my agent, and I remember feeling very elated and grateful. I called my mother and I said, “We made the bestseller list” and she said, “Who’s we? You made it to the bestseller list!” I couldn’t separate all the people at the publisher and the agency who had helped me get there. It felt like a big joint effort, because without all of these people it wouldn’t have happened. I felt appreciative of everything they had done. It happens every Wednesday afternoon at 4:30, that’s when they get the list, and every Wednesday now, I wait for them to call me and tell me what the list is now, but at that time it was brand new to me.
Q: Fallen’s mythology touches a bit on religion, and the Bible. Has the book gotten challenged anywhere?
A: In the US, it’s a very volatile situation — books can get banned for no reason… I don’t think there is anything in Fallen or Torment that will push any buttons like that. There are some authors whose books I really loved who have been banned and bounced back from it and made it a really cool thing and made it a cause for censorship, and I think that’s great. If I never get banned or if I never get any sort of controversy over the books I’ll be happy, because that’s not what I’m after. What I’m interested in is my readers asking questions, especially on the nature of good and evil — what makes something good, and what makes something evil, and that has propelled me to make my demon characters really complicated, characters that I care about and I hope my readers care about. Cam is one of my favorite characters to write about, and yet he’s supposed to be evil, and he’s supposed to be a demon, but he’s much more complicated than that. And Daniel, who’s supposed to be essentially good and perfectly angelic, he’s not, he’s challenging, he can be rude sometimes, he makes Luce really frustrated. Pushing those boundaries and blurring the lines between good and evil is really interesting and important to me in what I’ve been writing.
Q: (Daniela) Do you believe in angels?
A: I do. I’ve never encountered an angel in my life but I’m open to the possibility of them
Q: (Daniela follows up) Would you want to be one?
Maybe someday. Right now I’m pretty happy just writing about them.
Q: What’s in store for the series?
A: The next book is called Passion, and it comes out in June of next year. I’m finished with the first draft, and I’m just about finished with the revisions on it, and I think it’s absolutely the coolest book I’ve ever written. It’s very strange, it’s a departure from the first two books because it goes back… A big part of Luce’s character is how she’s been reincarnated… Passion is the book that goes back in time and looks at all these past lives, and sees her across different centuries and different continents, different lifetimes, and different parents, and sometimes siblings. It sort of drifts in thenjoy rituals and her past history, and the dread that you know that Daniel is there and they fall in love and the other angels appear… It was a really fun book to write and a really hard book to write, but I think it will give a really strong foundation to the love story. The fourth book is going to be called Rapture, and I don’t know what date it’s coming out yet, but it’s scheduled for early 2012. That’s the big climax scene.
Daniela and I both enjoyed the interview, and we got our books signed, too! Here’s my signed copy of Fallen:
Am still in the middle of Natalie Hargrove — not a lot of time to read lately — and I find it an interesting counterpoint to Fallen. Will review the books side by side soon.
(Meann from New Worlds also has an article on GMANEWS.TV, with audio, too, check it out!