"Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum." Graycie Harmon
Friday, September 3, 2010
Angela Morrison, author of Taken by Storm
Poet and novelist, Angela Morrison, writes heartfelt YA love stories. She is the author of TAKEN BY STORM (Penguin/Razorbill 2009), it’s newly release sequel, UNBROKEN CONNECTION (2011), and SING ME TO SLEEP (Penguin/Razorbill 2010). She graduated from Brigham Young University and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Eastern Washington on the wheat farm where TAKEN BY STORM is set. After over a decade abroad in Canada, Switzerland and Singapore, she and her family are happily settled in Mesa, AZ. Angela enjoys speaking to writers and readers of all ages about her craft. She's visited almost 50 schools since TAKEN BY STORM’s release where she involves students in her creative process as they search for the perfect teen heroine and . . . the guy. She has four children--mostly grown up--and the most remarkable grandson in the universe.
I was able to interview this super cool lady and found out some fascinating things out about her that I think you'd enjoy. Here is my interview with Angela:
M.B.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
Angela: First grade. In kindergarten I wanted to be a vet and have a hundred cats. Then I learned how to write. Probably a good thing, because I outgrew the cat thing when they started attacking me. Word to the wise, don’t make sudden movements around a sleeping Tom cat.
M.B.: What is your writing and educational background?
Angela: I have a bachelor of arts in English from Brigham Young University and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’ve been writing full-time since I graduated in 2004.
M.B.: What makes you passionate about writing?
Angela: I am miserable when I’m not doing it. To me writing is a vocation. I feel powerfully that this is what I should be doing. When readers write and say my books touched them in a special way, it makes all the hard work, self-doubt, and frustration worth it. I was passionate about writing before I had readers. Now, that feeling is even stronger.
M.B.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Angela: Cue the Beattles—“The Long and Winding Road.” It took me three and a half long hard years of rejection after I completed by MFA to finally land a contract with Razorbill. I got a lot of encouragement—one publisher read four different drafts of TAKEN BY STORM before she turned it down for good. I met my editor, Lexa Hillyer, at a SCBWI in an beautiful abbey north of Paris. We were living in Switzerland at the time. I had a 20 minute conference with her—went home and rewrote the first chapter so she’d fall in love with Michael. And it worked. She requested the full. A month later I’d signed with Penguin’s teen imprint, Razorbill, for two books.
I published two YA novels with them—TAKEN BY STORM and SING ME TO SLEEP. When Lexa left Razorbill to start her own company, my sequel to TAKEN BY STORM, UNBROKEN CONNECTION got stranded. So I just released it as an ebook for Kindle, and we’re planning a paperback release, too.
M.B.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Angela: Yup. Every rejection hurts. It was especially tough when I rewrote the entire novel in a different voice for one editor and she still didn’t like it. I rewrote it again for her. Still a “no.” At that point, my book was broken. I couldn’t recognize it. I sat back and asked myself, “What do I want this novel to be? How do I want it shaped? What voices? What scenes?” That’s when I decided to collage TAKEN BY STORM. I’d already come up with Michael’s dive logs—and felt they were the best thing I had. I took out all of the internet chats and put them back in as dive log transcripts. Leesie’s voice was still a problem. I tried writing a few of the scenes she narrated as poems. She was always a poet. Voila. That worked.
I think it’s important to mourn rejections and setbacks. They are a loss and painful like anything else. But use them—glean what you can from the experience and get back to work.
Lexa left Razorbill a few days before my second novel, SING ME TO SLEEP, released. That was really tough. I think I’m still working through that. SING ME TO SLEEP no longer had a champion in the company and they turned down the sequel to TAKEN BY STORM. It helped to have readers and bloggers who begged me to find a way to bring them the rest of Michael and Leesie’s story. My most devoted fans downloaded UNBROKEN CONNECTION as soon as it went live and stayed up all night reading it.
All I can really do is put my trust in a power much wiser than I am and follow where that leads.
M.B.: What is your writing schedule like?
Angela: I try to write full-time. But I’m rotten at multi-tasking, so if I’m in the middle of a project everything else falls apart. If I’m doing PR or trying to be a mom or look after paying bills and stuff like that, I can’t write.
Ideally, I wake up with scenes playing in my head, grab my lap desk and scribble until my hand hurts and the dialogue runs dry. I soak in the tub, drink some OJ, and stumble to my desk where I type up the roughs scenes, revising as I go until I glance at the clock and realize I’m 20 minutes late again to pick up my son.
M.B.: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Angela: When I’m writing a novel, it feels like a tidal wave hit my life. It takes everything I’ve ever done, known, read, listened to, imagined, dreamed, learned, questioned, feared or got excited about, breaks it up into a thousand pieces, and leaves it scattered all over the sand when it withdraws. I have to wander around and pick up the pieces trying to fashion them into the mosaic of my story.
If an idea sticks with me, keeps coming back, haunts me, I have to write about it. I don’t know if it’s “good enough.” Wouldn’t it be nice to have that magic formula? I don’t think anyone really knows what readers will be dying for next. Thousands and thousands of us are huddling over our computer trying hard to create that.
M.B.: When did the idea for this book first come to you?
Angela: With my first book, TAKEN BY STORM, my husband and I were scuba diving off the coast of Cozumel when we heard that a hurricane had hit just to the south of us in Belize the evening before. A boat full of divers got caught and most of them perished. I kept thinking, what if a teenage boy was on that boat, his parents died, but he survived. Where would he go? What would he do? And who would love him? I decided to send him to my home town in Eastern Washington, make him live with his Gram in my grandmother’s old house, send him to my old high school, and give the only Mormon girl in town a huge crush on him.
My daughter sang with a competitive girl’s choir when we lived in London, Ontario. I got to travel to festivals with them, and always wanted to set a novel in that unique world. When I had to come up with an entirely new concept for my second novel with Razorbill, I turned backed to that setting. I’d never had a strong story to put there, but something tragic had recently happened to one of my daughter’s best friend’s in their world famous young men’s choir. That gave me a story that took hold of me and didn’t let go until it was slicked up and revised and sent off to my editor. I had a lot of help from unseen hands as I wrote that book. I’m grateful I was blessed with that experience. It’s one I will always cherish.
M.B.: What do you hope readers will get from this book?
Angela: I leave that up to the readers. I write about wounded characters trying to find love and grow up. I try to make it as complex and realistic as I can. I think every reader leaves with something different.
M.B.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
Angela: The best, best tool is morning pages—as described in THE ARTIST WAY. I brain-dump, scribble whatever comes out—dialogue, plot summaries, character backgrounds. Whatever is up there spills out on the page. I don’t outline. Even when I’ve thought about a story for months—even years—the writing process always surprises me. Those characters have minds of their own. I’ve learned to follow them, throw obstacles in their way, and listen to their hearts and mine.
M.B.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Angela: Oh, yeah. We all do. When I’ve got a scene I’ve been avoiding—usually something with a lot of powerful emotions in it, I write an “assignment” at the top of a piece of paper (or print out the spot where it fits in), put it beside my bed, and when I wake up in the morning, I have to pick up the page and write it. I tell myself it can be awful. That’s why we revise.
Listening to music helps, too. I pay attention to lyrics more and more. I had to write them for SING ME TO SLEEP, so I actually began studying lyrics.
M.B.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
Angela: I listen to music before and after. I do work best in the quiet, but I can write in a house full of people running around doing their thing while I do mine.
M.B.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Angela: I go back to all those pieces a lot. When “what I know” runs dry, I research. Whenever we travel, I take a camera and take lots of pictures. Those help. So does Google Earth, websites—I’ve even used realtor websites to find houses for my characters to live in. I LOVE to visit high schools. I convince the students to tell me all about their schools. That gives me all kinds of inspiration. I also PRAY constantly when I’m working on a project. Spiritual inspiration is no different than artistic inspiration—it all comes from the same Creator.
M.B.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Angela: I fell in love with Louisa Mae Alcott as a little kid. I wanted to be her. Now, I’d like to be Katherine Paterson when I grow up. I learned so much from studying her novels and all the generous articles she’s written for writers. My graduate thesis and lecture was titled, “From Faith to Fiction: Lessons from Katherine Paterson.” She is full of wisdom and freely shares it.
M.B.: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?
Angela: I have to hear their voice in my head. I try to scribble that down as it comes out. That makes them real to me. And I try to translate that for my readers.
M.B.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?
Angela: I never really had a critique group close enough to make it work. I have friends from my MFA program that I swap novels with. They are amazing help. And I love critiquing their work. I’ve just recently joined an ANWA critique group and look forward to that experience.
M.B.: Which of your books is your favorite, and why?
Angela: My favorite novel is still looking for a publisher. It’s inspired by my ancestor’s, The Glovers, Scots coal miners who emigrated to Canada to open mines in Nova Scotia in the early 19th century. It’s told from the viewpoint of their teenage son, Will, who has to leave the lass he loves behind in Scotland. It’s called MY ONLY LOVE and my critiquers tell me it’s my best novel. I adore historical fiction. I hope we find a home for it soon.
M.B.: What is something about yourself people don’t know?
Angela: I wear pink ballet shoes instead of slippers.
M.B.: I wish we had a picture of this. I love that image. What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?
Angela: Anything made out of white chocolate.
M.B.: I'm a white chocolate lover also. In fact, my current obsession is mini-white chocolate-Reeses peanut butter cups. YUMMO! Sorry, back tot he interview. What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Angela: Do whatever it takes to professionalize yourself. I know not everyone can go back to school and get an MFA. Not everyone has to. But join writing groups—like SCBWI for children’s and YA writers or ANWAY, go to conferences, take local courses at bookstores, libraries, community colleges or universities. Join online forums. There is so much out there on the internet these days. Study it all. Read tons of published books in the genre you want to publish. And write as much as you possibly can. Don’t ever think your book is done. Keep revising until your editor pries it out of your hands and sends it to the printers. Check out my blog for writers—go to www.angela-morrison.com and click on liv2writ.
M.B.: What are you working on now?
Angela: I’m in the middle of releasing UNBROKEN CONNECTION so that’s center stage right now. I’ve got critiques for a time travel novel I’ve turned upside down waiting for me to read. This novel is so different from anything I’ve done before. Think Jane Eyre meets the Terminator in Medieval Europe—but my assassin is WAY hotter than a robot. My latest title for it is SLIPPED.
M.B.: Any final words you would like to share
Angela: My new motto is “no” isn’t the end of the road. It’s just an opportunity to explore a new path.
M.B.: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
Angela: My Penguin titles are available everywhere you like to buy books. UNBROKEN CONNECTION is only available via Amazon’s Kindle at this writing (August 2010). You can find links from my website, www.angela-morrison.com
My greatest claim to fame is my family. I am married to my prince charming and have four awesome children. This year I experienced the joy of becoming a grandmother to my sweet baby girl Halle. I love to travel and I love to write books.