Thursday, August 5, 2010

In the Hotseat: Angela Morrison

Hi guys! So I just finished reviewing Sing Me to Sleep, and I was fortunate enough to interview the author, Angela Morrison, for a post that goes with the review. Angela is the author of the romantic dramas Sing Me to Sleep and Taken by Storm.

Why did you choose to write YA literature?
I didn't choose to write YA--YA chose me. I thought I'd spend my life writing middle grade novels--but when I stopped being a mom 24/7 and started writing full-time (my kids now take care of me!), I was surrounded by teen voices and problems and that's what came out of my pen. When I was working on my Master's of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College, I met, workshopped, and was mentored by some of the best YA authors out there--M.T. Anderson, Norma Fox Mazer (who we lost this year), Ron Koertge, Tim Wynne-Jones, Sharon Darrow, Louise Hawes, Susan Fletcher, and so many more. Finding YA was like coming home. I love the heart of the genre--the heartbreaking journey we all take to come of age. I've had some people tell me (most recently my publisher at Razorbill) that my stories are becoming too adult--but I'm clinging tenaciously to YA. Right now I'm revising my one and only try at a middle grade novel, TIME ASSASSIN, into--you guessed it--a romantic YA. The Assassin was just WAY too hot for a middle grade novel. So I'm sending him a Victorian heroine to complicate his plans. Think Jane Eyre meets the Terminator--except my assassin is nothing like a robot. 

What is your favorite part of writing a novel? What is the most difficult?
I love to revise--to go back over and fix all the problems, play with the words until they are as good as I can make them. I love the moment when I discover a sentence I'm missing. I'll scribble it down and carry it around until I can tuck it safely into a paragraph or scene where it belongs. I love to make a scene come alive as I add action, facial expressions, and emotions. 

The most difficult part of the process is drafting new scenes. I have to trick myself into doing it. I keep a lap desk and pink paper and black gel pens by my bed, so I can scribble scenes that play in my head as I'm waking up. That is my first, roughest draft. I find it the most difficult part of the process--but also the most rewarding. I love it when my characters surprise me and take the story down new, unexplored paths. 

What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever received?
When we lived in Switzerland, I had the incredible opportunity of attending SCBWI Germany's first ever conference that featured Markus Zusak (THE BOOK THIEF). He stressed revision--playing with your words until you find something that surprises even you--and exuded an amazing confidence in his work. He knew exactly how he wanted each element of THE BOOK THIEF to look on the page. I had just been through a couple of revisions of TAKEN BY STORM at the request of an editor who promised that if I tried this or that, she'd look at the manuscript again. She rejected my attempts--twice--and I felt like STORM was broken. Markus's confidence inspired me to go back and decide what I wanted the shape of my novel to be. It was after that workshop that I decided turn STORM into a collage of Leesie's poems, Michael's dive logs, and their chat transcripts. But the most important thing Markus said to me that day was during his critique of my historical novel (that I still haven't sold). He said, "This is written with a lot of love." That simple statement revealed a vital key to me. I have to write with a lot of love--love for my characters, my story, my readers, my inspirations. It was an amazing gift to have this brilliant young man--who looks more like a surfer dude than an author who writes with startling genius--recognize that and hand it to me. 

Describe Sing Me to Sleep in three words.
Love changes everything!
Music plays a huge role in Sing Me to Sleep. What's your favorite genre? Do you listen to music while writing?
I love romantic pop songs--but they have to have something more to them than a hook sung over and over and over. You know what I mean. Josh Grobin and Leona Lewis. Music like that. I also love to listen to choir music. I love modern renditions of traditional hymns. I don't listen to music while I'm writing, but I do listen before and after. I find a lot of inspiration in songs about broken hearts or finding love at last. Go to my website and listen to Kelly Clarkson's "Beautiful Disaster," on my playlist for STORM. Isn't that Michael and Leesie? My daughter gave me the CD while I was struggling to make Leesie's character more realistic and human. That song is exactly who she is. I listened to it thousands of times and still do when I go back and try to recapture her essence. 
Your first novel, Taken by Storm, is told in alternating prose and poetry. Which style of writing do you prefer?
Prose is the medium I use most often to tell a story. Poetry is dessert. I love the challenge of conveying a scene in a poem--not just broken, poetic lines of prose--but a true narrative poem. I love the contrast of the two forms. It was great to get back to the collage format when I wrote UNBROKEN CONNECTION, TAKEN BY STORM's sequel, last fall.

Which character from either of your novels can you identify with most?
That would have to be Leesie. She lives in my house, goes to my high school, shares my dreams, and I even gave her my faith. I tried to saddle her with ALL of my most dreadful high school experiences, but that nearly ruined the novel before it got off the ground. I went back, dumped a lot of that stuff, and gave Leesie some important characteristics that were definitely NOT me. Then she could breathe and become a unique character--apart from me, but still part of me like ALL of my characters are. 
What's your typical day like?
Typical? I don't think artist's have typical days. An ideal day is when I wake up with my characters talking to each other, I grab my lap desk and scribble for an hour or two until the voices stop. Then I bathe, listen to music, get dressed and take those scribbles to my computer to shape into chapters and scenes. I work until I'm interrupted. I forget to eat, don't read email, and ignore my poor family. When they finally coax me away, I'm kind of in a fog--can only think of the next scene I need to type or start scribbling. I think about that as I fall asleep and wake up to do it all over again. A few days like that, snatched when I can, are enough to keep me smiling through normal days when I answer email, work on PR, eat, and acknowledge my family's existence. I can't seem to put both together in the same day--even when I'm through with the hard part and am having fun revising. Routine is not a concept I understand.
Writing a novel can be stressful! How do you unwind?
I'm stressed when I can't write. I am most relaxed and happy when I'm working on a novel. When I'm burnt out, I allow myself the guilty pleasure of reading someone else's fantastic novels. I also love to swim and scuba dive, have a penchant for old movies, and am addicted to Fox News.

What are the top three things that never fail to make you smile?
Homecomings--my husband (who travels a lot) and any of my children. My grandson, Jack--anytime, anywhere. And curling up with Jane Austen to delight me.

So that's it! Thank you, Angela, for taking time to stop by. And I hope you guys enjoyed this interview! And if you've read Taken by Storm, don't forget to grab a copy of its sequel, Unbroken Connection, which comes out in Kindle format on the 9th, and paperback at the end of the month!

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