Thursday, November 26, 2009
Interview: Angela Morrison (Author of Taken by Storm!)
What inspired you to write TAKEN BY STORM?
My husband and I were scuba diving in Cozumel. A storm rolled in, and one of the guys were dove with pointed south and told us we were catching the edge of a hurricane that hit Belize the night before. He went on to say the hurricane had capsized a boat full of divers and drowned them all. I didn’t believe him. Divers don’t drown. But when I got home and started researching it online, I discovered he was right. I followed the story—read the memorial on the club’s website. Couldn’t get it out of my head. The “what if” questions started churning. What if a teen guy was on that boat with his parents and friends? What if he was the only survivor? Where would he go? How would he feel? Who would love him?
Are you anything like your main character, Leesie?
At first, I saddled poor Leesie with way too much me. She lives in the house I grew up in, goes to my school, and shares my faith. When I started loading her up with all the worst experiences from my high school journals, she suffocated. A wise advisor made me revise. I gave her a leather jacket that my son’s coolest friend wore, my sister’s gorgeous long hair, and my other sister’s mad driving skills. And then I started listening to her. As I let her grow outside of my shadow, she became her own self. Every character an author writes comes out of her heart and brain, so—in a sense—they are all me. BUT too much me in any one character, and I have to call 911.
Did you do any research while writing STORM? If yes, please explain.
I researched everything from Grand Coulee Dam and the Native Americans who still live in its shadow to grief to Belize scuba diving to tropical Caribbean reef fish. I knew the Tekoa setting and the Florida setting well, and I’m a NAUI Advanced, Nitrox certified scuba diver –so I pulled pieces out of all that experience to weave my story.
The most unique research I did was a free dive course. My wonderful husband agreed to take a day out of a dive trip to Grand Cayman to certify as a free diver with me. I learned all about the breathing techniques in that course. That had a huge impact on how I portrayed Michael. He turns to that breathing all the time. It saves him—over and over again. I was hideous at the actual free diving. My legs collapsed under the weight of those giant fins. BUT my husband rocked. He did a fifty-five foot free dive on his first try. Scared me to death. His lips were blue when he surfaced. Free diving, like scuba diving, is something you can’t do unless you are trained. Dangerous, but amazing and safe if you keep the rules.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing STORM?
The hardest thing was getting Leesie’s voice right. I even wrote a couple of drafts for an interested editor completely from Michael’s point of view. But that didn’t work, either. At that point, the novel was broken. I had Michael’s dive logs and knew they worked. I pulled out the chats that I had used like dialogue and let them speak for themselves. And then I started letting the poet in Leesie out. That’s what she wanted all along.
I found STORM to be rather “steamy” – even with the lack of actual sex in the book. Did you find it difficult to convey that?
That was probably the second hardest thing. I have some guidelines for myself as an author and one of them is I won’t write explicit material. Our world drips with soft porn everywhere we turn, and I don’t want to add to that. If a reader wants explicit sex scenes, they can find it other books. But it isn’t as easy to find, honest—even steamy—romance that doesn’t bombard the reader with explicit scenes.
But it isn’t easy to do. I rewrote those scenes tons—even prayed about them. Michael, though, saved me. He has got to be the most romantic kisser in the universe. Very creative. Even when he had to deal with all of Leesie’s rules. I turned those scenes over to him as much as possible.
Did you receive any negative or positive comments about the fact that one of STORM’s major themes is the Mormon faith?
I wrote this when I was studying at Vermont College and got amazing support from all of my advisors and critique groups. It surprised me. I don’t think I would have finished the first draft without that. It’s so hard to write about your own faith, though. It’s so easy to turn your art into propaganda. That ruins it, though. I actually wrote my critical thesis on lessons I learned from how Katherine Paterson does it. I worked hard to keep Leesie as authentic a Mormon girl as I could make her without getting preachy.
Selling STORM was another story. No editor or agent came out and said, “Are you crazy? This is about a faithful Mormon girl,” but I garnered an inch thick file of rejections.
My editor was upfront about it. When she requested the whole manuscript, she said, “We’re not sure about the Mormon angle.” But, after they read it, they decided the Mormon angle was hot. (Thank you, Stephanie Meyers!)
Did you always want to be a novelist?
When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a veterinarian and have ten kids and a hundred cats. Then I went to first grade and learned how to write. I thought I wanted to write for a younger audience, but when I started my master’s degree and had to produce, the stories for younger readers got pushed aside, and teen voices emerged. I had a bunch of teen kids at home and had taught teens at church for years. They kidnapped my subconscious. Now I adore writing YA. I love exploring the coming of age journey.
What jobs did you have on your way to being a writer? Did they help you in any way as a writer?
I was a full-time mom for decades. I wrote when I could, but I’m an all or nothing person. I get a absorbed in my kids, directing plays, researching the history of my family. When my youngest went to school full-time, I got absorbed in writing. I got my MFA, and I’ve been writing full-time ever since. My experience with my own teens and volunteer work at church enriched the well of my own experience. I’m in debt to my sons for the guy voices, and to my daughter for the whole premise of my next book, SING ME TO SLEEP.
When and where do you usually write?
I write first drafts in my bed, propped on feather pillows. I have a cool bean-shaped lap desk and love to write on pale pink paper with a black padded gel pen. Mornings are usually best for first drafts. The part of my brain that creates works best drowsy. Some days, when the story is emerging pell mell, I’ll write all day and into the night. Other days, I have to give myself free write assignments and trick myself into getting through another scene or chapter.
Once I get a scene drafted, I type it up—fleshing out the details as I go. I do that all day.
Is there something that is a must have for you to be able to write?
I’m lost without my Zebra black gel pens. I hate to write on paper with lines.
What author or book most influenced you as a writer or in general?
I’ve studied and taught The Bible and The Book of Mormon all my life. They form my inner truth. But I think of them as holy writ, not a “book!”
My journey to become a writer was shaped by many influences. Katherine Paterson’s Of Nightingales that Weep made a big impact. My romantic story telling was shaped by Mary Stewart’s early romantic suspense novels. My favorite is My Brother, Michael. I’m a Jane Austen-ite and love Tolstoy. Lately, when my prose needs a tune-up, I read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief again. The guy is a genius with words.
Can you tell us anything about your next YA novel(s)?
My next YA novel, Sing me to Sleep, launches March 4, 2010. My daughter sang in a competitive girls choir when we lived in London, Ontario—the Junior Amabile Singers. I always wanted to set a novel in that world, but I didn’t have a story. Then a quiet tragedy that occurred in the Amabile family of choirs gave me a heartbreaking story to tell. When Razorbill asked me to wait to write the sequel to TAKEN BY STORM, UNBROKEN CONNECTION, I pitched them this story. My editor and I batted the idea back and forth, came up with a good synopsis, and then she convinced her boss to go with it. Phew! When I started writing, the story poured out of me. It was an amazing experience. Sometimes I look at that book and wonder why I was blessed to get to write it. It’s a story that is precious to me, and a beautiful group of people who let me borrow parts of their reality to shape my fiction. That is how fiction is supposed to work, but it is startling when it does.
This fall I went ahead and wrote STORM’s sequel, UNBROKEN CONNECTION. I don’t know if Razorbill will sign it yet. Watch ChatSpot on my website for updates.
The Hiding Spot is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Is there a place, activity, or person that is your hiding spot?
I’m with you. Books are my favorite place to hide, my favorite treat, my favorite get-away. I’ve scuba dived all over the world, traveled from the Alps to the jungles of Vietnam, and researched my way through coal mines in Scotland, Canada and the U.S., but nothing comes close to the joy and satisfaction I get curling up in the corner with a favorite book or a shiny new volume. I have to ration myself or I won’t get anything else done. Including writing my own!
Anything else you would like to share with us?
I’ve started a blog for writers on my website called liv2writ—in honor of Michael’s screen name, liv2div. I’m building and adding to it more and more. Right now I’m working on a post about cutting, and I’m going to share some TAKEN BY STORM out takes. Anyone who has read TAKEN BY STORM will enjoy checking it out.
We’re working on a trailer for SING ME TO SLEEP. It should be available January 15th. TAKEN BY STORM comes out in paperback February 4, 2010.
You can find out more about Angela and her books here!
Read my review of TAKEN BY STORM, here!
Enter to win a copy of TAKEN BY STORM, here!