How did you come to write your first novel and get it published?
I’ve been writing love stories for as long as I can remember. When I came across a line in Genesis that talked about a group of angels who were kicked out of heaven because they lusted after mortal women, I had a feeling it could lead me to a really BIG love story. I spoke to my agent about the idea for Fallen and he was very excited. Together, we came up with an outline for a series of books. When I had written the first 60 pages, he sent the proposal out to several publishers, and my current publisher Delacorte, was the first to respond. It’s been a really happy partnership ever since!
Most Australian readers familiar with your fiction would know you from your novels Fallen and Torment. You also have a novel called The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove which has been described with the following: Cruel Intentions meets Macbeth in this seductive, riveting tale of conscience and consequence. What were some of your most important considerations when writing this novel to make it work well?
The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove is my first novel and was as much of a guilty pleasure to write as I hope it is for people to read. It’s a dark, funny, gothic story about one girl’s twisted path towards Queen Bee-dom. People read Fallen and they ask me whether I went to a school like Sword and Cross. Not even close! Actually, it’s the school in Betrayal that is a thinly veiled version of my utterly enormous and insanely Texan high school. All the things Natalie cares about in Betrayal are very close to my high school heart.
Who is one of your favourite fictional characters and what makes them stand out for you?
I adore Lyra Belacqua. She’s smart and spunky and just the right mix of humor and heart. I aspire to be like her and to write characters like her in the future. Strangely, Luce is nothing like her. I wanted her to be, and I think I started writing Luce more like a Lyra character. But this was not the story for a Lyra. Fallen‘s story requires a heroine who struggles in a very different and more open way. Learning that distinction–why Luce has to be the way she is–has been one of the most interesting parts of writing these books.
Could you give us an overview of the process you went through writing Fallen or Torment?
Fallen and Torment were both meticulously plotted out before I wrote them. Character descriptions, paragraph long synopses for each chapter, “big” endings, the whole deal. Both outlines (along with a few chapters) were shared with writer-friends, agents and/or editors at very early stages. And because the stories were larger and more complicated than I’d first realized, I actually did revisions on the outlines. Way more plotting than I’d ever done before.
At the end of plotting, when I was ready to plunge into the story, it was comforting to sit down every day and know I had to write a chapter where x happened, followed by y, and then z. But sometimes, it was also uninspiring. Suddenly, Y bored me, and Z felt really predictable. But it was in the outline, which fit together like a puzzle! What to do? Eventually, I realized there were days when I would have to loosen my leash from my outlines, to let the story adapt and change organically as I went along. This was a very good decision, and I think the book is stronger because of both my plotting and my plot-straying.
What kinds of books do you most enjoy reading, and do you have some favourites?
I love to read anything that has humor and heart and takes me on some sort of unexpected adventure. I love Suzanne Collins, Frances Hardinge, Phillip Pullman, John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Markus Zusak. My favorite classic writers are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dickens, and Virginia Woolf. It’s an ever growing list.
Some people are saying that ‘angels are the new vampires’ as the current hot trend with young readers. What do you think makes angel stories such as your novels or Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo series so attractive to young readers?
Most of us grow up with some sort of angel mythology–whether it comes from a religious upbringing, or a cultural context. We have an idea of what they’re supposed to look like (flawless features, fluffy white wings), how they’re supposed to behave (always perfectly benevolent), and what they’re supposed to do (well, I suppose biblically, they’re messengers of god, culturally there’s the idea of a “guardian angel”). For readers, there’s an almost built-in collective conscience about angels–which is great because it’s comfortable/accessible. For authors, there is so much room to play off these existing expectations, rewrite old stories, and break apart the stereotype.
Do you have any plans to visit Australia in the near future?
I’ve been dreaming of a visit for a long time! I’m hoping/thinking/planning on a trip sometime in 2011.
In addition to being a novelist you teach creative writing at University of California, Davis. What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give for new fiction writers?
Eavesdrop! I mean: draw inspiration from as many things around you as you can. Once you start writing a story, finish it. Don’t give up. Someone told me that once and it’s the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten. Just finish it. That way you’ll know you can. When you’re finished, find a writing friend to share your work with. Constructive criticism is the greatest gift to your writing. Take a few suggestions and try your hand at revising. My books get about twenty times better between the first draft and the second. That’s my formula: 1. Eavesdrop. 2. Don’t give up. 3. Share your work with someone who can help you make it better.
What is next for your fiction writing?
The prequel to Fallen, Passion, is the next book in the series. I’m just finishing up the first draft and I think it’s going to be the craziest (and maybe best) book I’ve ever written. It spans 5000 year of Luce’s past lives!
The Australian Literature Review