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The Dear Author Intro Interview: Angela Morrison, Author of Taken by...

Taken by Storm by Angela Morrison"I couldn't sell Taken by Storm pre-Twilight," says Angela Morrison of her YA debut.   It's not hard to imagine the factors that made the novel a tough sell:   a multi-genre narrative that combines poetry, first-person, and IMs; loads of sexual tension that exclude it from the inspirational market even though one of the main characters is devout.   That's Leesie, a high school senior whose Mormon faith faces its first great challenge in the person of Michael, tortured and angry following the death of his parents.   He doesn't know any way to be close to a girl except through sex, and she doesn't know how risky being needed can get.   Want angst? Join us in the comments for a chance to win a copy of Angela's book.

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A six-word memoir for your protagonist:

Taken by Storm has dual protagonists, so I did both–

Michael – Live to dive–nothing else left.

Leesie – BYU? Yes! But what about him?

What were the original “triggers” or inspiration points for  Taken By Storm?

My husband and I were diving in Cozumel and heard about a boat loaded with divers being hit by a hurricane just south of us in Belize. I followed the story on the internet and kept thinking, “What if a high school senior survived an accident like that, but his parents and all his diving buds drowned? Where would he go? What would he do?” And, most important, who would love him?”   I was two thousand miles away from my hometown and more homesick than I even knew–so I sent Michael there.

Your favorite line or moment in the novel:

When Leesie says, “I’m much better online than in person.” I can so relate!

The scene in which Michael "dives" into Leesie's world by taking her to the dance is really effective at showing how far apart they are in their worldviews.

I wrote that scene as I was revising with Lexa [Storm's editor]. I had too much scuba diving in the draft I sold, so we cut a lot and had some big holes to fill. When I pitched the idea of the dance, Lexa loved it. I knew exactly how Leesie would feel. And after five years of revising, I knew Michael well enough to peg his reaction fairly well.

There's a lot of crossover appeal in YA these days.   Is there a difference in what younger readers hook into in Taken By Storm versus what you hear from parents or other adults?   And how do you feel about the Twilight comparisons you've gotten?

Not really–other than the adults say it took them right back to high school. Mothers have commented that it is a good opportunity to read it with their daughters and discuss intimacy in a frank and open way. I mean, it all comes up in the course of the book.

I’m honored by the  Twilight comparisons. Wouldn’t you be? Stephanie Meyers is an unbelievably skilled story-teller. My work is more artsy. And my characters are very, very human. But Stephanie and I share some fundamental core beliefs that lead to a similar treatment of love and intimacy in our work. The genius of  Twilight is how it metaphorically represents a message that would otherwise be unpalatable. It’s amazing–Stephanie made abstinence HOT. I couldn’t sell  Taken by Storm pre-Twilight. I got a two book contract with Penguin after it. The  Twilight series literally exploded my field–made opportunities for me and scores of other YA novelists. I pay homage and am grateful.

Did you always know what Michael and Leesie's choices would be in the end?

I THOUGHT I knew what the ending would be. And  Storm‘s ending changed very little in the writing and editing process. BUT after I finished the novel, Leesie and Michael wouldn’t leave each other alone. I wrote UNBROKEN CONNECTION this past fall. And plan a third novel, CAYMAN SUMMER. With Lexa’s departure from Razorbill, I lost my best advocate there. I got the rejection email three days before SING ME TO SLEEP launched. That’s the biz. You got to take the bad with the good. My agent and I are regrouping and trying to figure out how best to bring these stories to readers.   You can get a taste of UNBROKEN CONNECTION on my website.

How did you come to choose the story-telling devices you used in Taken by Storm?

Storm started out with first-person dual narrators. Michael would narrate. Then Leesie. They chatted online in these scenes and I used that like dialogue. After bunches of rejections, I was messing around with the form and decided to put Michael’s intense, agonizing stuff into “dive log” journal-ish entries. Leesie narrated and shared these entries.

An editor at Candlewick told me she’d read it again if I wrote all from Michael’s first-person POV. A second read? Hooray. Of course I made the change. She didn’t like that–missed the dive logs and how the story developed with Leesie discovering things. She wanted me to try again using the dive logs and writing the rest in third person from Michael’s perspective. That turned out as awful as it sounds. She rejected it. And my poor novel was broken.

We were living in Switzerland at the time, and I’d recently spent a day in Munich with SCBWI Germany and Markus Zusak. (Yes, he is even cuter in real life than his author photo.) As I studied  The Book Thief, I fell in love with all the different pieces he used to tell that story. I also studied my fellow Vermont College alums novels  Shark Girl, by Kelly Bingham–who tells her story using poems, letters, and newspaper articles–and  Rubber Houses, by Ellen Yoemans, whose story is written in free verse poetry but they are distinct poems.

Why couldn’t I do something like that? Michael’s dive logs were the best thing I had. The internet chats could go in as transcripts, but what about Leesie? Duh. She was a poet, wasn’t she? As soon as I started writing Leesie’s poems, I knew I’d finally found the right voice for her. AH-HAH!

Does writing poetry "in character" change how you approach a poem?

Sure. Poetry is one of those things that I always thought just comes or it doesn’t. With  Taken by Storm, I had scenes that I had to write as a free verse poem. The challenge was to make sure they felt like true poems and not just broken lines on a page. My editor, Lexa Hillyer, who recently opened her own boutique literary development company and now offers editorial services, is an excellent poet. She helped me get the verse as tight as it could be. It was so amazing to find her. A miracle really.

What's in Sing Me to Sleep that's going to please fans of Taken by Storm?

The same kind of intense love story wrapped in tragedy. Poetry. Up front, honest, in your face first-person. Really great kissing scenes!

Number of manuscripts you wrote before  Taken by Storm:

Storm is my first novel. I wrote two more while I was revising and marketing it.

From page one, draft one to the “sold” call–how long?

Five and a half YEARS!

Your oddest or most reliable writing ritual/habit:

Black Zebra gel pens and unlined pink paper.

Writing advice you’re glad you followed or ignored:

I finally figured out what it means to write what you know. I’ve got a post about it on my website you’ll enjoy.

Three sources of inspiration for you:

1) Music–all kinds. With  Sing Me to Sleep hitting the shelves recently, I’m getting to hear lots of gorgeous choral music again, and I love it. When I went up to London, Ontario for launch week, I even got to hear “Beth’s Song” sun live at Amabile’s 25th Anniversary Festival concert.

2) My teen years–obviously.

3) My children–shhhh, don’t tell them.

Your paying job(s) pre- and post-publicaton:

Paying job? I haven’t had one since I put myself through college. I’m a mom. Now that my four kids are mostly grown up and more capable than I am, I’m an author full-time. But, as this question rightfully assumes, that’s not really a paying job, either. Both are vocations. I’m so grateful to my husband for making it possible for me to pursue both.

Your favorite book when you were 10:

Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott

An author or book you recommend again and again:

Markus Zusak,  The Book Thief!

Both Taken by Storm and Sing Me to Sleep are available now. Angela's website has lots of goodies for readers, including free reads and trailers.   You can contact Alyson H., who does the Intro Interviews, at daintrointerview AT gmail DOT com.

Alison Atlee (also known as "Alyson" here at Dear Author) is fascinated by creative people and how they work, which is why she enjoys contributing author interviews to Dear Author. She likes her romance novels light on the internal monologues, twisty with the conventions, and brimming with voice. Her favorite book at age ten? "An Old-Fashioned Girl" by Louisa May Alcott.

15 Comments

  1. Maili
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 12:12:00

    Oh, I must get a copy of Taken By Storm because I love reading epistolary novels. Thank you for the interview.

  2. kathybaug
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 12:59:05

    I find I am enjoying YA fiction more and more. Wish these type books had been around when I was a teen!

  3. Rowena
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 15:58:22

    This book has been on my TBB list for a while now. I need to hurry up and get my butt in gear and get it already.

    Thanks for posting this, it’s always great to hear what an author has to say outside of their books.

    I’ve got a question for Angela Morrison, is this book age appropriate for a 12 year old avid reader? My niece just moved up to the youth in Church and she’s a Beehive. She is dying to read this book but my sister fears that the relationship between Michael and Leesie would be too intense (kind of like Edward and Bella’s relationship) for her because she’s too young. As a Seminary teacher (did I read that right?), is 12 too young?

  4. Angela Morrison
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 16:36:08

    Hi Rowena,
    Good question. I know lots of Beehives who have read it. It really depends on the 12-year-old. Your sister needs to be the judge. She should read it first. I have a long, worried post called “Corrupting the Beehives” on my website’s “Storm’s Story” Blog all about this. Your niece might want to wait until she’s fourteen. I tell LDS moms and aunts that STORM is a standards night girls WON’T put down. It does get steamy. But it isn’t explicit. And all the commandments are there in technicolor. But if your sister feels Edward and Bella are too intense for your niece, Michael and Leesie probably are, too.
    Thanks for posting!

  5. J
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 17:35:27

    Taken by the Storm sounds very interesting. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for it!

  6. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 18:15:24

    Angela, were you eligible/nominated for the Whitney Awards?

  7. Angela Morrison
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 18:47:07

    Hi Moriah, I would certainly be eligible for both 2009 and 2010, but I haven’t ever heard from the Whitney Awards. It would be really lovely to be recognized by the LDS community that way.

  8. Bee
    Mar 25, 2010 @ 02:13:06

    I absolutely truly, madly, deeply fell in love with Taken By Storm!
    Anyone who hasn’t read it, go get it NOW..yes, it’s that good!

  9. Marianne McA
    Mar 25, 2010 @ 02:58:11

    I’m like Maili, I love epistolary novels, though I don’t think I’ve ever read one that incorporated poetry. Intriguing. Off to Amazon to add this to my wish list.

  10. Mari
    Mar 25, 2010 @ 11:32:30

    Sounds very interesting! Like the fact the author is playing with literary forms. Would love to win a copy.

    Mari

  11. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 25, 2010 @ 12:37:11

    @Angela Morrison:

    You’ve been flying under our radar, sadly. Please come visit A Motley Vision.

  12. Saya
    Mar 25, 2010 @ 18:44:08

    Great interview!

    What I meant to ask – if you read this, Angela :) – is how much of Michael and Leesie’s story is to do with your own experience? Where did it come from – the conflict, the emotional depth? I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it reads with such a stunning authenticity, it would be hard to believe you didn’t find yourself in those circumstances!

  13. Lorraine from CA
    Mar 25, 2010 @ 19:11:53

    I just read the first chapter of Taken by Storm on Angela’s website. I’m hooked! Going to add this to my Amazon wishlist.

  14. Angela Morrison
    Mar 25, 2010 @ 22:38:10

    Where do I start? First, I love your site Moriah. We need to talk!

    Lorraine–I have to tell you a quick story about the first chapter. I met my editor at a SCBWI Retreat in Paris. I went home and re-wrote the opening chapter specifically (and every other soft-hearted female) would fall in love with Michael. Sounds like it’s still working. He only gets better. Trust me.

    And Saya, THANK YOU! I tried so hard to make Leesie and Michael authentic. Their relationship is fictional. I didn’t have a serious non-Mormon boyfriend in high school. But the town of Tekoa, the high school, Gram’s house, Leesie’s farm–all the places, in fact–are very real. (See “Storm’s Story” on my website for pictures.) And were very much a part of my life. I did grow up as the only Mormon girl in my high school. At first I gave poor Leesie way too many of my own horrible high school experiences. Gag. It was terrible. I took out a lot of that, but left and fictionalized what seemed to fit.

    Leesie’s experience with Michael was not my experience, but I have seen so many, many LDS young women who get involved with guys like Michael. It wasn’t hard to make it authentic. The depth comes from YEARS of revision until I got to the point where I knew both characters intimately.

  15. Winner of the Angela Morrison Book from the Intro Interview | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Mar 26, 2010 @ 09:34:25

    […] to Angela Morrison for joining DA for the Intro Interview.  MAILI, you are the winner of the copy of Taken by Storm.  Send your post info to Alyson H. at […]

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