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