I recently had the opportunity to do reviews on two of Angela Morrison's amazing books, TAKEN BY STORM, and UNBROKEN CONNECTION. She was also nice enough to let me interview her. If you want to learn more about her after reading her interview, visit her website: http://web.me.com/angelamorrison/Angela_Morrison/Welcome.html
1. Your characters are very well developed and a joy to discover. How do you create such strong characters? Are they based on people you know?
Revision, revision, revision. It took me so long to finally sell TAKEN BY STORM, so I had YEARS of listening to Michael and Leesie talk in my head. I got to know them better with each rejection and consequent revision. I think that's the key to creating strong characters--listening to them. Are they based on people I know? I have to laugh when people ask me that. I put Leesie in my high school and she lives in the farm house where I lived from junior high through high school. I even made her the only Mormon girl in the school. Then I started giving her all of my worst high school experiences. It was great catharsis, but lousy fiction. I had to cut a lot of the me, so she could be Leesie. I gave her my sister's long, beautiful hair, another sister's mad driving skills, and a retro suede leather jacket one of my son's friends wore. I still had difficulty conveying her motivation until my daughter gave me a recording of Kelly Clarkson's, "Beautiful Disaster!" That song is exactly Leesie. I'd listen to it whenever I drove kids to school and then be in the perfect mood to come home and revise some more. Leesie truly came into her own when I let her speak through poetry.
2. What led you to make the decision to use dive logs, chat records and poetry to tell the story?
Desperation. An editor at Candlewick said she'd look at my manuscript a second time if I revised it all from Michael's point of view. I'd do anything for Candlewick, so I tried it. She missed the suspense created from Leesie discovering Michael's situation. She asked me to revise again, bringing back the dive logs that I used to tell Michael's part of the story, and replacing Leesie's first person narration with third person. I tried it. Bleck. She said it was stiff. Yup. At that point, I looked at my manuscript, and it was broken. I asked myself, "How do I want to tell this story?" I'd just returned from a workshop with Markus Zusak and read THE BOOK THEIF. He is so inventive with all the pieces he brings together to narrate the story. I'd also recently read Tobin (M.T.) Anderson's OCTAVIAN NOTHING: TRAITOR TO A NATION, Kelly Bringham's SHARK GIRL, and Ellen Yoeman's RUBBER HOUSES. Tobin's book uses Octavian's journal entries interspersed with letters and other items from other narrators. He lists himself as the compiler. Kelly and Ellen's books are both exquisitely crafted poetry novels. Kelly introduces letters to round out the narrative.
I studied my past three or four revisions with Markus Zusak's advice to "keep the gems," ringing in my ears. Michael's dive logs were the best thing I had. I could use those to tell Michael's side of the story. I'd already incorporated chats into the novel, but I used them like dialogue. I decided to take them out and insert them as transcripts, but what about Leesie? She'd been a poet from the start. Her poem about her grandmother was one of the first things I wrote. And her and Kim's relationship was all about writing poetry. I tried a few of Leesie's scenes as free verse poems and was excited about the result. Poetry is my dessert, so I was excited about getting to write lots of poetry. This form is called a collage novel. I love it, but it's challenging. It fits Michael and Leesie. I'm not sure if I'll use it again.
3. Do you use an outline when you write and if so, how detailed is it?
Outlines make me grimace, shudder, run away crying. I do use a calendar (you can see it on my blog) to keep track of what's going on. When ideas for the story come thick and fast, I scribble them down into a rough plot summary. I wrote SING ME TO SLEEP under contract, and I had to come up with a fairly detailed story "pitch." I'm getting better at that, but it's a learned skill. Plans always get changed when characters get involved. I'm a hero's journey writer and highly recommend Voegel's, THE WRITER'S JOURNEY.
4. What character do you connect with the most?
Probably Leesie. I divested her of a lot of me, but there's still some in there haunting the poor girl.
5. How long did it take you to write your first novel? Has the time frame changed any now that you are an experienced writer?
I wrote the first draft of TAKEN BY STORM over the course of my first two semesters studying for my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (Incredible program, writers check it out!) I remember how amazed I felt when I wrote the last scene and knew I'd actually written a novel. I revised it off and on for two more semesters, but also started writing MY ONLY LOVE, an historical novel that required zillions of hours of research. After I graduated, I marketed STORM for three and a half years before I sold it. And then we did major revisions to get it in shape for Razorbill's audience. That's almost six years of effort, rejection, faith in this story, and never giving up. I didn't work on it full-time, but consistently through those years. I wrote SING ME TO SLEEP in three months--and only had a few weeks for my editors changes. Good thing she didn't ask for a lot. I was in a panic to meet my deadline and wrote so much I hurt my hands! Now, I average about six months for a novel--but I know I can do it in less if I have to.
6. Is there any message you have for your fans?
I'd like to invite you all to read TAKEN BY STORM and UNBROKEN CONNECTION and then join us over at http://caymansummer.blogspot.com where I'm blogging Michael and Leesie's last book as I write it. I love getting readers input along the way and there's a big contest running, too. I hope to see you there.