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Author Interview: Angela Morrison

Friday, July 20, 2012
Today, I'm delighted to be interviewing with Angela Morrison, author of Taken By Storm.

Thanks for interviewing with us, Angela! Tell us a little about yourself and life as a writer.
Sure, Kris. Thanks so much for hosting me today.

In kindergarten I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I went to first grade and learned how to write. I've been a scribbler ever since--but it took me until I was a grandmother to have my first book published. I'm a NAUI advanced, Nitrox certified scuba diver. I grew up on a wheat farm outside a small town on the Washington/Idaho border--the only Mormon girl in town, except my sisters. In my first book, Taken by Storm, I blended those two worlds to create a stormy romance.

I debuted with Penguin's Razorbill imprint in 2009. My second book with Penguin, Sing me to Sleep, won the Best Books 2011 Award for Young Adult Fiction and was a 2010 GoodReads Choice Nominee. When my editor left Penguin and her boss decided not publish Taken by Storm's sequel, I listened to the encouragement of readers and bloggers who were clamoring to read it and released it independently. To thank them for their loyalty and love, I decided to write Cayman Summer, scene-by-scene, post-by-post on a blog. I loved that experience. I wish I could write every book that way. I love to write, but it gets lonely and can sometimes feel selfish. Having a cheering chorus and instant feedback was incredible.

I signed with a new agent who is working hard to sell my books to big-time traditional publishers, so I can't blog my books anymore. But it's the wild, wild west in the publishing world these days. Who knows? I might end up blogging everything!

It's really cool how you decided to put the sequel up on a blog and went through the book with your readeres! In your About page you also mention that you wrote an amazing about a picture of a white kitten in a colander of spaghetti noodles given to you by your teacher. Would you tell us more about this?
That was first grade, and I wrote it on the chalkboard. Alas, it didn't survive! That creative teacher converted me. I was a writer ever after by the time I hit second grade.

We can all thank your teacher for bringing you into the writing world then! I saw that you like to write about coming-of-age, break-your-heart coming-of-age YA romances. Why are you drawn to this aspect of YA romance?
I wrote YA before it was cool to write YA. I earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2004 and learned from master's of the field--Norma Fox Mazer, M.T. Anderson, Ron Koertge, Susan Fletcher, Sharon Darrow, and Louise Hawes. As I studied their novels and other classic young adult and children's books--especially from Katherine Paterson--I discovered that every story was about the struggle to come-of-age.

Some people define coming-of-age as having sex for the first time. That's not what I mean by it. These classic YA authors explore the difficult journey everyone must traverse between childhood and adulthood. They put their characters in tough situations and force them to navigate on their own. I loved that and wanted to attempt it. I'm a romantic so everything I try to write turns into a love story. I blended the two--and that's where the break-your-heart part of the equation evolved.

The YA market was tiny pre-Twilight. And romance was banished to chick-lit. I couldn't find a publisher until Stephanie Meyer blew YA wide open and set off the tidal wave that swept me along with it. Twilight is definitely break-your-heart, coming of age YA romance.

I love coming-of-age YA lit where characters are put in tough situations and grow from their experiences. How do you feel Taken By Storm falls into this category?
Taken by Storm alternates between Michael and Leesie's points-of-view, so I had to give them both a challenge to overcome as the came-of-age. I started off by throwing a hurricane at Michael. He gets swept off a live-aboard dive boat when the storm surge capsizes it. Michael survives. His parents and all his dive buddies don't. To make matters worse, I made him go live with his ailing grandmother in my home town. He goes from spoiled only child who lives in Phoenix and summers in a condo in the Florida Keys--scuba diving and free diving his brains out--to a bereft soul locked in his dad's old bedroom staring at a crack on the wall. Leesie's challenge was easy: Michael. She's a good Mormon girl who keeps the rules (like no sex before marriage), but Michael needs her--emotionally and physically--like no one has before. They come of age together. And hearts will be broken.

Michael and Leesie's situations are unique and interesting. What inspired you to write about the romance between a Mormon girl and a diver?
My husband and I were in Cozumel, Mexico scuba diving when we heard about a hurricane that had hit just south of us in Belize and killed a boatload of divers. I didn't believe it. Divers don't drown. The story haunted me. When I got home, I looked it up. It was true. I followed it online and began asking myself, "What if?" What if a senior guy survived that tragedy but his parents didn't? What would he do? Where would he go? And most of all, who would love him?

I sent him to my home town and used memories and high school journals to create a Mormon girl for him to fall in love with. I couldn't make it easy for him. Leesie's faith added a unique challenge that I could portray with truth and authenticity.

Michael from Taken By Storm and you are both sea divers. What experiences have you drawn upon for the novel?
Well, of course, that was the fun of it. I could use my experience as a diver to create underwater scenes and give Michael authentic memories of the underwater world. When you descend and look around at the landscape of coral tubes and waving fans, blue, yellow, orange fish fitting in tiny coral caves, it feels like an alien world. I loved drawing out my memories and playing with words to find the best way to describe them. I also began paying close attention to the dive masters and instructors we met on our travels. I borrowed eye-lashes from one, curling dark hair on the back of his neck from another, and diver-guy talk from them all.

One thing, though, I knew nothing about: breath-hold or free diving. No tanks. Michael is an elite free diver--his training helps him survive the storm--and I knew nothing about free diving. My wonderful husband took an entire day off scuba diving in Grand Cayman (our favorite place to dive) to take a certification course with me. I was awful at it. But he was great. He did a 55' deep dive by the end of the day.

Wow. Free divers are amazing. I don't think I could go even one-tenth of that length! Taken By Storm is told in a unique way through online chats, Leesie's poems, and Michael's dive log. Why did you decide to tel the story in this format?
Storm started off a dual-first person, he-said-she-said novel. Quite a challenge for a first novel. Readers connect far better to a single, intimate first-person narrator. But I had to have them both. Michael and Leesie's online chats woke me up in the middle of the night, so I worked those in the scenes like dialogue. Michael's sections included intense flashback to the hurricane and the life he lost. Leesie was a poet, and shared a personal poem with Michael, but she narrated in prose.

With some tough advice from Ron Koertge, cheering from Sharon Darrow, and more tough criticism from Louise Hawes, I finished the book and revised it enough for it to be my MFA creative thesis. I kept working on it post-MFA, traded it with colleagues for critique. I decided to turn Michael's sections into dive log entries and let Leesie narrate the rest of the book.

A few editors came close to buying it. One told me if I rewrote the book entirely from Michaels POV, she'd take another look at it. I rewrote it. She missed the dive logs. I rewrote it again for her--this time she asked for third person with dive logs introducing every chapter. Bleck. By the time she rejected that version, my book was broken.

I'd recently attended a SCBWI Conference that featured Markus Zusak. I studied how he crafted The Book Thief from assorted bits and pieces. I'm a fan of poetry novels and considered that format, too. I decided to try something completely different: a collage.

I started with Michael's dive logs. Then I let Leesie be the poet she always wanted to be. I struggled with her character until I let her write it all in free verse. I pulled out all their online chats added more and let them stand on their own as chat logs. And voila! The parts built an amazing whole!

What are you working on right now?
I just sent a new book off to my agent. She wanted something for younger readers. No kissing scenes? No angst? No tears? What's left to write about? I'm nervous. It's called, "The Order of the Flick" and is about a 12-year-old nerd and a 200-year-old automaton (think "Hugo") who save the world. I hope she likes it. I'm trying not to think about.

While I wait for her, I'm delving back into the musical stage adaptation I wrote for Sing me to Sleep. My composer is hard at work writing the music, and I just got some revision notes from her husband, who will direct the first production. I've got some new songs to write and old songs to compress into one giant number. I've started blogging about the project at http://singmetoslp.blogspot.com .

My agent has on submission a couple more YA projects I had to shelve when I was under contract with Penguin. I try not to think about that, either. Any day now she could call me with amazing news. Or awful news. Patience is required in this business. But they are my babies. I love to talk about them.

In My Only Love, I turned my great, great, great grandmother's big brother into the hottest coal mining lad who ever had to leave the lass he loved behind in Scotland and emigrate to dig mines in a new land. It's different from my other books because it's historical, but it has the same intense--break-your-heart coming of age romance at its core.

Slipped is Jane Eyre meets the Terminator--but my post-nuclear winter, rogue, time-traveling assassin, who vows to destroy the past to save the future, ain't no robot. My beta readers tell me he's my hottest hero yet.

Thanks so much for interviewing me, Kris. I'll stopping by throughout the day, so if your readers have any more questions, I'd be happy to answer them.

Thanks for interviewing. I'm excited to hear about your new projects and will be on the lookout for them! As Angela mentioned, she'll be answering questions, so if you have any or just want to leave a note for Angela, please do so in the comments section!
2 comments on "Author Interview: Angela Morrison"
  1. I enjoyed the interview. :)

    I was the same, I used to want to be a vet as well until I learned to write. I'm so glad I changed my mind, I really don't think that would have been the job for me. :)

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  2. Haha! I find Angela's story about kittens & spaghetti noodles to be pretty hilarious :D

    I also find it amazing that Angela decided to publish her works independently :o I actually recently bought some of her works - they're really something! It was a pretty big risk with what she did there. I definitely look forward to reading Taken by Storm & Sing Me To Sleep! Thanks for the interview!

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