Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Teen fantasy fiction author Josephine Angelini is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in theater, with a focus on the classics. Originally from Massachusetts, she now lives in Los Angeles with her screenwriter husband, her newborn daughter, and three Methuselah-old shelter cats. Her debut series, Starcrossed, Dreamless, and Goddess (Harper Teen) are international bestsellers and have garnered the praise of various major publications, including the LA Times, and have twice won the Reader’s Choice Awards in Germany. Her next series, Trial by Fire, Book One of the WorldWalker Trilogy (Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan) is out now.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
I started as a theater major in college, and then I moved to Los Angeles to be a screenwriter. After a few years of weathering a sea of “no’s” in Hollywood, my husband (who is a screenwriter) mentioned that I seemed to read more books than screenplays. He said that regardless of what I had studied in school, I should do what I love. So, I took a chance and wrote my first manuscript—ambitiously deciding that it needed to be the first book in a trilogy. Starcrossed was bought pre-emptively by Harper Teen, and in 26 other countries, which came as quite a surprise. I was just hoping to get an agent. My start as a novelist was fast and splashy, but behind that was almost a decade of struggling. Like a friend of mine once said, “Every overnight success story takes about seven years.”
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My second series, The WorldWalker Trilogy. The first book Trial by Fire is out now. I tend to think in 3’s. I blame George Lucas and Star Wars. Or it could be because I’m not a very good short story writer, so I went in entirely the opposite direction. Now I can’t write a book under 100K words to save my life.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
My work environment is very spare. I work at the kitchen table or a tiny desk in my bedroom that faces the wall. The less distraction the better for me, but I can, and have, worked in some crazy places—airports, waiting rooms, NYC taxi cabs. I’m not precious about my work space.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT HAPPENS IN A TYPICAL DAY?
Since I had my daughter three months ago I’ve been getting up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning to squeeze in a few hours of work before she’s up for the day. I’ve always preferred working in the mornings, but I used to also do a second shift in the evening. Since I became a mother, I think I’ve lost that second shift for good.
During the day, it’s catch-as-catch-can. Pia’s naps haven’t settled into a pattern yet so I try to work when she’s sleeping, but sometimes laundry, dishes, and basic body maintenance like food and yoga and showers take up the rest of my free time and I don’t get to write. Hopefully, things will settle soon.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I’m what they call a “plotter”. Before I start a new series, I outline everything. I start with Book One, do complete character bios, all my world-building specifics, and make a detailed scene-by-scene plan in a five-act structure. This usually works out to be about thirty pages long, so that should give you an idea of how detailed my outlines are. Then, I do a rough outline for Book Two, focusing on the major reversals, reveals, and main character arcs. This will be about ten pages. Finally, I jot down the ending of Book Three and start to plan any new bios I made need for characters that are introduced in the final book. This is usually a one-pager with a lot of wiggle room.
When all is said and done, I usually have a bible that’s edging up on fifty pages before I sit down and type Chapter One, Book One. It takes me months, but I need to know where I’m going to end up before I begin.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
I write because I love it. And—I mean this sincerely—I don’t have a lot of other skills. Let’s face it, I got a BFA in classical theater. That doesn’t set me up to be a captain of industry or anything. Basically I can do two things, three if you count being fun at a dinner party. I can write and I can bartend. I bartended for about 12 years, and bartending years should be measured like dog years considering how much they take out of you. That gives me 84 years of serving drinks in a nightclub, which means that, technically, I’m already dead. Writing is my heaven.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOUR WRITING?
Like most writers, I love to read. But I also love movies. Anytime I see great storytelling I feel like I’ve heard about a club I want to join. I want to be part of a creative world.
I have no idea where ideas come from. It’s a chicken-and-the-egg thing.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF BEING A WRITER?
Managing motherhood and my career is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Social media is challenging, too. There’s a lot of pressure on writers to always be on Twitter or Facebook, and I think sometimes that can get in the way of work. I love meeting my fans and chatting with them, but writing takes focus and privacy, and sometimes I think a certain amount of anonymity. I think it’s easier for a reader to picture a character as I intend if they aren’t picturing me as the character, or me writing the character. If readers know the writer, it can get in the way of them reading each book without some kind of bias. But the good old days of being a cloistered novelist are done. Everyone is on the good ole’ inter-webs and they need to be to get their books out there.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION AS A WORD ARTIST OR BOOK INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL?
My personal goal is to keep on going. I want a long career so I can write for the rest of my life.
I do wish there was a little more emphasis put on the content of a book rather than whether or not it’s “trendy”. I think a lot of publishers are chasing the next big thing, and when you chase, by definition you’re always behind. I wish they could be braver, but that’s the oldest problem there is at the intersection of art and commerce. If they don’t sell books, they go under.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LOVE TO HEAR MORE FROM?
I’d like to hear more from people who are self-published. How do they get their books out there?
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Kelly Link. She started her own imprint called Small Beer Press. I bet there’s a great story there. Also, Amy Plum. Amy lives in Paris and she has some great things to say about writing in a country that speaks a different language. Tessa Gratton, because I think she is considering self-publishing her next book, and I’d like to hear about that process. And finally Anna Carey, because she’s a hoot and I always love to hear what she has to say, period. They all write in the YA genre.
Thank you, Josephine Angelini!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Marc Cartwright
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