EXTRA CREDIT INTERVIEW WITH LAURA P. ANGARONI:
Joining LitPick for an Extra Credit Interview is Laura P. Angaroni. Her first book, Lowly, has been recognized as one of the 90 Best Children’s Books of 2017.
Do you have a solid outline before writing, or do you usually get ideas as you go along?
For book ideas, I don’t think I’ve ever had a “solid” outline, but I most likely have a rough one. That way I know the general direction I’m headed in and an end goal before I sit down to start typing. I find, however, that the characters may wrest a bit of control when it comes to the actual writing. It’s this weird, almost miraculous, thing that happens as each word is being placed on the page…as I live the story with my characters. Nine times out of ten, this is fantastic. Yet I need to continually keep that end goal in mind so as not to go off on unnecessary tangents that detract from the story.
Has someone you’ve known ever appeared as a character in a book (consciously or subconsciously)?
For better or worse, it’s an undeniable yes. In fact, many of the main characters in Lowly were initially inspired by a few of my high school friends, mainly because I love them so much, and they’re incredibly interesting to boot. But also because I was looking for authenticity and to preserve the uniqueness of that time and place in my life. However, as the writing progressed, the characters had to change to fit the plot. It’s a skewed chicken-or-egg conundrum. Do the characters shape the story, or does the story shape the characters? In my experience, it’s both, merging in an inexplicable way to produce characters that I end up loving as if they’re real.
As an example, Teresa and Charlotte’s characters in Lowly were a twisty blend of my two best friends in high school. Although each character retained similar personal backgrounds to the originals, one’s personality morphed into an original character. The other ended up combining some of the best characteristics of what I perceive my friends to have been during those years.
What do you do when you get writer's block?
I tell myself it’s okay, often over and over. Getting anxious about it will only make it worse. Even more, I know that the issue will be percolating in the back of my mind as I go about my day-to-day tasks. Then poof! The poof could take a couple of weeks, but when it hits, you know you’ve stumbled on a good idea to move the story forward. On the other hand, you might just have to make yourself sit down and start typing despite your feelings or not having a clear direction because the writing itself will trigger needed ideas.
If you could live in a book's world, which would you choose?
At one time, it would have been Harry Potter’s universe. The last few years, I’m not sure I would choose a book’s world over my own (I like air conditioning too much.). However, I’ve become enamored with fairy tale fantasies. If I did have to choose, I’m more prone to pick a book like The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, or Graceling by Kristin Cashore. But please don’t make me wear a frou-frou princess dress. I prefer a tunic and leggings. A perfectly balanced sword might be strapped on my belt in case of emergency.
What is your favorite book-to-movie adaptation?
I love the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Well, I guess that was more a miniseries. So I have to say that Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was beautifully done other than the portrayal of Faramir in slightly sinister shades when he was first introduced in the movie. (The only thing that bugs me about those three movies.)
If you could have lunch with one other author (dead or alive!), who would it be?
This question is a toughie. I’ve had to think about it for some time. But I would love to sit down for tea and scones (throw in some dark chocolate, please) with J.K. Rowling. Maybe not for the reasons you might at first assume. It’s not to do with writing per se. We’re the same age, though, and both mothers, even if we’ve had vastly different life experiences. She’s overcome them but has had some tough happenings in her past, the kind that build character. So, yeah, if I could control the variables and make us both open to sharing authentic stuff, I think she would make a nice friend even if only for a meal.
Your book Lowly has Christian themes. How does your faith influence your writing?
It influences how I perceive everything, so it certainly influences my writing. Once you decide to follow Christ, you see the world through the lens of Jesus. For me, that means that themes like salvation, hope, perseverance, granting and seeking forgiveness, community, faith, and from where a Christ-follower’s strength originates will be woven into my writing. And even though I feel the importance of writing “real,” I’ll try to keep it as clean as possible while still tackling some potentially tough subjects.
Laura, thank you for sharing more of your heart with us. We would love to join you and J.K. Rowling for tea and scones.
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SIX MINUTES WITH LAURA P. ANGARONI:
Joining LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author today is Laura Angaroni. She’s proof writing can be inspired by anything, even a U2 concert. Her first book, Lowly, has received LitPick’s Top Choice Book Review Award, so be sure to check out this great read.
***How did you get started writing?
I got a late start, although it was close to seven or eight years ago. Here's the story: when my daughter was in 6th grade, the band U2 came to town on a Wednesday. My husband wasn't interested in going, so I decided to take her instead. Yes, what kind of parent does that, you're wondering. But I did contact her teachers to let them know my plans and to make sure that she didn't have any big tests the next day. Once I got their feedback, I purchased the tickets! After the concert, I had many friends who were interested in our experience--including the fact that we seemed to be sitting in the midst of a section of people who didn't dance and a few other funny observations. So I sat down to write it up...and I wrote and wrote, possibly being a little too wordy. But it caught the eye of one of my pastors at church, and he loved it. He encouraged me to keep writing and gave me the opportunity to write up some monologs to read to our congregation for a sermon series that summer. Not long after this, I decided to try writing fiction.
Lowly is the result.
***Who influenced you?
For this book, I had two literary inspirations in particular. The first one was Emma by Jane Austen. I love all Jane Austen books, but Emma speaks to me in a personal way because of how the main character, so flawed but at the same time admirable, grows and changes during the book, demonstrating a story of reconciliation and redemption. I named my daughter Emma, by the way.
The second one is called The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and was a gift from my sister. Not only is the book hilarious, heartwarming, and at times, poignant, but Schmidt does a masterful job of weaving the sixties period into the story, giving it even more interest and character. If I’m able to evoke even a smidgeon of that success while recreating my teenage place and time—Oak Cliff in the eighties—into my book, I’m happy.
***Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
I don’t have just one favorite character. Lola, George, and Earley are my three favorites. I love Lola because of her spirit, as well as her many imperfections, and the growth journey she takes during the story. I love George, well, because he’s George. He’s popular and has a good dose of self-confidence, yet he’s funny, down-to-earth, and despite his youth, has a good head on his shoulders. Sounds almost too perfect, right? Lastly, I love Earley because he’s real. He has a ton of potential and a good heart, but he still makes mistakes. I put a lot of thought into his character and motivations as well as Lola’s. They have good, even pure, intentions (well, I’ll admit Lola deviates from this during the book); and they’re brave, but they’re often off the mark in their actions. I feel this reflects the reality of life for the majority of us, but particularly for teens, and I hope I conveyed it in a forgiving manner.
***What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
Don’t be discouraged by the wrong kind of criticism. Don’t let anyone stifle your creativity by making fun of your work. However, and even though it’s okay to make mistakes, you should be grateful for constructive criticism—the helpful kind. It’s a treasure! Then when you’re ready for your writing to be taken seriously, you should practice proper grammar and punctuation rules for the most part. If you need to brush up on those rules, you might want to consider obtaining a copy of Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliot. Although written for children, it’s straightforward, easy to understand, and useful for any age.
***Where is your favorite place to write?
I usually write at home, but being alone at home too much can be, well, for lack of a better word, lonely. So sometimes, I end up at a local café where, if I order a meal, they’ll let me hog a booth as long as I would like. It’s awesome!
***What else would you like to tell us?
For teens: Ninety-nine percent of the time, your friends are not equipped to help you through a serious challenge or situation. Seek help from caring adults when you need it. Speak out. Sometimes we (adults) don’t catch the clues that you’re in a harmful place. Make it clear! Furthermore, if the first or even the second adult doesn’t take you seriously, be brave and keep telling your story until you find the person ready to take action for your good. You should probably start with one, both of your parents, or your guardian, but if help is not forthcoming, try your school counselor. Additionally, look up the local community and school district crises numbers and websites; then you should program them into your phone in case you or your friends need immediate help.
On the flip side, if you think you've become a bully or feel you need to seek forgiveness—be courageous! Approach those you've harmed and express sincere remorse. Being accountable for your actions--that's huge. That is a giant step toward adulthood. In fact, I wish more adults would take this lesson to heart.
For parents: Your teens love you more than you realize. They want you to have a good opinion of them. Therefore, more likely than not, they’ll not tell you everything that’s going on in their lives. Promote open communication with them in any way possible. Do fun things together and try to tamp down on the shock when they report some of the crazy things they experience at school while at the same time not approving harmful behavior. It’s a balancing act. Pray, pray, pray, and when they do come to you with issues—harassment, bullying, depression, anxiety, etc.—I beg you to reassure them that you love them, you’re on their side if they’re the victim, and you forgive them if the situation warrants it. Let them know that you will work with them to move them back to a safe state by pursuing professional therapy, advocating for them with their school, and/or removing them from a bad situation.
Laura, thank you for joining LitPick to share more about yourself and your book. Your advice about writing and life is encouraging, and we are so glad you provide such a positive influence for teens through literature. May your books continue to be a blessing!