Okay, now that that’s out of the way, you can welcome the three here and read what they say. This kicks off the M + L Forever Blog Tour and Contest. Enjoy 🙂
A journey worth three books. Lets rewind back. Leesie and Michael, how did you guys meet Angela?
Michael: I started as a disembodied “what if” that haunted Angela after she heard about a real scuba accident during a hurricane like what happened to me and my parents. My voice made it out of her head and onto paper her during her first residency at Vermont College. She was sitting in a big circle with her new classmates and was challenged to free write from the prompt, “Remember a sound.” And I slipped out. She says it’s the first free write she ever wrote. She loves them now. Freak, she got me out of the deal. I guess she should love them. She saved the free write. Do you want to read it? Okay. These are my very first words . . . and the very first words that eventually became TAKEN BY STORM.
“I jump in and start breathing through my reg. The sound of sucking in, blowing out fills my head. My gut tightens like it always does. Sploosh. Swoosh. Bubbles flow out the back. Face down. Air out. Descent. Suck in. Long count. Don’t hold it. Blow out, blow out, blow out, smooth and slow. My bubbles interrupt the deep blue serenity of the world below. Then a short blast of air for buoyancy control. Quiet fin strokes. Arms glued at my side. The ocean of wonders opens to my view. Coral fronds of orange yellow pink green sway . . . “
It’s kind of rough. I think I got better, don’t you?
Leesie: I came on the scene when Angela decided to send Michael to live in her Grandmother’s house in the rural Washington town where she grew up. She created his Gram and made him go to Tekoa High School. She needed someone to fall in love with him, so she let me join the story. He showed up, devastated, in my physics class. And I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Angela let me live on the farm where she grew up and gave me a lot of the issues she dealt with growing up in one of the few Mormon families in that tiny town. That was okay, to an extant, but then she tried to make me suffer all of her worst adolescent tragedies in the space of about five chapters. I think I had to cry through the entire opening act. Not good. I was ready to bail on the whole thing, except, I mean, Michael. Who could bail on him? And Angela was working with an amazing mentor, Ron Koertge (STONER AND SPAZ), who got her to cut the waterworks and a few over the top scenes. A huge relief. She never really got me, though, until her daughter, the wise and wonderful Rachel who all of Angela’s characters love and adore, gave Angela a Kelly Clarkson CD with the song, “Beautiful Disaster,” on it. Yes. That’s me. A hundred percent.
And Angela, why did you choose to tell their story?
Angela: As soon as I introduced Michael and Leesie, they started talking in my head and wouldn’t shut up. I had to scribble it down or go insane. And then I fell in love with them. I invited them back and coaxed them to keep talking. When I finished CAYMAN SUMMER, I knew their story was finally complete because they don’t wake me up in the middle of the night anymore. I sleep better, but I miss their voices.
I’ve always thought the stylistic devices employed are unique. Michael, when did your ‘dive log’ turn into a reveal-it-all journal?
Michael: My mom’s dive logs were amazing. She put photos of me and Dad and all our dives in them and wrote a lot about us and our trips. She bugged me to do the same since I was a little kid. By the time we went on the trip to Belize, it was second nature to pour my guts out in my own dive log. Kind of embarrassing that you guys read all that stuff.
Why choose poetry, Leesie?
Leesie: The first gazillion drafts Angela had me speak through first-person prose chapters. The only one of my poems she included was the poem about my Grandmother. Michael’s dive logs were so intense and cool that my chapters seemed lame in comparison. She and I both love to write poetry and were trying to figure out how to include more. We experimented replacing entire scenes with narrative free verse poems, and, wow, that made it so much better. I still think Michael’s dive logs are the most intense and amazing part of the collage Angela created to tell our story, but I got so much deeper with my poetry than the prose scenes that I didn’t feel stupid letting you read them along with his entries.
You’re the writer, Angela. What made you stick with these modes of expression?
Angela: TAKEN BY STORM is the first novel I ever attempted. And I made the huge mistake of trying to write it as a dual first-person narrative. Not a good idea for the first time out. It’s way harder than it looks to write a novel in two voices. The concept for Michael’s dive log came first. I loved the idea and wrote a draft using the dive logs, but I got sidetracked when an editor from Candlewick requested that I rewrite the whole novel just from Michael’s point of view. She didn’t like that–she missed the dive logs. She asked me to rewrite it using a dive log to open each chapter and third person narration to tell the rest of the story. Bleck. But I did it. And she turned that down, too. Huge, huge rejection. And that point I had three very different versions of the same story. It felt broken. So I sat back and asked myself how I wanted to tell this story. That’s when I began to let Leesie speak through her poems. I married her “Most Private Chapbook” with Michael’s Dive Log and their ChatSpot transcripts. The result was far better than any of the other versions I’d written. And it was different enough to catch an editor’s attention. (It didn’t hurt that she was a poet herself!)
Beyond the love story, a major part of the trilogy is faith – staunch belief in it and even the lack of it. How has your perspectives evolved (if at all) over the course of your journey?
Leesie: Ladies, first. Michael, you can’t really say anything without spoiling CAYMAN SUMMER.
Michael: I’m not an idiot.
Leesie: I never thought anything could shake my faith. Even Michael. Even some of the mistakes I made when I fell crazy in love with him, didn’t make me doubt my faith. I felt guilty, like I wasn’t living up to the promises I’d made to the Lord, but I believe in repentance. I knew the way back. And then, well, you guys who’ve read UNBROKEN CONNECTION know what happened to me. Guilt and grief overwhelmed me. That’s all I let myself believe. That I was evil. I never stopped believing in God, but I didn’t believe in myself anymore. Michael did. He never stopped believing in me.
Michael: And that’s not a spoiler?
Leesie: It’s a teaser. There’s a difference.
Angela: I think you two have said enough.
Michael: My parents and I weren’t religious. We believed in diving. My gram went to church all the time. Not me. Leesie’s church stuff drove me crazy at first.
Leesie: The truth comes out.
Michael: Come on, you knew that. But then stuff would happen, inside me, that I couldn’t explain. I shrugged it off until, well, I guess I can’t say anymore.
Angela: And all I’m going to say is writing is a spiritual thing for me. I can’t do it without prayer and inspiration.
Michael: You mean I came from a prayer? You never told me that.
Angela: Now you know. I pray and stuff–good stuff like Michael and Leesie–bubble up in my brain and I attempt to capture it. Some people would call that my imagination or subconscious, but I know it’s more than that. Throughout Michael and Leesie’s entire journey, from the rough free write of Michael scuba diving to the final epilogue in CAYMAN SUMMER, I relied on that process. Why did I write Michael and Leesie’s story? Why did I cling so stubbornly to it when my editor, publisher, and agent all bailed on the second and third books? Because it’s the story I was given by my Father to tell. And I would be an ungrateful daughter to ignore such an amazing gift.
Michael, did you ever think this could happen to you?
Michael: “This?” You mean star in a book? Of course. I’m waiting for the movie.
Angela, we know Leesie and Michael’s story publicly brought you recognition as an author, but on a more personal level, what kind of impact has it had on you?
Angela: I never realized what a huge impact my readers would have on me. I love you guys. You’ve shared–and through the CAYMAN SUMMER blog–even taken part in the creation process with me. Every time I get a comment or an email or a new friend on FaceBook or Goodreads, it touches my heart that you’ve taken Michael and Leesie and me into your lives. Losing my editor at Penguin and then my agent was so hard. But my readers turned what could have been a depressing unproductive time, into a joyful collaboration. That was and always will be a HUGE blessing in my life.
Leesie, tell us a fun fact about Michael that we didn’t know.
Leesie: He has really long toes–can pick up stuff like a monkey.
Your turn, Michael. Spill one of Leesie’s best kept secrets.
Michael: No, she’ll kill me. Okay. Un-a-brow.
Leesie: Shut up. I do not.
Michael: Oh, yeah. And the more she plucks it the faster it grows back.
Leesie: I can’t believe you.
Michael: Hang on to the people you love. Nothing else really matters.
Leesie: I hope you mean me? What if you lose the person you love?
Michael: Then pray to find somebody like Leesie.
Leesie: That’s so sweet. I’d say, remember that none of us are ever really alone. No matter what you believe, there is a higher power waiting to help us through. Don’t turn your back on that. Don’t ignore it.
Angela: Ah, my creations. You took the words right out of my mouth. Now I have a confession. Many times over the last year I asked myself why I keep writing. It’s so hard to get published, and then when you do get published it gets even harder. I decided that my life would be way too easy if I didn’t write. I needed the challenge or I’d get lazy. But then I was talking with a friend who wants to create a foundation that helps the less fortunate, and I realized that I don’t write for just myself anymore. I write for you, my readers, now. Nothing thrills me more than getting an email from a reader that says one of my books has helped them with one challenge or another in their own lives. That makes all the hard stuff and the setbacks worth it.
Bonus question [SPOILER]: Leesie, did Britney Spears inspire you to shave off your hair?
Leesie: I wasn’t thinking about her when I did that, but it was probably in the back of my mind.
I knew it!
Loved having you here, guys, as much as I loved reading your story. Thank you for being so awesome 🙂
EDIT: As part of the M + L Forever Blog Tour, the all-too-awesome, Angela is organising a humongous contest. Head over now to win the complete set of the STORM series, M + L M&Ms and lots of books. Yes, it’s that awesome.