Interview with Lauren Kate

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Lauren Kate is an internationally best-selling author, most famous for her recent book series, Fallen, which is being made into a major motion picture by Disney. Her books have been on The New York Times Best Seller list and Kate’s toured the world for her book series. Random House released her new series, Teardrop, earlier this October.

Howl: How do you create the characters in your books? Are they influenced by people in your life?

Kate: I use people from my life as touchstones to help me start writing my characters before I really get to know them. I’ll use little things– a friend’s crooked tooth, a loved one’s smile. Once I’ve been with a character for awhile, I know his or her mannerisms. My friends and family love to read my books, call me up and say, “I know where this part came from!” Luce looks like one of my oldest friends, My friend Amy is afraid of cactuses (like Penn), etc. The one exception to that is the devil -Cam- who is mostly based off my husband. 

Howl: How did you come to write the Fallen series?

Kate: I wanted to write a love story that involved more than just the two lovers. When I found the line in Genesis (6:1-4) that talked about angels falling in love with mortal women—the implication is that they were kicked out of Heaven for this love—I found it to be such a beautiful and complicated sacrifice that they made for love. I knew this could be a BIG love story. So Luce’s character came first, and I spent a lot of time thinking about who she had to be in order to attract an angel’s attention. Daniel’s character grew out of hers, and the rest of the story developed from their love.

I wrote about three chapters of Fallen before I realized how deep into angelology I was going to have to go—and how very little I knew about it. So I stopped writing and started researching. I read everything I could on Heaven, Hell, angels and demons—in the bible, in apocryphal texts like the books of Enoch, in critical research, and in fiction like Paradise Lost. A few months later, when I had pieced together my own mythology, I sat down and wrote all day, almost every day for about three months. It was agony. But at the end of it, I had my first draft.

Howl: How did you feel when Fallen was accepted for publication?

Kate: I majored in creative writing in college, and went on to get a masters degree in fiction—but I don’t think those things are necessary to being a good writer. Practice, curiosity, voracious reading, and diligence are more important than any degree. I finished writing my first novel right when I graduated college—but nothing ever happened with it. It look another six years before I had a book accepted for publication. I was ecstatic and relieved—it felt like all of my hard work was finally paying off.

Howl: What inspired you to keep writing?

Kate: I am a very skilled eavesdropper. I do it at restaurants, airports, parks, just about any place I go. I love watching reunions. I love the shorthand dialogue of close friends. I even love breakups (so much good material to steal!). What I think this says about me—other than that I’m nosy—is that I’m inspired by human relationships. I’m inspired to make sure my characters are continue to grow and change over the course of my books. There’s always more to learn about the way we interact with one another. And always more eavesdropping to be done! I also like to go for a run in the morning with my dog. It helps clear my head, and I am usually writing some dialogue tidbits in my mind so that when I sit down at the computer, I’m ready to go. During my writing, I need to be able to stare out the window (thinking very deep thoughts), so I have my desk against a window with a really great view of the canyon where I live. At the end of a writing day, I recharge. I love to cook. It’s mindless and hands-on and feels like the opposite of writing. I also tend to talk to my husband about all the things my characters did that day. (When you’re not at school or working in an office and you see no one but your dog and your fictional characters all day, you have to have someone to gossip about!) He’s a huge help on my books and often talks me through the problems that I might have had that day with Luce and Daniel.

Howl: When you first started writing did you think that your works would be produced into a movie? What are your thoughts on the production of Fallen?

Kate: When I was writing Fallen I was too close to the story to really let in anyone else’s conception of the world. I remember seeing the book cover for the first time—which is perfectly mysterious—and thinking: “That’s what they think Luce’s arm looks like?? That’s not what her arm looks like!!” I certainly wasn’t prepared to conceive of a movie that would pin down the characters to a single look and feel for all time. But then, a few things happened: I finished the books and got some perspective. I also met so many readers who shared their views and opinions on the characters and the story—and I found beauty in how different their conceptions could be from my own. My readers opened the door to allow me to welcome in the Fallen film. At this point, I’m excited and can’t wait to see what the director, Scott Hicks, does with the series.

As for how I approached writing Teardrop, fiction and film are such different genres that I wouldn’t know how to think about a potential film while I was writing a first draft of a novel. That comes later. Fiction goes inside characters’ minds; film can only show us what they do.  

Howl: Who is your favorite character(s) in any of your works?

Kate: Arriane is my favorite character to write. Her scenes are the ones that come the easiest when I’m sitting at the computer. She’s important to me because so much of Luce’s story is difficult, even wrenching at times—and I like the levity that Arriane provides. She’s a breath of fresh air, and always good for a joke, like most of my closest friends are. 

Howl: What do you think makes good writing?

Kate: Humor and heart and a surprising journey. A dynamic protagonist, specificity that feels universal, selective dialogue (that is, dialogue that works to characterize even as it pushes forward the plot), and a very focused revision (this requires someone else’s eyes to give the writer perspective). A charming villain is always an added bonus.

Howl: What made you decide to become an author?

Kate: Everyone’s path to publication looks different, and there is no right way to get there. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember—play, stories, poem, songs—but I gravitated mostly toward fiction by the time I was in high school. I worked on my school’s literary magazine and started submitting stories for publication. When I went to college, I majored in Creative Writing and found immense inspiration in the writing workshops where I shared my stories with other writers. After college, I moved to New York and got a job as an assistant at a publishing house so that I could understand the other side of the business I wanted to work in. By day, I edited other writers’ stories—and by night I was writing my own. I spent ten years sending out my work and amassing a BIG pile of rejection letters. Recently, I was cleaning out a closet and found a box with 76 rejection letters! During this time, I lost hope and quit writing at least a dozen times…but a month or two after I would “quit,” I would somehow find myself creeping out of bed to start typing the first paragraph of a story from a new protagonist whose voice wouldn’t let me go.

I had a writing teacher once who told me: “If you’ve got the writing bug, it will haunt you your whole life.” If you’re reading this now and you have the bug, you know exactly what he meant. Eventually, I got a letter back from an agent that wasn’t a rejection. After that, things happened very quickly: I had an agent, I had an editor, and I had a book contract within a few months. But it took me ten years of working, wondering, quitting, restarting, and most of all, writing to get there.

Really the best part about being a writer is falling in love with your characters, having them surprise you the way the real people in your life do. And the best thing about having a book out in the world is getting to connect with readers who have enjoyed it. 

Howl: How do you beat out your writers block?

Kate: I write through it. I face writer’s block in some manner every day—and some days it’s really bad. But I know that if I shut down my computer and went for a hike or to see a movie every time I felt “uninspired,” I would never write a page. It’s easy to have a brilliant idea—it’s very hard to see it through to completion. I force myself write every day (during a draft), even when it feels terrible and I hate every word. If I write seven awful pages one day, at least the next day I’m seven pages further into the plot. You can always go back and revise and make it better.

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