American writer Lauren Kate is the internationally best-selling author of The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove, a reworking of Macbeth, and the Fallen series – Fallen, Torment, the just-released Passion, and the forthcomingRapture. Her novels have been translated into over thirty languages. The Fallen series features the most achingly perfect love story in the form of the relationship between Luce and Daniel, one that transcends time and space and resonates with Christian theology and fable. (Yes, I’m a fan!)
I was lucky enough to be asked to interview Lauren on her visit to Dublin to promote Passion.
Lauren, why and when did you start writing? Have you always written?
Yes, I always wrote – for as long as I can remember. As a child that was the way I would play, writing down little plays and stories and acting them out. Narrative has always been part of my way of thinking. I took Creative Writing in High School and just kept on writing – short stories at first, then novels. It was always just something I enjoyed doing, but I didn’t realise till I was in my twenties that it was something that would become my life’s path.
Can you tell me how you got your first break?
I sent out regular submissions for eight or ten years, it took a really long time. I sent out a lot of submissions and did an awful lot of waiting. That period was very important to go through, I believe. Getting a form rejection letter can be very dispiriting, it can make you want to give up, but if you’re really a writer you’ll keep going. A good rejection letter, a personalised one that gives some advice, they’re gold. One of those could keep me going for another couple of years. And the good ones always seemed to come just when I was about to give up! Then I got the idea for writing The Betrayal of Natalie Parker, which is a reworking of Macbeth, and through that I got my first agent. Things moved very quickly after that.
Do you write every day, and if so how much and where?
I am pretty diligent about writing, a lot more so than I used to be. When I’m writing the first draft of something I’ll write all day, every day for several months. I find if the main protagonist is very different from me then it’s a struggle to get inside her mind, it’s a real effort, so I have to stick with it for a few months. Revision is much more fun for me. And I’m a traditionalist, I always write at home, on a laptop. I like to write at a big desk, facing a window and preferably with a dog at my feet.
Do you plot your novels out thoroughly, or do you write organically?
I do plan, but then I veer off in surprising directions. I like to have an overall shape in mind and know where I’m going, but then I love when the characters surprise you and have a life of their own. For the first ten years that I was writing I never planned, but I do now. I find that setting out a structure gives characters restrictions, which gives them something to rebel against and I love watching what happens. For example, I thought the ending for Rapture was going to be completely different; but now that I’ve written it, I see that it could only ever end this way. And no, I’m not going to tell you how it ends!
Have you always been interested in YA?
I think I’ve always been interested in Young Adult books without knowing it. There’s something about a seventeen year old protagonist that I find really compelling. A seventeen year old has so much life experience ahead of them, you can watch them make mistakes and bounce back from them. I never really realised that it was “YA” that I was drawn to though, they’re just the books I was enjoying reading and writing.
What do you make of the current debate surrounding the “dark themes” of YA books and their influence on young readers?
I think it’s ridiculous, of course. I believe that writers who write difficult subject matter do so because these are stories that need to be told. Maybe they can be useful for opening lines of dialogue; a parent can see their teen reading a book about self-harm and say “Hey, why are you reading that? Do you want to talk about it?” And of course, if you want to veer away from such “dark” themes, there are plenty of amazing stories out there that aren’t about dark and complicated things.
You have over sixteen thousand followers on Twitter. How important do you think social media is to writers?
I think it’s great, I love to read Twitter, to hear from readers from different places. I can connect with a lot of people that way and I find it’s a very productive way to connect, share thoughts, find articles, and so on.
Sometimes though, I go into Twitter hibernation when I’m working on a first draft and you won’t see me there for a while…!
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got in relation to your career?
Finish your first book so that you know you can do it. A writer friend said this to me when I was writing my first novel, just at the point where I thought it was crap and I should quit. So I kept going and finished it. I never realised just how important that piece of advice was until I was writing Fallen and I came very close to giving up right in the middle, but I had that advice, that experience to draw on. It’s the most important thing you can do, to prove to yourself that you have it in you.
And if you were to give one piece of advice to a new, clueless writer about getting started in the industry…?
Finding a writing friend is a lifelong endeavour, but find that person, that reader for you. You need the person who won’t tell you that everything is perfect, but who will tell you the truth about what’s wrong with your writing. Sometimes the best suggestions are not the ones that feel right straight away, but the ones where you say “I don’t need to do that, that’s not right for this book” but then you can’t get that suggestion out of your head. You know it would be a ton of work, but you know it’s the right thing to do.
Finding yourself the right reader will also help you to know how you’ll deal with criticism later.
Passion is a pretty sweeping story, covering huge swathes of human history as well as vast areas of Christian theology. Did you do much research for it?
I did have to do a lot of research! I chose to feature places that I had some familiarity with or had a desire to know better. Mostly, though, it was the settings of other novels that really spoke to me. So, for example, when I was researching the First World War, instead of dry research like reading endless Wikipedia articles I read Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms. I lifted elements of that for the feel of those scenes. It was a far more fun, enjoyable way to research.
Do you research in advance, or as you go?
Certainly I did a lot of research in advance, and then my writing would go off on a tangent and I’d realise that there was a bizarre fact I needed to know, so I would do a bit as I was writing too.
So what’s next for Luce and Daniel, the greatest love story ever told? Will Rapture be the final book in the series? Will they live happily ever (and ever and ever and ever!) after?
Rapture will be the end of Luce and Daniel’s story. It won’t be the end of the characters, though. I’ve also written a series of short stories about many of the characters and their own experiences with love, such as Roland, Cam, and so on. It’s called Fallen In Love and it’ll be out in February of 2012.
Thanks for talking to me, Lauren. I wish you huge success with Passion, and I can’t wait for Rapture.