I’m so excited to have Aimee Agresti, author of Illuminate, on the blog with me today! Illuminate is one of my favorites of the year, and you can check out my review here. Aimee Agresti is one of those authors that replies to your tweet, is happy to email back and forth, and sends gorgeous swag for an interview. She’s fantastic!
WR: How did you come up with the idea behind Illuminate?
AA: I wanted to write the kind of book I would’ve loved as a teen with a strong heroine, a great mystery and, of course, some romance. When it came to the story itself, I thought it would be tons of fun to update one of my all-time favorites, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and to add a few fun twists, and, you know, a dose of angels and devils too!
WR: While rewriting drafts of Illuminate, did you ever want to toss the whole idea and start on something else?
AA: Ha! Things never quite got that dire, but I will say that there are always good writing days and bad writing days. When you’re trying to construct a mystery, it takes forever to make sure all those puzzle pieces are going to fit perfectly. Some days all my thoughts feel hopelessly jumbled. That’s when I force myself to get outta the house: I’ll go for a walk, see a movie, do anything to clear my head and then, when I least expect it, an idea occurs to me, everything clicks and I go running back to my laptop.
WR: In Illuminate, Haven is living in this posh hotel inspired by Al Capone. What kind of research did that involve, and how did you come up with the idea to incorporate that sort of Chicago history into the hotel?
AA: I went to college in Chicago and I absolutely fell in love with the city and its prohibition/gangster past. I’ve always been especially fascinated by those secret tunnels under the city and I loved the idea of setting a mystery there and resurrecting the Lexington Hotel in the process. I spent a lot of time looking at old pictures and drawings of the place and then, since it’s no longer around, I decided which bits and pieces to keep and how I wanted to change it. I wanted to modernize it and make it my own since, in my book, it was supposed to be newly renovated. Besides, who can resist playing architect and interior designer?!
WR: I’m personally a Team Lance. In the beginning, it’s obvious Haven is falling for Lucian, but as the story goes on some parts of Lucian’s character are uncovered, and Haven has to face the facts. You really avoided making this a classic love triangle, which I loved. Was that your goal with this relationship? Or something that didn’t happen until the end?
AA: Thank you so much, I’m so glad you like how all the romance played out! I spent a lot of time mapping out how I wanted these different relationships to progress and, without giving too much away, I wanted readers to feel like there were some surprises.
WR: The business of selling souls doesn’t exactly have a “model” for an author to refer to, so how did you create your world for Haven and the characters? Did you use any mythology or historical references?
AA: I’ve always loved The Picture of Dorian Gray and Faust and I loved the idea of updating those classics with teens. High school can be such a tough time, it got me thinking: what would you have sacrificed to have had everything you wanted back then? What if the cool kids at school had only gotten their status by making some sort of devilish pact? And the story spun out from there!
WR: Which one of the many characters of Illuminate is your favorite?
AA: That’s so tough, I feel like they’re all my babies! But I suppose Haven is my fave because I worked so hard on her evolution and I love the path she takes and how she ends the book so much tougher than she was when she began it.
WR: Which tense do you prefer when writing novels? Past or present?
AA: So far, I’ve been writing this trilogy in the past. But I would love to write something in the present tense next. I love the excitement and energy of the present tense.
WR: Do you ever consider writing for a different genre?
AA: I love the YA world and I feel so lucky to be a part of it and I hope to be lucky enough to continue writing these kinds of stories. But I do have an idea for an adult book percolating in my mind that I’m hoping to write soon. First though, I’d better finish up Book Two of the Gilded Wings trilogy!
WR: What has been one of your favorite experiences while in the publishing and novel industry?
AA: It’s so exciting to hear from readers! Even before the book came out, I had already begun hearing from so many wonderful folks like you who got to read the galley and liked it. That means so much. Readers should always feel free to get in touch with me through my website aimeeagresti.com!
WR: When you were growing up did you know you wanted to be a writer? If so, how did you find time to write?
AA: I always knew I wanted to write and I grew up writing stories and plays and keeping journals. Up until now I’ve spent my career writing for magazines, but I always wrote fiction in my spare time. Even though none of it was published until now, I know that all of that work definitely made my writing better.
WR: How do you stay focused while writing a novel?
AA: Sometimes it’s so tough! I try to be disciplined when I’m writing—I get up and get to work and use every scrap of time I have—day or night. And I try to set aside specific times for email and Twitter and Facebook, otherwise I’d be on there all the time instead of actually writing! Some days, of course, are more productive than others. On the tough days, I have to rely more heavily on things like my favorite Starbucks skinny mochas to keep me focused!
WR: You wrote for magazines before writing Illuminate. What was the process like for writing this novel, and how did you find the time to write such a long novel while working?
AA: I was freelance magazine-writing when I wrote ILLUMINATE, which meant I had waaaay more control over my schedule than I ever did when I was a staff writer for Us Weekly, so that certainly helped. There was still some juggling to be done: I had deadlines for my magazine assignments and there were plenty of times when I’d have to put ILLUMINATE on the back burner to complete my magazine work, but sometimes that’s not the worst thing. If you put your writing down for a couple days, sometimes you come back with fresh eyes.
And the Classic Willa’s Rambling Question:
WR: What do you ramble about?
AA: I ramble about writing! When I’m working on a book, I feel like I’m always talking about some aspect of it. Sometimes you just need to talk through the sticky spots in order to work through them. When necessary, I even bribe folks to listen to me. My sister is always my first reader and when I need feedback, I have her read a draft then I take her out to dinner to grill her on what she thought of it. If I’m buying then I figure I’m allowed to ramble about me, me, me, my book, my book, my book! She’s a good sport!Places you can find Aimee Agresti: Website: www.aimeeagresti.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/aimeeagresti Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Aimee-Agresti/183712408350276
And now for the giveaway!
I’m giving away the following LOVELY signed swag for ILLUMINATE. Enjoy the eye candy! (5 bookmarks, 2 hotel cards, all signed)
Thanks for reading!