Today, I would like to welcome author Laura Lee to the blog, as she shares with us more about herself and her new book 'Angel.'
What was the inspiration behind 'Angel'?
Angel was inspired by a trip I took to Mount Rainier in 2000. My tour guide revealed towards the end of a day-long tour that he had been a minister before he “burned out.” The question of why a minister would retire to become a mountain guide seemed like the good basis for a story. I wanted to explore the mystic nature of places and what would draw a person to the church and to a beautiful natural setting. I wanted it to be a certain kind of conflict, a crisis of faith or a difference of opinion with his congregation. I had a “feel” for the story long before I had the specifics. The idea that the minister fell in love with a man came to me much later, but it seemed to be just the right kind of conflict. It would hit on all the right notes.
Which character spoke to you the most?
I suppose I would have to say that Ian Finnerty provided the most inspiration. Ian is the titular “angel." The story is told from Paul’s point of view. I wrote it thinking as Paul. Paul was inspired and moved by Ian, so I had to be inspired and moved by Ian also to tell Paul’s story.
What was your favorite scene?
There is a scene that takes place in the shopping mall. Paul and Ian go shopping and run into a person that Ian knows from his past. The scene does a lot in the book. It explores Paul’s feelings about his own sexuality, the nature of his jealousy, his worries about his social status. There is a lot packed into that scene.
What message are you trying to send to readers?
I’m not trying to send a message. The questions I’m exploring have to do with how our private and public lives intersect, what is the nature and meaning of love, how do you find meaning in a world of impermanence? I don’t know the answers to those questions. So what I’m doing is painting a picture of someone going through an episode in his life and confronting these questions. What I’m saying is, “Here’s what happened to Paul. What do you think?”
Have you ever had your own sort of angel and/or spiritual awakening?
Writing Angel was probably my greatest spiritual experience. In some ways Ian can be taken as a metaphor for the creative process, for the muse, the spark of inspiration that leads you in a whole new direction.
But while we’re on the whole angel/spirit world kind of subject, I did recently remember a couple of interesting things. The first happened when I had just graduated from college with a degree in theater. At that time, I went to England with a six-month work visa. During my orientation for the program, I was walking around London when a man came up to me. He stopped me and said, "I can see your aura. You're supposed to be writing." Being totally taken aback, I responded with something like, "Uh...okay..." "You're supposed to be writing," he said again, in a serious tone. Then he just walked off. I recorded this odd encounter in my diary, and went on with my life and into a career in radio. I had not remembered this until I went back and read the old diary.
A few years later, I had burned out on my radio career and fallen into writing as if by default. I was working part-time as a newspaper reporter and had just gotten a contract for my first non-fiction book. I decided to stop at a local New Age shop that offered tarot readings. I remember the reader's face and his name: Rene. I took some sketchy notes of what he said that day. I think at the time I might have been most interested in an unrequited love affair I was trying to have. In retrospect, one thing in particular stands out. He said that "the angels said" I was supposed to be writing, and I was not. He said, "the mystic nature of places is how you're going to really connect."
This must have happened before I went to Washington, so maybe this primed me and the mystic nature of mountains theme became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In any case, it is interesting.
You have primarily published nonfiction in the past. What kinds of projects, fiction and/or nonfiction, do you currently have in the works?
I’m trying to sell a novel that I actually wrote prior to Angel and recently revised. I have some people looking at it and I’m cautiously optimistic. After Angel, I did write a sequel from Ian’s perspective. At the moment, though, I’ve decided not to try to release it. I also started working on a theological project. I became quite interested in the Bible after writing from the perspective of a Christian minister. I wrote quite a bit of that, but It’s on pause right now. I’ve started working on a stage play, which I hope to have completed fairly soon. My degree was in theater, and my first writing was theatrical, so I would like to get back to it. The particular story, which is ballet related, just seemed like something that would be better told in a visual, theatrical setting than as a novel. I had a non-fiction book called Don’t Screw It Up! published by Reader’s Digest come out last week. I might be doing a follow up of sorts of that as well. That is in discussion.
How do you conduct your research for your writing?
Of course it is quite different for fiction and non-fiction. The fiction I’ve written hasn’t required extensive research. I think the only thing I looked up for Angel was the positions of various mainstream Christian denominations on homosexuality. They are changing quite quickly. The official church position that is referenced in the novel is from the United Methodist Church although I did not want to identify Paul with any particular denomination. Non-fiction research tends to be defined by the project. I’ve only done one book that required primary historical research. That was actually quite fun. It is like a treasure hunt going through old newspapers on microfilm (at the time not much of that had been digitized) and hunting through documents in local historical archives. The local history librarians I worked with in the Berkshires were so helpful. Most of my books are in the “Did you know” humorous reference category. I get my information from articles, books and sometimes interviews. I am known for writing books that take huge amounts of research to write and which can be read really quickly.
Does your work with ballet ever influence your writing?
Of course, the play I am writing now is highly influenced by my experiences with ballet. I wrote a children’s book also called A Child’s Introduction to Ballet. Everything a writer experiences, though, influences the writing. Actually, most of Angel was written while I was on tour with my ballet classes. There is a scene set in a Chinese buffet because at the time, while on tour, my partner and I were eating in a lot of Chinese buffets. I think of a novel as being sort of like a dream. You know how your dream is a sort of mis-mash of the things that are going on in your life? Novels are like that too.
You are a Metro Detroit native. I grew up an hour south in Toledo, OH, and have fond memories of going to visit Detroit, despite its bad rep. What are some its finer features of which people should be aware?
I grew up in the suburbs, so any kind of “8 Mile” notion of my life would be totally off the mark. My parents met at the Detroit Institute of Arts, so that institution holds an important place in my heart. I have fond memories of taking the Bob-Lo boat. I’m sorry that Bob-Lo isn’t a park any more and that that era has passed.
Where are some of your favorite places to visit? Which destinations are on your bucket list?
Some time I will have to get to Moscow. My partner is a Russian ballet dancer, and I bring him here twice a year to do tours and we’re on the road here in the U.S. half the year. We’ve seen most of the country. We have friends all over, so there are a lot of places we enjoy going. We’ve especially enjoyed the South Carolina coast, the upper peninsula of Michigan, Duluth, Minnesota, the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky and, of course, Florida is nice in winter.
What is something readers may be surprised to learn about you?
Do you suppose they know enough about me to have formed a mythology that I can bust? Hmm. Let me think... Nope, I can’t think of anything that would strike readers as wildly out of character. I studied theater with a goal of being an actress and I hate being the center of attention. I don’t know if this is surprising, but it is paradoxical.
Anything else you would like to add?
In conclusion, buy my book. Are you allowed to say that?
Ha, of course! Thanks for your time!
About the author:
I am the author of 14 books, best known for my non-fiction titles including Blame it on the Rain (Harper Collins), The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation (Black Dog and Leventhal), Broke is Beautiful (Running Press), and the forthcoming Don't Screw It Up! (Reader's Digest). Angel is my first novel. I divide my time between writing and producing educational ballet tours.
Fiction blog: http://lauraleeauthor.wordpress.com/
Non-Fiction blog: http://author-laura-lee.blogspot.com/
Date Published: September 2011
Since the loss of his lively, charming wife to cancer six years ago, minister Paul Tobit has been operating on autopilot, performing his church duties by rote. Everything changes the day he enters the church lobby and encounters a radiant, luminous being lit from behind, breathtakingly beautiful and glowing with life. An angel. For a moment Paul is so taken by his vision that he is tempted to fall on his knees and pray.
Even after he regains his focus and realizes that he has only seen a flesh-and-blood young man, Paul cannot shake his sense of awe and wonder. He feels an instant and overwhelming attraction to the young man, which puzzles him even as it fills his thoughts and fires his feelings. Paul has no doubt that God has spoken to him through the vision and he must figure out what God is asking him to do.
Thus begins a journey that will inspire Paul's ministry, but will put him at odds with the church he loves as he is forced to examine his deeply held beliefs about himself, his community and the nature of love.