Aimee Agresti author of the new and coming Illumiante a book about angels and selling souls answers some of our questions about her experience being a journalist. She talks to us about the birth of her main character (Haven Terra) and what she found challenging writing her novel. Learn about Aimee and her book Illuminate in the following interview.
That’s tough! Hmm, here’s a fun fact: When I was waiting to hear if ILLUMINATE was going to be published, I decided I needed a good luck charm, preferably something reminiscent of the necklace Haven wears in the book. I live down the street from this adorable little accessories boutique that I go into all the time. So I ducked in and they just happened to have this necklace with an angel wing charm and a little pendant that said “Grow Wings and Fly.” What could be more perfect?! I bought it and wore it every single day until the book was picked up. I guess it worked!
How did Journalism prepare you for writing young adult novels?
My work for magazines was a great training ground for writing novels. It taught me to be incredibly observant and take note of all those little details. It allowed me to be thrown into worlds I certainly wouldn’t have otherwise seen–like glam movie premieres! And it gave me a chance to meet such a wonderful array of characters. Writing profiles is like getting a PhD in psychology, it’s amazing what you learn about people and their motivations. Magazine work also taught me how to handle edits and revisions without being sensitive and how to make deadlines—both handy skills to have!
What do/don’t you miss about being a journalist and working with magazines like Us Weekly?
I miss the people! I was so lucky to work with such great friends at Us, I still pop into the office to say hi whenever I’m in NYC. I miss the camaraderie and the social aspects of magazine work. When you write fiction, it requires a lot of alone time to do it right. But, of course, even though it makes me a bit anti-social, I love it and feel so lucky to get to do it!
How did your main character come to life? What was the inspiration behind Haven Terra?
I wanted Haven to be someone who had so much going for her, but still felt like an outcast—which is something that I know a lot of girls feel. (I know I sure felt like an outsider in high school!) Her evolution through the book was so important to me: I wanted her to start off clearly unsure of herself, even though she’s so smart and driven, and then chart her growing confidence. I wanted readers to see the process of this shy heroine becoming a force to be reckoned with.
How was the first draft different from the last draft? What won’t we see in the final draft of Illuminate?
Wow, that’s a good one! I think, actually, the question really is: what WILL you see in the final draft of ILLUMINATE? And the answer to that is an action-packed, rollercoaster of an ending! I spent an incredible amount of time amping up the drama-factor of that ending. I really wanted readers to feel a payoff and I plotted it all so carefully and went over it again and again and again until I knew it was perfect. And…that’s all I’m saying, no spoilers from me!
I wanted the book to be about angels because I love the idea of these characters learning to fly. I thought that was such a great metaphor for growing up, to show these characters having to earn their wings. And, as for the buying of souls, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Faust have always been favorites of mine and I couldn’t resist updating them. I just kept thinking: What would you have sold your soul for in high school? And the story built from there!
Which character did you find most challenging to write and why?
I suppose Aurelia may have been the toughest because she had to be that perfect mix of alluring and terrifying and cruel. It was a tall order. Villains are tricky but just so much fun!
What books do you think should be on every young adult’s shelves?
My all-time favorite, The Catcher in the Rye, definitely needs to be on every shelf because the feelings in there are so timeless. I love Holden Caulfield! And I grew up on the classics, so I think Romeo and Juliet, Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Alice In Wonderland, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are all necessities. For me, those are the books that invented romance, whimsy, and horror, I loved them all. And, in the case of Little Women’s Jo March, it showed me a version of myself and who I hoped to be.
Can you share a sentence or two from your current work with us? (a teaser)
Gladly! How about this from page 273 of ILLUMINATE?….
“Now, did you give some thought to what we talked about last night?” Lucian asked smoothly.
“I was mostly working–the photos, you know–and then I passed out, I was so tired.”
“Think, Haven. There’s so much you can do.”
“I guess I’m not sure exactly what you want from me.”
He leaned in and whispered in my ear, his hot breath sending chills sweeping across my skin. “Your soul,” he said. “Please give me your soul.”
He kissed me again, quick and soft.
Finally what would you like to say to your readers before diving into Illuminate?
First, I would say, thank you for reading! And then, don’t be afraid to suspend your disbelief and let the book take you on a ride—I think it’s one you’ll really enjoy! And when you’re done, I always love to hear from readers, feel free to contact me through my website aimeeagresti.com!
Aimee Agresti was voted “Quietest” of her high school class–probably because she spent too much time with her nose buried in books. Clearly, becoming a writer was the only possible choice. She now happily toggles between the realms of fact and fiction. The author of the young adult novel ILLUMINATE, she’s also a former Us Weekly staff writer and entertainment journalist whose work has appeared in People, Premiere, DC Magazine, Capitol File, The Washington Post, Washingtonian, The Washington City Paper, Boston magazine, Women’s Health and the New York Observer to name a few. Aimee has made countless TV and radio appearances dishing about celebrities on the likes of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Insider, Extra, VH1, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, Headline News, A&E, and ABC News Now. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and lives with her husband and son in Washington, DC, where she can often be found skulking around the Smithsonian museums on slow writing days waiting for inspiration to strike.