The author of Angelopolis talks about her new book, her favourite characters in the book, her writing schedule, her dream book club, her hobbies, her research, her relationship to Russia and Eastern Europe, her ideal reader, and lots more.
Which of the characters in Angelopolis do you identify with the most?
I have always loved Verlaine. He is a bit of an odd character, in that he fell into the world of angelology by chance and has adapted his entire existence around it, becoming not only an angel hunter, but the most promising and talented of angel hunters. Verlaine is something of an eccentric—he likes vintage ties, restored motorcycles, and the history of art. In other words, he’s not a cookie-cutter hero. I also love Evangeline, of course, and thus it was a lot of fun to write about the two of them in this book.
Where do you write? Do you set hours or just put pen to paper when inspiration strikes?
I write every morning from 8:30 or 9:00 until I’m done with whatever part of a book I’m working on. I don’t believe in inspiration, really. I believe that inspiration finds you when you’re in the process of working, and so I’m usually there, in front of my computer, waiting for the muse.
When you form characters—human and otherwise—do you ever incorporate aspects from people you know?
Sometimes, but most of the characters in ANGELOPOLIS are conglomerations of people I’ve met, characters in novels I’ve read, and people I’ve imagined.
Who would be in your dream book club? Where would you meet and what would you talk about?
Colette, Haruki Murakami, Grigory Rasputin, Anais Nin, Oscar Wilde, George Sand and Joan Didion. We’d meet at Silencio, David Lynch’s club in Paris, where we’d drink Cold Cubas and talk books. I would suggest, for our first meeting, that we read Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.
Do any other writers inspire you?
All of the members of my ideal book club have inspired me in some way or another, but I have been most influenced by 19th century English novels, notably The Woman in White and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I love eccentric characters that come together in a dramatic setting due to mysterious circumstances. I love old English mansions, apparitions and puzzles. Now that I think of it, I should write a mystery novel.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your time?
I am a bit of a Francophile and have spent a lot of time in the past few years learning French. I spend a lot of time reading novels in French—I’m currently reading Marguerite Duras’s novel L’Amant de la Chine du Nord—and watching films in French.
Although much of what happens in ANGELOPOLIS is the stuff of fantasy and myth, this story is rich with historical detail. How much research did you do and how did you balance the true facts with imaginary scenarios?
Historical figures and situations play large parts of both ANGELOLOGY and ANGELOPOLIS, and so research became a huge part of the equation when writing them. I tend to have three or four books open on my desk at any given point, and I find myself getting lost in research even as I create a new scene. For me, this series draws upon a real mix of history and fantasy, which of course brings up the question of what is history and what is fantasy and can these two things mix in a novel. My answer is, obviously, yes. It is always interesting for me to walk the line between fact and fiction, the real and the imaginary, biography and fiction. I think that creating a zone where the two mix adds another dimension to a novel.
Just as World War II formed the historical spine of ANGELOLOGY, life in the Soviet era plays a significant a role in this sequel. What is your relationship to Russia and Eastern Europe and how did you decide to bring the story behind the Iron Curtain, as it were?
I have been drawn to Russian history for many years, an interest that came out of my love for Russian novels, notably the work of Nabokov, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. My reading has always been like this—I fall in love with a novelist and I immediately move to the culture and time surrounding the writer, reading as much as I can about the historical period in which he lived. I was extremely interested in the period around the Russian Revolution, the history of the Romanovs and the way that everything unraveled in Russia in 1917. Rasputin is a captivating character. What happened to the Romanovs—the extended family of Grand Dukes and their families—after the revolution is fascinating. And so using Russia, and Russian history, in ANGELOPOLIS was a pleasure.
As a hero, Verlaine’s personality has been altered by angelology almost as much as Evangeline’s physical nature has. How did his character evolve over drafts of the novel?
Verlaine was initially much more quirky than he is at present. In ANGELOLOGY, he was a single man in his early thirties who taught Art History and spent time drinking beer with his friends. Everything changed for him when he met Evangeline, and when we see him ten years later, in ANGELOPOLIS, he has given up his old life completely to train with the angel hunters in Paris. Evangeline has haunted him the entire time and, when he finds her again, he experiences a kind of moral and emotional dilemma—he loves her, but he has been trained to kill creatures like her. I think Verlaine becomes a classic hero in ANGELOPOLIS and by the end it is clear that he is destined for great things.
Your writing is loaded with references from the arts, history and mythology. What sort of reader did you envision for this series?
My ideal reader is someone who loves literature, who falls into a novel and simply enjoys the experience of it, but who also likes to be swept up in the momentum of the story. My personal interests in mythology, art and history inform my work, of course, but I have found that my readers are not always as interested in these subjects as I am. The supernatural or fantasy element of the series is appealing to many of my readers.
What is your process for writing a series? What are some of the challenges and benefits of writing a sequel?
Writing the second book of this series was a challenge because most of the ‘world’ of angelology—the existence of angels and the mythology that surrounds them–had been built in the first book. The primary characters—Evangeline and Verlaine–had already been introduced, as well. And so ANGELOPOLIS was less about ambiance and character development and more about moving the story forward. It was so enjoyable to be able to continue Evangeline and Verlaine’s story, but I miss some of the descriptive writing that filled ANGELOLOGY.
This book sits in an unusual space, crossing multiple genres. What are some of your individual and collective literary influences?
My first book, FALLING THROUGH THE EARTH, is a literary memoir, and all of my writing is influenced by literary fiction. That said, ANGELOLOGY and ANGELOPOLIS both have a strong plotlines, action scenes and supernatural elements–not the usual stuff of the literary novel. For me, it has been important to be able to do whatever I want in my writing, to have the freedom to write in whatever style I want, and to mix things up. What is important to me is that I create something new and challenging and enjoyable. As I mentioned earlier, my influences are largely from the past. I love the idea of Dickens writing enormous novels, sections of which were published each week as installments. I also love that writers like Wilkie Collins wrote beautifully about subjects generally considered to be ‘genre’ fictions—murder, detectives, mysteries. I’m always impressed by writers who can bring all of their interests into their novels, no matter how seemingly irreconcilable.
ANGELOPOLIS ends on another cliffhanger. Can you hint at what’s next for Verlaine and Evangeline?
The last book in the trilogy will involve the final confrontation between angelologists and angelic creatures. Verlaine and Evangeline will be back again, this time fighting on opposite sides.