First Draft, Ep. 87: Josephine Angelini
The original post for this episode can be found here.
Sarah ENNI: Welcome to First Draft, with me, Sarah Enni. Today I’m talking to Josephine Angelini, author of the STARCROSSED trilogy and the WORLDWALKER trilogy, which recently completed with the release of WITCH’S PYRE. [birds chirping] Josie has been on the scene for a while. I remember when STARCROSSED came out in 2011, one of many huge books that, at that time, really felt like a golden age for Young Adult fiction. Especially if, like me, you’re a big fan of fantasy stories and myths. Somehow I had missed that Josie lives in Los Angeles, and when I had the pleasure of meeting her at YALLWest last year, I wasted no time arranging to meet up. Josie invited me over to her place, and we reclined on the sunny rooftop deck for a really wonderful talk. Josie is honest and funny, and as one of the more tenured Young Adult writers, she is full of advice and hard-earned perspective. So, grab your sunglasses, imagine a warm Santa Ana wind in your hair, and enjoy the conversation.
ENNI: Okay, so hi, how are you?
Josephine ANGELINI: I’m doing great today, I’m a little hot, but other than that…
ENNI: Oh my gosh, it’s warm, we’re on the roof in Los Angeles baking a little bit, but you know what, it’s okay.
ANGELINI: We found the one bit of shadow.
ENNI: As this moves, I feel like we might be like creeping along, but yeah, no, I’m so excited to be here, thanks for meeting with me!
ANGELINI: Thanks for coming!
ENNI: Yes, so, I traditionally start these out by asking people–going way back, where were you born and raised?
ANGELINI: I was born in Ashland, Massachusetts, and lived there my whole life, same house, until my sister Cristy accidentally burned the house down a couple years ago.
ENNI: Okay, wait a second.
ANGELINI: [laughs] It’s really funny, yeah, it was like a year and a half ago.
ANGELINI: My sister Cristy–okay, I’m the youngest of eight kids, so there’s like… It’s one of those things where my sister Martha called me, and she was like, “Okay, so the house burned down.
ENNI: Oh my gosh, that’s how it starts!
ANGELINI: My parents were fine, my sister was fine, nobody–there wasn’t even one stubbed toe getting out the front door.
ANGELINI: So it was just stuff that was lost, and that’s what was wonderful about it. But Martha calls me, and she’s like, "So we finally managed to kill the house,” and that was like… We just started laughing about it as soon as we had established everyone was okay, it was like this huge laugh because it was bound to happen eventually, it really was.
ENNI: Well, that’s so interesting to me, I don’t think that’s true for every family, so how do you mean that?
ANGELINI: Well, okay, I’m a rather tall girl, as you’ve noticed. I’m the smallest person in my family, I’m the shortest. I’m the most petite. And I’m–I’m like the little, and actually, I’m the one with the smallest personality, too, like my family is just full of characters and full of really vibrant women, I have six sisters and one brother, and they’re just these, like… You see them and you know they’re Angelinis, because they’re all teeth, all smiles, huge hair, and their arms are always flappin’, ‘cause they’re telling a big Italian story with their arms in the air. It’s like, they’re just–it was bound to happen. The fact that it lived this long, we were just surprised that it hadn’t happened yet.
ENNI: So what–how did the house burn down?
ANGELINI: Oh, it’s such a long story… And it was so accidental, it was just… It was literally nobody’s fault, but we’re saying Cristy burned the house down, 'cause it’s funnier. But it was really nobody’s fault, and, yeah, it was purely accidental and just something that would only happen to an Angelini, but.
ENNI: That’s so funny, I love when you have something that happens and you’re like, “Oh, this is going to be that story that we tell every Christmas forever.”
ANGELINI: Yeah, it’s like, forever.
ENNI: So, we got there with–you were born and raised in the same house the whole time.
ENNI: Um, where in Massachusetts is that?
ANGELINI: It’s about twenty minutes west of Boston. It’s right next to Framingham and Natick, it’s like, it’s kind of in just quiet, sleepy, middle of Massachusetts. And now most of my family has moved up to where our farm was, on the north shore in Wenham, so everybody lives in the Salem area.
ENNI: Okay, well we’re gonna get back to Salem for … [both laugh]
ANGELINI: It looms large in my books.
ENNI: Yes! But, okay, so born and raised on the same place with a huge family, that’s kind of wild.
ANGELINI: Yeah, yeah.
ENNI: Do you think that–you’re saying that you have the smallest personality, but, I mean, do you think your personality, or at least your perception of it, is based on that, of having to compare to?
ANGELINI: That’s actually–I’m writing a book about that right now, I’m writing kind of a–I don’t know what will ever happen with it, but, after the house burned down my agent pulled me aside and was like, “Josie, you gotta write about family,” period. So I–it took me a while to sort of come up with a story that is–I mean, it’s a book of fiction, but that I can plug some of the characters in and some of the situations in. It’s a different story entirely from how I was raised, that’s the truth of it, um, but there is so much about it that my siblings are gonna go, “That happened!” You know, incidences and different types of relationships and conflicts. I’m writing it very slowly, 'cause it’s my way of sort of working through it, like… And the book that I’m sort of wading through right now is about a girl who’s ten years old, and somebody asks her what she wants to be when she grows up, and she has no idea, because she has all of these older siblings who are like, amazing at everything. And that’s true, I have like, this really remarkable family, with sisters who are just so smart and so talented, and really the only thing that I was ever good at was just… being like, “today’s gonna be a great day!” And so I wrote a character like that, but she’s really trying to figure out where she fits in the world, and where she fits in relation to her siblings.
ENNI: Interesting! So it’s a contemporary, it doesn’t–I mean, the books that, most of the books you’ve written are sort of like, high concept–
ANGELINI: Fantasy, yeah, no no no, this is just–there’s no fantasy in this, this is–it’s so funny that way, and I can’t tell you why. Well, I think it’s funny, because there’s so much funny stuff that happens to you when you’re the youngest of eight kids.
ENNI: I’m super interested in what you’re saying like, that your family is like, boisterous and really talented and really smart, because–
ANGELINI: Very different–all of them are so different from each other.
ANGELINI: Yeah, the way that they handle situations, the way that they… The partners that they’ve picked, the way that they are in the world, they’re just–every single one of them has such a unique way of doing stuff, that, for me, I just spent my whole life watching them and admiring them. And that really has to have led to me being a writer, because I appreciate characters, I really do.
ENNI: Yeah, well so–I’d love to hear, I mean it sounds like yeah, you’re surrounded by sort of characters and–but how is reading and writing and books, how did that factor into your home life?
ANGELINI: Oh, it was, that was–that was where I felt most alive, was when I was reading.
ANGELINI: It’s so funny, I was thinking about this today, because I was stretching, and you know when you stretch and you like, look at odd angles of your bookshelf, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, I haven’t thought about that book in a while”? I was looking at MISTS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and she broke my heart, I gotta say, like the scandal with her and her daughter.
ENNI: I don’t know about this!
ANGELINI: Her daughter basically said that she had been molested by her mother.
ANGELINI: Yeah, her daughter like–
ANGELINI: Publicly announced this, and…
ANGELINI: And you know that her husband had been convicted for molesting children.
ANGELINI: And I didn’t know this while I was reading it, this is all stuff that came up in the past few years of me finding out–'cause when I was growing up, there was no internet when I was growing up, you couldn’t look people up and find out if they were involved in a legal battle or something.
ENNI: Right, and certainly authors felt like…
ANGELINI: Yeah! They were too–they were like, these remote. You know, they were like yetis.
ENNI: They were not accessible on Twitter. Yetis, I like that.
ANGELINI: They were kind of fantastic, like maybe they don’t exist. I don’t know! Maybe they do. But I–yeah, I grew up reading Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGON RIDERS OF PERN series, I grew up reading the DARKOVERseries by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ursula le Guin’s series, like, the stories of Ged–where was he?! It was–EARTHSEA! EARTHSEA, I remember now, I don’t know why it took me so long. So I grew up reading that stuff, like, that was–
ENNI: Fantasy stuff.
ANGELINI: High fantasy, and like classic.
ENNI: And female written.
ANGELINI: Almost exclusively, it’s funny.
ENNI: Was it–was that just what was in your house, or do you think that you were seeking that out?
ANGELINI: I think a combination, like, people would give me books, you know, just like randomly, like, MISTS OF AVALON was a random gift from somebody that I knew in high school, but didn’t really hang out with, but it was sort of like, “You should read this book,” and I was like, blown away. You know, fourteen-years-old, my mind blown by it. But, um, before that the DRAGON RIDERS OF PERN series was what my brother had on his shelf, like my brother actually was the one who read a lot of fantasy. And so I got that all from him–and it was hugely inappropriate that I was reading some of this stuff, because I was far too young for it. I’d just go in and steal stuff off the book case, 'cause I was like, “That looks cool.”
ENNI: Well, there’s an element to being the youngest that is that too, right.
ANGELINI: Yeah, you want to grow up faster than maybe you should.
ENNI: Well, just speaking from my experience, there was only two in my family, but I know the rules that I had to live by did not apply to my younger brother. Also, he’s a boy, but like, by the second kid my parents were like, “Whatever.”
ANGELINI: Yeah yeah yeah, no, by the eighth kid, my parents were like, “Who are you?” Like, I seriously would be like–I wouldn’t see my parents for days! They only knew I was around if I was either bleeding or like, not doing my chores. One or the other, usually both.
ENNI: That’s so–and so in a house like that, I love that it sounds like reading was a way for you to carve out your own world, your own space.
ANGELINI: Yeah, definitely, it was like–'cause there’s no peace and quiet, and I never got TV time. Like, what was on TV was never for me.
ENNI: What you wanted.
ANGELINI: Yeah, no no no, that was not ever going to happen, I was the lowest man on the totem pole, so TV was sort of off-limits to me. And so the only quiet I had was, you know, literally to go sit in a closet and read a book.
ANGELINI: Or the roof, I went up on the roof a lot.
ENNI: Really? Ooh, roof talk.
ANGELINI: I read all Greek mythology on the roof.
ENNI: Was it a–I’m picturing a very dramatic east coast like, slated roof along the slant–
ANGELINI: No, well, there was a slant, we’ll get to that later–I lived, though, I didn’t break anything, which was amazing. But yeah, no, they were slanted–it wasn’t Alpine slope, but it definitely was–you had to pay attention, though, or you go off the edge, can’t believe I survived a couple of those. I was only pushed once, too, and that’s it.
ENNI: This is too–like, I’m glad you’re writing a book about this, because this is like, I want to ask a million questions about every story, but like, we gotta keep it on you! Um, what–so you’re reading on the roof, kind of carving your own space there, were you writing at all?
ANGELINI: I started writing in my journal when I was ten, my sister Mary Francis gave me a journal and she was like, “There you go.” For my birthday. And I was like “What?” she’d never given me a present before. She was like, “There you go. Start.” And I started writing in it every day, and I did for years and years, and I wrote down ideas, I wrote down thoughts, but for me it was–I held writers in such high esteem that I never thought I could ever be one of them. Like, for me even the thought of being a writer was like, “I’m not smart enough, I’m not creative enough, I don’t have it in me, I’m not,” I wouldn’t show anyone my writing, for the longest time. I hid it. And people would always see me scribbling, I had professors at NYU who’d pull me aside and be like, “You know you’re a writer, right?” And I’d be like, “No, I’m not a writer! I’m not a writer!” and they’d be like, “Then why are you surgically attached to your journal? That’s a writer, you write every day, you are a writer.” And I didn’t believe them. I couldn’t believe them. Because I couldn’t fail at it. It’s like, what you love the most is the source of your greatest anxiety, so I just–if I failed at it, it–better not to try.
ENNI: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah, or when you approach it–when you write for the love of it, that’s not the same thing as writing for publication.
ENNI: And that, like, pushing anything that you love into a professional sphere sacrifices purity.
ANGELINI: Yeah, and also, just the freedom that you have to have this internal dialogue with yourself. And just be real. Like, the funny thing is is that I remember writing down lies in my journal, and then realizing when that was inappropriate. Like, there’s no reason to lie in my journal. I’m not gonna re-write my own history. 'Cause I can go back and read it–and I know it’s a lie! Like, I know that didn’t happen! And so, it’s like, this weird thing for a while you try to lie to yourself to create this fantasy of who you are, and then you get to a certain level of maturity when you go, “I don’t need to do that anymore. I don’t need to pretend that my life is other than it is.”
ENNI: What kind of lies?
ANGELINI: Oh, really silly stuff! And the most frivolous, foolish lies that you tell yourself to give yourself a different life, when you’re a kid, I guess.
ENNI: That is so interesting to me, okay, because I am completely relating to it–but in my diaries, and like, still, when I journal now, I feel the impulse to…
ANGELINI: Tweak it.
ENNI: Tweak it, but, in a way that’s like–it’s almost making me seem like a good person, like I’m always like…
ANGELINI: Yeah, yeah, you clean up the mess!
ANGELINI: The fear of really putting yourself down on the page. That’s what I had to get over, and I remember when I did get over it, and just started going “blahblahblahblahblahblahblah.” It was like, I allowed myself that in high school.
ENNI: Which is super interesting, but it’s also interesting to me in the context of thinking about the fact that you were making yourself a character. That’s like, this kind of weird push-pull of fiction, where like, the purpose of a journal–I don’t know if you feel like this, but often when I’m writing in my journal, I’ll be like–switch notebooks, because then it becomes like, I’m shifting into writer brain, and actually, that just put me on a tangent of thinking about what if this and this and this and this and this, and it’s like, that’s–a journal has to be like, you need to think about yourself sometimes, and truth, and reality. But for us, there’s a weird coexistence of fiction with real life.
ANGELINI: You know, I stopped writing in my journal when I started writing my first book.
ANGELINI: I haven’t written in it since 2009.
ANGELINI: Yeah, it just–like the need for it, I think, evaporated. And I got to this weird point with myself where–also, I’m older now, you know, I’m at the point in my life where if I don’t know who I am, there’s really something wrong with me. Like genuinely, like, I’m a mother. I really need to know where I’m at in my life–you know what I mean? So it’s–I felt like I had come to the point where, now that I was finally doing what I wanted to do instead of everything else I thought I should have been doing with my life, was when I stopped needing it.
ENNI: The search was over.
ANGELINI: Yeah, it really was, and yeah.
ENNI: Do you, though, feel that you are explicitly–do you think the books replaced journaling, in some way, do you feel like you’re working through personal stuff with all of your stories?
ANGELINI: Oh yeah, because the impulse just to write is always there. It’s like–it’s there when I wake up in the morning. And so knowing that I had a specific scene that I’d plotted out like, what I need to do today, it’s like this–great! Yay! Something to look forward to, I can think about that. When you’re fortunate enough to–I don’t bounce my ideas off my agent. I go to my agent saying, “This is the book I want to write.” And like, she goes, “Okay.”
ENNI: Yeah yeah yeah!
ANGELINI: I’m fortunate enough to have a relationship that allows that, you know? Because that’s what I need. In that, I always put themes that I can’t stop thinking about, so there’s something in that book that I’m–I either haven’t resolved in myself, or I look out into the world and I say, “This is how I resolved it, and maybe this is something somebody else can use.”
ENNI: Will be helpful, yeah. Is that all wrapped up in the conception?
ANGELINI: It’s all wrapped up in the conception, in the themes that I choose, and I put them in there because it’s something that I’m either working on or have just finished working out in myself, so yeah, in that aspect of it, it does replace a journal.
ENNI: I will say, for me, I end up stumbling on that stuff. I feel like I come up with the idea, and then I–this is, so far the pattern has been, two years into the book, I’m like, “Oh, this is what it’s about!” Which is like, a distressingly long gestation period, so I need to figure that out. But it’s like, once you hit on what you’re really saying, then the book gets into overdrive. You’re like–it’s exciting to know that you’re trying to say something with it, and that also makes all the loose ends tie, it is the last piece of the puzzle, kind of.
ANGELINI: And it’s usually in the character. It’s usually something about–that the character personally has to overcome, that you go, “Ah, yes, that is very me. We must learn to forgive, yes!”
ENNI: Okay, so let’s get there, because I want to hear about like, all the themes in all the books and everything. So you were writing in a journal, and then it sounds like even going to college still journaling, but not fiction.
ANGELINI: All the time–but not fiction, no. I studied classical theatre at NYU, so I was doing Shakespeare, and you know, the big guys. The Greeks. It was lovely, and I realized maybe–and funny, because my director pulled me aside and he was like, “You know you’re a writer,” and I was like, “Shh! Quiet, quiet, don’t tell anyone.” But I really had to stop and take a step back and I started taking a lot of philosophy, theology, art history, and just… Studied everything that I wanted. I took a step back from studio work for a while, because I was realizing that that wasn’t filling me–that wasn’t enough for me.
ENNI: That acting?
ANGELINI: Was not enough for me at all–my junior year of college.
ENNI: Okay, so that’s, when you left high school, you wanted to study acting, that was your passion, you thought.
ANGELINI: Yeah, yeah yeah.
ENNI: And it’s amazing to me that a professor had that kind of impact.
ANGELINI: Oh yeah, but in such an offhand way–I actually ran into him at a bar, and he saw me–I was writing in my journal, and he was like, “You know you’re a writer.” And we’re both sitting there, and we’re both drinking a glass of wine because he was waiting for–it was like, one of those weird New York moments where you run into your professor, we’re just sitting there chatting for a little bit, and I was like, “Yeah.” He was like, “You know, Josie, you’re not really happy up on stage anymore.” And I was like, “I’m really not, it hasn’t given me what I wanted in a long time. I don’t feel–I don’t feel like this is what, that’s where I’m the most creative.” And he was like, “That’s 'cause you’re a writer!” and I was like, “Shhh!”
ENNI: Don’t tell anyone!
ANGELINI: Quiet, quiet! Shut up, Louis! Um, yeah, and it was–it took me a while after that, and I came out here to Los Angeles and I started trying to write screenplays. That was the big move out here, because I was kind of like, “What am I still doing in New York? I don’t belong here anymore.” And I moved out to LA and tried to write.
ENNI: Well, I’d love to hear more about that, actually, that particular time–that’s really interesting to me. You’re in New York, and you thought you wanted to be an actor, then–
ANGELINI: It changed.
ENNI: It changes–
ANGELINI: Yeah, over the course of college.
ENNI: And how did you–I mean, all of that, like, you’re relationship with the city, where you wanted to be, like, put me there, what were you thinking and how were you thinking about it?
ANGELINI: Well, I was living in Brooklyn, sleeping on my friend Ed’s floor, and I was bartending and waiting tables, and I just… It was, I had just graduated from college, and I went, “What am I doing here?” Like, I don’t, I didn’t, I was like, “I’m not–I’m just sort of like, this free floating entity, and I’m living day to day writing in my journal, and that’s it. And that’s not enough–that’s not what I’m meant to do.”
ENNI: And when did writing become the answer? I mean, were you dancing around it?
ANGELINI: Oh, totally. And completely avoiding it. Like, I came out here and started working with a sketch comedy group–and I can’t write comedy. I’m a horrible–I’m not funny. I really, well, I have my moments, but I can’t do sketch comedy. But I kept working with the group, because I was learning how to write while working with them, and then I was like, “Oh, maybe I’m supposed to write screenplays,” because I, you know, because I studied theatre and I love it. And I did love it. I loved text analysis, and I loved breaking it down, and I loved the structure of the writing, and I loved all of that, great stuff! Especially when you’re working with Shakespeare and the Greeks, I mean, that’s just such a wealth of information. So I was like, that’s–“I’m gonna be a screenwriter!” And, you know, again, I tried to write for a long time, still bartending, and my husband, who is a screenwriter, like–'cause I had this one thing, and it got a little traction, and it didn’t go anywhere, didn’t get bought, blah blah blah, I’m devastated and he brings me over to my bookshelf. And he was like, “What do you see there?” And I was like, “I see books.” And he was like, “No screenplays?” And I went, “No.” And he went, “Write what you love.” It was just everywhere with fantasy books and YA books, and I was like, “Oh, I get it, you write what you love! That makes so much more sense!” Even if I had been trained in a certain way, and I’d been like, I learned how to break down plays and learned how to break down screenplays. That wasn’t truly what I loved, what I loved was sitting in my closet and reading fantasy.
ENNI: Yeah! Okay, there’s like two major threads that I want to go down here. First, is, I do want to back up and talk about the studying theatre–my favorite thing is to talk to writers who got there accidentally and studied other forms of storytelling first, because I think there’s nothing that you do in your life that can’t inform your writing, but when people study and are trained in other ways, that’s amazing to me. So, you as like an avid reader, then going to the stage and reading plays, how did that change your relationship to reading and everything?
ANGELINI: It happened really organically, it actually–there, for me, when I read a screenplay or read a book, there’s not that much of a difference. I mean, there’s all this interior–you know what I mean? But for me, I can just picture it. Like, I add in all of the exposition that would be in the book naturally.
ENNI: So you’ve always been visual.
ANGELINI: Yeah, but I write very visually. You know, I spend a lot of time setting up… You know what I mean? It’s all part and parcel of the same thing. It’s like–
ENNI: But not everyone reads that way.
ANGELINI: I’m very visual. I put myself in the scene when I’m reading. And so that was what I was doing as an actor, so it felt like the same thing, it’s like, “Oh, these are my books, and now I get to be that character, and how fun is that,” because I was the character in my closet, now I get to be it in real life. So for me it was just–six of one, half a dozen of the other. It all felt very similar.
ENNI: I guess what I think is great about this is that you came from, also plays and screenplays are uniquely–
ENNI: So structured.
ANGELINI: So structured.
ENNI: And a lot of writers come from just like, sprawl, and then–I’ll speak for myself, like, reading screenplay books was like, “Ohhh!”
ANGELINI: “I get it!”
ENNI: There’s all these tools that people have been solving these problems for hundreds of thousands of years!
ANGELINI: Yes, look at that! Three act structure and an inciting incident and a midpoint! And it all works! It’s Shakespeare’s five act structure, except the first act is truncated, and the middle acts are… But if you read the middle acts in Shakespeare, it’s the same thing. It really is–it’s the same thing. It’s the five act structure from Shakespeare. And for the Greeks, too. But we don’t have a strophe, an antistrophe, and the chorus anymore. We do have narrators, but we don’t have a chorus coming in and telling you how to feel. That’s the only thing that we’ve taken out.
ENNI: Interesting, yeah yeah yeah. So, I mean, that’s like in your bones–understanding that stuff.
ANGELINI: Yeah, that structure came so easy. So easily to me, and I put it in all of my books. I still have everything beat-ed out the same way that you would–when you take, when an actor goes and takes apart a script, they do things called beats, so they do things like, the intention of this line, the intention of this scene. And then they do huge character arcs of themselves. I do that for all of the characters in my books, I beat out exactly their emotional arc. And I beat out the action that they need to fulfill. And it just–it works great for books.
ENNI: 'Cause I did read a couple interviews with you where you’re talking about your process, and it sounds very structured.
ANGELINI: It’s very structured. And then, you know, once you’re writing it, you go, “Oh, and this is completely–now for something completely different.” You know what I mean? That’s how it always ends up. But if you have the bones of the book ready to go, it’s so easy to flesh it out.
ENNI: Yeah, and doing even that based on the screenplay books I was like, “Okay, for this next one, I’d like it to not take two years anymore.” Like, let’s see if we can whatever, and then you do, in a week, just looking at it that way, you realize that you saved yourself three drafts, or whatever, it’s kind of amazing.
ANGELINI: But drafts are great too, and there’s nothing wrong with running around the block to get across the street. At least you get a good view. And sometimes things–you add to it, find out what you really want to say while you’re going. So, I mean, it’s all what makes you comfortable when you’re a writer. There’s some people that need to work it out in three drafts, like, they need that to learn how to understand it. But for me, I need some structure to hang things on. Although, with the book that I’m writing now, since I don’t have to do any worldbuilding, it’s much smaller than it’s ever been before, and that’s sort of left me a little bereft. I’m sort of, you know, “Where’s my rigged outline?!”
ENNI: Right, right! That’s so funny, okay, and I am going to talk later about the length of your books and that kind of thing, because it is kind of–it’s totally amazing.
ANGELINI: They are so long!
ENNI: And totally amazing!
ANGELINI: They’re so long, yes.
ENNI: I actually, I want to keep with your journey, because I think it’s so interesting to hear you talk about going from stage and performing with a group, and then writing for theatre and writing for an improv troupe, and writing screenplays, those are all–can be, much more interactive, and involve a lot of people and a lot of personality. And then you’re sort of slowly whittling it down.
ANGELINI: Smaller and smaller groups of people.
ENNI: Until it’s you telling your story.
ANGELINI: And now, funny thing is, when I write a book, nobody reads it until it’s completed.
ANGELINI: Not even STARCROSSED, not even my first book. Not one word–nobody sees it. I know writers who are like, “Oh, read the first two chapters for me, see where I’m going with it.” I can’t do that. I really do need to be in a bubble and finish the story that I had in my head, so that I can give the story to somebody else. And then I’ll work out the problems later. I don’t even talk about it, really, while I’m–well, I’ll talk about it in brief, like, this is the story that I’m writing, but I don’t like, “Okay, so I’m thinking about this scene, and what do you think about this?” I never do that.
ANGELINI: It’s become such a solitary thing for me. And yeah, it did go from being in a huge cast where, you know, everybody has a say in what you’re doing on stage, like the director, the other actors, like everybody is working off each other together, building the character in a group. And this is just–I’m building a world in my closet. And I do work in this tiny little corner, like facing a wall, and it’s like, dark. [laughs]
ENNI: That’s so funny! It’s just–it’s really interesting to me, because it’s so paralleling like, your family, and then what writing was, or reading was.
ANGELINI: As fear goes away, I need less and less people, and I’m able to just be with myself and my thoughts. But in the beginning, I needed–I was too afraid, I was way too afraid when I was younger to ever be a writer.
ENNI: Yeah, that’s so–well, do you feel that’s true of your whole life? Do you feel like you’ve been shedding fear?
ANGELINI: Oh yeah, I mean, you get to a certain point and you’re like, “I don’t care if people see me naked. I’m an old woman now.” Yeah, just, modesty goes out the window–there are so many things that just don’t matter anymore.
ENNI: Yeah, it’s funny–I was just talking to someone about this, looking back at ten years ago me, and I was… I really was scared of a lot. And it was like, why? So odd to think like, you’re young and you can do literally anything, like maybe that’s what’s so scary. You’re like, making a choice is scary.
ANGELINI: Yeah, and saying, “This is the way I’m going to go,” so you do the safe things, because… For me, theatre was safe, because I had been put up on stage since I was like, three years old. My first play I was in when I was three. So it was familiar. I was like, “This is what I should be doing, because I’ve always done it.”
ENNI: Who was getting up on stage when you were three?
ANGELINI: My sisters, always! It’s–everything, like the root of my life are my stupid sisters and the things that they’ve done to me. Yeah, they put me up on stage. I played my eldest sister’s daughter in “The Carousel.”
ENNI: How funny! Okay, that’s hilarious.
ANGELINI: And I remember it, I remember being three years old and my one line was “Daddy!” And like–
ENNI: Oh wow!
ANGELINI: Yeah, I remember it clearly.
ENNI: The other thing that’s really striking me, at this point, is–there’s four incidents now in which you’ve sort of very clearly… Like, pointed out that someone gifted you a really profound thing that changed you.
ANGELINI: Yeah, all that, there’s… There’s no untangling myself from the people who have helped me become myself.
ENNI: It’s amazing that you’re open to it, though.
ENNI: I think some people get told–get the mirror put up to them, and run away.
ANGELINI: But I–it was done in such like, such a loving way by so many people. And I’ve just been fortunate enough to have great people in my crazy life.
ENNI: Yeah, that’s amazing! So, you are in Los Angeles–did you move to LA because you wanted to do screenwriting, or…?
ANGELINI: I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I literally–I bought a car off my sister Nancy, which had already been in a car accident, the black Toyota Corolla, 1993 Toyota Corolla. And I drove cross country with all of my stuff in it. Frightfully dangerous for a young woman. And I was like, “I’m just gonna tool around”–I mean, I went to Yosemite, I went to the Grand Canyon, all by myself, and I had this–I think it was almost a three week journey where I just drove around and was looking at stuff and trying to figure out where I fit, and writing in my journal frantically, just constantly in my journal, and… Like, what am I doing? What am I doing this for? Why? And I didn’t know, I think I still was too scared to admit what I was headed towards. Writing, becoming a writer. I didn’t know.
ENNI: That’s so funny! You really were kicking and screaming.
ANGELINI: Yeah, it took me a long time. Because I could never–the stuff I wrote in my journal, they weren’t stories, that wasn’t what I was doing, so why would anybody want to read it?
ENNI: Oh, interesting.
ANGELINI: For me, it was sort of… It wasn’t even like an autobiography. It wasn’t even like it had a thread through it that I could say, “This is the story of Josie Angelini.” It was like, this rambling, desperate, fevered vomiting of the pen on the page. Like, me trying to figure out who I was.
ENNI: Los Angeles is also a really… Nurturing creative place.
ANGELINI: You think?
ENNI: I think so.
ANGELINI: Oh, it’s awesome–no, it is, I’ve met some great–well, obviously, I married someone who’s creative.
ENNI: Right, how did you find it?
ANGELINI: How did I find him?
ENNI: How did you find the city, you didn’t feel like it was…?
ANGELINI: When I first got out here, no, I felt like it was… Compared to, okay, but I went to Tisch, you know, so everybody–I couldn’t walk five feet without tripping over an artist. You know what I mean? I lived in the village. Everybody was an artist. So for me, I got out here, and… I know that there were a lot of people in the business, but that they were like lawyers in the business. For me it was a completely different experience. I come for this art world bubble to LA, and I was like, “Why doesn’t anybody do anything creative?” And now I know tons of people who are creative around me.
ENNI: That’s so interesting! Well I think it’s all–it is a matter of comparison, too, because I moved here from Washington, DC, so there’s like…
ANGELINI: For you it was like a mecca.
ENNI: Yeah, I was like, “Oh my god, my people!” And fell into the open arms of like, all the YA writers who live here, who are extremely generous and kind. So that was really helpful.
ANGELINI: There’s an awesome community of YA writers in LA; some amazing people.
ENNI: Yeah, we’re pretty spoiled. So, you’re here, you’re still bartending, you’re trying to write screenplays, you’re doing all this stuff… How did you–was it that moment with your husband when you decided to…?
ANGELINI: Yeah, he was like, “Josie, what do you read?” He was like, you look at his bookshelf, and it’s all screenplays. It’s all screenplays–stuff that he’s read, or reading, or you know–he used to be an assistant–that his bosses used to–movies they were in, and I looked at my bookcase, it was… I mean, there were tons of plays from when I was doing theatre, but it was all books. It was mostly fantasy. And I was like, “Oh, I can do that–yeah, okay, that’s what I love and that’s what I should be writing.” And he was like “Don’t worry.” I was like, “I don’t know how to write a book; I can’t do that.” I studied screenplay structure, I studied play structure, you know. We did text analysis. That’s how come I understand all of this stuff, and he was like, “Well, use it anyway.” Like, “Use the structure anyway, just write a book.” And it was crazy easy.
ANGELINI: Yeah, I sat down and I just wrote STARCROSSED.
ANGELINI: It was crazy easy.
ENNI: How long did that first attempt take you?
ANGELINI: It took me about eight months, but I was bartending full-time too, so, you know, and that just wrecks you.
ENNI: You decide that you want to write fantasy, obviously STARCROSSED is pulling a lot from Greek classic myth, but how did you decide how to approach that and make it your own story? That seems like a really intimidating thing–place to start.
ANGELINI: But strangely enough, it’s what I felt most comfortable writing. Because I truly understood THE ILIAD, and I understood Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, like I’d read everything many, many times. So for me, it was sort of like, “Well, I know these characters, I know this structure.” And I was like, “Oh yeah, of course, it’s THE ILIAD today, I can do that. I know what this is.” And for me it was right there, the mythology was right there for me to use, rather than trying to invent my own world and invent my own–like I did in my second series, I had to invent my own world and create my own magical system, and find a way to deliver that to the reader without having these paragraphs that are just like “And this and this and this,” where it’s like–they’re just telling you what the magic is. But for STARCROSSED, that series… It was like going home for me. That’s how easily it came out of me. So start with what you know, is what I always say to people, because I really did understand that stuff. And everyone’s like, “Wow, it’s just such a huge thing to–” and it’s like, “No no no, 'cause it’s established, and I understand it, and I know all the different gods, and…”
ENNI: Right, right, did you feel though–was there any, I mean, I love talking to people that do retellings because it seems to me like, so… Um, like there would be a yin and yang to it, in that you are starting with something that’s established and that readers are drawn to, there’s an immediate pull to that, when people kind of know what you’re starting with, but then also the pressure to make that your own and really put your own mark on it. How did you think about that?
ANGELINI: I didn’t–I didn’t think about it too much, I just said… I think I just went to the characters, basically. I went to Lucas and Helen, and I was like, well what would the choices these characters would make in this given situation? And how would they deal with that situation? So for me it was just about being as honest as I could to the characters I had created in order to have them dictate the story to me.
ENNI: Yeah, which is interesting when you do start with such plot-heavy planning, it’s where characters and plot meet that I get bungled up, because then the characters are like, “Oh, no no no.” That whole plot you had ready for me is like, not what I’m going to do. And it takes–that’s where I get stuck in drafts where it’s like, “Oh no, this is really who this person is, and this is really what they would do.” And it takes time to figure it out. But when you plan it all, did you feel like you knew the characters before you even started, or was that like an exploration?
ANGELINI: You get to know them better as time goes on. But then they change so much, like Helen is not the same at the end of GODDESS, she’s a completely different character than she was at the beginning. And same for Lily, like, Lily is a totally different–well, you know what, actually, I’m going to roll that back. Lily is the one character who doesn’t actually change that much. She is still stubborn, she’s still, like, from the first book, this is the girl who would throw herself on fire. She is that girl. She has that in her. And it’s manifested–and the third book isn’t out yet, but you’ll see. She is the girl who would do that.
ENNI: Isn’t that–there’s um, I’m sitting here trying to think about the one example that came up lately, and I want to say that it’s STAR WARS… Where people say that Luke’s not really the protagonist, because he doesn’t change, but I think I’m mixing that up, I think it’s a different story.
ANGELINI: Oh, Luke changes a lot.
ENNI: Luke changes a lot, shoot, it will come to me later, but it was something–
ANGELINI: Yeah, he’s impatient, he’s like–if you want to talk STAR WARS, he’s impatient, he wants to get the heck out of there, he doesn’t want to be part of his family anymore, and then by the end of the series you see him struggling to pull his family together with his father, like, going to get his father, pulling him off the Death Star like, try and save his life, and… You know, in the first one he just wants to get the heck away from his family, and then, you know, he’s calm, he’s patient, he’d do anything to protect Leia, he’d do anything to protect Darth Vader. Like, his arc has come full circle, actually. He’s changed that much.
ENNI: Ooh, and the new one! So excited.
ENNI: So exciting!
ANGELINI: I’m such a geek.
ENNI: It will come to me later because I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it, but anyway, I think that’s interesting, also, to have a main character where it’s like, this person is so themselves, because I’ve known people like that, where it’s like–sometimes you meet people and they just are themselves, and the story of their life is figuring out who can handle that and who can’t.
ANGELINI: Who can handle that! That’s literally–that’s Lily’s problem, who can handle that, because she’s got a lot going on in there, I’ll tell you that much.
ENNI: Well let’s get to that, let’s talk a little bit about STARCROSSED, and then I want to talk about the WORLDWALKER series for sure, um… I have a question that sort of crosses into the next series, because STARCROSSED was sort of, I remember being someone who was like, a YA observer and writing and then being online and all this stuff. STARCROSSED, when that deal was announced, it was one of these… One of the big deals that was happening around that time. Um, huge, amazing, really cool, big deal, for a big trilogy, there was also all these trilogies happening at that time… That’s a lot of pressure, though, on you, as a first time author, I mean, what was that whole experience like, that’s kind of…
ANGELINI: I was honestly… I was just happy to be here. Like, for me, I was literally just happy–I couldn’t believe that I got published, and I think this, the being stunned is what carried me through all the expectations. I genuinely–I would not have been more surprised if the queen had asked me to tea. I was like, I was just so glad to be in the room, and being a published author that I didn’t… I didn’t really feel that pressure. I don’t know why, it never really got in the way of the writing. It was… I guess like in retrospect it probably should have, but it just didn’t. It just didn’t. Whenever I was alone with my book, it was just me and the story that was going on. And then everything else, the crazy that was happening around it–that was for somebody else to sort out. You know what I mean?
ENNI: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah. Okay. Well, and into the inspiration of it, I was–there was this one quote that you had in an interview about WORLDWALKER series that I thought was really interesting and I’d love to hear you talk about how this played into the inspiration for it, and the quote is, “The thing that really kept me up at night was the notion that if I did meet myself, I’d probably end up being my own worst enemy.” That wasn’t even the idea of parallel–it was just like, if you met yourself.
ANGELINI: But that’s what started the whole series, for me. I just–I was just, I’m a terrible sleeper. So I was laying in bed, and it’s like three o'clock in the morning, my husband is snoring up a storm, and I am not sleeping. I’m just laying there. And I was just thinking about the way that my voice sounds on an answering machine. And I was like, “Ugh.” You know how random thoughts pop in there, that’s like, “I bet if I ever met myself, I’d hate her.” I’d like–she would be my worst enemy, and I’d just… 'Cause everything that you don’t like about yourself, you can’t avoid when you meet yourself. And those are the things that you’re going to zero in on first. And so, for me, working out that like, what that is, was what these books were about. Like, we were talking earlier about, you know, you have a theme and there’s something that you’re still working out in yourself. I saw that, and I went, “Why would I? I’m not a bad–like, why would I be my own worst enemy?” But I knew I would, and it’s because I always have been. Like, nobody has held me back the way I have. Nobody has told me I couldn’t more than I have. Nobody has told me “you’re wrong, you’re not good enough,” more than me. So, of course I hate her.
ENNI: I think it also speaks to something that I’ve been thinking about a bunch over the last year or two years, which is that most often, if I meet someone, and I have a strong dislike about some part of them, it’s because I hate that about myself.
ENNI: So whenever I find myself wanting to say–whenever I find myself wanting to say a bad word about someone, I’ll try, at least, to stop myself and be like, “Whoa, actually.”
ANGELINI: What does this remind me of?
ENNI: What you’re trying to say is that you annoy yourself!
ANGELINI: Me working that out and forgiving that and getting over it and accepting it, and just being like, “Okay, there are times when I just talk too much, and there are times when I just–” You know what I mean? And I’m… And all of those things about myself that I’m really–that really frustrate me, and that I’ve tried to change, or maybe I haven’t tried hard enough to change, they’re still there, and it’s alright. It’s okay. And yes, in the third book, Lily and Lilian do give each other a big hug. It’s okay.
ENNI: Well maybe–do you want to set up the series just a little bit, just 'cause this is going to come out with the third book, so…
ANGELINI: Okay, cool, um, well the WORLDWALKER trilogy um, TRAVEL BY FIRE is the first book, and it starts with um, Lily, who lives in Salem, Massachusetts, is plagued by all kinds of allergies and–she just has massive reactions to pretty much anything in the air, water, food, her body freaks out. So she’s kind of like, ticking down time before she ends up in a bubble. All of this, and the guy she’s loved her whole life is a big player, and totally is like screwing around with everybody, and she catches him when they were supposed to be starting a relationship, and she kind of has it. She’s just sort of had it. And she’s sort of reached this end point. She’s got a crazy mom, guy she loves is never going to be faithful to her, and she’s sick as a dog all the time. How do we get past this? And she kind of says, “Come on god, take me away.” And somebody hears her. And it winds up being an alternate version of herself, and the alternate version of herself kidnaps her, and takes her into this parallel universe, where Salem is run by witches. And Salem rules the world. She finds out that this alternate version of herself is the Salem witch. So Lily finds out that there’s a reason she’s always been sick, and all that stuff, and that’s because her body is trying to take agents out of the world, and convert them into energy. So her body is what I call the crucible, and a crucible is where matter is transmuted into other forms of matter, energy. And that’s what magic is based on. So it’s very much e=mc^2, matter into energy, and then you have these mass–even just a small amount of matter can create massive bursts of energy. And so in this world, she has a body that just does that. Converts. She meets herself, finds out that she is wicked, like this other version of her isn’t a nice–I mean, this other version of her is dying from something that she doesn’t understand, and she is an evil person who hunts scientists from this world and hangs them in the streets.
ENNI: Well, okay, I want to rephrase this because, what I think is so interesting is that… Lily meets Lilian, and not only like we were saying, it would be difficult to meet yourself, but she’s meeting a violent, angry, evil version of herself. That’s crazy.
ANGELINI: And has to come to terms with the fact that that is inside of her.
ANGELINI: There are times in your life when you go, “I didn’t know I had it in me.” This is like, the ultimate of that. I didn’t know I had THAT in me. And she–as soon as she sees it, the reason why she hates Lilian is because she know she does. She does have it in her to be like that. And she’s kind of coming to terms with the fact that there’s–there’s something in her that’s capable of that.
ENNI: The–I’m just curious about what it was like to sort of get in that headspace. Whenever you have to write a really good villain, you have to be that villain, too.
ANGELINI: Oh yeah, but the whole series is sort of working things out–you’ll see, by the third book, Lily agrees with Lilian. She doesn’t just get her point, she doesn’t just go, “Oh, now I see, and we can jolly go off into the sunset together, lalala,” no. She goes, “I’m actually–I’d do that. And this is why I’d do that. And if you weren’t here, I would still do that.”
ENNI: Yeah. Oh, interesting.
ANGELINI: And that’s going to make a lot of people around her have to choose.
ENNI: Ooh! When I was thinking about this, I was like, “Well, witches and covens and sisters,” to me it feels like it’s all of a piece, a little bit. Did you feel–and obviously, Salem…
ANGELINI: Well, one of the things I wanted to explore was, what would it be like if women ran the world. And coming from the family that I did, it’s not going to be nice, you know what I mean? People always say, “Oh, if women ran the world”–or at least, this is when I was going to college. The thing was like, “Oh, you know, men have screwed up the world, if women were running the world this new wave of feminism, everyone would be so happy.” No no no. I wanted to write something where women were truly running the world. And it’s not a great place. There’s a lot of danger involved. It’s very scary. It’s not all love and momma’s sweetness and home-cooked meals.
ENNI: Yeah, because that’s not all women are. And so I think that’s really compelling. The–okay, so we wrap up with advice. I would love to hear you talk about advice for new writers, and maybe also advice for–you’re a new mom, if you have any advice for how to–I mean, that’s kind of a trite question, which you do not have to answer if you don’t want to.
ANGELINI: About being a writer?
ENNI: A writer and a mom.
ANGELINI: A writer and a mom.
ENNI: Or a creative person and a mom; it’s challenging.
ANGELINI: It really is, because you’ll find them–they pull on you, both ways… Okay, so, I write from home, right. And my daughter–we do have help that comes in in the morning so I can get a few hours of writing done, and my husband can get a few hours of writing done. Because we both work from home. And every time she knocks on my door, I go in and get her. I answer the door. So for me it’s, I think that that’s… You do need to be able to shut the door for yourself so you can write. But if somebody knocks on your door, open it. Like, when it comes to your art, you don’t have to write completely alone. You gotta let people into your life, you gotta let people into your thoughts. And if you want to balance being a mom and a writer, for me, the only way–everybody’s gotta find their own way with that. But, for me, the only way to be a good writer and a good mom is to get the door when she knocks. That’s it. And not be like, “Mommy’s writing!” No, there are other things that are happening in my life, too.
ENNI: Yeah, that’s really–I like that. Um, and what about for the, uh, for new writers or aspiring writers?
ANGELINI: Write every day. I mean, I know everybody probably says that, but it’s the truth. Write every day or read every day. That–and you know, when you feel guilty because you’re going on a reading jag, like right now I’m on this huge reading jag, where I’m re-reading stuff that I read years ago, like Kelly Armstrong’s series, like, you know what I mean? I’m digging up some deep, dark stuff. Like the GRACELING series, I went through, ON THE JELLICOE ROAD I read again, which, I just… I read it, put it down, re-read it, like, I did the re-read of the re-read, because I love that book so desperately. And you just gotta–even though you kinda feel like you’re being self-indulgent, you’re still working it out in your head. You’re working out how to tell a good story. You’re trying to figure out what stories interest you the most and what characters interest you the most. Let yourself do it. Let yourself read as much as you need to.
ENNI: It’s text analysis whether it’s overt or not.
ANGELINI: That’s what I keep telling myself, even though I’ve spent so much money on books every month–it’s for your work. But it truly is, it’s not just growth for you as a human being, it’s growth for you as a writer.
ENNI: Yeah, yeah! Well, that is it, man.
ANGELINI: Awesome! What a great interview, thank you so much!
ENNI: This is so fun!
[closing music plays]
ENNI: Thank you so much to Josie. Follow her @JosieAngelini, and follow the show @FirstDraftPod and me @SarahEnni. You can also find the show on Facebook, and see what I’m up to as well as get sneak peaks at future guests on Instagram. But, for my favorite quotes from this and every episode, as well as book recommendations and the link to sign up for the First Draft Newsletter, check out FirstDraftPod.com. If you like what you heard, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. While you’re there, think about leaving a rating or review. Every five-star review chips away the boundary between this universe and the one in which I am an evil supervillain with boundless wrath. Thanks to Hashbrown for the theme song, and to Colin Keith and Maurene Goo for the logos. Thanks also to super intern Sarah DeMont. And, as ever, thanks to all you modern day witches for listening.