For this week's Writer Wednesday Feature, we interviewed Angela Dell'Isola, author of "Leap of Faith," and our organization's Outreach and Content Manager. Angela is a fantasy writer who has seen the power of words in her own life, and who believes deeply in the goal of the Story Shares organization: to share that power with everyone. When she isn't writing, reading, or editing, she can be found near her mailbox, waiting for her Hogwarts letter to arrive. To learn more, check out the responses from her interview, below!
- Why do you write? What inspired you to begin writing?
It sounds cliché to say that I am compelled to write, but my family and friends can tell you that I become genuinely grouchy if I spend too long away from the craft. I don’t know what inspired me to begin; it’s something that I have always done in some form. I have kept diaries my entire life and I can remember when I was an elementary student, I would spend the afternoons with my neighbor working on a story about a boy named Jon (after my neighbor, of course) who won the lottery. At the time, I hadn’t discovered the art of research, so I didn’t realize how difficult it would be for a twelve-year-old boy to receive a lottery payout!
- What have you written?
I consider myself a fantasy writer; I am pulled to dragons, fairies, mermaids, magic wands. I don’t want to limit my writing to a single world. I want to explore the scope of several. I’m putting the finishing touches on my first full-length novel at the moment, which combines three worlds into one. There is a human realm, a god realm, and a spirit realm, which gives me a great deal of room for adventure. I’ve been working on it for just over a year and it has become so real to me that I often catch myself talking about the characters and places as if they exist in OUR world!
- What advice would you give to a novice writer?
I started out believing that writing is a solitary craft, but it isn’t. There are huge elements of it that are internal: your ideas, your voice, your experiences. And of course, it falls on you to find the right words to bring a plot-line and its characters to life. But the best advice I can offer is this: find other writers. Join a critique group. Ask trusted individuals to review your work. Be open to criticism, but be firm about maintaining your original story.
Writing is an art form, and art is so deeply personal that we as creators are biased in our viewpoints. We see and know our characters in such detail that we can fall victim to assuming that our readers do the same. This makes it difficult to spot the weaker areas in our stories, while a fresh pair of eyes can make a huge difference in taking our writing to the next level. It’s hard putting your work out there, sometimes it is even physically painful, but it is so worthwhile.
- Are there authors that you turn to for inspiration and mentoring?
I have several young adult and contemporary authors that I turn to for inspiration, and what I enjoy is that I look to each of them for mentoring in different departments. I could go on naming them forever, but I'll just list two of them, for now. Tarryn Fisher is one of my favorite authors and I love her writing style. Her sentences are very clipped; they give you just enough. And her content is so raw. She doesn’t shy away from the more difficult conversations in life and I think that is critical for literature. You need to explore darkness as much as light. I also really love Leigh Bardugo. She develops characters that are so 3 dimensional that they stand up from the page. You find yourself forgetting that they are fictional and you wake up looking for them, after falling asleep with her books in your hands.
- What prompted you to write for Story Shares?
I found Story Shares two years ago when I was searching for writing competitions to enter as part of my goal of expanding my writing resume. I fell instantly in love. Not only does the organization offer a large readership platform, but the type of platform really resonated with me. My stories would be read not just as a form of entertainment, but more importantly, as an educational tool to develop literacy skills. That’s amazing! And on a personal level, this really posed a challenge to me as a writer. Developing a story that is high interest is difficult in and of itself, but doing so while keeping the writing approachable in form is trickier still. I loved every minute of building my first story, Leap of Faith, and I’m enjoying writing my second Story Shares book, Shadow Lurkers, just as much.
- Do you find reading to be necessary for writing? How often do you read?
Reading is absolutely necessary for writing. It is a form of both conscious and unconscious practice. Sometimes you will find yourself acknowledging the power of a sentence, or recognizing a fantastic opening, and you pick apart what is working and how you can bring your own work to that level. But I think more than that, you learn the most when you don’t realize it, when you find yourself so caught up in the story itself that you think you couldn’t possibly be focusing on the work behind it. But those sentences, that dialogue, those character constructions – those all resonate with you the most and you will find yourself unwittingly being inspired by them. Your voice and your writing is a cumulative pool of the things you’ve read and the experiences you’ve had.
- What is your preferred writing environment?
I love to write outdoors, or in hidden, indoor corners. While I think it is really important to share your work and be open to constructive criticism, the act of writing itself is really personal for me. I do probably 95% of my writing in solitude, and a fair amount of that in graveyards. I know that probably sounds really strange to some, but there is something deeply peaceful about them that allows my thoughts to clear and my words to flow. I am particularly found of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Ma. There is a bench near to Thoreau’s grave that I am constantly occupying.
- Do you prefer to work from an outline, or plot as you go? Why?
I am what you call a “pantser,” at least in my first draft. I sit down, sometimes without any idea at all where I will go with my writing. And I think of a character. I build a physical description, a history, a family, a series of traits. I don’t write any of this down – this is the “sit and stare” part of writing, for me. And once I feel that I know him or her, at least on an introductory level, I start writing. I use one characteristic and I fly with it. If I think my character is especially curious, for example, I will set her creeping down a hallway in some place she isn’t supposed to be, and I will follow. That is how the novel I am currently working on was born.
- What question do you wish you’d been asked about your work? What is the answer?
How much of yourself is infused into your work? And I would answer, all of it. You do not need to be writing a memoir to pour your heart and soul into your work. I didn’t recognize myself, until nearing the final chapters of my current book, just how much of my life and my personality I’d unconsciously thrown into the story. You don’t expect a story with hellhounds, spells, and dangerous immortals to stem from such a personal place. But there are so many details: the way a character moves his mouth, the way a relationship develops, the decision making processes and underlying morals of a story – that run parallel to my life. And that’s really rewarding and therapeutic, and deeply (sometimes even invasively) exploratory - to take honest, real-world elements and build something new with them.