I’ve always been a huge Oscar Wilde fan – in fact, one of the first classic stories I’d ever read by myself was “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. Since then I’ve been fascinated with the idea of evil packaged in a pretty face, and I’ve been wanting to see more of that concept explored in YA.
And then along comes “Illuminate” by Aimee Agresti, and that book does just that – it explores what evil may lurk behind such beautiful faces in a beautiful place, and what it may cost to get that beauty that everyone else has. It’s on my best of 2012 book so far, and it’s just an absolutely fun and awesome book that everyone should read once it comes out in March. Aimee was kind enough to donate some of her time to answer my questions, so now some of the mysteries behind the making of “Illuminate” now come to light (pun not intended) behind the jump!
USAGI: First of all, let me thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I know you must be kicking into high gear for promoting “Illuminate” right about now, so it means a lot that you’ve taken the time to do this. Thank you! Now, to the first question: Considering the book’s content, was the decision to name Dante have anything to do with allusions to Dante’s “Inferno/Purgatorio/Paradiso”? Explain.
AIMEE AGRESTI: You’re good! Yes, indeed, I’m a huge fan of “The Divine Comedy” and since ILLUMINATE deals with the realms of the afterlife, I thought it would be a nice nod to the great Dante Alighieri to name Haven’s best friend after him. It also happens to be a fabulous name!
U: Does the book itself adhere to the Miltonian theory of why Lucifer got kicked out of Heaven, or the Bible’s?
AA: I’m so glad you asked that question and the answer, actually, is: No. All of the characters in ILLUMINATE (including the angels and devils) are mine. They live in the world I’m creating for them, follow the laws I’ve made for them and have the history that I give them. I’m hoping that readers will come to the book with a blank slate and an open mind ready to be entertained and thrilled by the completely new world that unfolds here!
U: Why tempt/test Dante more than Haven?
AA: Without giving too much away, from a writerly standpoint, I wanted to put Dante in a bit of danger to show Haven’s growing physical strength and also the strength of her bond with him. Nothing is scarier than seeing your best friend in trouble, right? I wanted Haven to be faced with having to protect someone so dear to her.
U: What, if any, was the original seed of an idea for the book?
AA: ILLUMINATE bloomed from the idea of updating “The Picture of Dorian Gray”—which I adore—and adding a few extra twists and some angels and devils.
U: Any inspirations that contributed to the book from other media (books/tv/etc)?
AA: The book is a little stew of so many things I love: “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “Faust,” art work by folks like Hieronymus Bosch and Paul Delaroche, and a pinch of Al Capone and Chicago history.
U: How long did this take to finish, and, if applicable, did the publisher ask you to change any parts of it that didn’t have to do with grammar, etc?
AA: It took about a year from the first glimmer of an idea to writing the last line of the first draft. And then, of course, there is always polishing and tightening to be done. I have a wonderful editor!
U: Why have Dante as LGBTQ-identified youth? Explain.
AA: I wanted all readers to feel included here and hoped some might feel a camaraderie with Dante. Haven, Dante and Lance all feel like outsiders at school, but no two outsiders are ever alike. (I feel qualified to say that having been a bit of one myself in high school!) Haven is shy and introspective and bothered by her outcast status. Lance is a loner and doesn’t seem to mind so much. But Dante is that guy who’s so affable and sunny and should be Mr. Popular but yet deep down he actually feels very alone. That can happen in high school, amazing people can end up on the fringes for whatever reason. It happened when I was in school and judging from the teens I’ve chatted with, it still does.
U: How many more books do you have planned for this series?
AA: It’ll be a trilogy! I’m working on Book Two now, you can keep updated on it at aimeeagresti.com!
U: Will we be seeing Lucian again? If so, will he be different from how we see him in this book?
AA: Hmm, how much should I tell you? All I’ll say is that you haven’t seen the last of Lucian. Stay tuned for Book Two!
U: What makes you write?
AA: I can’t imagine doing anything else, I love the feeling of building these stories and worlds. And also, I remember how I used to feel growing up when I read a book that either seemed to understand me or one that could give me an escape, and I write with all of that in mind.
U: Before this book, what was your day job?
AA: I was a magazine writer, most recently at Us Weekly–which was tons of fun!
U: Finally, any message you want the reader to take away from this book as a whole?
AA: At first glance, ILLUMINATE might seem to be about angels and devils but it’s actually about a girl learning to have some confidence and believe in herself!
U: And that’s it for now! Be sure to catch “Illuminate” once it hits stores March 6, 2012 (in North America, check your local bookseller if you live elsewhere). It’s seriously one YA debut that you can’t miss this year!