May 19, 2011

Lauren Kate

In search of a beautiful, eternal love
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Being 17 and in love can be glorious, but what if the object of your affection is a fallen angel? And you’re both beset by an ancient curse? No wonder Lucinda “Luce” Price spends a lot of her time feeling confused and frustrated in Passion, the latest installment in the Fallen series by Lauren Kate.

If fan enthusiasm and sales figures are any indication, readers will thrill at re-entering the dark, dramatic world Kate has created, all the better to cheer on their beloved Luce as she sets out on a quest for clarity, safety and love. The first two books in the series, Fallen and Torment, were New York Times bestsellers, and Kate routinely gets eager crowds at book signings here and abroad.

In an interview from her home in Laurel Canyon, California, Kate says it was at her very first signing that a reader uttered the “best question [she’d] ever been asked.” The author recalled, “I read this really frustrating, annoying fight scene between [the characters], and their special love isn’t really visible if you read the scene alone. But an 11-year-old girl came up to me afterward—she waited until everyone was gone, and then asked quietly, ‘Do you really think a love that beautiful exists in the world?’ ” 

“It was amazing,” Kate recalls. “That she could see into it, and was open enough to imagine what lay beyond those pages, was really cool.” And yes, the author adds, “I do believe in that love very strongly. When Fallen came out, I’d been married for three months.” 

Nearly two years later, even Kate’s husband sometimes gets to feel the affection of fans: “We went to the Philippines for a book signing, and there was a long line. People went up to him, saying, ‘I’ll never get to the front, can I just take a picture with you?’” 

Kate’s belief in a “magical connection that’s gorgeous and attainable” resonates in her voice when she talks about her husband—and her characters, Luce and Daniel, who in Passion demonstrate their willingness to take all manner of risks in service of being together. 

In Fallen, Luce finds herself in reform school in Savannah, Georgia, where she meets Daniel and his friends, “and realizes she’s been swept up in a longstanding curse,” Kate says. Luce parts from Daniel and goes to California in Torment; “it’s a growing-pains book, an awakening book that prepares her for the excitement of discovering her past.”

And discover it, she does: In Passion, the boundaries of the U.S.—not to mention time and space—are roundly broken when Luce travels from Kentucky to England to China to Israel to Egypt, and from 2009 to the 1700s to 3100 BCE, among other locations and centuries. She and her friends (and enemies?) do so by way of Announcers, shadowy supernatural entities that serve as unusually swift, albeit unpredictable, modes of transportation. 

Luce’s and Daniel’s quest to understand and break the anti-love curse makes for an exciting pace, with plenty of surprises and humor to balance the agony and fear the two experience as they jump through time. They never know where they’ll surface (the bathtub? A war zone? The edge of a cliff?). Then there’s Bill the helpful gargoyle, who does a fabulous job as Luce’s stylist (he specializes in “un-Anachronizing”). Is he as nice as he seems?

Another big question: Is it the curse that’s keeping them apart, or is there some larger message about love between an angel and a mortal, and connections between the heavenly and the earthly? Such matters first pinged on Kate’s writerly radar in graduate school, when she took a course in the Bible as literature.

“I was kind of at a wall with another romance novel I was working on. It was just about these two people, and was insular in a confining way. I wanted to do something that would implicate a lot more people, even the entire world,” she says. 

References to angels in biblical texts piqued her interest, and she began to have regular conversations with her professor, who made a statement that became a turning point for the author. “I was struggling as I read different texts, with all these discrepancies [about angels]. I asked her what to do, and she smirked and said, what do you think Milton did? Just pick what’s relevant to you and the story—you’ll never find definitive answers for reasons that defy explanation.”

And with that, Kate’s writing took off. “It empowered me to say, this is my story. I will do research and pick the pieces that fit,” she says. 

One way of doing that: layers of references to other books she’s loved and learned from, particularly novels. For example, in preparation for writing about Milan, Kate read A Farewell to Arms; for Moscow, The Master and Margarita; and for 1600s London, she turned to her Shakespeare-scholar husband (he’s pursing a Ph.D. in poetry). “It was fun to look back and realize these incredible novels I already love are set in time periods I could explore in Passion, and my husband is probably one of my best readers.”

He’ll soon have more work to do, because Kate is in the midst of writing Rapture, the final book in the series (due out in 2012). Just as Passion elevates the series onto an even more dramatic and exciting plane, Rapture represents yet another new frontier. 

“At the beginning of the series, I wondered—am I going to go there, and have Lucifer and God be characters? It’s challenging . . . it feels strange to imagine your own version of heaven and put it on paper. And the godly force, the physical reality of God, I’m working on that. It’s a very delicate balance, still.”

There’s one area in which Kate is unwavering: She loves writing about 17-year-old girls. “That age is very inspiring to me. To be 17 holds so much gravity, so much possibility. So many fraught situations are going to be inevitable at that age, that liminal place between girlhood and adulthood.” 

It’s a time her readers know, or remember, well. And they’ll be happy to hear that Kate has no plans to shift her focus:  “I can see myself writing about this age forever.”


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