I didn’t know when I started Estelle Laure’s debut novel, This Raging Light, that it would be a book that mirrored some of the hardest years in my own life. I didn’t know it would be a book that I would be thinking about days, weeks, and even months after reading it. When all of that turned out to be true, I knew I had to contact Estelle about a possible interview–especially during Poetically Speaking given how a poem is so key to this novel. So today I am very please to have Estelle here to talk about her first novel.
Estelle Laure (EL): With a lot of luck and a lot of preparation. Sometimes I look back and think the world has to be full of magic. Like, how did I wind up at a playdate with Laura Ruby when I was starting out? How did I find VCFA, where I wound up going to graduate school, working with some of the best of the best? How did I decide to apply for an internship that led me to my agent and to my job? How did I write a book someone bought? One turn in any direction other than the one I went in would have led me somewhere so different. At this point, I’m of the opinion that following your very wise inner voice is the key to everything, the one that says, “I know it’s raining and your daughter is in a weird mood, but go to a completely new friend’s house (so uncharacteristic). She says her sister is there and she writes too!” Little will you know, sister is going to win the Printz within the decade, help you tons, be your first reader, and blurb your book.
MP: What was the inspiration for This Raging Light?
EL: Desire, a feeling of helplessness, of longing, a pivotal moment in my own ethical quandaries. Basically my life fell apart and I made it into fiction. So the story isn’t my story, but it’s the story I needed to get through what I was facing.
MP: When you started writing this book did you know that it would be YA?
EL: Absolutely. I have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I have never had a grown-up idea, and though I love to read it, I’m not interested in writing it at the moment. I find, and have always found, that children’s literature, books for young adults are the juiciest, the most fantastical, the ones that give me wings, and I love to fly.
MP: One of the things that really impressed me with This Raging Light is how realistically it portrays a character dealing with a very traumatic period in her life. How did you go about finding Lucille’s voice and process for dealing with everything that gets thrown her way?
EL: I did a ton of free writing. I wrote scenes from everyone’s perspectives (when I did Wren’s, the Contessa letter came out), I made art in a workshop, I wrote bad poetry, and then when I sat down to write, this voice came out. But I think it had a lot to do with the sidework.
MP: The title of this book refers to a villanelle by Dylan Thomas called “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” Did you always know that this poem would be connected to the title and factor into the narrative? Did you know it would be so important to Lucille right away?
EL: I did. That scene between Lucille and Eden was the first I wrote, actually. That was because a few years earlier in the midst of great stress, that particular poem was the mantra I whispered to myself when I thought I couldn’t go on. It didn’t become the title until much later, but had meant a great deal to me for some time.
MP: Lucille does a lot throughout the book to care for and protect her little sister Wren. Was their bond inspired by a real friend or sibling? If you had to pick, which sister are you most like?
EL: Their bond was inspired both by my love of my daughter, Lilu, and my brother, Chris. When we were little, I fancied beating up anyone who bothered him. I have seen that impulse double and triple as we’ve gotten older. I’m inspired by my daughter’s sense of humor and her wisdom, so I wrote that in there. I would say I’m more like Lucille than Wren, though I like to think I’m more like Eden than either of them (I’m not. I’m a total softie. Don’t tell my ego.)
MP: Although Lucille is very strong on her own, another great part of This Raging Light is seeing all of the characters Lucille meets along the way and the support system she creates for herself throughout the novel. Where did you find inspiration for the small kindnesses and good deeds Lucille and Wren encounter throughout the novel?
EL: I have been lucky enough to have a best friend who is incredibly generous, and at one point some teachers of mine left groceries on my door. I know such things are possible. One thing I learned along the way is that it’s not strong to defend yourself, it’s strong to show yourself. I wanted Lucille to learn that, too. One of the ways she does that is by accepting help, so for me it was an important part of her development.
MP: Without getting into spoilers, This Raging Light ends on an optimistic note while also leaving many things up in the air for Lucille and her friends. Was this always the ending of the story? Have you thought about what might come next for these characters?
EL: I wrote the end of the story after taking a couple week long breaks. I didn’t want to be cheesy or cynical or predictable or jaded. I was in a corner. I did my best. Finally, I gave in to optimism and I’m so glad of it now. And I know what comes next for all of them but I’m not telling . . . yet!
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
EL: It’s a companion to This Raging Light called These Mighty Forces. It isn’t a sequel but it picks up another character’s point of view in the same world. That’s all I’m saying about it, except that it’s about love, again. :)
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
EL: I do. Work hard. Play hurt. Trust yourself. Read everything, everything, everything. Don’t give in to desperation or entitlement or fear. Don’t think because you aren’t educated about publishing or even writing itself that you can’t get there. Inform yourself on trends and then forget them. Be honest. Take feedback without defense. Write an excellent query letter. Never send out work prematurely and don’t be a perfectionist either. Write every day unless there’s blood. (Martine Leavitt said that. Words of the wise.) Okay, end rant.
Thanks again to Estelle for this awesome interview.