Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Author Interview: Angela Hallstrom

Today's interview is with LDS author, Angela Hallstrom, whose literary novel, Bound on Earth, has received much acclaim. I have a signed copy of Bound on Earth to send to a lucky commenter on this Author Interview. Since I will be out of town part of next week, the drawing will take place on July 18. Here are the rules:

1) You must have a US or Canadian mailing address.

2) You must make a comment other than "Me me me!"

3) You must comment before July 18.

4) You must contact me by Wednesday, July 23 with your mailing address when your name is announced.

Good luck!

Welcome, Angela! How long have you been writing? What made you start?

I’ve been writing since I was a child, but I didn’t consider myself a “writer” until a few years ago. The reason I wrote when I was young, though, and the reason I write now is because I’ve always been really interested in two things: people and language. Writing is a great way for those two interests to come together.

When did you sell your first book?

Bound on Earth is my first novel, but many chapters in the book have already been published as short stories in literary magazines.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

I’m not much of a planner. I wish I could be, because I think it would save me a lot of time in revision. But I almost always start with a character and a situation and just dive in. In most cases, I have no idea how the story is going to end and it takes a lot of revising for the story to find itself.

How do you choose your characters' names?

Sometimes they are names I like (for example, the baby named “Stella” in Bound on Earth is a favorite). Sometimes I pick names based on how they sound and if the sound of the name illuminates something about the character’s personality. I liked the name “Nathan” because it’s such a soft-sounding word, and Nathan is a soft-sounding man. His wife Alicia, on the other hand, is more brittle and can (sometimes) be a little cold and I liked the way the word “ice” seemed to be imbedded in her name.

What is your daily schedule like?

I wish I did a better job being organized and disciplined about my writing schedule—I keep planning to implement set times of the day and set schedules for writing. Part of the reason my schedule has been unpredictable lately is that we had a new baby last January and I’m just barely settling down into a more regular daily rhythm. He naps now from 12 to 3 or so, so I’ve been able to carve out some writing time there. I also write at night sometimes.

How do you handle life interruptions?

As I mentioned above, my life is full of interruptions. Along with the baby, I also have three other school-aged children, so I do a lot of juggling. My family is my first priority, and at this time in our life I don’t have as much quiet writing time as I will in 10 or 15 years. Basically I tell myself that it’s okay if it takes me a long time to write a story. It’s okay if it takes me a while to get another novel completed. The important thing is that I keep at it, even if it’s just a little here and a little there right now.

Do you write with music playing? If so, is the music likely to be songs with lyrics or only instrumentals?

Interesting question! I can’t have music of any kind playing when I’m writing. It’s hard for me to be interrupted at all—even the phone ringing or a child saying my name can make me snap out of whatever zone I’d entered, and sometimes it can take me a while to get back into it. So I usually write during times where I can be assured of an hour or two of unbroken silence.

What food or snack keeps the words flowing?

Hmmm . . . well, Diet Coke. That’s a must. Hot Tamales are good too. But I usually don’t eat while I’m writing (because of the zone-breaking problem mentioned above). I’ll take little breaks and wander away for snacks, though, for sure.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?

I love the moment when a seemingly insurmountable plot problem—or even a seemingly insurmountable language problem—suddenly resolves itself It can seem a little like a miracle, and it’s thrilling. I also love it when a story figures out how to end itself. It’s such a relief. I love getting to know my characters and living with them in my head, and I love it when they surprise me and make me laugh or make me cry.

I really don’t like beginnings. They scare me. I don’t mind revision, though—I actually kind of like revision because it means that I have broken through the brick wall of beginnings.

Tell us about your novel, Bound on Earth. Please let us know where readers may purchase it.

Bound on Earth is a novel in stories about a contemporary LDS family, the Palmers. Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view and can stand alone as a short story, but together they come together as a novel that tells the story of this particular family’s struggles and trials, as well as the hope and love that keeps them all going.

I started writing the book during my MFA program at Hamline University in Minnesota. I had written a few short stories about this LDS family, and every time I went to break away from them and try something new, they kept reeling me back in. I also became very interested in the idea of “staying” as a theme in serious literature. So much of the literature I was reading and critiquing in school had to do with leaving—especially when it came to relationships. And I understand why. Leaving is the archetypal launching pad for most good plots, whether it’s leaving the country to go to on an adventure or leaving your family to strike out on your own. But I knew there had to be a lot of great drama and conflict in the act of staying, too, because I saw all sorts of drama around me, and most of that drama had to do with the act of staying, of being committed, of pushing through darkness toward hope.

I’m also a bit obsessed with family dynamics, and marriage in particular. Part of the reason I love to read and write is because I’m an inquisitive soul, especially as far as people and their life stories and motivations are concerned, and most real people aren’t willing to spill it on the level at which I wish they would spill. So I invented this little family for myself where I could examine all the nooks and crannies of these interesting relationships to my heart’s content.

The fact that I was interested in all the individual stories of each family member dictated the form of the novel, as well. As a novel-in-stories, it’s not a traditional novel with one, maybe two, point of view characters and a relatively straightforward timeline. There are many family members represented, each with his or her individual conflict, but in the end the book is about the greater meaning of family in our lives.

The book can be found online on Amazon and it can also be found in Barnes and Noble stores in Utah. It was recently picked up for distribution by Granite, so I’m hoping that it will find its way into LDS bookstores more effectively now.

What is your next project?

I’m working on a new novel, and this time it’s for a general audience instead of an LDS audience. The themes of family and the way God talks to us and works in our lives are still present in the book, but (at least so far) none of the characters are explicitly Mormon. I’m in the very beginning stages, though, so we’ll see where things take me.

I’m also just beginning to work on editing an anthology of LDS short fiction to be published by Zarahemla.

What is your advice for other writers?

Read a lot. And read like a writer—pay attention to what the best writers are doing, and how they do it. Be observant and curious and if you have little flashes of insight or the tiniest spark of an idea, write it down. Someday it might come in handy. You need to be brave, too—be willing to stick your neck out and let your characters stick their necks out. It takes courage, but it’s worth it. And don’t give up. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a writer and a teacher and an editor (I’m a co-editor of the Association for Mormon Letter’s literary magazine, Irreantum) it’s that once you’ve reached a certain level of competency as a writer, there’s so much variation in the tastes of different readers and editors that just because one particular editor or agent or even a member of your critique group doesn’t like your story doesn’t mean it’s inherently flawed. Of course, listen to good advice, but if you are certain of your point of view and believe in your ideas, sometimes it just takes patience to find someone who agrees with you and who is willing to publish your work.

What other work of yours has been published?

Here is a list of my published short stories:
“Who Do You Think You Are?” Salt Flats Annual, 2009 (forthcoming)
“Accusation,” Dialogue, vol. 40, no. 3, Fall 2007
“Unbroken,” Irreantum, Spring 2005
“Thanksgiving,” Dialogue, vol. 38, no.1, Spring 2005
“Trying,” Irreantum, Autumn 2003
“The Fireside,” The New Era, April 2000

Thank you for the Interview.

Thanks for the opportunity! Blog readers can visit my website,
angelahallstrom.com, for more information about the novel or to contact me with questions or requests.


  1. What an interesting interview. I've been wanting to read this book since I first heard about it. Thanks Marsha and Angela.

  2. Great interview. I always enjoy reading about other writers and how they accomplish writing, especially with children at home.

    I've heard a lot about this book and hope you can find a way to get it into LDS bookstores.

  3. It sounds like a really good book. I love the idea about 'staying'. That is what our life is: to stay, to commit. I think it will be wonderful to read!!

  4. Thanks for the interesting interview ~ I wasn't that familiar with Angela before, but I want to go out and get the book, now. (However, I have visions of her writing it while trying to live on Diet Coke & candy and that concerns me a little, LOL!)

  5. Valerie Ipson1:42 PM

    Loved the interview (I love that you do them, Marsha--they are always so great!). I loved what you said about "staying," Angela, and it does sound like a wonderful premise to base a story on. I will head to Amazon.com and buy the book...

  6. This is one of the most interesting author interviews I've read. I really do want to read the book now. I wish you the best Angela.

  7. HEY KIDD5:05 PM

    I so enjoy reading Marsha's Author interviews. It is so great to have a source to share joys along with struggles. Thanks for making it possible, and getting an insight into new books that are available. This one looks like it has lots of interest and good reading material. Marsha your the best, ( That is also because you are truly a sister in name as well ) This is a boost to keep writing. I have expressed to my ANWA Group a new goal so we will see where it goes. How fun to share and learn as we work on our projects.
    Marsha Hanson

  8. I just wanted to thank Marsha again for her blog and her author interviews. I've enjoyed going back and reading so many of the interviews from the archives--it's a great way for writers to talk about their work.

    As I said in my interview, my book still hasn't found its way into many LDS bookstores. I can get into Barnes and Noble, but can't get into Seagull! Parables, my publisher, is a new, small press and it can be tough for new publishers to break into the LDS marketplace. Granite has just picked up the book for distribution, though, so I'm hoping that will increase my chances of reaching more LDS readers. At any rate, I appreciate blogs like this that help with publicity efforts. It means a lot!

    And Gran' Kathi, don't worry. I don't ONLY eat Hot Tamales and drink Diet Coke. Sometimes I munch on baby carrots or have a nice bowl of cottage cheese. It's a good thing I didn't go into my love for marshmallow peeps, though (spring's a killer!) . . . :-)

  9. Great interview! Bound on Earth sounds intriguing and interesting. I can't wait to read it. I agree that serious literature usually focuses on leaving when truly there is as much drama in staying. I'm glad to see this theme being explored.

    I hope Bound on Earth can make it into the LDS bookstores soon.

  10. Wow, I really LOVE the cover of this book!! I also love that it is set up so that each chapter is a story by itself, but once I've read them all I will know this family's story. Anything I can read a bit of, put it down and come back later without having to re-read part of it, is awesome for me!!! Shoot, my A.D.D. had me reading this interview in 3 different sittings... LOVED it though. As always, Marsha, nice job. GREAT COVER!!!


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