"Aimee Agresti was voted “Quietest” of her high school class–probably because she spent too much time with her nose buried in books. Clearly, becoming a writer was the only possible choice. She now happily toggles between the realms of fact and fiction. The author of the young adult novel ILLUMINATE, she’s also a former Us Weekly staff writer and entertainment journalist whose work has appeared in People, Premiere, DC Magazine, Capitol File, The Washington Post, Washingtonian, The Washington City Paper, Boston magazine, Women’s Health and the New York Observer to name a few. Aimee has made countless TV and radio appearances dishing about celebrities on the likes of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Insider, Extra, VH1, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, Headline News, A&E, and ABC News Now. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and lives with her husband and son in Washington, DC, where she can often be found skulking around the Smithsonian museums on slow writing days waiting for inspiration to strike. " - taken from Aimeeagresti.com/about/
1. Where did you find your inspiration for Illuminate?
I wanted to write a book I would’ve loved as a teen: one with a strong heroine, a sense of mystery, and, of course, some romance. And at the same time, I thought it would be tons of fun to update one of my favorite books, The Picture of Dorian Gray and add a few extra twists here, a few angels and devils there!
2. As a popular entertainment journalist, what made you turn to writing for a Young Adult audience?
I spent years writing for magazines and I loved it—I still do!—but I had always dreamed of writing novels. And I just love the passion of the young adult audience. I remember how I felt when I read books as a teen, and the books that I consider my favorites now are actually the ones I read during those years. I really felt I needed the books I read back then: some helped me grow up, some gave me an escape from the trials and tribulations of high school, and some showed me who I wanted to be.
3.Like many YA stories (including Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games), Illuminate utilised a common theme - absent parents. Would the story have been possible if Haven's mother figure, Joan, had been more forcefully present? What is the appeal of removing parental figures from the story?
You’re so right! In YA, we have to get rid of the parents to have any fun, don’t we?! I think you have to get parents out of the way at least a little bit to give your characters a chance to get into some trouble, have adventures. In Illuminate, I really wanted Haven, who starts out so shy and is such a good girl, to be on her own and feel this awesome kind of independence. I also wanted her to feel a certain solitude while having to face some major danger. I’m the product of incredibly loving, attentive, and--dare I say--overprotective parents, and let me tell you, I didn’t get into any trouble at all as a kid! Boo!
4. Haven Terra is such a pretty name. In fact all the names in Illuminate are beautiful - Aurelia, Lucian, Dante, Lance, Calliope. What made you choose them?
Thank you! I actually spent a ton of time choosing the names, it felt like naming children! For Haven and Lance, I wanted a feeling of comfort and strength. And Terra is so grand, it’s supposed to suggest the power she’ll command through this trilogy. Dante is, of course, a nod to Dante Alighieri, since I adore The Divine Comedy and it’s the ultimate glimpse into the afterlife. Aurelia and Lucian mean golden and light. And all of the names of the Outfit have a certain romance to them because those characters are all supposed to be so irresistible. Lemme tell you, it took forever to name these folks!
5. Illuminate is filled with fun historical facts about Al Capone's time in Chicago's Lexington Hotel. What made you choose that location for this battle between light and dark?
I went to school in Chicago—at Northwestern (go ‘Cats!)—and I fell in love with the city’s history. I’ve always been so fascinated by the prohibition era, those tunnels under the city, the secrecy and drama of it all. I tucked it away and just always knew it would be the perfect backdrop for a mystery and sinister goings-on!
6. Is this the first book you've written, or have you made attempts before? What made you make the move into writing now?
Even while I was writing for magazines, I was always writing fiction in my free time, though none of it was ever published until now. But fiction was always the ultimate dream and so I wrote, wrote, wrote. I wrote a bunch of short stories and I did take a stab at an adult novel, which I still hope to publish some day!
7. What is your favourite book now, and what was your favourite as a child?
I had so many favorites as a kid: Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, the entire Nancy Drew series. But my ultimate, Number One favorite as a teen was The Catcher in the Rye and it's still my favorite now. I re-read it all the time!
8. If Haven could say one thing to her audience, what would it be? What would she say to you?
Oooh, good question. She would say: “Never underestimate yourself. You wouldn’t believe what you can do if you have a little confidence.”
9. When can we expect to see more from the Gilded Wings series? I'm ready to keep exploring!
I’m so happy to hear that! I’m working on the sequel now and it should be out next year. You can keep tabs on it at aimeeagresti.com!Check out my Illuminate review.