The author of the young adult novel ILLUMINATE, Aimee Agresti is 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. In this post, she talks about her various sources of inspiration for ILLUMINATE.
As a writer, you never know when inspiration may strike. Sometimes it’s when I’m roaming around a favorite museum. Sometimes it’s when I’m watching American Idol and an auditioner looks just like one of my supporting characters. Before I wrote a word of ILLUMINATE --- about a 16-year-old angel, who battles a pack of devils and falls in love --- I sorted through all those scraps of wild ideas flying around my head and pinned my favorites to my mental inspiration board. Here’s a peek at some of those bits and pieces that eventually added up to ILLUMINATE:
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde
I’ve always adored this sell-your-soul classic and couldn’t resist the idea of updating it. High school is such a tumultuous time, c’mon, wouldn’t you have at least thought of sacrificing your soul to have all your wishes come true? What would you sell it for? Beauty, love, success, fame, perfection? What if the cool kids had made a pact with the devil for their status? I had so many questions, I just needed to answer them.
"La Jeune Martyre" by Paul Delaroche
Since Dorian Gray is all about art, I just had to work this haunting image, which I loved as a teen, into the book. I was a total Francophile in high school and I was lucky enough to visit Paris at 16. I spent hours at the Louvre, of course, but when everyone was camped out gazing at the “Mona Lisa,” I wandered down the hall and found this. I stared at it forever, imagining a whole life for this girl who looked like she was my age. Who was she? I wondered. I figured she must’ve done something pretty gutsy to end up like that. And who was that ominous figure looming in the shadows? I didn’t know it back then, but this painting would give me a glimmer of who I wanted my main character to be.
I went to college at Northwestern and fell in love with Chicago’s fabulously shady past from Al Capone to Prohibition to those crazy tunnels running beneath the city that once connected the speakeasies. I always knew it would be the perfect place to set a mystery. I also happened to love the idea of grounding all that fantasy of angels and devils, by working in some real history: there are loads of little facts sprinkled throughout ILLUMINATE!
I grew up on Nancy Drew, I must’ve read the entire series and she continues to be my all-time favorite heroine. I loved that she was always solving these wild mysteries that no one else could piece together. She was so smart and independent and confident and fearless. All things that I wanted to be. I knew that the heroine of my book needed to have a spark like that. I wanted her to be someone worth looking up to.
MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC!
Having the right writing soundtrack is essential. I just love how it can help submerge me into the world of my book. For ILLUMINATE, I was craving both ethereal tunes and rousing anthems. I listened to a ton of Coldplay and 30 Seconds to Mars, both on endless repeat, until I finally branched out and arrived at that ideal playlist. Check it out here
I have to admit, I edited that soundtrack as closely as I edited my book. And, yes, on some days, I suppose I did spend more time searching for the perfect song than I did crafting the perfect sentence. Some might call that procrastination.
But one of the best things about being a writer is you get to call stuff like that your process. Anything for the sake of inspiration, right?