In Danielle Trussoni‘s ANGELOLOGY, a young nun who’s been living in a convent since she was twelve years old, finds herself at the center of a battle between fallen angels and the scientists who’ve uncovered their secrets. It’s a thriller with literary appeal. There are chases, murders, and puzzles to solve—all testing humanity’s power over evil.

In this interview, Danielle and I talk about the process of writing and selling this book, including the fascinating tidbit that she didn’t set out to write about angels at all. Hope you enjoy our talk, and please feel free to jump into the conversation.

 

I want to talk to you about the dreaded unknown in this business. Our books were on submission at the same time, and I remember talking to you during that nervous wait. Everyone was saying the publishing market was at it’s worst, and I think both of us wondered if we’d just spent a lot of time writing books that wouldn’t sell. Talk to me about that process and how you coped with the wait and the self-doubt.

There is no doubt that writing is a labor of love. Every day that one goes to the desk and writes without a contract (or even an agent for many of us) is an act of faith. I have been doing this, however, for years and years and so perhaps the anxiety is something that I have gotten used to. I understand what it means to work on a book that doesn’t make it into the world. I went to the Iowa Writers Workshop in 2000 and graduated in 2002 with a manuscript (a novel) that was never published. It was heartbreaking, but I kept trying and eventually wrote FALLING THROUGH THE EARTH, my first book, which was a memoir.

I began to write ANGELOLOGY—my debut novel which was published on March 9th—without any real sense of what the industry was going through. I knew, of course, that novels are often difficult to sell. But I knew I wanted to write this novel and so I went ahead anyway. I quit teaching and worked full time on ANGELOLOGY.

And then, in the midst of all the awful publishing news, your book went to auction, and you had serious interest from both publishing and film companies. Tell me what was happening behind the scenes.

I was actually helping with a family emergency when the book went out to publishers and so the whole thing was a little surreal. Luckily, we had a lot of interest in the book almost immediately. My agent set up phone interviews and soon I was speaking with a number of incredibly smart editors about how the book could be edited and shaped. Then, a few days after ANGELOLOGY sold to Viking, there were three offers to purchase the film rights. It was surprising, especially because the film agent I had for Falling Through the Earth had passed on representing ANGELOLOGY and so I thought that the film rights would be more difficult to sell.

 

 

I was pretty shocked when I read this book. I wasn’t at all surprised at the marvelous writing, but I was surprised how different this book was from your first. FALLING THROUGH THE EARTH was an unflinching look at being raised by your father after the damage he was dealt as a Vietnam War tunnel rat. And now, you’ve not only moved on to fiction, but an intricate thriller, at that. Where did the idea for ANGELOLOGY come from, and do you see a connection in these two books?

I am the kind of writer who takes inspiration from a million places and then just begins writing. I discard a lot of material and rewrite endlessly. I started with Evangeline (who is the heroine of ANGELOLOGY) and I knew that I wanted to use certain settings—a convent, World War II Paris, the mountains of Bulgaria) but I didn’t have the central concept of the book until after I began writing. I went to a convent and stayed there for some time interviewing nuns and doing research in the archives. While I was there, I came across a lot of books about angels and became incredibly interested in the idea of the role that angels have played—their placement between heaven and earth, the ethereal and the material, their function as messengers of the divine. I came to love the ambiguity of their position and the possibility they offered narratively.

Fascinating that you didn’t begin with angels at all! Tell me about writing this book. How did you balance research (WWII, the legend of Orpheus, Paradise Lost, Rockefellers, convents) with story? Tell me something about your daily discipline, where you got stuck, how you got unstuck.

Reasearch was a huge part of writing ANGELOLOGY. I spent lots of time in the library, but I also went on research trips. I revisited the mountains in Bulgaria, went and found locations in Paris and spent a lot of time in museums studying Renaissance paintings of angels. The visual component of my research was probably the most rewarding, and also helped me to find the right physical descriptions for the creatures in my book. There is a gorgeous, eerie quality to the way angels have been traditionally represented. It makes our contemporary images of angels—especially the cute cherubs—seem utterly silly.

Some of this book is so horribly, deliciously dark. Even from the very beginning, when we learn about the young girl the convent was named after. Would you tell the story of Rose, and did you make that up, or did you pull from history?

The story of Saint Rose is real or, at least, it is considered real by those who venerate her.

Although she knew she risked being late, Sister Evangeline paused at the center of the hallway. Here, the image of Rose of Viterbo, the saint after whom the convent had been named, hung in a gilt frame, her tiny hands folded in prayer, an evanescent nimbus of light glowing about her head. St. Rose’s life had been short. Just after her third birthday, angels began to whisper to her, urging her to speak their message to all who would listen. Rose complied, earning her sainthood as a young woman, when, after preaching the goodness of God and His angels to a heathen village, she was condemned to die a witch. The townspeople bound her to a stake and lit a fire. To the great consternation of the crowd, Rose did not burn but stood in skeins of flame for three hours, conversing with angels as the fire licked her body. Some believed that angels wrapped themselves about the girl, covering her in a clear, protective armor. Eventually she died in the flames, but the miraculous intervention left her body inviolable. St. Rose’s incorrupt corpse was paraded through the streets of Viterbo hundreds of years after her death, not the slightest mark of her ordeal evident upon the adolescent body.

I want to finish up with some fun movie gossip. Who bought the rights to your book, and what can you say about the movie version so far?

Will Smith’s production company ended up buying the rights. Marc Forster—who directed the last James Bond film—will direct and Michael Goldenberg, who adapted Harry Potter for the screen—will adapt the screenplay. I know that they are moving forward quickly and that the screenplay is being written. I’m meeting with Michael Goldenberg this week to talk a bit about the adaptation and the sequel to ANGELOLOGY called ANGELOPOLIS. I’m really excited to see how the film reinterprets the book.

Can’t wait to see it! Thanks, Danielle, for your time and for your books.

 

***To read an excerpt from Angelology, please click here.

 

 

I have been accused of being too cerebral. Once. Or perhaps twice. And to prove that this is simply not true at all, I would like to share a brief, somewhat scatological, story of my girlhood, excerpted from my memoir, FallingThrough the Earth, which was chosen as one of the Best 10 Books of the Year by The New York Times.


From Falling Through the Earth:

ONE SATURDAY THAT SUMMER, Serenity decided to stay the night. She brought a duffle bag full of clothes and a plastic jug of orange juice mixed with Smirnoff vodka.

“Here,” Serenity said, holding forth two tabs of acid, wrapped in the plastic of a cigarette package. The squares were white, with pink mushrooms printed over their surface. She lifted one tab by its edge. I stuck out my tongue and took it.

Earlier that afternoon, after school, we had worked the lock on the gun cabinet and took two crisp twenties, to pay for the acid. I had only taken gun-cabinet money once before, the previous winter, to buy a new ski jacket. I had taken four twenties that time. When Mom saw my coat, and asked where I’d gotten it, I told her Dad had bought it for me. She looked it over, saw that it was expensive, and said, “Columbia? Your dad must have been feeling generous.”

The guy who sold us the acid said that Vitamin C would enhance our trip, and even though we suspected that this was just an urban legend, we’d been drinking orange juice all afternoon, in preparation. We took turns swigging as we walked to the bus stop.

Although most people were averse to it, Serenity and I liked the bus. The plexi-glass shelters promised freedom to the car-less kids of town. We would buy monthly passes and shuttle from one end of town to the other, riding until after midnight.

The bus rumbled up, flipped open its doors and, swallowed us into its cold, chemical air.Sometimes, when I was alone, I took a seat next to a greasy haired psycho-killer in ripped polyester pants. I would strike up a conversation, flirting with death. The bus would drop me into the space odyssey of the icicle night. I wandered the holocaust streets, dodging wind-whipped newspapers. I would find myself alone in strange parts of town, a girl who liked to be lost.

The bus dropped us downtown, at Riverside Park, a narrow strip of trees and benches skirting the Mississippi River. All of Tony Dimantilo’s friends hung out there, mostly because the park was zoned for ‘roller skating and other sporting activities,’ and the police had to leave skateboarders (and the girls who hung out watching skateboarders) alone. Serenity and I went there after school and on weekends. With nobody keeping track, I went wherever I wanted. Nobody noticed my grades, my drinking, that I spent most of my Saturdays in detention. I did whatever I chose.

Down by the water’s edge, there was a pack of punk girls.

Punk201


I’d known these girls for the past few years, since Tony introduced me to his crowd. One of the girls said, “Yo Dani! What’s up? Looking for Tony?”

“None of your beeswax,” I said, pulling Serenity by the elbow to a park bench, next to the river. We sat down just as the world began to drain away. Serenity’s face jittered before me, all electric skips. The Mississippi river was roiling, boiling lava. If I turned around, the park leapt into a burst of firework colors,
hundreds of ribbons curling up.

This was the first time Serenity had taken acid. She looked confused. I had only done it once before myself (with Tony) but to her, I was an expert. She said, “Why is everything so…colorful?”

“I think the acid is kicking in,” I said, holding onto the park bench with both hands, as if it would roll away.

Our bench was within a stone’s throw of a six-foot mini-ramp. Skateboarders, Tony Dimantilo among them, strutted and sauntered around the ramp, leaned on their boards, ollied and performed every variety of flip (heelflip, kickflip, nollie kickflip) that they could manage. Jump ramps radiated from the edge of the
mini-ramp. The boys posed for the girls magnetized at the periphery.

Skateboarder


Tony did not see us, and I was sure, suddenly, that Serenity and I were spies hiding behind the curtains of the real world, Girl OO7s. I said, “Do you think they can see us?”

“Who?” Serenity asked, her voice spacey.

“Everyone. The skaters. Tony.”

Serenity squinted, examining the cartoonish tableau before us. She said, “I don’t think they can.”

“But we’re here, right?”

Serenity crinkled her nose. “If they don’t see us?”

“Exactly.”

“If they can’t see us,” Serenity said, becoming suddenly authoritative, “then no, we’re not here. We
don’t exist.”

I tapped a cigarette from my pack of Marlboro Reds and lit it. Serenity touched my fingers. I gave her the
cigarette. We smoked, thinking over the consequences of our new state of non-existence, while imaginary boys on unreal skateboards slammed the sidewalk, carving and ripping past the bench. Each truck grind, each skid, had a tangible sound, tinny and resonant. Serenity suddenly said, “If we’re not here, I wonder where we are.”

“We’re nowhere,” I said, confident. “Non-existence means nothing’s here. Nada. Zilch.”

“But we have to be somewhere.” Serenity stuck out her arm. “Touch me. Do I feel like I’m here?”

I squeezed the key-teeth grooves of her wrist bone. “Feels like you’re here to me.”

We burst out laughing, fully aware of how ridiculous we sounded. Serenity covered my mouth with her hand, stifling my laugh, which only made me laugh harder. A boy with a T-shirt that read SKATE OR DIE rode by, leaving a sparkling, elastic, Wile E. Coyote trail behind him. I said, “That guy definitely turned
his head in this direction. I think he saw us.”

“Yikes! Yikes! Oh my God!” Serenity lifted her arm as if it were something she’d found on the street, a piece of wood or a lead pipe.

“What? What’s going on?”

“I can see through my arm! Do you see this? My veins are on the outside! Oh my God! That is so freaky!”

I took her arm and stroked it, smoothing the veins into place. “There,” I said. “You’re fine. It’s all skin
now.”

“Thanks,” she said. “How the hell did that happen?”

The sky turned saffron yellow, as if the sun had been pricked and its essence sucked into the air, a color that contained greens and flecks of red, like a ripe peach. Looking across the park, at the road running along the river, I half expected to see my father, driving by in his truck, ready to take me to Roscoe’s.

“If you’re upset that your veins are changing places with your epidermis,” I said, unwilling to give up on existence so easily. “Then you must, in some sense, exist.”

Serenity lit another cigarette. After a few seconds, she said, “You know, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. If I didn’t exist, I wouldn’t care if my veins were squiggling around on the sidewalk. This is solid proof.”

Just then, as if in response to Serenity’s empirical evidence of our existence, a pressure rose in my bladder.

“Emergency,” I said, crossing my legs tight.

“Emergency?”

“I have to pee. Really, really, bad.”

“How can you pee here?”

“Duh. I can’t.”

Serenity said, “Here is a second instance of proof: If you didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have to pee. Or you could pee here and it wouldn’t make any difference.”

“If I didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have drank so much fucking orange juice.” I squeezed my legs tighter together and, for a moment, I couldn’t tell if I had a body at all. After a few minutes, however, I realized that I really needed to go.

Serenity pointed to a squat brick building in the park. She said, “There’s a bathroom over there.”

“But I don’t know if I’ve got to go or not.”

“Either you have to go. Or you don’t have to go. One or the other.”

“What I mean is—This is kind of a Big Question.”

Serenity raised an eyebrow. “Is there something I don’t know about peeing?”

“If I’ve really got to go it’s settled: We exist. If I don’t, and I’ve just made it up, we don’t exist.”

Serenity was all appreciation. “Good one,” she said.

She shoved me onto the sidewalk, into the wavy, rainbowing, off-the-bench universe. I walked quick, dodging the metallic stares of the skateboarders, stumbling over a patch of grass, and onto a billowing sidewalk. My knees Jello-ed. The punk girls, each one a different color (one purple, the other green, another a brilliant shade of blue), turned their Martian eyes upon me, their gazes indicating my path: It’s right there, the answer to your existential questions!

I grabbed the bathroom door, all of existence hanging upon the result of my task, and rushed inside, where I yanked up my skirt and squatted over a muddy, broken-seated toilet. Two minutes later, I emerged from the Potty in the Park, triumphant. “We’re real!” I called, waving my hands at Serenity’s small, pink head hovering like a balloon above the park bench. She waved back, ecstatic that we did, in fact, exist.


For more about me or Falling Through the Earth, please come visit www.danielletrussoni.com.


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