Feature · Interview

Author Spotlight: Janella Angeles

We’re so thrilled to be welcoming back a dear friend of WBP, Janella Angeles whose debut WHERE DREAMS DESCEND is out TODAY! If you would like a signed and personalized copy, you can grab yours from Janella’s local indie here!

Give us a quick pitch of WHERE DREAMS DESCEND! 

Phantom of the Opera meets Moulin Rouge and a dash of The Night Circus in this debut YA fantasy where an ambitious, powerful showgirl named Kallia dreams of glory and seizes her chance by entering a magicians competition that quickly becomes a much more unpredictable game as romance blooms behind the scenes, and a darker unseen danger lurks behind the curtain.

It’s clear to see your love for Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera within the pages of WHERE DREAMS DESCEND, but it’s also obviously a very different story that stands on its own. How did you go about honoring those original inspirations while still putting your own spin on them? 

Aw shucks, thank you so much! In a lot of ways, this book is my love letter to the comps so there are tons of Easter eggs and bits that hearken back to those works–however, I also wanted to make this book accessible to readers who might not have necessarily been familiar with or were big fans of the works, either. However, reimaginings/retellings are in essence supposed to feel both fresh and familiar at the same time, so I tried to put the best of both worlds in mine! I come from a fanfic writing background, so being able to look at established material and asking a lot of questions about it has always been one of my most intuitive approaches to storytelling. One of my biggest kernels of inspiration, for instance, was looking at the character Christine Daae from Phantom of the Opera–beautiful, talented, yet timid and meek from the start–and asking what would happen if Christine knew she was wildly talented, and actually owned it and wanted the stage for herself? What would that story look like?

I took that approach with many of the other characters and concepts of the works, and from there the story sort of became this thing which at the end of the day carried similar notes, yet also took some pretty big detours that gave it a life of its own. With reimaginings and retellings, there’s such a great opportunity to further explore the original story which I think is the key to making something stand on its own. Depending on which ambitious directions you go down or which obscure crevices you dig deeper into, as long as there’s a thread back to that original source you know it’s something you can definitely pull off.

Kallia is unabashed in her ambition and relentless in the pursuit of her goals. What was your inspiration behind writing a character like that? 

I sort of touched upon this in my answer before, because from the author standpoint, it made perfect sense to me that a character with a lot of talent, power, and potential would carry such a well of ambition within her and be driven to see her dreams come true. All of it truly made her such a fun character to write, and unlike any character I’d ever written, at that!

In the drafting process, it didn’t occur to me until a few chapters in how much I actually truly needed Kallia, and how she would grow from my own experiences at the time. At that time, I’d been in a very dark place with my writing and life, feeling so rejected by the industry and like this dream I’d been chasing didn’t want me back no matter how much I fought for it. And then in walks Kallia, a bold, confident character who is also on a rocky road to her dreams yet she struts on that difficult, crooked path like a runway. While we’re very different people, our dreams and ambitions sort of twined together at the perfect time and fueled me as much as it fueled her story. I also found it very important to write a heroine defined by ambition, and emphasizing that was her strength. So often many perceive ambition and desire for power in female characters as a villainous or sinister trait, but there’s truly nothing wrong with wanting more and fighting for it (especially when you’re quite literally the best in the room!). Though a lot of characters around her think otherwise, Kallia’s ambition feels almost untouchable which was as empowering to write as it was to see how far that ambition takes her in the story.

It’s clear that you have a deep love of theater because there are so many beautifully choreographed and cinematic performances and dances throughout the book. Tell us a bit about your process when it comes to crafting those scenes. 

Oh thank you so much!! Like any fight scene, big show performances and dance numbers can be some of the hardest scenes to write because it’s a lot of movement, spatial awareness, and external and internal action that need a thread of tension to keep us engaged. In many ways, these scenes feel the most like a balancing act because you need to provide the experience for both the character and the reader. Though I’ve never been a true performer myself (I wish I had the chops for it but I actually have terrible stage fright!), I’ve always been a huge fan of watching performances from actual stage productions to consuming TONS and tons of dance television shows and movies. This obsession definitely goes back to my parents not putting me through dance lessons when I was younger even though I’d always wanted them–so watching other people dance and act on stages was the next best thing, which absolutely fueled how much of a visual writer I am today and played a huge part in Where Dreams Descend

Process-wise, before I drafted any of the performances that happened in the book, I selfishly would ask: what would I want to watch? A sultry dance between two people as they talk? A big, dazzling number you never want to end but suddenly goes wrong? A sweet, slow dance between characters realizing there might be something more between them? It’s important to write a show that will excite you! And while they can feel like fun fluffy filler at times, these moments do and should progress the plot or character dynamics just like any scene. Before I even set out to write a scene like that, I need to know how each character is moving physically (from performing magic tricks to a dance, this is generally more or less mapped out in my head already) and where I want them to end up emotionally/internally once the song or act ends. Have they succeeded in getting that information they needed? Have they started to realize they’re catching feelings for someone? There’s a lot of character development and plot progression and info-revealing that can happen in scenes such as this that usually will get much more fine-tuned as I’m revising, but in my opinion, finding a way to marry action and emotion are so key to making these moments pop.

If you could go back in time and give Teen Janella a piece of advice, what would you tell her? 

I would tell her to keep pretending to be sick on the weekends just to write fanfic in her room all day, and to keep reading books under the covers until the wee hours of the morning with her cellphone light. I would tell her to keep reading the things she loved because they made her happy, and to not care if people looked down upon the books she picked up. I would tell her to keep walking by the Young Adult fiction aisles in bookstores and to keep imagining a book with her name on it on one of the shelves. I would tell her to keep doing exactly what she’s doing at that time, because all of these things she did strengthened this dream and love of writing that kept me going even when times got tough, all of which has culminated into this first published book and hopefully many more after. So thank you for fostering that early love of writing and story that’s gotten me this far, Teen Janella. Keep doing what you’re doing, and keep going because of it. 

We know that you love to keep secrets, but it doesn’t always work out the way you planned! Tell us the story of how you found out about your book being announced! 

You will NEVER let me live this down!!! 

Okay, so after signing my contract and finalizing my new title and all that official jazz, it was finally announcement time! I had been keeping this a secret from pretty much everyone–mostly because I still didn’t believe it was happening, but also because I feel like everything needs to be in place before I say anything or else I will just jinx it ALL. (And also there’s a certain magic to keeping secrets. This really exciting thing that’s happening is still yours to process and celebrate just for you which is equally as important as sharing with the world!)

So on the day my editor sent in our PW announcement, I was told it was going to be featured the following week. My agent was out of town so both of us were a little in the dark about timing, but I remember that day I was lowkey panicking and sweating all day just thinking, Next week, next week. There’s no way it’s going up today. We just submitted it. That would be highly unlikely. HIGHLY.

That weekend, I had this grand plan to throw in my Slack group of critique partners an epic pre-written thread (because I chose all the months of waiting and silence to pre-write my entire life story, it feels like) about my news. And then hours after we sent our announcement when I’m on the train home from work, I get a random call from my friend Meg who greets me with: “Congrats?”

Commence a lot of shouty, angry texts and Slack messages on the longest train ride home, and literally sprinting from the station to my apartment only to find hundreds of Twitter notifications waiting for me there.

Pro tip: pre-write ALL of your epic threads well ahead of time. It pays off to be overly-prepared for a bookish announcement because you never know when you’ll be overly-surprised.

Does your hair have special powers? 

Only the power to hold secrets… 😀

Were you born a mermaid? Follow up: are you the Peter Pan mermaid or Little Mermaid mermaid? 

Alas, I was not. But if I were, hands down I’d be a Little Mermaid mermaid. I’m not about waiting in a lagoon just to be thirsty over Peter Pan. I would 1000% be one of Ariel’s sisters singing in the beginning with some strange oceanic creature on my head as I did so.

Also, be sure to join Janella (and some WBP contributors!) on her Where Dreams Descend tour!

Janella Angeles is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age–which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. 

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