Saturday, May 05, 2007

One Writer's Process: Ann Angel

Ann Angel's favorite memory of her early years in school isn't school at all. She hated grade school and high school. What she loved most during that time of her life was staying home to spend long days curled up with a book, reading.

Her love of reading and stories led her to seek a Master's degree in Journalism from Marquette University and, later, she earned an MFA degree in Writing for Children from Vermont College.

Eventually, her passion for reading--and for making connections through stories--led her back to the classroom. Now she teaches at Mount Mary College, hoping to instill in her students a deep love of reading and writing.

Angel's intense passion for writing is what helps her make such deep connections year after year with her students and with the subjects of her books and articles.

In addition to her numerous articles on children’s literature, including
“The Bad Boys of YA” (ALAN Review), and an “E-view with Adam Rapp” (ALAN Review), Angel has written, Robert Cormier (Enslow), the biography of the award winning YA children’s author.

More recently, she finished
editing Such a Pretty Face, a short story anthology scheduled for release this month from Abrams.

As the first reviews of
Such a Pretty Face were arriving in her mailbox, Angel was kind enough to take the time away from her many projects to reflect on writing, reading, and editing, and on how each process shares a common link for her–making connections:

Until recently I looked at writing from the perspective of being underwater, of being alone with myself in a sea of words, and of watching ideas rise to the surface and pop like so many silent air bubbles.

I’m one of those people who likes to listen inside the silence for distorted sounds. And I find it fascinating to put my head underwater in a tub and let water drip from my fingers and hear sounds, like chimes, ring in my underwater ears.

I like to dive deep so that I can come up to the surface and hear echoes of people on the beach. I want to hear each one of their stories–listen to their voices, capture the scenes of their lives on paper.

But I’m also someone who writes for connection, someone who hears the noise of my characters and their often messy lives as I write, and who likes to hear the voices and lives of the characters of other writers, too.

Just as I strive to make connections in my writing, I read to make connections. I want to know how others see the world, and I come to books with the idea that each character, each plot, each individual moment will reveal another perspective, another way of being in the world.

Writing and reading for me are all about finding connections.

This is probably why anthologies have always fascinated me. Each anthology, usually centered on a single and specific theme, allows a reader to explore the world from a variety of perspectives. Anthologies let us hear the many voices that inhabit the world. They show us life through the eyes and ears, the senses and thoughts, of a variety of characters.

My most memorable connection to other voices came when I read Marilyn Singer’s Stay True: Short Stories for Strong Girls, a collection of stories that shows individual girls struggling to find the strength of their being and demonstrate it to the world.

Since then other anthologists have helped me dive into new worlds and explore the sounds and spirits inside their books. Writer and anthologist Michael Cart’s Love and Sex is a daring exploration of awakening sexuality. And discovering anthologist’s Donald R. Gallo’s many collections was like finding a bounty of treasure.

So, while I think writing is about that silent underwater world where imagination begins, as well as about that time of being alone, it’s also about what happens when you break through the surface of silence, about the sound of words forming ideas and meaning, and new ways of looking at the world.

That’s why as a writer who writes to make connections, I enjoy collaborating with other writers, too, especially in my latest project, Such a Pretty Face, an anthology of stories about beauty.

The theme of beauty--the way it plays into our lives in all of its wonderful, diverse, and even horrific aspects--captured my attention like a bubble rising to the surface. There is no “right” way to look at beauty. But there are many ways beauty fits into every life.

Beauty isn’t always beautiful. Our culture promotes an unrealistic ideal of beauty through advertising, yet each of us struggles with his or her own vision of beauty.

Real beauty is rarely the first image we see.

In my own culturally mixed family, I watched my children struggle to understand the difference between physical beauty as well as the beauty that can only be found in the heart and soul.

If we allow physical beauty to enrapture us, we might miss seeing what’s hidden beneath the abstraction of beauty. If we can’t see beyond the smooth surface, we might miss the pop of bubbles as they rise to the surface.

As the anthology’s editor, waiting for stories and wondering what they might contain, I felt a bit like that solo swimmer who listens for the muted sounds that filter down through water. But when the stories arrived, I discovered in each a voice echoing from a distant beach, and the voices rang out with the clarity of water chimes.

Some of the stories in the collection are funny, even when they jar readers with poignant reminders of beauty’s harsh truths. Ron Koertge, for example, explores beauty’s unwritten rules, while Mary Ann Rodman focuses on cultural beauty and how we each suffer from wanting someone else’s ideal of physical beauty.

Chris Lynch lets us into the heart of a young man who falls in love with his nurse, even though he never sees her face. Lauren Myracle allows us to laugh at our own vanity. And Louise Hawes takes us inside the dark realization that beauty isn’t always what it first appears.

Jamie Pittel and J. James Keels, take readers on journeys that redefine beauty. Ellen Wittlinger shows readers the ugliness inside the world of models and modeling. And Anita Riggio reveals the emotional cost of losing someone who truly is a beautiful soul.

Norma Fox Mazer’s quirky character, Beauty, reveals the struggle of living up to her name. Tim Wynne-Jones uncovers the beauty of life’s simple joys. And, finally, Jacqueline Woodson reveals the beauty of discovering and developing individual beliefs and ideals.

This collection of stories gives readers a way to hear the echo of distant voices. Each story in it captures a moment in a character’s world, reveals a different viewpoint, shares another way to look at life, love, grief, and, of course, beauty.

As I edited these stories, I found myself making the connections that I always hope to make as a writer and as a reader. I’m so pleased to be able to share such diverse views of beauty with a wide world of readers.

My hope is that each reader will dive into the anthology and find a way to swim to a new understanding of beauty.

And, in the end, I hope, too, that each reader experiences the same spark of connection that I felt as I swam through these stories, that wonderful shock of recognition that comes from truly listening to sounds that form inside the silence of water that is imagination.

For more information about Ann Angel and her work, check out her website at

If you'd like to visit the websites of some of the authors included in Such a Pretty Face, take a look at

Louise Hawes:
Lauren Myracle:
Anita Riggio:
Mary Ann Rodman:
Ellen Wittlinger:
Jacqueline Woodson:
Tim Wynne-Jones:

And to explore the work of some of Ann's favorite anthologists, visit:

Michael Cart:
Don Gallo:
Marilyn Singer:

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