February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

#MorallyComplicatedYA: Estelle Laure on Love, Longing, and “This Raging Light”

Photo by Zoe Zimmerman

Photo by Zoe Zimmerman

Social media was all a-Twitter over the Thanksgiving weekend when debut author Scott Bergstrom inked a six-figure deal for a YA novel that he believed was more “morally complicated” than those that already exist in the market. In response to his assessment of the category, #MorallyComplicatedYA was born. Debut author Estelle Laure’s This Raging Light (HMH, Dec. 22, 2015) certainly fits the bill. High school senior Lucille must balance going to school, working, and raising her little sister when both her parents abandon them. As she tries to juggle all of these responsibilities without getting caught by child services, she begins to fall in love with her best friend’s twin brother—a boy who happens to already have a girlfriend. Laure shared with SLJ what inspired her to write this work about a teen whose longing to do what’s right doesn’t always overcome her longing for the boy-next-door.

What was your inspiration for This Raging Light?
Longing, and lots of it. That and the kind of truths that can wreck everything and hurt people. Knowing what it’s like to want someone you can’t have, for whatever reason. Whether that person doesn’t want you back, is otherwise engaged, or doesn’t even know you exist, the root feeling is the same and the desire is powerful and singular. It was that longing for love and for stability that carried me all the way through. I wanted to really explore the moral conundrum at play when love is an inconvenient imperative rather than a practical choice.

Can you tell us about this book’s path to publication?
I signed with Emily van Beek of Folio Jr./Folio Literary Management based on a partial of the manuscript, and then we did three edits together. She went out with it a week after I hit save on the last draft. I believe it took four days to get the first offer. Those four days were the most terrifying of my life. I remember thinking that if no one wanted this, no one would want anything I’d ever write, because I’d done my absolute best and what if I sucked? Now it was totally out of my control. In any case, the whole thing was wrapped up in two weeks, and I happily landed with Elizabeth Bewley at HMH Kids. She’s a dream editor, they’re a dream house, and sometimes I feel like I must be asleep somewhere in a field of poppies.

This novel portrays a teen who must take on adult responsibilities. Why did you think it was important to tell Lucille’s story?
I am fascinated by family dynamics and how we parent, how we’re parented, and how each generation affects the last and the next. I truly don’t think every person is equipped to raise a family. What does “going out for a pack of cigarettes and never coming back” look like now, and how do kids handle that reality? There is a moment for every teen when they realize their parents don’t have all the answers. That’s as frightening as it is liberating, because it means anything is possible. That is an exciting, brutal moment to work with.

ThisRagingLight_hresMusic, art, cooking, dance—what made you decide to include these creative outlets and talents as part of the protagonists’ characterization?
It’s a natural way for me to build character, to look at how [people] create and expresses themselves. I mean, we’re all doing it all the time, whether we consider ourselves creative individuals or not, even when we’re passively listening to someone play music. We become a part of the experience and someone else’s art. The world would be a dead place without those possibilities, those solitary and shared experiences. It’s all about connection, so I made it important.

Lucille is such a sympathetic character and someone for whom you can’t help root. And yet she’s doing something that many readers might not describe as “good behavior”—getting entangled with a boy who already has a girlfriend. Why did you choose to write a story about a girl who isn’t always likable?
We’re all human. We aren’t always a pearly, dewy white. Most of life exists in a morally liminal space where we have to make decisions and analyze our own behaviors. I wouldn’t ever want to write about a character who wasn’t facing some kind of moral dilemma or something weak or disturbing about themselves. Most of the time I think we, ourselves, make the best antagonists. I honestly didn’t know until I wrote the last chapter how it was all going to turn out, but I knew that Lucille was a good person and that who she was and who she loved were at odds. For me that made her worthy of examination.

Who are some of the authors who have inspired you?
Oh, I’m so glad you asked this. Kurt Vonnegut, Isabel Allende, Alice Hoffman, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Barbara Kingsolver, Patti Smith, Tom Robbins, Sylvia Plath, e.e. cummings, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy. In my field, S.E. Hinton, Gary Schmidt, Matt de la Peña, A.M. Jenkins, A.S. King, Rainbow Rowell, Laura Ruby, Michael Buckley, David Arnold, and Jandy Nelson! Every single one of them repeatedly blows my reality apart and then puts it back together better. There are more, but like, how much space do I have?

Though this title can stand on its own, there’s also a companion novel on the horizon, These Mighty Forces (2017). How will these two books be connected?
These Mighty Forces will pick up another character’s point of view. Same world, many of the same characters plus some new ones, but this one has a dash of magical realism in it. Just a dash.


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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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