Full disclosure: when I was in the seventh grade, I wrote a novel. At least, that’s what I told everyone. I started writing it over the summer, finished it around the time school started up again. I showed it to a total of four people, then I put it away. Why? Because it was exactly the sort of thing you expect a twelve–year–old boy to write: clunky, action-movie rip-off garbage. And I knew it. The plot of it escapes me now; I’m sure it had something to do with revenge and walking slowly in front of explosions.
I kept trying to write over the course of my junior high and high school years, but good fiction eluded me. I did manage to write one more faux novel when I was in high school, and it was impressive enough to be considered not terrible. That one I think I showed to two people. Into the drawer it went, along with my fantasy of being the next Stephen King.
Despite my failure at creating fiction, I did continue to love literature, so much so that I pursued and attained the Master’s degree that now allows me to recognize pop culture references taken from Hawthorne and Shakespeare, as well as self-righteously correct people’s grammar on Facebook.
Some people are simply not meant to be novelists. And then there are others, who begin just as young as I tried to, who get that spark of inspiration and stick with it, nurturing it until they have created something new and exciting. One of these people, Lauren Burnham, is currently a senior at Champaign Centennial High School, and she has just published her debut novel, Looks of an Angel.
I had an opportunity to speak with Burnham (who writes under the name Lauren Elizabeth) about her work, her work habits, and her future. She was canny enough not to let slip any spoilers, and with good reason: a book is to be read, not to be described. Still and all, when the back cover synopsis begins with “When Aly’s home planet Pluto is invaded, everything she’s ever worked for is put on the line…,” one cannot help but be intrigued.
Smile Politely: So, Lauren, exactly how long have you been working on this novel?
Burnham: I started Looks of an Angel in eighth grade and finished it in September of my junior year, so about four years in total, as I continued to edit it through my junior year.
SP: That’s insane. In a good way. It’s quite an accomplishment. What type of fiction would you call Looks of an Angel?
Burnham: Looks of an Angel is a Young Adult sci-fi fantasy.
SP: How would you describe your protagonist? What makes her relatable to readers, especially those your age?
Burnham: Aly is very independent and strong minded, as she does not like to be proved wrong. Aly is very relatable to readers as she is in high school, a young adult herself; she must face challenges like most of us do everyday. Whether it is problems with parents or simply falling in love, she must overcome them to face the larger challenges. Her larger challenges are things most of us could never imagine facing, yet readers can still connect with her.
SP: What sort of books do you enjoy reading? Any particular genre? Any particular authors who have inspired or influenced you?
Burnham: I am a big fan of Young Adult sci-fi or fantasy books; I like to read about places that we do not have here. Creatures or people we can only dream about and challenges we would only ever face in our imaginations. So many authors have inspired me it is hard to pick just one, as they all taught me something about writing. We all have a story in us to tell; we just have to take the time to write it down.
SP: Do you have any writing rituals? Is there anything you always or never do while writing?
Burnham: I prefer to write the entire book in a notebook with a pen before typing it up on a computer. That way, I can take it with me wherever I go, so when I have a moment I can escape to my writing world.
SP: What are your plans now? Education, writing, life? What’s up next for you?
Burnham: I plan to go to college at Bradley University and major in Marketing with a minor in creative writing. I found a love for marketing when I started learning how to market my own book. I will continue to write; I have the sequel to Looks of an Angel to edit and polish, as well as another novel to work on. Writing is a part of me, and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.
SP: Ten word answer time. Why should people get a copy of your novel?
Burnham: Come to a world outside your own feelings — fight; fly.