The Aesthete

Queen of Teen

With her FALLEN novels, young-adult lit sensation Lauren Kate won the hearts and minds of millions of teenage readers worldwide. Next up: a new series, a new baby and, naturally, a studio deal

by Lulu Berton photography Andrew Durham

Crystal Gayle plays on vinyl in the background and a lively rescue boxer named Milo sprawls on the couch of the exquisite Hollywood Hills home that Lauren Kate shares with her husband, songwriter and poet Jason Morphew.

“Writing is like falling in love,” says Kate, seven months pregnant. “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.” Frogs she has kissed, and princes she has found.

Kate, a pre-Raphaelite beauty who projects a quiet yet formidable intensity, is the bestselling author of the Fallen series, which includes the novels Fallen, Torment, Passion and Rapture and the short story collection Fallen in Love. “It took me 10 years to find an agent, but a month after I did, I had an editor and a book contract,” she points out. Now her work has been translated into more then 30 languages, and Disney has optioned the film rights for the entire series (Kate is currently at work on the Fallen screen adaptation). 

”I’m happy when I’m striving,” says Kate, who grew up in Dallas and majored in creative writing while attending Emory University in Atlanta. “I like challenges, goals that feel unattainable.” Before becoming a bestselling author, Kate paid her dues for five years as a book editor at HarperCollins in New York. “Half my time was spent reading other people’s manuscripts, and deciding whether they were fit for publication. All the while, I was sending out my own work and getting these little rejection slips. I quit writing several times, but somehow always found my way back to it.” 

In New York she rented a desk in The Writers Room in Union Square, writing almost every night and on the weekends. Her resilience made her finish two novels, both rejected. “The stories were very insular,” she says of her early work. “They featured characters who had no larger circuit, no real place in the world.” As the terse dismissals of her work continued to pile up, Kate eventually found herself on the verge of really quitting. Then she received a different kind of “pass” on her work. “It was a full piece of paper, a personalized letter with notes about my novel. It was a good rejection letter,” she says. The considered response was enough to keep her going.

In the fall of 2007 Kate left New York for pastoral Northern California, where she enrolled in the graduate writing program at U.C. Davis. “It sounded ideal to be back in an academic setting,” she says. “I thought I would give myself two years, and if I failed at that third novel, I’d go back to editing.”

The decision to go west turned out to be perhaps the best choice she’d ever made. It was there that she met Morphew, an Arkansan who had released several acclaimed albums under a deal with Sony Music in the 00s before ditching the shady deals of the music business for the twisting shadows of poetry and literary criticism. “Falling in love helped my writing,” she says. “I was working on the prologue of Fallen the weekend Jason proposed to me, so from the beginning the series has been infused with my own romance.”

Kate’s star-crossed lovers have captivated readers across the globe to the point that the author has become a sort of love counselor to her fans. “I didn’t solicit that role, but I love it,” she admits. “Sometimes I feel like a Dear Abby advice columnist when my readers share their own love stories with me.”

Perhaps her fallen angels were key in making all her dreams come true? They came and spoke to her in the fall of 2008 while she was studying the Old Testament at Davis. Kate was particularly drawn to the part of Genesis that talks about a group of angels who look down from Heaven, see mortal women on earth and think that they are beautiful. Scholars suggest that the angels’ attraction may be the reason they are kicked out of Heaven.

“The idea felt cosmically big: an angel giving up everything about his identity for love,” Kate says. “The complexities of angelology have kept my interest for five books.” The series follows a group of fallen angels in the aftermath of the war between heaven and hell that constantly grapples with the ambiguities of good and evil.

“The Jewish God is born from Zoroastrianism,” Kate says. “In the Torah, good and evil are two sides of the same coin. They’re not as distinct as they become in Christianity.” In fact, her angels can be as flawed, stubborn and reckless as her demons can be loyal, skilled and beautiful. “I never wanted the story to be about good triumphing over evil. I wanted it to be about something else rising up and calling both of them into question. That something ended up being love.”

“I’ve never had trouble with character, but it took me 10 years to figure out plot.”

Supernatural intrigue, fascinating theology and action with cosmic consequences permeate the love story between the two main characters of the series, Luce and Daniel.

”Love is a quest to discover who we are. It’s about being confronted with different options, different ways to love, and how those events shape our path on that quest toward self-discovery and autonomy.”

Ironically enough, it was her husband who became the inspiration for Cam’s seductive demon character. Morphew doesn’t mind playing that kind of muse. In fact, she says, “He’s my first reader. Discussing my writing with Jason gives me a better grasp on the characters.” While we speak, Jason passes by with Milo. “We read each other’s work, though I’m impatient with plot,” he says. “I prefer the constant climax of lyric poetry.”

Kate credits her determination to conquer the mechanics of narrative as a key element in the success of the series. “I’ve never had trouble with character, but it took me 10 years to figure out plot,” Kate admits. “For a while, I didn’t worry about it. I was letting the characters slowly find their way along the story. Finally, I had to teach myself the mechanics of narrative.”

She has just finished the first book of a new series called Teardrop, due for release in October 2013. The story centers on a girl with powerful tears that flood our world and rise the lost continent of Atlantis. Does Lauren have a motto she lives by? “Dream big — and finish your stories.”

When in the middle of a draft, Kate goes into a sort of hibernation, writing with few interruptions until she finishes. Her favorite way to unwind is in the kitchen. “Writing is so physically sedentary and mentally taxing. Cooking is the opposite. Your body moves, but your brain can do whatever it wants. It can go blank. It can drift. I think in my next life I would definitely be a chef.”