Musicals, Aesthetics, and the Writing Process // Author Interview with Janella Angeles

I feel like I’ve been screaming about Where Dreams Descend for two years now. And why shouldn’t I? A book featuring a female magician that was inspired by Phantom of the Opera, Moulin Rouge, and The Night Circus? Um, hell yes?

Last year, I lost all hope of getting an ARC (because we all know the publishing industry at large hates both people of color and international readers and as a member of both communities I guess that meant I was shit out of luck). But then! The clouds parted, lightning struck – and Janella and her wonderful team hooked me up with a physical ARC! 😭

I enjoyed the book so much that I knew I just had to have Janella on my blog as part of the author interview series for Buwan ng Wika, and I was thrilled when she said yes!

Where Dreams Descend comes out August 25, so don’t forget to get your pre-orders in!

We already know some basic information about your book, so why don’t we start with 3 interesting facts fans might not yet know about Where Dreams Descend?

Ooooh such a fun question!!

1) Where Dreams Descend was so much fun to write, but she was also such a diva. In the early drafting stages, there was a period of time when if I took a writing break or was done working for the day, I could not stop hearing Phantom of the Opera music in my head. It was endless and got to a point where I couldn’t even sleep properly. I’ve never had a book demand to be written so aggressively.

2) The card game that appears in the book was a game I created as a means of procrastination when I was creatively stuck (because inventing a full-on card game is so much easier). It was challenging but ultimately rewarding because through trial and error, the game ended up being playable which meant I had to throw it into the book!

3) The final wordcount of the book clocks in at around 120-125k words I believe, but initially started as a 140k draft! A truly big honker, mostly because I overwrite and over-simile all over the place in the early writing stage.

Can you tell us about the influence of Phantom of the Opera on your novel? (And also your fave Phantom song!)

My favorite song is The Point of No Return—it’s just such an elegant, sultry dance of a song, which if you know me, is my JAM. This is also the song where the book’s title came from! (Abandon thought and let the dream descend…)

As for the Phantom of the Opera influence, I’ve always had a soft spot for it ever since I was young. When I began writing, I knew in the back of my mind I wanted to create a Phantom-esque book one day, and eventually the right story arrived in my head for that sort of framing. A really big spark for me was asking the question: what if Christine, beautiful and talented yet timid Christine, was not timid at all but actually owned her talent and wanted that stage for her own? What would that story look like?

From there, Kallia really started talking in my head and I just loved what she had to say. And the more similar questions I had regarding the other characters and themes (what if so and so did this, or if so and so were more like that? What if instead of music, it was magic?)—the more detours the story was taking in a way that still felt familiar to Phantom, but still being its own different thing all the same. I come from a fanfic writing background, so this way of developing and questioning and exploring the many avenues a story can take from its original source felt super natural and fun for me!

(Interviewer’s note: The Point of No Return is an awesome song, but soft, sappy me loves All I Ask of You the best!)

What was it like to navigate the trenches of traditional publishing?

In my experience, it’s been a very up and down journey. There are multiple doors you need to get through in traditional publishing, and sometimes it takes years to even reach the doorknob of one. Even though Where Dreams Descend is my debut, it’s not the first book I’ve ever written or attempted to get published. Before it, I’d faced countless rejections from the querying to the submission stage—and even my own self-rejection, when the writing and revising weren’t going too well. With so many factors beyond my control, there were many times I felt so much doubt, wondering if I was even meant to be a published writer when it felt like the dream of publishing didn’t want me back. But while these stages of the publishing process are hard, they taught me so much and really solidified how much I wanted it, regardless. If you can keep going and keep learning from whatever traditional publishing has to throw at you, then you’ve got all the necessary heart and grit to navigate the trenches and make it through those doors.

Let’s talk a little bit about your writing! Your book made use of some very ornate and descriptive language. Was this on purpose?

My writing style is naturally very lyrical, but I could not imagine writing this spectacle of a book without all the descriptive language and atmosphere to set the scene. Like in Moulin Rouge, another comp of this book, the beautiful imagery all throughout that movie is so vivid, sensational, and theatrical. It was a style that I felt lent itself so perfectly to all the grand visuals in Where Dreams Descend, and a style I looked to for inspiration when envisioning the details of every scene.

What were some of your favorite scenes in Where Dreams Descend to write?

I’m a huge fan of romance novels, so anything that touched upon the romance featured in this book was such a joy! I’m also very partial to a pivotal scene in the book I call my Angel of Music scene, which is the scene I first envisioned before writing this book. It’s where the Phantom elements and characters really tied together for me, and without spoilers, anyone who knows the musical can probably guess the vibe of what’s happening!

(Interviewer’s note: I KNOW THIS SCENE AND I AM CURRENTLY SCREAMING.)

What was your process for the manuscript that became this book? How many drafts did you write, do you hire beta writers, etc.?

This was initially a fun side project for me when I was revising another book with my agent. I was super burnt out from tirelessly working on it, so getting to play with Where Dreams Descend whenever I could always felt like such a nice break. But when that book I signed my agent with did not take off as we’d hoped in the submission stage, my fun side project truly became an escape for me. I had been drafting it on and off for over a year, but when it came time to really throw myself back into writing, I could not finish this book fast enough. It was such a joyous and cathartic rush, this book—and probably the cleanest first draft I’d ever written for anything. After editing a bit on my own, I sent the draft to a couple of trusty critique partners and my agent who helped me strengthen it into becoming the best version it could be before going on submission.

Would you consider writing a book inspired by another musical? What about a book incorporating Filipino themes, imagery, or mythology? 

ABSOLUTELY. TO BOTH. The sequel to Where Dreams Descend is actually heavily inspired by another musical (which is such a big spoiler so I will just hold onto that for now, haha). But yes, I have many ideas to write books with Filipino characters and themes!! My previous YA fantasy was lightly inspired by Filipino mythology which I’d love to further research and write more about, but I also have contemporary story ideas that I’m itching to get to as well.

What other genre would you like to explore?

I’ve always been a fan of contemporaries, especially rom-coms which I’d love to try my hand at some day! I also have a middle grade contemporary fantasy idea I’ve been playing with in my head for a while.

Do you use playlists, mood boards, and other tools in your writing? Can you share them?

Yes! Story playlists and mood boards are so key for my process of really getting into the feel of my books and characters’ journeys. At the moment both my Spotify playlists and Pinterest boards are quite out of order and unwieldy haha, but I’m definitely planning on releasing more info on them soon!

What are your next plans for Where Dreams Descend or even other books?

Finishing up the sequel, which is the end of the duology and super surreal! And then onto the next big shiny idea

BONUS QUESTION I ASK ALL FILIPINO AUTHORS: What’s your favorite ulam?

THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF ALL. One of my favorite things in the world to eat is my dad’s salmon sinigang. It’s the perfect soup (he makes it really sour which is just how I like it), I could seriously eat buckets of it. If I could also have endless plates of longsilog for the rest of my life, I would be so happy.

What did you think, friends?

☕ Are you excited for Where Dreams Descend? Get your pre-orders in now!
☕ What do you think of books inspired by musicals?
☕ Do you have a favorite book that was inspired by or features a musical?

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5 thoughts on “Musicals, Aesthetics, and the Writing Process // Author Interview with Janella Angeles

  1. This is such a great interview, I loved your questions so much and reading the author’s answers as well! ❤ I've been so curious about this book and this just made me all the more excited to get to it someday! And yes another author huge on moodboards, this made my writing-procrastination-process of doing a lot of mood boards okay hahaha. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 31 Filipino Bookish Creators You Should Follow - Shut up, Shealea

  3. I am 60 percent in and I am trying to think what she means by angel of music scene. WHAT SCENE IS THAT! GAH her writing is so beautiful. She’s so talented at being able to balance gorgeous prose without it veering into purple. I would love to read more books featuring Filipino mythology, especially if Janella writes them.

    Liked by 1 person

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