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January 19, 2011

Ann Angel: 10 Random Things

Posted by jordana

ann's hs grad picture.jpg

Ann Angel is the author of JANIS JOPLIN RISE UP SINGING, the recipient of 2011 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Here she tells 10 Random Things about her and writing. 

1)      I love getting inside other people’s heads when I write and that’s why I write biography. It’s like I get to live inside my own life and the life of the person I’m writing about. So I’ve lived as a scientist with my earliest biography on Louis Pasteur, as a Chinese-American teen with Amy Tan and, now, a rock star with Janis Joplin Rise Up Singing.

2)      When I finished writing Janis Joplin Rise Up Singing, I couldn’t listen to Janis’s music for about six months. I was just too sad that she was no longer going to be a presence in my daily life. In fact, it felt as if she’d died all over again.

3)      I spend months and months -- in the case of Janis Joplin, it was years -- seeking books, old articles, photos and movies and looking up friends and friends-of-friends to gather research before I start writing a biography. In the end, I only use about a third of all the research but I know my characters completely.

4)      I find all my own photos and images for my books. Even though it means I’m bleary-eyed at my computer, I love the research of finding fresh quotes and finding images and photographs that are a bit obscure so that I can include them in my biographies. That way, even if someone’s story has been told before, my work offers new perspectives. I talk to each photographer and ask what they recall about taking their photos. They often tell the most human and endearing stories about someone we might otherwise only see as a public figure.

5)      I spend a lot of time tracking down sources to interview for biography. I talk to them in person if possible, on the phone or via email. While I love interviewing sources, the initial contact still scares me. (I think I’m afraid of rejection. Speaking of rejection, I’ve been rejected for interviews on the first try, but I call back and try again.) The interview gives me a lively picture of the person I’m writing about. And I’ve made some amazing friends through these interviews.

6)      I chose to write about Janis Joplin because the first time I heard her sing, I was blown away by the power of her voice. Then, as I watched her in interviews on television, her independence and strength captured me. I wanted to be that independent and I wanted to stop worrying about what others thought about me. My favorite Janis quote is “Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”

7)      I chose to write about Janis for young adults because I believe imperfect historical figures can reach young adults at a point where they might feel like they’re the only ones leading messy and imperfect lives. Giving young adults role models and the cautionary tales or real lives like Janis’s can make people realize that, despite their flawed lives, they can rise up and be the heroes in their own stories.

8)      My favorite Janis Joplin song changes from time to time. But I can’t help dancing in my kitchen to “Down on Me.” I wake my house each New Year’s Day to “Cry Baby.” I can’t help laughing when I hear “Mercedes Benz.” I love riding in a car and listening to “Me and Bobby McGee” and I’ll always, always, always love “Summertime” which gave me the line “rise up singing” for my title and the theme of the book. I hope readers capture the spirit and choose to rise up singing whenever they face adversity. 

9)      I have about six novels in various states of completion on my computer right now.JanisJoplin83496JL.jpg

10)  I’m working on three possible books right now: a novel about Echo who intrigues mebecause she lost her ability to be original when she could only echo 

words, a memoir about my own experience trying to help a daughter find herself despite bad choices and substance abuse and a new biography. I have a few ideas for the biography but am really, really, really hoping I can write about this most amazing blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan who had the smokiest voice ever. He also overcame his own issues with substance abuse and spoke out about it to help others. 

11)  I was only planning to tell you ten random things about me. But I’m a teaching writer and so I want to tell you a bit about that. I love watching new writers discover their passion for story when I teach writing courses in a graduate program at Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Mount Mary College.

Ann Angel Bio:

Ann Angel believes it was amazing fortune that brought Janis Joplin’s music and style into her life when, as a teen, she preferred writing bad poetry and drawing to Janis’s songs over following along with the popular girls. It was that same influence that encouraged Ann to live her own life without compromise.

Since then, Ann has written many young adult biographies including Janis Joplin Rise Up Singing, the recipient of the 2011 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. She served as contributing editor for the highly acclaimed Such a Pretty Face, Short Stories About Beautyand is working on young adult fiction. A graduate of Vermont College’s MFA in writing for children and young adults, Ann lives in Wisconsin with her family (husband Jeff and four young adults Amanda, Nick, Joe and Stevi) and teaches writing at Mount Mary College inMilwaukee. You can contact Ann through her web site: