'Angelfall' author Susan Ee discusses her hugely popular debut and her appreciation of good eye candy

If you love a kick-ass heroine, a little romance, and a good apocalypse (let’s be honest — who doesn’t?), then Susan Ee’s Angelfall is the book for you. Don’t believe me? Check out the reviews on Goodreads. Or Amazon. Or Barnes & Noble. When was the last time you saw that many happy readers? Seriously, don’t let this one slip by.

In Ee’s (pronounced “E” like the letter) debut novel, the world as we know it has been destroyed by angels. Gangs roam the streets and food is scarce. Seventeen-year-old Penryn is just trying to keep her family together, but when angels fly away with her little sister Paige, Penryn is forced to pair up with the injured angel Raffe to rescue her. Together, Penryn and Raffe will risk everything to journey to the heart of the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco. Ee gave EW a call to talk about Angelfall, her legions of dedicated readers, and good eye candy.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you talk a little bit about the idea behind this book? Why angels?
SUSAN EE:
I’ve been fascinated with angels for a long time. Classic angels are associated with destroying entire cities and turning people into salt. In “Revelations,” they’re the harbingers and quite likely the executioners of doom. Yet, we portray them as cute little cherubs or beings who bend over backwards to make us happy. Like unicorns and vampires, they must have an amazing PR department. It was time to clear up the PR fog and see what happens when we unleash them on the world.

Are you religious yourself? Is that where the interest came from?
The book itself is neither from a religious perspective, nor is it against it. It’s written from a pure entertainment perspective, no underlying meaning behind it.

Let’s talk about Penryn. Her name comes from an exit off the I-80 in California. Is there a story behind that? Were you driving by it one day when you just thought, “this has to be the name of my protagonist”?
Yes, actually. I drive by that fairly regularly on Highway 80 and every time I see it, I think, “that’s a great name, I really like that name.” Some readers love it and some readers don’t love it, but in either case it caught my attention every single time. So I had the name before I had the story in mind.

I love it. I think it’s exactly what you need for this kind of character.
Wonderful. I have a photo of the exit sign on my blog.

I bet you get excited every time you drive by it.
[Laughs] It has a new meaning to me now, that’s for sure.

So, what went into creating Penryn? Was she inspired by you at all? Or someone you know?
Angelfall’s a fantastical story, but I wanted both Penryn and her world to be real before the attack happened. So, it’s set in Silicon Valley, California, and it’s in the here and almost-now. Penryn herself is not modeled off anyone, but she is the kind of girl who many of us might know. She sits in the back of the classroom; she’s likeable, but no one really knows her that well. She is the girl who has a lot on her mind and doesn’t have time for typical teenage issues. She has real world family problems that don’t go away just because the world ended.

What about Raffe?
[Laughs] I wish Raffe was modeled off someone I knew. He’s just pure yummy fantasy. He’s a combination of real-world traits that I’ve seen in guys and wishful thinking. Although Angelfall is told in the first person from Penryn’s point of view, I wrote a lot of pages of the story from Raffe’s perspective to get to know him.

Would you ever consider releasing those pages?
I’ve had requests to release scenes from Raffe’s point of view and it’s an interesting possibility that catches my attention, but right now what people really want are the future books. [Laughs] One thing at a time. I think my readers would get mad at me if I spent more time on this other stuff than the next book. But there are a lot of pages written from Raffe’s voice, so that was an interesting experience.

Is that ever frustrating — to sit down and write so many pages you know won’t ever end up being a part of the finished product?
It’s really amazing how many pages go into it. I probably wrote three solid books for the first book. At least two of those volumes were not released. I feel like that adds to the texture of the book that is released. That’s one of the reasons why the readers love it. They get very involved with what happens because it feels more real. The reason it feels more real is because each one of these characters has their own stories going on. Penryn has hers, but so does Raffe and so does everyone else who’s in there. The parts that we get to see are the parts that get weaved into what Penryn sees. So, it sometimes can be painful that it never sees the light of day, but at the same time I feel I need that for Penryn’s story as well.

Speaking of the two protagonists, I love how you wove the romance into the story. It never overcame the basic plot and it just felt really natural to me. So, how important was Penryn and Raffe’s relationship to you? When you set out to write Angelfall, was it as a romance? Or did that come later?
When I started I thought I was writing a romance, but every time I was going there, anarchy and violence exploded onto the page. [Laughs] So I just went where the story wanted to go and let the characters do what felt true to them given the circumstances. I suspected that there would be a romance thread from the beginning, but the story never quite goes where I think it might go. I suspect that what the readers are feeling is the fact that the characters did what they wanted to do and what felt natural to them instead of me planning it out ahead of time.

NEXT: Ee discusses movie possibilities, fan interaction, and her unconventional road to publication…

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