Ed. Note: We recently stumbled across an interview with New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover, in which she mentioned that her new novel, Ugly Love, was inspired by the music of The Airborne Toxic Event. Naturally, this piqued our interest. Earlier this week, we had a chance to connect with Colleen to hear more about the book, her TATE fandom, and how the band influenced her latest work.
Colleen is generously giving away a signed copy of Ugly Love to one lucky reader. (Update: the prize has been won by Anna Shaw. Congrats!)
For those who aren’t familiar with your work, tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing career thus far.
I’ve been writing for a little less than three years now. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I married young and had three kids while in college, and writing couldn’t really pay our bills. Because of this, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work in 2005. I was working for the state of Texas as a social worker and my husband was a full-time truck driver. We were living in a mobile home with our three kids and living paycheck to paycheck, but we were happy. I began writing my first “story” in late 2011 for fun, and self-published it to Amazon in January, 2012. I never tried to get it published because I didn’t think anyone would care to read it. I also didn’t think it was good enough to ever be considered a “novel.” I mostly wrote the story for friends and family, but word of mouth began to spread and within five months of the book being on Amazon, it became a New York Times bestseller. Since then, I’ve signed with Simon & Schuster, and have completed six more novels, all of which have been bestsellers on the New York Times. It has, without a doubt, been an insane two years and I’m just trying to keep up.
What can you tell us about your writing style, and themes you tackle in your work?
I’m a very ADD reader, which means I’m not a very good reader. I get bored easily and tend to skip over detailed descriptions and entire chapters. I write the same way that I read, so I have to keep my books fast-paced and interesting with a lot of dialogue or I’d never finish writing them. I’d get way too bored. I don’t think of myself as an author and I definitely don’t consider my books literature. I don’t write to educate or inform, I simply write to entertain.
I do, however, love to play devil’s advocate with my stories. I like to take controversial themes and throw them into my book so that when people read them, they are seeing things from a different perspective. I mean, we all know student-teacher relationships are wrong, but in one of my books, I write it in a way that you can’t help but root for the couple.
Ugly Love is about a guy named Miles and a girl named Tate who become neighbors. Miles is really brooding and intense and quiet. The type of guy Tate is drawn to. They enter into a “friends with benefits” type of relationship, only they weren’t really friends to begin with. Miles tells Tate he only has two rules for their arrangement:
Don’t ask about his past and never expect a future.
Well…that gets a little difficult and the rest of the story builds from there.
It’s not your typical, “Guy and girl have a sexual relationship and end up falling in love” story. It’s essentially two stories in one, and one of the stories will break your heart while the other will hopefully put it back together again.
You mentioned in another interview that your inspiration for Miles came when you were listening to The Airborne Toxic Event. Were there any songs in particular that inspired the book or Miles’ character? If so, which one(s)? How is TATE’s influence seen in the book, aside from the obvious use of the name Tate for your lead character, and of Mikel as Miles’ middle name?
I was listening to “The Fifth Day” while driving and got the idea for Miles’s character. His personality fits that song perfectly. Once I began focusing on his character, I built the rest of the story around that.
Tate’s character wasn’t necessarily inspired by anything other than Miles’s character. I wanted him to find someone who would challenge him. The feel for the book, however, was inspired by the song, “Sometime Around Midnight.” That’s one of my favorite TATE songs, because it has all the feels. Angst, Love, Heartbreak, Agony. I wanted the book to produce those same reactions in the reader.
Do you see parallels between your own writings on love, loss and dark subjects (like in your book Hopeless) and similar themes in Airborne’s songs?
I believe music in itself is a parallel to books. Especially TATE’s music. The lyrics they write are unlike any other lyrics I’ve ever read, and it almost feels as if each song tells a story. I think one of the parallels I’ve noticed between their lyrics and my novels is that, despite the fact that my novels are romance novels, they are also books about life. About real issues and real people. Books about death and heartache and loss. It’s so much more than “just” a romance, and I feel this with their music. They have songs that revolve around life and death and issues that have nothing to do with romance. One of my favorites is “All At Once.” I remember a few months ago the song came on during a drive with my mother. I didn’t even notice she was paying attention to it, but once the song ended, she took her glasses off and began wiping her eyes. She said, “That’s a powerful song.”
And she’s right. It’s a powerful song and I only hope that I can get across a fraction of those feelings when I write my books.
In your previous books there were several references to the Avett Brothers. Is there any reason you chose not to directly mention TATE in this one?
When I first wrote Slammed, I honestly didn’t think anyone would read it. I decided to add lyrics to the book from The Avett Brothers, because one of their lines, “Decide what to be and go be it,” is actually what inspired me to start writing. I was so grateful for those lyrics that I thought it would be a good way to thank them by hopefully introducing a few of my friends to their music through adding the lyrics to the book. I never imagined so many people would read the book. That’s a wonderful thing, but I also have this fear in the back of my head that maybe The Avett Brothers assume I used their lyrics for personal gain, to piggy back off their fan-base. I know that’s preposterous, because those guys are awesome and would never think that (hopefully), but it’s still always a nagging fear. Because of this, it has changed my experience with their music. They are and will always be one of my favorite bands, but I get really self-conscious when I talk about them publicly because of those random fears.
I love TATE to the moon and back and was afraid the same thing would happen if I were to include them or their lyrics with Ugly Love. In a sense, it’s almost very selfish of me, because I just don’t want my experience with their music to be affected in any way. I thought it would be neat to put a few hidden gems into the book and see if the true TATE fans would recognize them. Kind of like a little, “Hey! I’m a fan, too!” kind of thing, rather than an in-your-face, “I LOVE THIS BAND EVERYONE NEEDS TO LOVE THEM TOO OMG” kind of thing.
I don’t know if any of that makes sense.
Do you consider yourself a big Airborne fan? If so, how long have you followed the band and how did you discover them?
The first song I heard by them was “Changing.” A friend had posted it on Facebook and wasn’t even talking about the band or the song when she posted it, just about the message she received when someone sent her the song. I clicked on the song and absolutely loved it, and then clicked on the next and the next and the next. You know how it goes. By the end of the hour, I had downloaded every single song they had on iTunes and I haven’t stopped listening to them since.
Have you seen the band live? If so, do you have any special concert memories?
I saw them in Chicago last year and it was the BEST night of my life. I’m very weird when it comes to meeting celebrities. I’m the type of person who would rather never meet them, because I’m very awkward in person. However, the two girls I was with at the concert wanted to stay afterward and hopefully catch them walking to the bus. We hung around for a while and after six Margaritas (I never drink, so I was smashed) one of the crew members handed me a setlist when he walked by me. I screamed (I’m not a screamer) and couldn’t believe how excited I was. I just don’t get very outwardly excited, but the second I got that setlist I wanted nothing more than to get a picture with Mikel. Well, he walked out and began taking pics with the crowd. We were off to the side and several of his friends were waiting for him across the street. He told everyone he needed to go and began walking away and my friend yelled, “She flew all the way from Texas to get a picture with you!” So he stopped and turned around and took this pic with us. I’m on the right.
Best moment of my life.
Finally, as you probably know, The Airborne Toxic Event drew their name from Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise. Have you read it, and if so, what did you think of it?
I actually have not read the novel, but know of the connection. I love that their band name was inspired by a novel. I watched an interview with them recently in which the reporter stated Mikel started out writing a book, which turned into writing lyrics somehow. I find that fascinating, because it’s further proof that art can inspire art. My writing career was inspired by music and Mikel’s music career was inspired by writing.
One of the things I love to do in my novels is incorporate some form of art into books. In my first novel, the main character is a slam poet and performs on stage. It was a challenge to capture the feel of performance poetry through written word, but I had so much fun doing it, that it inspired my novel Maybe Someday. The characters in Maybe Someday are musicians, and I teamed up with musician Griffin Peterson to create an original soundtrack to accompany the book. All the songs on the soundtrack were “created” by the characters during scenes in the book.
With Ugly Love, I took a bit of liberty with all the chapters from Miles’s point of view. They aren’t written in a typical fashion. I use different fonts and word placement, centering down the page to give more of a visual impact when he experiences different emotions.
With my newest novel, Confess, I’ve teamed up with an artist in London who is creating all the pieces of art that the “character” paints in the book.
I love to bridge the gap between reading and other forms of art. Maybe that’s what drew me to TATE’S music in the beginning. They do the same with their music. If you pay close attention, especially in songs such as “Sometime Around Midnight,” it’s more than just music and lyrics. The song begins like a soft opening introduction to a story, and then the music builds and builds throughout the song, creating a suspenseful feel before reaching the “climax” and then easing us into “the end.”
It’s almost as if the songs are books themselves. Maybe that’s why I love them all so much.
Purchase Ugly Love:
Purchase the Music that Inspired Ugly Love: