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How Dreams and Visions Can Guide Your Writing: An Interview With Anna Quinn, Author of Angeline


How Dreams & Visions Can Guide Your Writing: An Interview With Anna Quinn, Author of Angeline




very writer has a special way of developing their characters, revealing the setting, and understanding what is to come from a story. Whatever method you personally use, you will be fascinated by Anna Quinn’s way of channeling her dreams, visions, and other meditative techniques to create Angeline, a novel whose title character is unwillingly sent to a radical convent where she confronts her tragic past. It asks the deep question, follow your heart or follow the rules?

Anna is the author of The Night Child, (Blackstone, 2018) which was nominated for a Washington State Book Award, and listed as #1 Best Real Psychological Fiction on Goodreads. Angeline, (Blackstone, 2023) was also nominated for a Washington State Book Award. The author’s writing has appeared in Psychology Today, New York Times Book Review, Medium, Writer’s Digest, and the Alone Together Anthology: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19. Anna is also the founder of The Writers’ Workshoppe in Port Townsend, WA. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, teaching, biking, or hiking somewhere on this beautiful planet.

Angeline by Anna Quinn

WOW: First, congratulations on your book, Angeline. You’ve created such an incredible and unique novel that is so well-written. When did the idea for the novel come to you? How did you flesh it out?

Anna: Thank you for your kind words. I loved writing this novel. Initially, there was a line I hesitated to cross, but eventually, I did, and it all became very exciting.

For me, stories often take root in my dreams. The wild thing about writing Angeline, was that the entire narrative played out in my night dreams—the characters, the sequence of events, the conflicts, all of it.

Angeline emerged first, draped in a full black-and-white habit—fading in and out like a fractured hologram. Several nights later, she returned. This time she became more vivid, and it seemed she could see straight through me. One eye bore the deep hue of green, while the other sparked gold. The emotional tone wasn’t frightening really—but it was haunting.

Night after night, she returned, enveloped in an evolving montage of images and whispers of dialogue. Ordinarily, I’d transcribe or illustrate my dream imagery, but this time something held me back. Having long severed my ties with the Catholic Church, the apparition of a nun, made me cautious, suspicious. I worried this might be some sort of latent, repressed emotion or something.

Yet, her tenacity prevailed.

So, I decided to pay attention. I suspended my biases. Rather than attempting to interpret the dreams or delve into their genesis, I determined to find Angeline’s essence—her identity, her purpose. I began writing and sketching immediately upon waking up.

WOW: That is amazing. I love how you pay attention to dreams as an avenue to storytelling. What a unique process! Did you do any research to prepare for writing this novel?

Anna: Although this is a fictional story, I wanted to portray nuns with sensitivity and awareness. I listened closely to Angeline, read everything I could about nuns, and drew upon my upbringing and professional life which was intensely rooted in Catholicism. My mother was from Ireland and brought a deeply religious upbringing into our home. I attended Catholic schools where every teacher was a nun—and perhaps surprisingly, my experiences were mostly positive in a formative kind of way. As a teen, I believed nuns represented female boldness and rebellion and seemed unapologetic about all of it, which captivated my young mind. Their choices to eschew conventional norms—rejecting traditional marriage, abstaining from motherhood, and embracing communal living—defined their identity beyond physicality and societal approval, focusing instead on transformation and their relationship with God. Subsequently, I taught at a Catholic school, the sole non-nun among the faculty, and later served as a principal within the Catholic educational system, so I was privy to, and part of, many, many personal conversations, and experiences with nuns.

WOW: I had no idea. You have such a personal connection to the life and world of a nun. I think it’s amazing you used your background as a source of information but then further enhanced it with research. You created such an in-depth character with Angeline. What techniques did you use to develop this character?

Anna: My approach to understanding Angeline involved countless hours alone, envisioning her presence, and meticulously transcribing our imagined exchanges. Over time, our relationship transitioned from solely witnessing to deeper interactions, allowing me to move extensively into her psyche and perceive the world through her eyes.

One of the most significant challenges I encountered lay in understanding the emotional depth behind her experiences. While we shared a few similarities, she possessed traits and underwent life circumstances that starkly contrasted with my own. Her temperament, fears, and reactions to situations often diverged greatly from what I had experienced. These differences asked me to continually step outside my own frame of reference (and comfort zone) in order to immerse myself in her perspective. Yet, it was these contrasts that completely intrigued me.

WOW: I think it’s an interesting technique that you imagined conversations with her to connect with and build her character. I think that’s an important technique for writers to take with them in their character development exercises. I love the poetic style of writing throughout the novel. How did you know which parts to include this technique in the story?

Anna: In truth, determining where to use poetic elements is kind of a gut thing for me. I never have a blueprint; it’s more of an organic, subconscious happening that unfolds as I write. I rely more on instinct—a feeling that guides me toward using these elements where they will resonate emotionally.

I think too, because my thoughts tend to manifest in fragments, my narratives unfold through fractured pieces and often mirror forms found in poetry. Instead of linear storytelling, the narrative sometimes evolves through sensory impressions and can echo a poetic cadence.

When I’m first writing a scene, I do a lot of mind-mapping around the images sketched in my notebook. During this part of the process, I spend a considerable amount of time with closed eyes, a practice that allows me to immerse myself in these conceptual snapshots and feel around for the pulse and heartbeats.

Once I sense the reverberations emanating from an image—a flicker of emotion, a hint of narrative potential—I deliberately broaden my focus beyond the visual depiction because it’s rarely just about the image; there’s the mood, tone, sound, light, and shadows of the surrounding space—the emotional landscape, Later, I free associate around all of it, and this is where poetic techniques—rhythm, alliteration, metaphor or white space arrive, amplifying the impact. I read aloud a great deal at this point, listening hard to the sounds, rhythmically and melodically—I want to be sure I’ve kept the distinctive quality of Angeline’s voice.

Anna Quinn

“I rarely set out with themes in mind, or an arc or plot or ending. I follow the characters, listen to them, and record what I hear and see in my dreams and imagination.”


WOW: I love how you blend in your artistry with developing poetry. You also have an interesting technique that almost seems like a creative meditation to tap into the world and landscape you create for your writing. The setting was so vivid within your novel. How did you capture those incredible details so well to transport the reader into that specific locale?

Anna: The story of Angeline is deeply rooted in place—her choices and experiences were all activated by, provoked by, and absorbed by place. Place reflected her past and present identity, and she reflected it back.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in all the settings in Angeline—Chicago, church, the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Each place impacted me, changed me. I guess it’s the feeling of being radically changed that makes me curious about how setting can do that, you know, change a person? How it works on emotion from the outside, in. So much of our emotion is experienced through our senses, and much of what we sense is in the physical world surrounding us. As I envisioned Angeline living in each of these places, it became evident that each place held the potential to function as a cloak, a shield, and a refuge. Simultaneously, I could envisage how these surroundings possessed the capacity to inflict harm, cause distress, even rob her of elements of her identity.

For example, for seven years Angeline lived in a cloister—seven years in silence, seven years in a setting with a deep patriarchal history, and minute to minute reminders of the vows of obedience, poverty, chastity, a place with very clear expectations. Those kind of extremes can wield a strong influence on a person. Initially, she found herself drawn to, perhaps even feeling a necessity for, the extremity of this environment. In a way, the intensity mirrored her own acute feelings of guilt, providing a sort of echo chamber for her inner turmoil and offering a type of solace that aided her healing.

WOW: It’s interesting that you used “place” as a connection to her identity in addition to being a backdrop for the plotline. That brings me to my next question: this book features a convent that is more radical than traditional. Why did you decide to write about this type of convent?

Anna: The depiction of a non-traditional convent wasn’t solely a conscious decision on my part; it was the characters themselves, especially Angeline, who guided this choice. Also, I’ve often found myself daydreaming of a life within a secular convent.

WOW: It’s amazing how you listen to your character! There were so many unique themes that resonated in the novel, such as spirituality, feminism, trauma, and loss. Tell me about how each played a part while you planned and wrote this novel.

Anna: Oh, that is a huge question! Here’s my short version; I rarely set out with themes in mind, or an arc or plot or ending. I follow the characters, listen to them, and record what I hear and see in my dreams and imagination. Later, I think about; Why are they saying this? What do they mean? Why are they doing this? What do they hope will happen or won’t happen? I write and write and observe and listen and see what happens, and meanings naturally emerge. The characters drive the story and drive the themes.

Ultimately, this book is about personal power vs. collective power, equality vs. inequality, religious spirituality vs energy-based spirituality. Mostly though, it’s about belonging—how belonging can hurt or heal you.

Anna Quinn

“Once I became clear on the themes, if an event or character or word didn’t hold or expand on those meanings, I deleted it. I deleted maybe 40,000 words from Angeline.”


WOW: Those questions are so important for writers to think about as they interact with their characters and develop their stories. How did this novel change from first draft to final draft?

Anna: My first draft was a very messy, very disorganized stream of consciousness—a fast recording of the story as I watched it in my dreams, and as Angeline told it to me. She was intensely secretive, and her sentences tended to drift off in muffled sounds, so it wasn’t an easy thing to transcribe her words while also observing her gestures and mannerisms. The hardest part though was keeping my own biases in check, and often, emotion would overpower me, or her, and we’d have to take long breaks.

In later drafts, I intentionally “re-visioned” and layered in sensory detail, punctuation, repetition, alliteration, and line breaks to establish atmosphere and deepen emotion. I also deleted words and ideas that didn’t carry essential weight. Those drafts were all about deciphering the emotional weight and motivations that drove Angeline’s choices as well as including her pervasive fears and ardent desires to shed a previous version of herself. Once I became clear on the themes, if an event or character or word didn’t hold or expand on those meanings, I deleted it. I deleted maybe 40,000 words from Angeline.

Also, because it was in third-person close POV, (which gave me freedom in terms of voice and psychic distance) it was easy to head hop. So, I had to go back through several times to be sure I’d only revealed thoughts and information as it occurred to Angeline or was heard through another character’s dialogue.

Finally, once my publisher’s developmental editors reviewed it, the draft changed again. Nothing major, and I never felt I was compromising story or style, but enough that the story improved in clarity and intention. Remarkable really, the difference that third eye can make.

WOW: What a process! You almost seemed to be like a journalist recording the account of a witness describing an event that happened. What a fascinating technique! What advice do you have for authors about marketing and promoting their book?

Anna: Trust your story. Trust that that the readers who need to find it, will find it. Trust in word of mouth. You will hear a lot of shoulds about how to promote. You might also hear “If you don’t do this, you’ll be left behind” or “Your success hinges on this.” Nonsense. Doing it all is a slippery slope to misery. Thousands of books find thousands of readers without their authors sacrificing their mental or physical health. Yes, marketing matters, but there’s no one way. And it requires such a different skill set than writing! How you choose to market, or if you choose to, or what you can afford or not, (make a budget and stick to it!) is an individual matter. Trust your intuition. If you feel your emotions and body suffering, revise your definition of success. Remember why writing is important to you, why you write, what it has meant in your life, and the lives of whomever reads your work. Know what your deeper yes is and stay as close to that as you can.

And be a good literary citizen. Support libraries and bookstores. Write reviews for fellow authors’ books, attend their readings, and consider collaborations on panels and group giveaways. Oh, and have a beautiful website and add a link to it in your email signature. Be real. Celebrate the successes, big and small. Enjoy the journey.

Anna Quinn

“Trust your intuition. If you feel your emotions and body suffering, revise your definition of success. Remember why writing is important to you, why you write, what it has meant in your life, and the lives of whomever reads your work.”

WOW: What great tips! I especially love the tip to support libraries. What do you hope readers take away from reading your book?

Anna: Mostly, I hope it will open conversations. I’d like to feel I contributed something, even if it’s just a small bit, to the discussions of belonging, feminism, oppression, hope and healing.

WOW: I truly believe you have. What are you working on next?

Anna: It’s confidential for now, but it’s historical fiction, which is new to me, and I’m loving every moment of it.

WOW: I can’t wait to read it. Thank you so much for your time today. You have such an unusual way of writing and engaging with your characters. I hope other writers are inspired by your unique techniques like I have been.

Angeline by Anna Quinn

Readers, you can connect with Anna on Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads, or by visiting her website at It’s been a pleasure to learn about Anna’s uniquely intuitive craft of writing process. We hope you enjoy Angeline as much as we did!



Nicole Pyles

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in Sky Island Journal, Arlington Literary Journal, The Voices Project, The Ocotillo Review, and The Gold Man Review. A poem of hers was also featured in the anthology DEAR LEADERS TALES. You can read her other writing on Mental Floss, Better Homes and Gardens, Tom's Guide and in a random issue of Woman's World. Stay in touch by following her writing blog at World of My Imagination.


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