Lauren Oliver is the author of Delirium and Before I Fall. A graduate of the University of Chicago and the MFA program at New York University, Lauren is a full-time writer and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Recently she sat down with Gayle Forman to discuss their work. Read the resulting interview below, or turn the tables to see what happened when Gayle interviewed Lauren.
From Lauren Oliver: I’ve had a writer’s crush on Gayle Forman ever since I read an early copy of If I Stay. It’s a shattering and ultimately life-affirming book, and I was completely transported by the lyricism of Gayle’s prose. Like the music it often references, her writing seems to float gracefully over and around its themes of life and choice and love—always love. We’ve been trying to grab coffee in our neighborhood for over a year (and have even run into each other on the street outside the local grocery store). Finally, on the eve of the publication of Where She Went (April 5, 2011), the gorgeous follow-up to If I Stay, we found time to grab lunch and gab.
Lauren: Had you always intended to write a sequel to If I Stay?
Gayle: No. I had no intention of writing a sequel, in fact. But in the way that characters sometimes behave, Adam and Mia had different ideas. I’d started on a totally different book, actually, but they kept banging on the drum in my head. And I felt I had left them in a difficult place. At the end of If I Stay, I knew they both they had a rough couple of years ahead of them.
Lauren: How hard was it to switch POV and enter Adam’s mind? To write from a boy’s perspective?
Gayle: It wasn’t very hard, actually. I knew the characters so well. I knew him so well. It was actually strange to know a character so well without actually having seen through his eyes. But in some ways, I could understand Adam even more than I could understand Mia when I started writing her. Mia was so different from me. One thing that was hard: Adam was so angry at Mia, and so I was angry at Mia, and that was disconcerting.
Lauren: Is there transference of emotions when you write? Do you feel you become your characters in some way?
Gayle: Totally. I let my sister read a draft of Where She Went and she said, “I forgive you for being such a brat.” Because I’d been totally channeling that anger. If I Stay actually was kind of a beautiful place to be, because Mia was surrounded by so much love. Where She Went was a lot harder, even though nobody dies.
Lauren: So Mia is quite different from you, then?
Gayle: Completely. When I first started writing her, and even though she inhabited me, I was like, where are you coming from? I feel like when I talk, I sound like a teenage valley girl. She seems so wise to me, like such an old soul. I certainly can see elements of me, but she definitely feels quite different and other. But I loved her and felt very protective of her and I knew her very well.
Lauren: How did you know that so much time would have to elapse between books?
Gayle: I just knew that it had to be several years later. The same that I knew that it couldn’t be from Mia’s perspective. If we were in Mia’s head again it would be another exploration of her grief. And it had to be several years later for Adam and Mia to be ready for change.
Lauren: What’s your writing process?
Gayle: My process is sort of similar to yours. I don’t start by writing the ending of the books, but I know what the ending will be. Although with If I Stay, I didn’t know what Mia’s choice would be, though I knew the book would end by her choosing.
I totally get ideas in the shower too! I’m a firm believer that the muse visits when you are working—sitting at the computer—but the moments when things have clicked have so often been in the shower. And then I’ll be sitting at my computer in a towel, and my apartment is freezing. We don’t have one of those hot New York apartments. I should really invest in a bathrobe.
Lauren: But you don’t outline?
Gayle: I do not outline. I love exploring the twists and turns to get me to that ending, the unexpected places.
Lauren: I really love what you said about the muse visiting when you are working. So you’re pretty much always working on a book?
Gayle: Yes. Momentum breeds momentum and inertia breeds inertia. Even if something’s not working, I’ll keep working, just to have something to work on, if that makes sense. And sometimes one failed project leads to another project that works. But you can’t get to 60 mph from a full stop. It never happens that something springs to life from nothing.
Lauren: Music is so important in both If I Stay and Where She Went. So it begs the question: do you listen to music when you write?
Gayle: When I wrote If I Stay, I listened to music the whole time…There was this one song, Falling Slowly, which I listened to every time I began writing. It was a Pavlovian thing. I’d listen to it, it would make me cry, and then I would start working. I wrote Where She Went in dead silence until about 3/4 of the way through. The switch coincided with a point at which Adam stops being estranged from music. He borrows an ipod and after that moment, I started listening to music again while I was writing.
Lauren: What are the themes that interest you as a writer?
Gayle: Love, I think, in all of its dimensions. The cost of unconditional love…what happens in the absence of love. Love is what we all live and breathe for.
Lauren: What was the proportion of fiction versus real life in If I Stay? What about Where She Went? I know that If I Stay was actually based off a real-life event.
Gayle: In If I Stay some of the characters were based on people I knew and the premise was based on a real-life event. Where She Went passed fully into the realm of fiction. There’s a certain transcendence in the aftermath of tragedy…you find something deeper in yourself. But eventually all that passes, and you have to simply get on with it. That was the germ of reality in Where She Went. The gritty reality of grieving and getting on with life.
Lauren: What’s the best and worst part about publishing a follow-up novel to a super successful book?
Gayle: I worry about letting people down, of course. But mostly, I put the pressure on myself. I want every book to be better than the one before.
Lauren: What about the best?
Gayle: I’m just so glad that we write YA because we have such a broad and vocal readership.