Gayle Forman and Lauren Oliver: Author One-on-One
Gayle Forman is is a self-described "perpetual teenager" and an award-winning author and journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and children. She is the author of Where She Went and If I Stay. Recently she sat down with Lauren Oliver to discuss their work. Read the resulting interview below, or turn the tables to see what happened when Lauren interviewed Gayle.
From Gayle Forman: Lauren Oliver is kind of mind-blowing. She wrote her intensely moving debut, Before I Fall when she was 26, which seems impossible given the book’s depth and wisdom. She followed up with the deliciously provocative love story Delirium, the first of a trilogy, and her first middle-grade book, Liesl & Po comes out in the fall of 2011. On top of that, she’s constantly cooking up book ideas for her literary development company. Somehow, she managed to slow down long enough for us to talk shop over lunch in our mutual hometown, Brooklyn.
Gayle: You have like 100 balls in the air. Are you one of those people who thrives on an insane amount of activity?
Lauren: I’ve been busy and overextended my whole life. I wrote half of Before I Fall while I had a full-time job, was a full-time grad student, and worked part-time in a nightclub. I wrote the first half of the book on my phone on the subway. I’d email the chapters to myself.
Gayle: You wrote the book on your phone?
Lauren: It’s very rare that I write on my computer. A lot of times I’m writing on subways or in the back of cabs or on airplanes. I know the exact quantity of lines on my BlackBerry and how it relates to word count.
Gayle: Well, that brings me right to my question about process. How does an idea become a book for you? How did Delirium arrive?
Lauren: I’d read an essay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that said that all great books are either about death or love and I’d already written about death. And I started thinking that I’d never written a love story. It was out of my comfort zone. The next day I was at the gym, and the TV was on and the news report was all about the swine flu epidemic. It was the latest in the flu scares. And I thought it was so weird how easily people become panicked. You can convince people that anything is an epidemic. So much is propaganda. And the two ideas just combined in my head. And the character of Lena started narrating immediately.
Gayle: Moral of the story, budding writers: Go to the gym.
Lauren: Most of my breakthrough ideas come at the gym or while showering.
Gayle: Me too! And I’ll run out and start writing and be dripping in a towel.
Lauren: I’ve actually ruined computers that way. I think what happens is punctuated equilibrium: a period when changes are accumulating but not visibly, the simmering is happening. Then, when your mind is very relaxed, what was unconscious becomes conscious.
Gayle: On the surface, there’s a very big leap between your first two books. Before I Fall follows Sam, a prototypical mean girl who has to relive the last day of her life while Delirium follows Lena who lives in a creepy world in which love has been outlawed. But really, both of these girls start out conformists and challenge the constraints on their lives.
Lauren: Transformation is very important to me. I definitely am very interested in how people become who they are. In change. In characters who are damaged who and who feel initially unlovable—and in their redemption through feelings of love.
Gayle: Who are you more like, Lena or Sam?
Lauren: Sam is more similar to how I was in high school. I was rebellious. I went out and partied and did all the bad things that she did. Lena is just… she’s so obedient and so scared of doing anything wrong. I was so fond of her. I kind of loved her in this way, I felt so protective of her. She’s so fragile and also brave.
Gayle: That was exactly how I felt about Mia in If I Stay. I loved the strength of both Sam and Lena, in relation to their love interests. Even in Delirium, where Alex is the one who sparks Lena’s rebellion, she’s no damsel in distress.
Lauren: I don’t believe in damsels. That’s not a model of femininity or heroism I subscribe to. Everyone has to learn to save themselves. It can be through the mechanisms of loving other people but you have to learn to save yourself.
Gayle: Dystopian fiction is very hot right now. Did you have any idea you’d be on the cutting edge of this trend?
Lauren: I never heard that word when I wrote Delirium. I mean, I knew what it meant but not as a category. Delirium is supposed to be a meditation on love, what it does, good and bad. Because there have been times when if I could have reached inside to take out my own heart out, I would’ve. Books can’t come from categories; they come from a desire to say something about the world.
Oliver’s follow-up to her smash debut, Before I Fall (2010), is another deft blend of realism and fantasy. The hook is irresistible: it’s the near future, a time when love has long since been identified as a disease called amor deliria nervosa, and 17-year-old Lena is 95 days away from the operation that everyone gets to cure themselves. Can you feel the swoon coming? Enter Alex, a rakish daredevil who, as it turns out, is one of the Invalids—a tribe of uncured who live on the lam in the surrounding wilderness. With the clock ticking down to her surgery, Lena is drawn into Alex’s world, one of passion and freedom, while her emotionally castrated family members hope to turn her into yet another complacent zombie. Oliver’s masterstroke is making a strong case for love as disease: the anxiety, depression, insomnia, and impulsive behavior of the smitten do smack of infirmity. The story bogs down as it revels in romance—Alex is standard-issue perfection—but the book never loses its A Clockwork Orange–style bite regarding safety versus choice. Grades 9-12. --Daniel Kraus