Gayle Forman is an award winning journalist and author who shares a passionate interest in the fictional depiction of truly amazing kisses with another critically acclaimed author, Stephanie Perkins. Though both women have made their names writing swoony boy companions to intriguing, dynamic female leads, they understand the power--and problems--of breaking out with something new. They recently sat down for a chat about Kiersten White's storytelling shift with MIND GAMES.
Gayle: I love Kiersten’s new novel, Mind Games, but I have to admit, it was a bit of a surprise for me. Paranormalcy had been so fizzy and fun, almost winking at the genre. Then Kiersten turned out this edgy, psychological thriller. I know you’ve known her a while, so were you surprised?
Stephanie: Not a bit! We’ve been critique partners since 2009, and the first thing I ever read by her, which was before Paranormalcy, was dark and psychological. And her second novel was a continuation of that world. Those books didn’t pan out, but years later she took their best parts and turned them into this single complex crazy thriller. For me, it was less surprise than pride: this idea she’d had for so long came to life in such a spectacular way. She wrote it in nine days.
Gayle: Nine days!! I find that rather insane. Which is to say, I'm extremely envious.
Stephanie: Seriously. When you think about the layering of this plot, two narrators and four timelines, it’s amazing. And the final version isn’t that different from her first draft.
Gayle: I think every writer gets one easy book. For me, If I Stay was that book. It came out effortlessly, and the draft I showed to an agent was not significantly different from the final book. But every book since then has been a much more difficult process, months, if not years. And even with If I Stay, it was three months, not nine days.
Stephanie: Although to say it was nine days is also misleading. First, it took four years of percolating. And then there were the revisions.
Gayle: I get that. People used to ask me how long If I Stay took to write and I’d say, three months—pause—and seven years. That was the percolating part. I believe you know something about that with Lola And The Boy Next Door.
Stephanie: Yeah, I worked on it for a full decade. But I never wrote a draft in nine days. Or three months.
Gayle: But it’s not an anomaly for Kiersten. She’s amazingly fast, and therefore prolific. She has the Paranormalcy trilogy, Mind Games and its sequel and The Chaos of Stars later this year, and even more brewing. And she has kids! How does she do it?
Stephanie: She’s like one of her characters in Mind Games, because she has this ability that the rest of us don’t have. Her brain works at four times the regular speed. I’m a slow writer. I’ll sit on a problem for weeks, wrestling with it, stuck in the same spot. And then Kiersten and I will talk for forty minutes--forty minutes of me moaning and rambling--and the moment I stop, she’ll say: “Well, what about this?” She usually nails the solution on the first try.
Gayle: One of the things that impressed me about Mind Games was how edgy it feels, but how Kiersten uses none of the obvious tricks: No sex, no swearing, no drugs. And yet she accomplished a real dark, moody sexy, dangerous-feeling book.
Stephanie: I know, right? It shows that if you’re a good writer, you can accomplish those same things in atmosphere, in tension. This book is really sexy without any actual sex.
Gayle: As someone who puts sex and language in my books, I tip my hat to Kiersten for accomplishing all that while keeping it clean. It’s a real testament to her writing skills. And I loved the conflict of Fia, the “gifted” sister forced into this dark world she didn’t want to be in. It reminded me a bit of La Femme Nikita, a movie and TV show I loved.
Stephanie: While reading, I felt such a genuine concern for both girls. But I worried the most for Annie. Fia’s part is so well written that I really, really felt that fear and urgency and need to protect her sister.
Gayle: And she wrote Annie, the blind sister, so believably.
Stephanie: Yes, and it takes skill to write a character who doesn’t rely on visual cues, the bread and butter for most authors. You’re great at that, too--the smells and touches and sounds. I felt as if I could TASTE how delicious Willem was in Just One Day!.
Gayle: Ha! Thanks. Speaking of delicious boys, you’ve made your mark with your soon-to-be three smart romances, Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After. But your next project is a horror novel! Kiersten has gone from these lighthearted, almost cheeky, paranormal romances to this much darker, psychological thriller. Do you guys ever talk about these sharp departures and how your readers might react?
Stephanie: Neither of us wants to be a one-trick pony. We have so many different types of stories inside of us. I think a lot of authors get pigeonholed as writing one type of novel, being one type of author. But as someone’s friend, you know they’re so much more than that. So we do talk about the departures, but we’re optimistic. We write for ourselves first, and we just have to hope that some of our readers will follow. So, back to your first question, it makes me incredibly happy to see this confident, twisted, cool book come out of Kiersten.