Sunday with Lauren Oliver
It was a damp and dreary afternoon last Sunday, but not for me, and certainly not for the droves of fans who trooped to Powerbooks Greenbelt to get their books signed by New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver.
I had set off to finish four of Lauren Oliver’s books as soon as I learned I was scheduled to interview her: Liesl and Po, Before I Fall, Delirium, and Pandemonium. Liesl and Po I finished early on, but my immediate to-be-read list kept piling up and I couldn’t hack away at it fast enough — I couldn’t put down A Feast for Crows (ASOIAF has kept me glued to the pages for the past couple of months, but that’s another story you’ll read about on this blog soon enough) and I had to finish A House of Mirth for this month’s FFP book discussion (and again, another story I owe you). I had started the first few chapters of Before I Fall, but it wasn’t until Saturday night that I finally got to settle into the novel, and I have to tell you, it was so phenomenal I lost sleep over it (review soon, too!)!
I woke up late on Sunday morning, started reading Delirium, and before I knew it I was already reaching for Pandemonium and finished it in record time to meet Lauren Oliver, who was somewhat flabbergasted that I actually
finished devoured all three books in less than 24 hours (hehe).
Q: How did you get started writing? Did you always want to be a writer?
A: I’ve been writing since I was about 6, writing fan fiction of Redwall and C.S. Lewis – it wasn’t known yet as “fan fiction” then; there was no internet, but I would write sequels and companion novels for my favorite books because I didn’t want them to end.
I always knew I would write; I didn’t know that I would be able to make a living out of it, but yeah, I always knew I would write.
Q: Did you set out to get published? How did it happen for you?
A: At a certain point I knew I would try to write a book to get published. My first attempt at publication was when I was 21. I sent out a book, an adult novel and then subsequently sent out another adult novel, both of which were rejected on the grounds that they were completely without plot … so I guess that’s important.
And then I got a job working at Penguin books, and that really changed it for me. I started working in the young adult department, and I started writing young adult fiction and I learned how to tell a story for the first time, and not just write a pretty sentence. So there I started working on Before I Fall.
What type of work were you doing at Penguin?
I was an editorial assistant, and then an assistant editor.
A: Yes that’s true. Mostly it was just a time thing, because when I was writing Before I Fall I was a full time graduate student, I had a full time job, and I had a part-time job. The only time I had to write was on the subway, commuting between commitments. So I wrote on my Blackberry and emailed it to myself.
To be honest, part of the reason I write is that it takes me out of my present. It lifts me entirely out of what I’m doing. If you can be lifted out of being in the subway in New York, then trust me, it has to be a very gripping story.
For the most part, Before I Fall drew really strongly from my own background — I grew up in a community much like the one depicted in Before I Fall.
Q: Were you part of the popular crowd? What made you decide to write about this clique, these popular girls?
A: I was pretty popular, yeah. I wasn’t like the girls in Before I Fall, though. I wanted to write basically about why people are mean to each other, and how and whether it could be changed. I found that in young adult novels the protagonist was always the girl who was not popular, the girl who was a little shy, maybe… and obviously that’s because most people feel that way in high school.
But I wanted to know, well, what about the people who are perpetrating these awful things? Is it possible they’re just as unhappy? And why, and how? How do you make a mean girl, and how do you unmake a mean girl?
Q: One of the things I liked about the novel is how the same day was happening over and over again, and yet played out in different ways. How did you plan out the seven days, what elements to retain and what to change?
A: That was actually really difficult, because there were two problems. One of them’s a continuity problem because you have to make sure that certain things stay the same, like different cuts of film. The other thing, that’s equally as important is that it can’t get boring. It can’t just be the same day over and over again; it could so easily be boring.
In the case of that book, I outlined that book really, really painstakingly before I started writing so that I could know exactly what would stay the same and exactly what would shift.
Q: M.C. Escher is one thing Sam has in common with Anna – M.C. Esher’s work is a bit like the structure of the story – was that intentional? (note: This turned out to be just one of my crazy thoughts, hehe. I love M.C. Escher and I was thinking about how “House of Stairs” was a bit like the day Sam had to relive over and over again.)
A: You know what, it isn’t, but that’s very smart! I find that a lot of things happen unconsciously as a writer – you don’t deliberately intend to put certain symbols in, but they get in there.
Q: From the start, did you always plan for it to end the way it ended? (Note: You’ll get what I mean when you’ve read this book.)
Yeah, I wrote first chapter and last chapter first.
A: I think we live in a kind of dystopia right now. I can only speak for the United States, but I know there that teens and young people are being drilled or drummed a message of real fear right now. It’s kind of like, “Well, we’ve messed up the economy, we’ve messed up the environment… Here you go, fix it.”
I think a lot of people feel like they’ve inherited a broken world, and they’re angry about that. When you look at a lot of dystopias that are now achieving popularity, they also feature young people angry about the broken worlds they’ve inherited, and they’re trying to fix them. So I think it delivers both a reflective message, and a message of hope.
Q: Delirium has a linear narration, but Pandemonium alternates chapters of Lena in two timelines. What is the reason behind this?
A: It’s an inadvertent thing, and it relates to me when I was writing the book. I left Lena at the end of Delirium and at the start of Pandemonium in such a bad, broken-down place, and I found it hard to access her. I found it sad to access her.
I started to write the Now section because I needed to know that she had a future and I needed to know that that she would get beyond this really terrible place. Through doing that, that’s how the structure of the book began to emerge, that was the way I could really tell the story of her evolution.
Q: [SORRY, POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS QUESTION — JUST THIS QUESTION, I COULDN’T RESIST ASKING!] Julian and Alex are two very different characters. In the first book, Lena and Alex get together, and in the second book, Julian and Lena are thrown together towards the end. Did you plan for Lena to fall in love with Julian?
I thought something would happen when they were alone in the room. It was too tempting to have two people on opposite sides, who hate each other, locked in a room together, to not have something major to occur. Is she falling in love with Julian? Yes. Is she in love with Julian by the end of Pandemonium? It’s not clear, you know. It’s not exactly like she just tumbled head over heels.
Q: How many books are planned in the series? What’s in store for the readers next?
A: Three books, only three. Requiem is the last book (*at this point, I gasp — Lauren says, “I know!!!”*). What’s in store for them in Requiem? I’m not gonna tell you (*Me, groaning*). All I can say is that it takes place from two different points of view.
Q: There are a lot of literary references in the series, like Great Expectations and The Wizard of Oz. Are these books favorites of yours?
A: Yeah, I’ve read all the books that they’ve read, for sure, and those are two of my favorite books.
What other books do you love?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. To Kill a Mockingbird, the Harry Potter series (*squee!*), The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and pretty much everything that he’s written, Agatha Christie, The Portrait of a Lady. A LOT. I’m always discovering new favorites though.
Q: What made you transition from YA to the middle-reader set with Liesl and Po?
A: It wasn’t deliberate; it’s just that the character that spoke to me was Liesl, and she was telling me a story that ultimately ended up to be better suited for the middle grade. It really wasn’t conscious — she’s a younger girl, she’s speaking to me in a specific voice. And that’s the way my stories all take shape; I don’t set out to write adult or young adult or middle grade.
Q: Like Before I Fall, Death is a major theme in this book.You write about death a lot, but in a positive way. Does this have a personal significance to you?
A: I have experienced a great loss, yes.
Q: How did you imagine the Other Side?
A: That was really fun. I have funky ideas about the universe. I happen to believe the universe is infinitely folded like a rose and there are all these different worlds. It came from that, my idea of the universe being kind of vast and much more multidimensional than we imagine it to be.
Q: I googled your illustrator Kei Acedera as soon as I finished the book, and she’s Filipina.
Amazing, I know, I just found that out today!
Did you get to work personally with her?
No, not at all, but she’s amazing! I bought several of her originals and now they’re hanging around my house.
Q: Do you have a favorite among all your published books?
A: Liesl and Po is pretty special to me, because it comes from a very personal place. But I like all my books. I mean, sometimes I do, and sometimes I hate all of them — it depends on what day you catch me.
Q: Which of the books are already optioned for films, and what’s the timeframe for these?
A: The Delirium trilogy, and Before I Fall. I wish I could give you a timeframe, but there’s a lot that needs to happen before a book makes it to the screen. There are great producers attached, there great scripts attached to both. But I’m not sure entirely, we’re keeping our fingers crossed.
Q: How has your life changed since you’ve become a New York Times bestselling author?
A: Well, I’m definitely not as poor as I used to be. I can buy more shoes. You know it’s nice — I used to work three jobs and be so exhausted all the time. Now I’m exhausted all the time because I’m touring, so it’s different. And I get to do what I love for a living, and that’s the biggest change.
Q: What made you decide to come here to the Philippines?
A: Just the opportunity — I was going to Australia, and the Philippines wanted me, and it was such an amazing opportunity. It’s so far away that normally I might not have put it on a tour stop, but now it’s so fabulous I want to come here all the time?
Q: How were your fan signings?
A: Amazing. So enthusiastic, so many people, really sweet, good, great people!
I really hate Sundays (yes, more than Mondays!), but this one’s an exception — I had a lovely time with Lauren Oliver!
And I got my books signed too! Lookee!
Read Lauren Oliver’s blog entry about her visit to the Philippines!
Tip: Both bookstores are on Summer Sale (Don’t you just love summer?!? Stock up!) until April 15th, so you can get the books at 20% off.