A website dedicated to books in the Young Adult genre, featuring book reviews, author interviews contests and much more!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Interview with Lauren Oliver, Author of Before I Fall

Today I am thrilled to feature debut author Lauren Oliver whose highly anticipated novel, Before I Fall releases March 2nd! Lauren graciously agreed to stop by and answer a few questions. We will be discussing her inspiration for Before I Fall, her advice to aspiring writers and much, much, more. Let's get started!

In Before I Fall, popular and pretty teen Samantha Kingston relives the last day of her life seven times, where she learns to confront issues of what is perfect and meaningful about her life. If you could pick any day of your life to relive, what day would you pick and why?

It’s funny that you should ask; I’ve posed the same question to myself many times, and it’s one of the things that first inspired me to write Before I Fall.

I have a very clear memory of being young—maybe eight or nine—and coming home after a long day spent outside, at the local pool and tennis club my parents belonged to. This was when I lived in Westchester, in a small town that very much informed the setting of Before I Fall. During the summer I spent the whole day outside: swimming, playing shuffle board, eating greasy snack bar French fries (on the occasions my mom allowed it), playing cards and massive games of Sharks and Minnows with my friends. At the end of the day I would come home in my bathing suit, barefoot and exhausted and happy, occasionally sunburned, reeking of bug spray and chlorine, starving for dinner.

Anyway, as I said, I have a clear memory of coming home one day in particular when my cousins were visiting, and walking through my old house—which was old and rickety and beautiful—and hearing voices and laughter from the deck, and smelling charcoal from the barbecue, and knowing that once I went outside I would find my mom and sister and cousins sitting at the table under the umbrella, and my dad standing at the grill, tending to his famous hamburgers—knowing, in other words, that all of these people I loved were outside and waiting for me. I remember standing with my hand on the screen door, about to go outside; I think actually I could live forever inside that single moment and be happy.

And in my adult life…? To be honest, the day I found out that Harper had bought my book was pretty fabulous…

On your website you describe how many details of the book have their origins in real things from your life- the small affluent town where you grew up, driving to Dunkin Donuts every day before school, and “Cupid Day”, a real event at your high school. Are there any memories, people or places in particular that inspired you the most, and if so, can you share a story or two with us?

Hmmm. It’s hard—there are so many! I really drew a lot from my own experiences. In my book the main character, Samantha, has a dream in which she is passing people, all of whom look familiar, except that there is something wrong and distorted about each of them, some detail that is off. In some ways this exemplifies the relationship between the fictional world of my novel and my own high school experiences: I pulled a lot from real life but the characters, and the impressions, and the world itself, became distorted and filtered and altered as I re-imagined it.

One thing that comes straight out of real life: in the novel, Samantha and her sister Izzy go to Goose Point, a large rock at the top of a hill in the woods near their house, a place Samantha went to often as a child when she needed to escape. That place actually exists. My older sister (Lizzie) discovered it. It sat—and presumably still sits—on the top of a hill in the woods near our old house, and we used to go there when we needed to escape. In real we called it Gosling Rock; my sister christened it after she found the tiny gray feather of a gosling stuck in a fissure running along its underbelly.

And yes, as you point out, my best friend did pick me up and drive me to school every day, at least until I got my license, and we did stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and order the exact same thing as Samantha and her friends—large hazelnut, no sugar, extra cream. We also listened to the same song every morning to pump us up before school started—not “No More Drama” (as Samantha and Lindsay do in the book), but “What I Got” by Sublime. Laura and I still text each other we hear the song—and we also still love to drink coffee together, although our drink orders have changed over the years!

You have a core group of best friends from when you were growing up that continue to be an important part of your life. Did you draw from any of their personalities in constructing characters like Samantha, Lindsay, Ally and Elody? In addition, have your friends been able to read Before I Fall, and if so, what sort of feedback have they given you about it?

First of all, I have to clarify: My friends are much, much nicer than Samantha and her friends! They are moral and empathic and sensitive to the core, and would never intentionally hurt someone’s feelings (unless he or she really, really deserved it!). But yes, there are many details about my friends that inspired me when I was imagining and fleshing out the characters in Before I Fall. In the book, for example, Elody loves the color green and has a beautiful singing voice, like warm maple syrup—both of these facts are true of my friend Deirdre. I’ve already said that Laura used to pick me up every day before school, just as Lindsay does for Sam, and my friend Jackie has an angel’s face just like Lindsay’s, and an incisive sense of humor that totally belies how sweet and angelic she looks (also like Lindsay). I had a close friend in high school who was obsessed with cows, like Ally in the book—and like Ally, I’m always cooking and trying to concoct gourmet meals and threatening to have a cooking show someday.

So yes, lots of true details worked their way in, but no single character is based exactly on any one of my real friends. They are composites, distortions, sketches. The truest thing—the thing that is the most perfect reflection of reality—is the way Samantha and her friends feel about each other. This is an exact parallel to how I felt, and still feel, about my best friends: that fierce, prideful love, the sense of the world being bounded by your friendships. No fictionalization necessary there!

Do you remember the first words you ever wrote for Before I Fall, and are they still in the novel today?

Absolutely! (It helps that I save all my drafts.) The first words were originally: They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes. I’ve never understood what that meant, but it always sounded awful to me. The original editor of the book, Brenda Bowen, suggested that I alter the initial line to its current manifestation, which is: They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that’s not how it happened for me. Interestingly, I wrote the first chapter (prologue) and the last chapter (epilogue) before anything else, and very quickly—I think I wrote them both in a single day. Then I spent eight months writing the bridge between them, the book that joins them together. But I knew where my character started, and I knew where she had to go.

If you had to attach a musical score to your novel, what songs do you imagine playing during prominent scenes?

That’s a fabulous question, but it’s difficult to answer without giving away too much about the book! I will say this: Before I Fall is, in some ways, about a girl who finds herself suddenly and unexpectedly lost in her own life. She is disconnected and unhappy without knowing it, and of course without knowing how to correct it, an experience that many people (I think) face at some time. The song that I think best embodies that experience—and a song I played many times when I was writing the darker and more “dramatic” bits of Fall—is “Bring Me To Life,” by Evanescence.

Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced to publish Before I Fall? Is there anything about the process that you would do differently, knowing what you do now?

To be honest, the publication experience was a bit of a dream. My wonderful agent, Stephen Barbara, was supportive and enthusiastic in the extreme, and the book met with interest and excitement right away. Harper has, throughout the entirety of the editorial experience, been almost surrealistically kind and patient and supportive.

But, lest everyone reading this start instantly despising me for not paying my dues, I will say that Before I Fall—despite being my first published novel—is most certainly not the first novel I completed and sent out on submission. I wrote an adult novel when I was twenty-one called A Measure of Light; at the time I was represented by Loretta Barrett Books, and the manuscript went around to a long list of publishers before getting roundly rejected by all of them. (Could it have been because the book had no plot? Perhaps.) Then, while getting my master’s degree at NYU in creative writing, I wrote and re-wrote the same book three times. Literally. First it was eight hundred pages; then I cut it to four hundred and re-wrote the first half, then the second half, then the whole thing. Then, six months later, I tried to rewrite it again. At some point I showed it to some fellow writers and my former agent; they all made the same vaguely conciliatory and overly generous remarks about how “not all novels are meant to be published,” when they may as well have said, “some novels are better used as toilet paper.”

So, you know, again, the message is to keep trying, keep pushing, try to get better. When people criticize your work, don’t assume they’re idiots. Maybe you can be pushing yourself, or doing something differently. At the same time, don’t listen to every idiot who tells you your work isn’t good, or publishing is dying, or nobody reads anymore, etc etc. The world is chock-full of people who will tell you you’re not good enough to do x or y, and people who will advise you against pursuing your dreams—whether you dream of writing a novel, manufacturing the world’s largest hot dog, or running a really fast marathon. Don’t listen to them (or you’ll end up just as bored and unhappy as they are).

Do you have any advice for all the aspiring writers out there?

Definitely. Write every day. Writing is, more than anything else, a question of practice and discipline. As with any other activity—from sports to cooking to playing pool—you get better at it the more you do it. (Well…I never get better at playing pool, no matter how often I try, so maybe that’s a bad analogy.)

Also—and this is something that the novelist Chuck Wachtel told me while I was getting my MFA in creative writing at NYU—aim for truth and beauty will follow. Aim for beauty, and truth will not necessarily follow.

So yeah, aim for truth. And read a lot. It helps.

What is one message you would like teens to take away from your book and possibly apply to their lives?

Obviously the fragility of life—and the preciousness of time—is a major thematic element of my book. But at the heart of Before I Fall is a message, I think, about connection. E.M. Forster said “Only Connect,” and I think at the very center of the book is an idea that connection—to friends, to family, to strangers, even—is the thing that gives meaning and resonance to people’s lives. People are connected; lives are intertwined, whether you know it or not, and the deeper your recognition of your connection to other people, the more meaningful and happy your life will be. So that is the message I would hope teens (and anyone who reads the book) would be able to carry with them. Reach out to other people; show up for your friends; be kind; show empathy to others. Ultimately, it’s the only way to find happiness.

What can we look forward to reading from you next Lauren? Any upcoming projects or new series in the works?

Yes! I’ve just finished a first draft of my second book (unfortunately, it remains untitled. I’m terrible at thinking of titles!). It’s very different from Before I Fall, dystopian, with a very different scope and setting. My agent has been running around pitching it as Romeo-and-Juliet meets Brave New World, and I think that’s fairly accurate. Essentially, it takes place in some alternate history of the United States, when love has been identified as a disease and scientists have made a cure mandatory. The book takes place during the summer just before the main character, Lena, is due to be cured. I won’t tell you what happens—you’ll have to read it! :) I just signed up two more novels with Harper, so hopefully you can expect to hear from me for a long time to come!

Thank you Lauren for taking the time out to talk with us!


BEFORE I FALL BY LAUREN OLIVER

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

"This story races forward, twisting in a new direction every few pages, its characters spinning my emotions from affection to frustration, anger to compassion. You'll have no choice but to tear through this book!" (Jay Asher, author of the New York Times bestseller, Thirteen Reasons Why )
Official Website & Blog of Lauren Oliver
Purchase Before I Fall HERE.



45 comments:

...MY NAME IS ELENI AND I AM A BOOKAHOLIC... said...

Great interview, Lauren is the best!

Bianca said...

Fantastic interview!
Loved reading her answers! Interesting that she wrote the prologue and epilogue before anything else.

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

Wow, I really enjoyed reading this interview, you asked some fantastic questions! I just posted an interview too but I'm afraid it can't compete with yours, eek. However, I'm also holding a contest for a copy of Before I Fall so if anyone wants to read this book, drop by my blog. :)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great interview :)

Lisa and Laura said...

Amazing interview. I'm DYING to read this book. It looks incredible.

Shade said...

I saw this book in Borders today! How weird! But the interview was amazing, and I love whenever successful authors take time to give some tips to newbies like me and share parts of their lives and stories. This book sounds awesome; I would love to read it!

Sharli said...

From the cover, I'd never thought of Evanescense as the soundtrack lol

Great interview! ;)

Tales of a Teenage Book Lover said...

I need Before I Fall NOW!

Book Addict Girl said...

Great interview! Lauren is such a sweetheart! :)

RaĆ­la said...

Aw! Awesome interview! I have already told her, but I keep saying... She's such a sweet! Although I haven't read Before I Fall YET, I am already excited for Delirium! :)

Sab H. said...

Oh wow! Lauren is so amazing!! She wrote all that in just eight months!? WHat an incredible book!!

Kelsey said...

I loved her story about the moment that she would like to relive over and over. I've felt that way once or twice myself, and it's priceless.

Great interview! She sounds like a great person and I'd love a chance to read her book!

-Kelsey
krae991@yahoo.com
www.thedoortowonderland.blogspot.com

The Graef Family! said...

That was a great interview! The moments she want to relive are so sweet!! I love the advice she gives to aspiring authors! Her new book sounds awesome! Thanks for the great review!

Annie said...

It's really interesting how your real life leaves a mark on your writing.

Lauren sounds really cool and very interesting to talk to...

Llehn said...

I've heard awesome things about Before I Fall. Can't wait to read it.

Just Your Typical Book Blog said...

Wow! This was such a great interview. I read Before I Fall last week and was just flat out amazed by it. I love how real even tiny things in author's real life show up in their stories.

✖Mizz Yasmin✖ said...

Wow!
You asked such great questions that I don't mind reading it though it is quite long.
Great interview.
Keep it up!

oO Mariana Oo said...

Great Interview! She looks so nice ^^

misskallie2000 said...

Fasinating interview. I like to have an insight into the author as this helps when you read the book. I love knowing the little facts as they tell so much about the author. This is going to be a great book to read. Thanks

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

Heather said...

I'm so excited to read this book! And Lauren Oliver sounds so down to Earth and just nice.

I loved what she said about how people told her "maybe some books aren't meant to be published..." It made me smile, thinking it was just a polite way to say, "work on something else." It's so great that once she found a wonderful idea it worked out so well for her!

bookaholic said...

I enjoyed the interview a lot. Gives a clear insight into the author's mind.I wish Lauren all the luck for her upcoming book. Romeo and Juliet meets Brave New World?Wow..that sounds really interesting!

frndzDOTdebasATgmailDOTcom

donnas said...

Great interview. Sounds like a very interesting book. I am looking forward to hearing more from her.

mariska said...

i enjoyed the interview. And great advice !

i'm so want to read this book !

vonze said...

I liked Ms. Oliver's advice for aspiring writers! Over the last three years I've been reading more than ever! Yay, I'm on the write track.

Chanelley said...

This is definitely a book I NEED to read. Great interview!

McBetty said...

Awesome interview! I like the description of Lauren's perfect day. And SEVEN chances to re-do a day? A must read.

bmcbroom AT gmail DOT com

vslavetopassionv said...

thanks for the interview. I have been curious about this book.

Jase
vslavetopassionv(at)aol(dot)com

Vicki said...

Great questions and anwers!

I love Lauren's advice to follow your dreams no matter what anyone says!

YA Vampire Books said...

Wow, great review! And I love the book trailer!

jpetroroy said...

Great interview! can't wait to read this!

andrea said...

this was a great interview...
I liked the answer about her experiences before being published...

Kelly said...

Great interview! Lauren sounds like such a fun person. I have already read a lot of great reviews!

Bunny B said...

Great interview! I have wanted to read this book since I found out about it as the plot is exactly the kind that I love. And I'm soooo glad that I've been hearing only great things about this book!

EVA SB said...

This was a great interview with some novel questions.
I especially liked hearing about the day she would choose to repeat

Bhumi said...

Great interview! And the book cover looks fantastic.

jen said...

Awesome interview! Thanks for sharing it with us. I can't wait to read her book; it sounds really amazing and I've been hearing so many good reviews about it.

Jennie Englund said...

Fab interview! Lauren sounds thrilling -- talented, smart, hard-working, fun...

She deserves that awesome book success!

Can't wait to see how quickly BEFORE I FALL shoots to the top of NYT Best Seller List.

Scully said...

So great that writers now a days are sharing so much more with their fans. (as opposed to not knowing anything about my favorite writers as a kid other than what was on the inside flap!) Yay technology! (Does it show I am in my mid 30s?)

Julia

Brianna Bruce said...

I can't wait to read this book!

Brianna Bruce said...

I can't wait to read this book!

Brianna Bruce said...

I accidentally posted my comment twice, whoops.. : /

Dwayne said...

I like that Lauren is very reflective - that I think, is what brings her book best. She personifies the message of the book herself, so it becomes very gripping. Wonderful interview!

Bee said...

Even the interview was so beautiful, I can't wait for what the book will be like!

Love the vid, especailly the background score :D

Nancye said...

I really enjoyed reading this interview. I liked hearing how Ms. Oliver came up with the ideas for her book.

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Jackie Noel said...

I loved this book!!! It was incredible! Awesome interview! Lauren seems like a great person! Cool trailer too! :)