It was a great event, very small, which I enjoyed. All up there was only about 16 people in attendance, which did surprise me as I expected more. Still, it made for a nice evening. Lauren arrived a little after 4.30pm, and straight away signed any books we had. Despite only reading Before I Fall and Delirium in recent months, I had all four books with me. I actually started Pandemonium that morning on the train (and haven’t finished it yet!) and told Lauren that I was already hooked. I told her too that my young cousin read Liesl & Po and that his verdict was that it was weird but he couldn't stop reading! She thought that was great! We also briefly discussed my dissertation topic – representations of power in dystopian YA – and she told me that Pandemonium would definitely be of use to me. She said Requiem, the final book in the series, would be even more so, but unfortunately it’s not due to be released until 5 or so months after my dissertation is due! Still, she has me very excited to finish Pandemonium and consider it as a primary text for my argument!!
After she completed signing everyone’s books, Lauren then proceeded to talk a little about herself and her writing process. I took notes throughout the entirety of her talk and the following Q&A, so here are the dot points (I took more notes than I originally realized, actually, so this is very long!):
* Growing up Lauren considered herself an avid reader, and counts that as the reason she began to write. She was always sad when books came to an end and would write stories so as to continue them. This was before she knew what fanfiction was or the availability of Harry Potter porn sites as she called them. She got quite a few laughs over this, and told one person who didn’t know about such things to ‘Google it!’
* Lauren went on to say that she is uninterested in genre or categories and grew up without such things pushed on her. She finds these types of structures limiting. Hence, she has a varied group of narratives published, as we well know.
* Her father writes non-fiction, true crimes, type books, and his advice to her was to write everyday. This has become her advice for writers.
* When she was young she’d write and create magazine type serials for her best friend, and each would include a story where her and her friend would invariably end up kissing their crushes. She found one recently, and the story was titled “So he hate me, who cares? I do.”
* During high school Lauren wrote a modernization of an Austen novel. She actually started writing her first novel when she was 13, but never completed one until she was 21. She offered a lot of great wisdom about this. That it’s normal to stall, and that continuing to start a new novel means practice – continuing to learn how to plot and stick with it until a novel is finished.
* She studied literature and philosophy and at one time considered becoming a professor, like the other members of her family. Instead she completed a Masters of Creative Writing in New York. Through a lot of this time she’s learnt to identify when to take criticism on board and when to reject it. She believes this is necessary for all of life, not just with writing.
* While working for Penguin and reading 8-10 novels a week she became aware of YA, with its smart, gripping concepts, and fast pace.
* Lauren draws inspiration from her books from everywhere, mostly the news and things that are happening in the world now.
* The idea for Delirium came about first from a quote about books being about love and death. Lauren considered Before I Fell to have enough death and so decided to take on love. She mentioned that during the process of coming up with ideas, she’ll write a good one that can turn into a book (so, Before I Fall) and then 30,000 words of a bad one, before rejecting it for a new idea that is good again (so, Delirium). This is still her process. She also said that most of her best ideas come when she’s in the shower or on the treadmill, and that her laptops get wrecked when she runs out of the shower and her wet hair drips water everywhere while she hurries to type it out!! Back to Delirium – it started around the time of the swine flu panic which turned into nothing. It got her thinking about the power differential between people who have information and those who don’t. She also considered how love has all the same symptoms of many disorders treated with drugs! And so, Delirium was born.
* She believes Delirium to be about transformation, especially in terms of Lena, and she’s very happy to write plotless stories with a focus on characters and their transformations anytime. Pandemonium further teeters on transformation, whereas Requiem (due March 2013) no longer teeters but explodes!
* Lauren always knew Delirium would be a trilogy – it even began as a folder on her desktop entitled “Love Trilogy”. In considering how to keep it exciting she changed the writing style – so Pandemonium alters between timelines and Requiem will alternate between two points of view. She’s always known the beginning and ending of Delirium, the ending of Pandemonium, and the ending of Requiem. When starting, she writes 20,000 words to see if the characters will speak to her. Then she steps back and begins to outline. She had more pains with Requiem then the others. It was 120,000 words and she went through and cut 20,000 words sentence by sentence.
* Lauren is constantly barraged by voices, of various characters of ongoing or new narratives. To her, writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia! When she finishes a book the voices will go quiet, and that drives her crazy until she gets a new idea.
* Requiem is finished. Now she’s writing another realistic YA, a sort of return to the world of Before I Fall but from the wrong side of the tracks, set in a poor town in Oregon. This novel is called Panic and is due in 2014.
* She’s also working on an adult novel and she’s happy to be writing this for two reasons. First so people stop asking when she’ll write a book for adults, and secondly so that comments about writing YA in order to catch on to a trend will stop.
* When asked about her inspiration for Liesl & Po she claimed that it is her favourite of all the books she’s written, and that when she rereads it is the one that doesn’t feel like she wrote it. It took only a month to write and is somewhat autobiographical. When her best friend and ex died of an overdose she went through a dark time. Liesl & Po is a response to his death and the fact that his ashes weren’t released where they should have been. For Lauren, she made right in fiction what she couldn’t in real life, and it’s a piece of her love for him out in the world. She dedicated it to his nieces.
* When asked if she ever worries about the response to her writing about hard/dark topics she said that it crosses her mind but that in the end she doesn’t truly worry about it because a teen has never complained to her about any topic of her books. She believes that if teens were only facing that sort of thing in books then maybe it would be something to worry about. She also believes that in the end her books have messages about love being redemptive and being kind to others (plus another which I missed!).
* In regard to Before I Fall, Lauren was asked is she feared readers would give up reading it with her killing off her main character so early. She said that she wondered but that a lot of Before I Fall’s popularity came from bloggers, etc, telling others to read it, so through word of mouth, to which readers then knew not to give up. Plus, her MC was quite unsympathetic and she thought readers would probably like that she was killed!
* Talking more about her process of writing Delirium, Lauren tried to keep the world she created recognizable, which she thinks makes it a scarier concept. When changing something cultural it necessitates so many changes. For example, taking away love also took away the use of love and hate for anything, even the simple “I love (or hate) guacamole”. She thinks we sometimes forget that there are cultures in the world where things we might take for granted are restricted or prohibited, and she pulled from these. A lot of research went into creating the world of Delirium and not all of it went into the books.
* She also commented on the fact that some find Lena weak early in Delirium, that she doesn’t fight, simply believes what she’s told. Lauren doesn’t agree. In the end she believes Lena escapes because she has nothing more to lose.
* Creating a world without love wasn’t much of a stretch because the world is more medicated nowadays, with even children on certain drugs for this and that.
* Pandemonium, and more so Requiem, not so much about love but power when it comes down to it.
* Lauren thinks that a culture of one ideology is not good, and is even dangerous. In that world, absolutely anything can be said and everybody will believe it. The world needs clashing ideologies and dissent.
* Pandemonium’s having two alternating timelines – Lena’s then and now – was not deliberate. Lauren left Lena broken and so she honestly didn’t know if she’d make it through when she first started writing. She needed to believe Lena had a future so she started writing one for her before going back…and so, two timelines.
* When asked if she bases her characters on real people, Lauren said that she didn’t exactly, but rather used her understanding and observations of people around her to create them. She’s put herself in some, especially Lena and her fears and anxieties – that if the world did have love, no one would love her so she’s safer in a world without it. Rob in Before I Fall is completely based on a guy Lauren dated in high school. She had a great quote, about novels being like dreams, all the characters are like you even if they’re wearing someone else’s face.
* In terms of Before I Fall’s unsympathetic MC, Lauren always loved Samantha. She knew who she’d become and so felt bad for her. As such, she didn’t feel good killing her off. However, a certain character gets killed off in Requiem and Lauren took great pleasure in that – her editor cheered too.
* Lastly she was asked about movie adaptations of her books – Before I Fall has a script and a director. Lauren’s read and loves the script; her only demand was that they don’t change the ending (which began a discussion of the terrible ending change to the film adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper!). As for Delirium, there’s a script which she’s reading now.
So, that’s it. The event was fantastic. Lauren is a great speaker, very funny and passionate, easy to talk to. I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet her!
Have you met Lauren Oliver? Are you a fan of her books?