So on August 14th, I met the amazing Lauren Oliver at YA Birmingham!
I was incredibly lucky to have the chance to interview Lauren Oliver before the signing! It was a really great opportunity and I found Lauren’s answers really funny and fascinating! I hope you do too:
I read that your parents are literature professors. What is it like to share your writing with them and do you feel like they will always be criticising what you do?
I share my work a lot with my dad. He’s been really influential to my career in terms of all the advice and support he’s given me. My parents are incredibly supportive and I’m sure they are blinded by their love for me, they think everything I do is brilliant so I’m sure it’s a completely distorted view. All that aside, I can depend (specifically on my father) to give me real feedback particularly for works in progress. I share drafts with him and he lets me know if there are edits I should be making and we brainstorm things together. It’s really wonderful and having had parents who are professors of literature, I grew up in a house full of books which I’m sure was greatly influential in my career.
You’ve written books in a variety of genres. Is there a genre you’d like to try in the future or a genre you’d like to explore further?
Yeah, I want to try all of it! I’m such a weird, wide reader, I read so many different kinds of books. I read non-fiction, books about history and science. I read fiction, fantasy, realistic and all over the map so I kind of have these schizoid preferences when it comes to both reading and writing. There’s a lot of stuff I would love to do. I would love to do a big, epic fantasy middle-grade featuring magic. That’s been the aspiration of everyone who has read and loved Harry Potter since it came out. I would love to really do magical realism in a way that feels convincing. I would love to do a mystery series. I’d love to do any kind of book that I find and love, I’m immediately inspired to tackle it on my own. Hopefully I have a lot of years ahead of me so I’ll be able to get to some of those.
You also write for different age groups. Do you feel the need to rein in the power and emotional impact of your books when writing to a younger audience?
Not at all. It gets transformed and filtered in different ways. I talk about this a lot, but I think one of the most interesting things about writing for different age groups (especially since I often write several books simultaneously) is that you can basically deal with the same themes, but it gets transformed and embodied in different ways. This is just an example. but say I became interested in the ways that we put on masks and play roles for other people and you can’t know anyone fully. So if I were writing a middle-grade book about that, I might literally write about masks. I might write about a puppeteer who’s evil and makes people wear masks (obviously I would write something better than that, hopefully.) Whereas If I were writing about a teen world, I might write a fantasy world where everyone has to have tattoos on their skin to show everybody what their emotional constellation is. Then obviously if I were writing for adults I would do it in a completely different way. One of the really interesting things is that you can tackle the same kinds of themes, but they get expressed in these vastly different ways. Kids are very insightful and penetrating and the children’s books that last are the ones that are really deep, complex and layered.
Are there any books you’d recommend to fans of your work?
Nope only mine! It’s so hard because there are so many great authors writing teen books now so It’s hard even if you’re in the industry to keep track. I’m sure a lot of them people know, like Gayle Forman, Jay Asher, obviously Rainbow Rowell and John Green. It’s hard because people connect to different things in my books. If you like just dystopia then read Divergent. But if you like someone who uses a lot of beautiful language you can read Nova Rem Suma. One of the great things about working in YA now is that there are so many amazing authors writing for that demographic. It’s overwhelming, even to me, because I’m constantly behind on my own reading.
If this book store was burning (which for the record, I hope it never does), if you could only save one book, which would you save?
Presumably this isn’t the library of Alexandria, there’s probably other copies. If this book store was burning I’d grab my computer and get out! … The Bible, probably, just because it’s a great story and it seems like it’s the right thing to do. It’s hard to prioritize books. For somebody who’s a lifelong reader, whenever someone asks me what my favourite book is, It’s just an impossible question to answer because so many books have been so influential to me. I love Gabriel García Márquez, he’s at the top top top of my list so 100 Years of Solitude would be really up there. I would hesitate between the Bible and 100 Years of Solitude and some random collection of short stories because it’s filled with smoke and my brain has been clouded by misjudgement.
I read Panic this week and was wondering how you would fare in Panic?
I would do very well in Panic, except if people really knew what my individual challenge was. I have a very crippling phobia of worms (don’t laugh) so I would never do any challenge involving them. However, if the challenges were the challenges in the book, I would win this second! I would totally win!
What is the hardest scene or book you’ve written?
Panic was really hard for me because It’s really gritty and … I don’t know totally why but it was hard when I was writing it. I almost stopped several times. Writing is hard and I usually get to a point halfway through it where I don’t want to continue and I think it’s terrible. With Panic, I remember thinking that I had somehow succeeded in writing the worst book ever written (which was in its own way, kind of impressive) and several times I actually told my agent and my editor I was going to stop writing it and write something else and having read the early pages, they encouraged me to continue. But it was hard! I felt really sorry for Heather in many ways and I was worried about her. It was very hard to write the scenes with her mother. I had a lot of compassion for the situation, but I really hated her mother which is not a good thing. It’s not good to hate your characters! So I would say Panic.
How do you feel when you’ve finished a book?
It really depends. Right after finishing, it’s this really weird feeling. It’s an intermingling of a sense of huge accomplishment and relief and also grief and then I almost immediately have to start writing again. I sometimes take a day between books (when I don’t write) and I get panicked when I don’t have something to work on and when I don’t have another world to engage with or grapple with.
Is there one question you always wish people would ask you?
The one question I wish people would ask me is “Oh my God Lauren your hair is so nice, why is it so nice?”, but the reason people don’t ask me that is because my hair is not very nice! It’s usually a total mess so I can’t ask anyone to ask me that because it’s not accurate.
For the record, I think you have lovely hair Lauren!
Do you have a favourite scene that you’ve written?
I probably have a favourite scene in each book but I don’t know that I could pick a favourite scene between my books. I really like the scene in Before I Fall when Kent is watching Sam fall asleep in his bed for the first time. I like the ending in Delirium a lot. I like little moments, I like the tigers in Panic. I’m really glad I found a way to work Tigers into it after working random cows into Delirium, which in retrospect is a very bizarre decision. That was a bold choice for the first two chapters.
What kind of books did you read growing up?
So many things! Roald Dahl, Wind in the Willows, the Redwall series, Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beverly Cleary. My dad was concerned for me because I was such a big reader and I never watched TV. Even to this day, I’ll sit on the couch next to my boyfriend and he’ll watch a movie and I’ll just read. I just don’t connect to TV and movies the way that I do to books at all. I’d much, much rather be reading.
Have those books influenced the books you’ve written for younger ages?
Definitely, they’ve probably influenced books I write for every age. From the beginning I’ve liked things that are a little bit weird with twists of fantasy or elevated reality. I’m sure it influenced the pattern of my language and the way that I write sentences has been influenced by the people that I read. I also have a little bit of a dark sensibility, which is definitely influenced by the fact that from the start, Roald Dahl was one of my favourite authors and he definitely has a little twisted sensibility so that has certainly influenced me.
If you had to spend a weekend with a character from one of your books, who would you choose?
Hmm… It’s hard because I can’t say any of the boys because they’re in high-school and that would be weird, and illegal! I would spend a week with… Hmm.. Such a good question… Definitely not Lindsay from Before I fall! I love all of my boy characters but that would be gross! I’m going to say Bundle, the half cat, half dog ghost pet from Liesl and Po. That would be adorable! I have a cat and a dog and you could just smush them together and make a Bundle!
I am so delighted that I had this opportunity! (I let out little squeals of fangirlish delight every time I listen to the recording I made of the interview!) I owe a great deal of thanks to Vero, YA Birmingham and of course, Lauren Oliver! THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!