Today I've got the fabulous Lauren Oliver here to answer some questions. She is author of the incredible debut novel, Before I Fall (which comes out March 2nd!).
1. Tell us a little (okay, a lot) about your debut novel, Before I Fall?
The premise of Before I Fall is fairly simple. Samantha Kingston, the main character, seemingly has the world at her fingertips: she is pretty, popular, and she is dating one of the hottest guys in school. In other words, she has the world at her fingertips. But in the very first chapter (the prologue, actually), Samantha is in a fatal car accident. But Sam continues to wake up and relive the day of her death over and over, and the book follows her attempts both to figure out why she is caught in a continual time loop, and to try and save her own life. On a deeper level, it is about a girl who is given the chance to reevaluate her choices, actions, and desires in the context of her death. In that way it's kind of like a YA modern version of It's A Wonderful Life, I guess.
2. What is your protagonist Samantha like?
There's just no other way to say it: at the beginning of the book, she's a b%$ch. She is self-involved; she is petty; she is casually cruel; she doesn't take responsibility for the things she does. One of my biggest concerns when I was writing was that people would be so turned off by her character (and her character's lack of character) at the start of the book that they would be unmotivated to continue reading. At the same time, she needed to have a place to grow from. The real heart of the novel is Sam's development as a person, and her reconnection to things that matter. So she definitely transforms hugely from the first chapter to the last. In other ways, I think Sam is a very typical high school girl. She conceals insecurity behind a veneer of indifference; she is ambivalent about sex and whether or not to have it; she craves love but isn't quite sure she knows how to identify it; her friends mean everything to her and her parents annoy her a lot. She wants the freedom of growing up but not necessarily the problems or realities attached to it.
3. Where did the inspiration come from to write this novel?
To be honest, a lot of my book ideas kind of "come to me" when a character just pipes up and starts speaking in my head. (This just provides further evidence for E.L. Doctorow's claim that writing is a "socially accepted form of schizophrenia.") I began hearing Sam narrate her story to me, and I couldn't get her voice out of my head -- so I decided to write it down.
But the book deals with a lot of themes that have always interested me. For example, for years I've tried to imagine what a perfect day and a perfect moment would look like; I also have a habit of kind of obsessively re-imagining the best moments of my life, particularly when I'm stressed out or unhappy. It's a way of thinking myself back to good places, I guess. Sam deals with similar questions in the book.
Additionally, right before brainstorming Before I Fall I recently ran into, and befriended, someone I'd gone to school with for about a decade earlier in my life. He turned out to be the exact opposite of the person I'd always assumed he was when we were in school together, and it occurred to me how strange it is that you can go through elementary school, middle school, and high school with someone, and assume you "know" them because you know their type, and you've heard stories about them, and just be completely wrong. That's also something Sam discovers in the book. So I kind of pulled from a variety of places for inspiration.
4. What were your favorite parts to write?
Oof. That's a really tough question. Of course it's always thrilling to begin a book, when it's all about possibilities and you haven't actually spoiled anything by making concrete choices! And it's an incredible, wonderful feeling to be able to bring a book to a conclusion; it's such a tremendous relief, in a way, but also this huge anticlimax. Often after I finish a book I'll be in a daze for a day or two.
I can definitely say what my least favorite part of the book was to write: the first half of Day Four (when Sam relives her last day the fourth time) was pretty difficult. By that point Sam is angry and miserable and desperate and essentially at her rock bottom, and she makes a lot of bad and reckless choices as a result. So that was hard, because I really did care about her by then, and I kind of had to keep her in this space where she was so lost and unhappy. At the same time, that's the turning point for her in the novel, the moment when she begins to realize that she might be able to find a different way. So I knew I just had to push through those pages and things would get better!
5. How does it feel to be a debut novelist? Are you working on anything new at the moment (or planning to)?
How does it feel? Um...awesome! I mean, it's such a cliche to say, but there really is no better feeling than getting paid to do what you love, and being able to build my days freely around the activity that gives my life meaning and depth is just an incredible blessing. I will say that I'm continually surprised by how happy and grateful I feel. I keep waiting for it all to blow up in my face. Maybe that's my cynical New York side!
And yes, I am currently revising my second book, which will be coming out with Harper in March 2011. I can't say too much about it because we're trying to keep it hush-hush for a while, but I will say it's kind of a Romeo-and-Juliet story with a dystopian twist. Basically it takes place in a world in which love has been diagnosed as a virulent, contagious disease. At eighteen, everyone is forced to undergo a cure that will rid them forever of love (and, by association, most passionate feelings).
6. Anything else you'd like to share?
I think that's all I got! Oh...well, that and the fact that I'm making my first baby steps into the big bad world of the blogosphere and people should come visit me there (www.laurenoliverbooks.blogspot.com). And also, if anyone is looking for ways to avoid working/doing homework (not that I endorse procrastination...too much), check out my shiny, shiny website: www.laurenoliverbooks.com.
Thank you so much for the interview Lauren! I'm so incredibly excited for Before I Fall's release (and the novel you're working on right now has me intrigued)!