Author Lauren Oliver was here in our part of the world last weekend to promote Pandemonium, the 2nd book in her Delirium trilogy! She had a Q&A and book signing at Powerbooks Live in Greenbelt 5.
My friend Leia also won a contest to be part of a private lunch with Lauren, and she asked me to be her guest. I was quite starstruck during the lunch, so I only managed to really remember this part of the conversation when we were talking about Nicholas Sparks’ visit here, and Lauren said:
Nicholas Sparks! Is he even real? I always pictured him looking like Fabio. What does he look like? Of course I could always Google him, but…
So anyway. I recorded the Q&A during the book signing event itself, which was hosted by Ms. Xandra Ramos Padilla, Purchasing Director for Books of National Book Store and Powerbooks.
If you missed the event, you can opt to listen to the recording by using the media player below, or you can read the transcript after the jump.
Recording of the Lauren Oliver Q&A: Click the green icon to play!
Lauren Oliver: Wow, thank you for that lovely introduction. I’m so happy to be here! Thank you for coming.
Xandra Ramos Padilla: How has your visit been so far?
LO: It has been great. It has involved a lot of sleeping. I slept for about 16 hours of the 24 that I’ve been here, but it’s great. I bought these shoes today in the mall.
XRP: Yay, more shopping!
LO: Yes! [laughs] But yeah, I’m really happy to be here; it’s beautiful.
XRP: Thank you for choosing the Philippines! And I understand you’re going to Australia next?
LO: I am! And I’m very thrilled. Thank you for having me. And with the support that I’ve been getting here, I will always choose the Philippines. [cheers]
XRP: Maybe we can start. We’re going to talk a little bit about each book. Amor deliria nervosa–how did you come up with that? And is love a disease that must be cured?
LO: The idea of love being a disease came from a couple different places. At the time that I was writing it, I wanted to write a book about love. Not just a book about romance, but a book that would allow me to really think about love in all of its forms: romantic, familial, social, between friends. The idea for it actually came when I was on the treadmill. I went to the gym– I seem to get a lot of good ideas in the shower and at the gym. Actually, this was several years ago, and at the time, there was a big fear over swine flu, I believe it was. This had followed another panic over bird flu, which had predated it. Anyway, in New York, everyone was crazy over this panic. Everyone was buying all the antibacterial soaps, they were bathing in it, they were pulling their kids out of school, and I was struck by how the media can drive people into a panic over these epidemics. And that’s when all these ideas started to come out of my head. I was thinking if you look at all the symptoms of love, of infatuated love, or just being deeply in love with somebody–you know, the fluctuations of mood, ecstatic one moment and devastated the next, the weight fluctuations, the sleep disruption, the inability to focus on anything other than the object–it has everything in common with a psychiatric disorder that would normally be treated with medication. And so that’s how I came up with the idea.
XRP: Actually, the way that you describe love here throughout these pages, it really seems like they may be sick.
LO: Actually the idea that passions are kind of a fever, it’s a very ancient idea. There are whole philosophies from thousands of years ago that saw the passions as basically sicknesses, and that if you could be cured and find a regulated way of behaving and thinking rationally, that would be the highest achievement that man could have. So, I’m not the first person to think of it.
XRP: So how do you surgically remove love?
LO: Essentially, it’s not that far, scientifically, from being probable. The most likely case in which it will be done is via chemicals, via pills that would change your brain chemistry just like they change your brain chemistry in other conditions. And actually, right after I started writing Delirium, there was an article in the New York Times about three months later that came out, and scientists had actually identified the chemical pathways that get lit up when you’re in love. And they could, in the future, speculated that they could develop a pill that you could take if you were heartbroken or if you were in love with someone that didn’t love you back, and you’d be cured of it! Of course, it wasn’t a permanent cure, but it’s not that faraway, guys, it’s not that far away. It’s real life imitating fiction.
XRP: And in the world of Delirium, you had quotes in the beginning of each chapter, from The Book of Shhh. How did you build that world? It’s very believable.
LO: Well, thank you. Actually, all of that stuff, all of those epigraphs, were initially not going into the book at all. That was all work I’ve been doing as I try to think about “Okay, what kind of society would this be? What kind of beliefs would they hold religiously, politically, socially? What kind of songs would they sing? What kind of songs would they not sing?” So as I was writing, I kept a separate document in which I had all of those things kind of listed. And then I realized, by putting them in the book in the form of epigraphs–just some of them; I wrote so many more than what made it into the books. By doing so, I could give the reader a lot of little pieces about the rest of the world without cluttering the book with a lot of “so this is what they believe politically, religiously, and this is how things have changed,” so that’s how I wanted to do it.
XRP: In Delirium, we see Lena’s character– she’s very into the whole thing, she’s waiting for her turn in 95 days, she’s a good girl. And suddenly there’s a radical change when she gets to Pandemonium. How did you let the character evolve?
LO: Primarily, as a writer, my main interest is character growth and evolution–that’s something that has been the key for all of my books, certainly all of my YA books, definitely at the heart of Before I Fall. It’s at the heart of Delirium, too. Lena begins to change substantially in Delirium–she’s a very different girl in the last page than in the first page. And then she again changes in Pandemonium, and I like to think that she also changes and grows and emerges as an adult in Requiem. That, to me, is the most interesting thing to track, especially when you’re writing young adult literature. I was just talking today about the vast changes you go through even during the course of a couple of years. You essentially go from being a child to really not, so I really like to be able to reflect that in the literature.
XRP: What can we expect in Requiem?
LO: You can expect me to not say anything about it! [laughs] One thing I’ll say about Requiem is it takes place from two different points of view. It’s Lena’s point of view, and it’s somebody else’s point of view and that somebody else is not Alex! It’s not Alex.
XRP: Oh, was it fun to do that thing in Pandemonium where you move from Then and Now?
LO: It was really fun, actually. It was interesting the way things evolve, ’cause it wasn’t even– What happened was I left Lena at such a bad place after Delirium. She was so broken down, and I felt so bad for her when I started writing Pandemonium that I needed to believe she had a future. I needed to know she’ll be okay. So I started writing a future for her six months in advance. I needed to know where she ends up. And then I realized, only when I started doing it for me, I realized that actually piggy-backing between those would be a really cool way to tell the story, and to build a kind of story for her growth.
XRP: She discovers the strength she didn’t know she had, and she picked herself up form being totally broken.
LO: Absolutely. It was really fun to write. Ever since the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, I’m really a fan of movies and media in which an unlikely girl transforms into a really kick-ass heroine.
XRP: Let’s talk about Before I Fall. What’s the message that you want teen girls to take away from this book?
LO: There are a couple of deeper messages in this book. As a writer, you have to be comfortable having your books be interpreted and misinterpreted. You can’t control your books once they go into the world. But I think it’s pretty clear, at the heart of the book, that it’s a story about the fact that we’re all interconnected and that our actions, behaviors, have deep, deep ripples that influence the people around us that in turn ripple back to us. And it’s a book about what gives us meaning–what ultimately makes meaning in the world and in your daily life? I think even to ask those questions– if a reader can come away and ask those questions: what is meaningful, and how would I spend my last day, and is the way I’m behaving bringing good ripples or bad ripples? Those questions are enough, I think, for people to take away.
XRP: Were you speaking out against mean girls or bullying?
LO: I’m definitely not pro-bullying. But yeah, I don’t believe that happy people are mean, and I also don’t believe if you’re mean, you can be happy. I wasn’t a particularly nice girl when I was a teenager, but I was also very, very unhappy. And the more mean I was, the more unhappy I became. And the more miserable and closed my life became, the more I felt the need to lash out. I think I was speaking out against all of those costumes we wear in an attempt to keep other people away that ultimately don’t bring us anything.
XRP: About Liesl and Po… In the back of the book, you said that Liesl and Po is your most personal work. Can you share with us the story of what made you write the book?
LO: Liesl and Po is a funny book in some ways. In some ways, it’s my favorite book I’d written. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s a very fantastical middle grade romp that features ghosts and an alchemist and a box that contains the greatest magic in the world. But yes, I said in the back of the book that in some ways, it’s autobiographical. Liesl, the main character in the book, is grieving the death of her father, and for much of the book, the world has turned gray. Part of the journey is the journey to restore color to the world, and actually, I lost my bestfriend and a guy I dated for 4 years in 2009. He died at the age of 29, and it was very devastating to me.
XRP: We’re very sorry to hear that.
LO: Oh, thank you. A lot of even the scenes in Pandemonium, the scenes where Lena’s grieving, running, that was also from a very personal place. It took years to really get over it, and I was telling my sister, I think I’m still kind of traumatized by that. I wrote Liesl and Po when I was really grieving him, and I felt that the world had lost color to me, and so I was trying to write color back into the world. So Liesl’s journey kind of became my journey to do that. And actually the book is dedicated to his nieces, nephews, and his brother and sister. It has been very healing.
XRP: After Requiem, what can we expect from you next?
LO: I’m working on a new young adult novel now, which I can’t say anything about, but I’m very excited about it. It’s actually realistic fiction again. My editor was saying it’s not quite Before I Fall, but like Before I Fall on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s a very different world that I’m exploring called Panic. Other than that, I’m also working on an adult novel, which is exciting. I’ll just continue writing middle grade, adult, YA…
XRP: Well, nowadays, there’s a lot of crossovers–adults read YA, and teenagers read adult books.
LO: Exactly. I’m very lucky because I have a very supportive publisher and they really let me write whatever I want. They’re not like “you have to write all these stories about mean girls,” which is good, because I have so many interests. I’m not really interested in genre. I didn’t set out to write a dystopian when I wrote Delirium. I set out to write the book, and afterward I was told it was dystopian, and I got to ride the wave of The Hunger Games, which is great! I’m not complaining. But I’m just not that kind of writer; I just tell the stories.
XRP: And are any of these books optioned to become movies?
LO: Yes. Both Before I Fall and Delirium have been optioned. But there’s still a lot that needs to happen in order for both of these books to make it onto the screen. But I have great producers behind it, there’s a great studio, they both have great scripts attached to them. I was actually reading the Delirium script on the way here. I’m hopeful that someday soon, I’ll be wearing a fabulous dress on the red carpet.
XRP: Who do you want to play Lena?
LO: Honestly, my fans probably know better than I do, ’cause there are so many great young actresses. I always say, in the process of elimination, I’ll take anybody in my films except for Justin Bieber. [laughter in the audience]
XRP: You don’t want Justin Bieber to play Alex?
LO: No. No, no, no. Justin Bieber, if you’re watching this, I’m sorry.
XRP: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there? Maybe you can share with us a little bit about your journey to publishing Before I Fall?
LO: Yeah, I have a lot of advice for aspiring writers. I have a blog (laurenoliverbooks.blogspot.com) and I have been lax about giving writing challenges and writing advice, but I’m gonna be starting that up again because I actually love talking about writing. The first thing I always say to people is to write everyday. I’ve been writing my whole life, and it took me years and years– I started writing a novel when I was a freshman in high school, so I was about 13, and I finished my first novel when I was 21. So it took me 8 years, basically, just to go from the phase where I had an idea and I started writing it, to the place where I could finish the idea that I had. Finishing a novel in itself takes time and practice, so I always say write as much as you can until it becomes habit, until you’re not playing Angry Birds on your phone. If you have a free moment in time, and you don’t absolutely have to be doing something else, what you do is write.
XRP: You were writing on the subway on your Blackberry. She was writing here–
LO: I was writing here, in the green room! I had another 20 minutes to wait, so I did some writing. I wrote most of Before I Fall on my Blackberry while I was commuting between my job and school and this and that. At the time I wrote Before I Fall, I was a full-time graduate student, I had a full-time job, and I had a part-time job. So I never have sympathy for people who say they don’t have time to write, ’cause I literally used to write on the New York City subway on my Blackberry while getting jostled by people. And there’s a lot of other advice I could give. Again, like I said, I’m trying to talk more on my blog, typically about writing questions, so you can always follow me there.
XRP: Do you guys have any questions?
Audience Member 1: Hi! Are any of your characters based on people you know in real life?
LO: Yeah, I think so. I mean, not based on, exactly, but I cull characteristics from people I know. In Before I Fall, for example– Well, I’ve had the same three best friends from when I was really young. One of them is actually a young adult author as well; her name is Elizabeth Miles, and she has a book called The Fury.
XRP: We met her in New York last year!
LO: Oh yeah! She’s great! She’s my bestfriend. We’re much nicer than the girls in Before I Fall, I’d like to think. But for example, in Before I Fall, Elody wears an item of green clothing every day for like a year, and Elizabeth really did that in high school; she loves the color green. So I get a lot of details from real life. And I also think it’s really important for your characters, you really have to project yourself into your characters. And I’ve always said that novels are like dreams and every character is kind of you, even if they look like somebody else.
Audience Member 2: Which character do you like most in Delirium or any of your books?
LO: The character I like most from any of my books is probably Bundle, the ghost pet from Liesl and Po, but in terms of human characters, it’s hard to say. I really think you have to love all of your characters, and I really do love all of my characters. I really loved Sam at the end of Before I Fall; I hated her in the beginning. I really love Lena too. As I was saying, I felt terrible at the end of Delirium, you know? I love Hana, too, in a way. I love them all.
XRP: I love Julian.
Audience Member 3: This is generally a cliché question, but what or who or where is your inspiration coming from?
LO: My inspiration, in general, in terms of ideas, comes from everywhere. I read all the time, I still make time to read everyday. I think that’s incredibly important, again, advice for young writers: you cannot be a good writer unless you’re also a good reader. If it were up to me, I’d read 2-3 hours every day, but I always read at least 45 minutes every day. I pull a lot of inspiration from the world around me: from newspapers, news stories, old fairy tales that always inspired me. And I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration in my life from both my parents. My father is also a writer; he writes non-fiction books about serial killers, so it’s very different. But his discipline has really been a huge influence on me. My dad has written a page a day, every day, for the past 40 years, and that’s why he has 23 books published. My parents are also both literature professors. My mom loves books and loves reading and I grew up in a house filled with books, it’s like a miniature bookstore. More books than you can imagine– Well, not more books than you can imagine ’cause we’re in a bookstore, but a lot of them. She had a vivid imagination, so I get a lot of inspiration from my family as well. But really, everywhere. If you can’t be inspired by the world you’re living in, you’re just not paying attention.
XRP: Any recommendations? What books changed your life? Which books influenced you most as a writer?
LO: I think everybody goes through a period where Hermann Hesse changes their life for a tiny period of time. So I think Demian by Herman Hesse is a big one. Jane Austen–I loved Pride and Prejudice; I still think it’s a perfect romance book, and much better than Danielle Steel. I love, love, love The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. I loved To Kill A Mockingbird, the Harry Potter series, and also One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the most beautiful books ever written.
XRP: What books are you reading now?
LO: I’m reading so many books right now. I’m reading… I think it’s called The Snow Child, but I might be confusing it with The Snow Leopard, which is also a book on my iPad right now. And I’m reading A Game of Thrones, I don’t know if it became popular here, but yeah. And I’m also reading Dune, which is a very famous fantasy novel, and I’ve just never read it. I’m reading all of these things.
Audience Member 4: Hi! Good afternoon. Do you think the society that you’ve created in both Delirium and Pandemonium would be possible in the future?
LO: I think that in America, no, probably not. I think part of the reason that I wrote it is that, especially in America, you forget that actually, there are societies now, around the world, where a lot of the things that happened in Delirium and Pandemonium are happening. There are societies in which there is no freedom of information; in which you are absolutely not free to choose who you fall in love with and who you marry; where people of different sexes are rigorously segregated, they have to wear special things. There are countries in the world in which books, music, all that stuff is strictly regulated, the internet is regulated. It’s happening. On one hand, do I think that’ll happen in America? No, probably not. On the other hand, have I seen that single and very dangerous ideas, even ludicrous ideas, can get accepted by huge amounts of people and propagated by the government? Yeah. There’ve been tons of historical examples of that. In terms of the meaning behind the book, I would say it’s more of a metaphor for a) these cultures that actually are distant, are extant, and also b) how dangerous it is when just one single idea gains ascendancy over huge amounts of the population.
Audience Member 5: I’ve read in a magazine that Pandemonium is one of the most anticipated books this 2012. How do you feel about that?
XRP: This is in Time Magazine, right?
LO: Oh yeah. I feel awesome! It feels great. I mean, to be here– It’s crazy because in 2010, I didn’t even have one book out and I was in some mouse-infested apartment in Brooklyn. To be here, across the world, with so many enthusiastic fans, and to have gotten such a great reception for the books…what can you say? It’s incredible. It’s what people dream about when they become a writer. And I always knew that I would write, but I never thought it would be…you know, have this level of enthusiastic response.
XRP: Why do you think dystopian literature is now such a hit?
LO: It reflects a lot of the– Right now, I think that a lot of people, and certainly I can speak for my country, I know that a lot of young people are really internalizing this real message of fear. In my country right now, it’s like “Sorry, guys, we totally screwed up the economy and now there’s no money for you to retire, here’s the world; take it, fix it.” And “Sorry, we totally screwed up the environment, and now there’s earthquakes in New York. Too bad, yours to handle.” And I think a lot of young people are not only internalizing the message of fear, but they’re angry. They feel that the world that they’ve inherited is broken. And in dystopian literature, that’s what the young people encounter. They feel that they’re inheriting a world that was broken by their forebears, and they’re angry. It was really interesting writing Pandemonium and Requiem this past year when there was a record number of– you know, between the Occupy Movements in the States and the Arab Spring, where in so many cultures that are reflected, young people took to the streets and demonstrate their anger and their voice. That was kind of a seminal year for these demonstrations that were led by young people. So I think that it’s very clear that there’s a dystopian parallel there. And the other great thing about dystopian literature for young adults– This isn’t The Road by Cormac McCarthy–which, despite what people say, has no hopeful ending, I don’t care–but there’s hope in these books. There’s hope that– You see the protagonist, who, with a little pluck and courage, really ends up remaking the world, or at least gesturing towards that.
XRP: Lauren, any last message for your fans in the Philippines?
LO: Thank you so much, and I’m not trying balut. [laughs] But thank you so much for being here.
Thanks, Leia and National Book Store!
I’ll be hosting a blog giveaway of a signed copy of Delirium sometime this week, so stay tuned! 🙂