Monday, March 16, 2015

A Conversation with Lauren Oliver, VANISHING GIRLS

Q: VANISHING GIRLS focuses on the complicated nature of sisterhood. What compelled you to write about that?
A: I’ve always wanted to write about sisters and been attracted to sister stories, undoubtedly because I have a sister. She’s older than I am and was both the scaffold around which I built my identity and also the source of my greatest anguishes and anger. I always think of siblings like those trees you see occasionally that have grown around something else, a foreign object; they’ve absorbed it and at the same time it’s a completely alien, other thing. That’s really the story I wanted to tell in VANISHING GIRLS, about the complexity not just of sisterhood but of all closeness, and the intertwining of need and resentment, admiration and anger.

Q: It’s remarkable how often two siblings from the same parents, brought up the same way, look so different and can have diametrically opposed personalities. Nick and Dara are a perfect example. You have a sister yourself – how are you alike, how are you different?
A: I don’t think it’s remarkable. I think it’s actually intrinsic to the formation of identity--siblings learn to be themselves as they begin to differentiate themselves from their sisters and brothers. So the differentiation is actually built into the very core of the development of a sense of self. Lizzie and I are no exception. We share a sense of humor, for sure, and we’re both big readers. We love the outdoor and physical activity. But in many other ways, we’re extremely different. I’m an extrovert and she’s an introvert; she is much more intellectual than I am, and I’m more social than she; she’s a committed vegan, I’m an ecstatic meat-eater; she’s religious, I’m not. The list goes on.

Q: Nick and Dara are hotly competitive in every aspect of their lives, but especially when it comes to boys. Does this stem from any personal experience you want to share?
A: I never competed with my sister overtly for boys--we were too far apart in age, and she certainly would never have been interested in any of my friends. But I did often fall in love with and idealize the guys she dated or hung out with; I sought romantic and sexual attention from them as a way of bridging the gap between our ages and also, perversely, as a way of actually trying to get closer to my sister by obliterating the gap between us.

Q: Much of the book is set at a dilapidated amusement park called FanLand. What was it about using that setting that appealed or interested you?
A: You know, it’s funny. Settings choose you just as much as characters do—the best settings become characters, in a way. I always knew the story of these sisters had to be set in an amusement park, perhaps because of its themes of disillusionment. Much of the book deals with what things are versus what they appear to be, and about our perceptions and beliefs and their ability to distort reality. So maybe an amusement park, which depends on illusion and belief, is the obvious choice.

Q: What was it like to write a novel through two different perspectives?  How did you keep Nick and Dara straight in your mind as you wrote the narrative? 
A: They’re entirely different people. I would never have confused them any more than I would confuse my two best friends for each other. Besides, I’d just finished an adult novel in which there were seven major narrators--two was easy!

Q: VANISHING GIRLS is your tenth full-length published book.  How did your previous novels inform and influence it?
A: Double digits! Very exciting. My writing has certainly changed since my early books, I hope for the better. My interests have changed. I’ve shaken off some bad habits (but likely picked up others). It’s impossible to say exactly how much every novel informs the one that succeeds it, but there is certainly a strengthening effect to the cumulative practice of writing.

Q: You’ve written books for middle grade, young adult, and adult readers.  How do you do your research and what do you focus on when writing for different age groups? 
A: Whether I do research or not depends not on the age group for which I’m writing but on the book itself, and that’s really true of the entire process—books have their own inner rhythm and demands, internal exigencies and places to be explored. I don’t ever consciously make decisions based on its intended audience.

Q: You are also deeply involved in the business side of publishing as a successful entrepreneur running your own book packaging company, Paper Lantern Lit.  How do you balance the time and energies that go into wearing your business and artistic hats? 
A: Some days it’s very, very difficult. Like anyone else who balances multiple roles--a working mother or working father, a serious hobbyist of any sport who has to spend hours a week practicing--there are times where I feel pulled apart and overwhelmed. But creativity fuels creativity: I’m very inspired by my work and lucky to be able to do it for a living. I do run a business but we’ve built such an atypical company with such a flexible and innovative approach that I never feel it’s too distinctly different from my writing life.

Q: We’ve seen waves of popularity for dystopian, supernatural, and realistic storytelling when it comes to young adult fiction.  Any predictions for the next YA craze? 
A: My deepest, profound hope is that the alchemically appealing idea of a “craze”--which I truly believe is driven more by the people at the editorial and publishing helm and by the limitations of the industry, as opposed to by readership--will be abandoned by the people whose job it is to produce great books. Trend-driven publishing leads to a landscape barren of so much richness and depth. So I’m hoping the next craze will be a continued diffusion in the YA space, until there is a continued and sustainable hunger for various different sub-genres of book as there is in the adult space.

Q: What can you share about what readers can look forward to in your next book? 
A:  I’m thrilled that in the fall I’ll be releasing the first in a series of books for middle-grade readers, called CURIOSITY HOUSE: The Shrunken Head. The book is about four extraordinary children who live in a museum of freaks and oddities, and was coauthored by the brilliant (and quite strange, to be honest) H. C. Chester. And in Spring 2016, I’ll have another teen standalone.   

Amazon buy link:

Author bio:

Lauren Oliver was born Laura Suzanne Schechter in Queens, New York, and raised in Westchester, in a small town very similar to the one depicted in Before I Fall. Her parents are both literature professors (her father is true crime writer Harold Schechter) and from a very early age, she was encouraged to make up stories, draw, paint, dance around in costumes, and essentially spend much of her time living imaginatively. She pursued literature and philosophy at the University of Chicago, and then moved back to New York to attend NYU’s MFA program in creative writing. She also worked at Penguin Books, in a young adult division called Razorbill, and while there started writing Before I Fall. She left in 2009 to pursue writing full-time and now happily works at home in Brooklyn, New York. She is also the co-founder of the boutique literary development company, Paper Lantern Lit.

Visit her website and follow her on Twitter: @OliverBooks.