I was lucky enough to work for Lauren Oliver over the summer and through my first semester at the New School. Not only is she a crazy successful YA author and all around superstar, she also has the most eclectic, delicious sounding grocery lists I’ve ever seen. It’s quite the combo!
She also let me get sneak peeks at some of her upcoming work. I have read Delirium and its right up my alley — dark, edgy, dystopian, but also sweet and lyrical and suspenseful. Think Hunger Games page-turner intensity mixed with a Romeo And Juliet level of love story.
We asked Lauren to answer some questions for the blog about her new book, her journey in the publishing world and living the writing life. Enjoy!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?
I went to University of Chicago and studied Philosophy and Literature. I knew I wanted to write — I finished my first “real” novel my senior year, and went through the process of querying and getting an agent — but I didn’t think of it as a feasible career. After college I floated around for a bit, bartended in a club, and then decided to get my MFA at NYU. I simultaneously found a job, somewhat arbitrarily, in children’s publishing, and that’s when I began to write young adult fiction and work on Before I Fall, my first book. I don’t exactly write full-time now because I have a literary development company as well, but since I’m either writing or reading or editing, I don’t really think of myself as working all that much!
I’ve never wanted to be a writer, exactly. Writing was always just something I did and I needed to do, like I need to sleep. It’s all just a way of staving off the craziness (with, arguably, only limited success).
Can you give us a quick synopsis of Delirium? How did you come up with the concept? Was it a very different process than from your first book, Before I Fall?
Delirium takes place in an alternate United States, where love has been declared a contagious disease. Every citizen must submit to the cure at around the age of eighteen, and the book tracks a girl, Lena, during her last few months as an uncured. And of course there are surprises and twists and romantic complications. The idea for Delirium came from an essay I read by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in which he wrote that all great books were about love or death. The next day I was thinking about that quote — particularly about how and in what form a modern love story could be told — while I was on the treadmill at the gym. I was simultaneously watching a news story about a flu outbreak that had everyone freaking out about the possibility of a pandemic, and I was kind of marvelling that people so easily go into panics about reports of these diseases, and at some point the two trains of thought — love, and disease — just sort of combined in my head. And in terms of whether it was harder or easier than Before I Fall…neither. The hardest part of writing, I find, is the doing it, the sitting down and getting into the words and that mental headspace. It’s the same difficulty for every project.
What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?
For the record, I kind of hate the word “process.” My process is simply that I force myself to write every day, even though I sometimes (er, often) find it agonizingly painful. Some days I write at my computer. Some days, if I’m really busy, I write on my blackberry while I’m commuting between appointments. I’ve also been known to write on napkins, in notebooks, and at the dinner table, which isn’t very polite, of course. It sounds cheesy to say it, but inspiration is all around me. Every time I read the paper or watch the news, I see cool stories and think about how they might be books. Every time I read anything, I like to think I’m absorbing and learning.
What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?
I think the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process is that it simply doesn’t get any easier! I mean, I love writing and I need it, but it still feels every bit as agonizing and hard as it always has. I still feel consumed with anxieties about running out of ideas, or turning out schlock. I guess I thought that being published might somewhat assuage those fears, but it has probably just compounded them!
What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?
When I was a kid I loved Roald Dahl, and the fairy tales of Grimm, and anything weird and wonderful. I’m actually still into weird and wonderful, which is I believe why I gravitate to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jeffrey Eugenides. I also love elegant prose, so I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Ian McEwan. Right now I’m reading a nonfiction science book. I actually read a lot of nonfiction — the real world has plenty to offer in terms of inspiration. And weirdness. And wonder.
What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?
My first middle-grade book for young readers, Liesl & Po, comes out in Fall 2011. I’m currently working on the final book in the Delirium trilogy and tooling around with a middle-grade fantasy that may or may not ever become readable. I’m also working on growing my literary development company, Paper Lantern Lit, and our ever-expanding stable of authors. What’s next in life? Well, I’ll probably take a nap. And in a less immediate sense, I am heading out on tour next week and my first tour event is with none other than…David Levithan!
Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?
I believe they’re helpful up to a point, yes. I loved my workshops at NYU because they taught me two critical skills: when to take criticism, and when to ignore it. You really need to know how to do both as an author. It’s totally possible to depend too much on other people’s opinion as a writer — you need to learn to trust your own instincts, and sometimes I think that depending on a group of writers can disable that. Like everything else, it’s a balance.