Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Interview with Gayle Forman

The FNC is proud to present an interview with Gayle Forman. Gayleis an award winning author and journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, The Nation, and Elle. If I Stay has also made Gayle a New York Times Best Selling author.

Read on to learn about If I Stay, how Mia's love Adam isn't too far off from her real life true love, how music influenced the novel, the upcoming transition from page to screen, Gayle's unique writing process, and a little something for everyone dying to read a sequel.

About If I Stay

“Just listen,” Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.
I open my eyes wide now. I sit up as much as I can. And I listen.
“Stay,” he says.
Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones. Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her friends and family behind?
Then, one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it’s the only that matters.

What was your creation process for If I Stay? Meaning, what was the original nugget that inspired the book – the character, the story? How did it develop/evolve from there?

If I Stay was one of those strange and wondrous books that just suddenly arrive. Sort of. I tell people it took six years and three months to write. Six years because that was about how long I pondered the premise of the book, a question that haunted me for some time: What would you do if something catastrophic happened to your family and you yourself were hovering between life and death and were aware of what had happened. If you could choose to go with your family or stay alive, what would you do? But I never thought I’d write about this. I just sort of obsessed about it. And then one day, totally out of the blue, this seventeen-year-old cello player popped into my head to answer that question for me. That was Mia. I sat down and started writing, not knowing much about the cello at that point, not really knowing where the story would take me or what the structure would be. It just unfolded as I went along. It took me about three months to have a fairly completed draft.

If I Stay is your third book, but your second work of fiction. Can you tell us about making the switch from being a non-fiction to a fiction writer?

It was both abrupt and gradual. Abrupt in that I had no idea that I’d write fiction until one day I sat down and started a novel. I spent the first ten years of my writing career as a journalist, and the thought of writing fiction—with no limitations of fact and sources to guide you—terrified me. But the thing with doing journalism, especially long-form magazine pieces, is that it teaches you how to write a narrative and dialogue and a lot about structure. My first book was a travel book, but it was a blend of reporting and storytelling, with each chapter basically comprising a separate short story and the entire book having a narrative arc, so I think that book actually taught me how to write fiction, even though it was nonfiction. Anyhow, after that book was published, my husband and I had a baby and suddenly I couldn’t gallivant around the world and travel to report stories anymore and suddenly we couldn’t pay our mortgage and you know how in life when one door closes, another one opens? Well, I was freaking out, thinking I’d have to abandon writing and someone suggested I write a YA novel and this light bulb went on. And that’s how I came to write Sisters in Sanity.

What were the most difficult and best parts of writing your first novel Sisters In Sanity? How long did it take you to write from concept to outlining to completion to sending if off to agents (or did you already have an agent by that point?)

Okay, so from the moment that the aforementioned person suggested I write a YA novel—I believe this was a Thursday—I had the idea for the book by that night and the first 12,000 words of the book by Tuesday. Now, before you go thinking I’m some kind of robo-writer, let me back up. Because with me anyhow, ideas percolate for a long time and then they sort of erupt when they’re ready. Sisters in Sanity is based on an article I wrote for Seventeen magazine about behavior modification bootcamps. I wrote that article about ten years before the book was published and after I’d written it, I’d been so disturbed by these draconian places that I’d wanted to do something deeper on them. I’d considered doing a nonfiction book on bootcamps. I then broadened my idea out to a book about the crimininalization of adolescence—all the ways that teenagers were getting in trouble for acting like teenagers in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings. I even wrote a proposal and sent it to an agent, who rejected it. I realized I wasn’t ready to write a book yet. But the point is, the idea burrowed itself in me and so when the idea came to write fiction, that boot camp idea re-emerged and it was as if these characters had just been waiting for me. That’s sort of how I write. I percolate for a long, long time. Then I write in a frenzy.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you created the characters of Mia and Adam? Also do you know anyone like Adam in real life? And can you send him my way? No really… :-)

With Mia, it was weird. She really did arrive fully formed and she was this preternaturally mature cellist. I was not a classical-music person at all. I’m an indie-rock girl, like everyone else in the book. But suddenly, I was writing this character talking about being drawn to the cello because it seemed like it would tell you secrets. And I believed it. I believed her. And the voice I was writing in felt very different to my own chatty voice (which is more like Brit’s in Sisters). But I just went with it. Mia sort of possessed me so I can’t really say I created her. Adam, on the other hand, is an idealized version of my husband Nick, I’m sorry (or happy) to say. In the original draft, he was even named Nick. Now, Nick is not nearly as yummy, but he is at his core what Adam is: sensitive, big-hearted, and someone who would try to put his girlfriend’s needs above his own. Also a great musician with a fantastic punk-boy sense of style (at least back in the day). For the record, Nick and I have never played each other like instruments. Nick is much shyer than Adam.

Can you tell us a little bit about the creation of the play-list for If I Stay? Did you listen to music while you wrote?

It’s not on the playlist but I listened to one song constantly:” Falling Slowly” from the Once Motion Picture Soundtrack. I think I saw Once while I was writing the book and then I loved the music and so downloaded the soundtrack and then for some reason every time I listened to “Falling Slowly” I would cry, which doesn’t make sense because it’s not a particularly sad song or sad movie. But it was like a Pavlovian thing. And it put me in the mood to write. I also listened to a lot of cello because I had to research all the things Mia would be playing. For the last scene, I had to play a ton of Yo-Yo Ma with my eyes shut and just see which gave me the most appropriate emotional reaction. The rest of the musical references in the book just sort of happened naturally. I didn’t set out to namedrop bands or songs or anything. The characters were just all music people so it happened that way. I think one of my agents suggested having a playlist for readers so I set one up.

All right talk to us about If I Stay the movie. We know there is a certain director coughCatherineHardwickecough involved. Is there a script? Any casting news? Will you be involved with the process at all?

I don’t know how involved I’ll be. Last spring I met Catherine Hardwicke—unbelievably down to earth and lovely and awesome—and Shauna Cross, the super-cool screenwriter who’s working on the screenplay At This Very Moment. On one hand, the norm is for authors to have no input once Hollywood options their books. On the other hand, Summit, the company that optioned If I Stay and also produced Twilight, gave Stephenie Meyer a ton of input, including letting her give notes on the screenplay and visit the set , etc. But Twilight was a phenomenon by that point, so who knows? Let’s just say I’m cautiously optimistic. No casting yet. First the screenplay has to get written. And Catherine Hardwicke has quite a few projects, so I don’t expect anything to start happening until next year at the earliest, but I am totally (and purposely) out of the loop.

What do you see as your greatest strength and your greatest weakness as a writer?

Probably my strengths and weaknesses are flip sides of the same coins. Like, I can be very fast out of the gate on projects but this also means that I write lots of books, or chunks of books that never see the light of day. And I think I write from a very emotional place, which works for some people and other people might find me sappy or cheesy.

Which authors have inspired you the most?

That’s so hard to answer because I’m constantly inspired by authors. Every time I read a book that moves me, I am inspired, moved and I think I absorb part of it. In the past few months, I’ve been inspired by Rebecca Stead, Jacqueline Kelly, Nina LaCour, Natalie Standiford. And I’m constantly inspired by pros like Junot Diaz, Philip Roth, Grace Paley, Harper Lee, Beverly Cleary, Raymond Carver, Jumpa Lahiri, Lois Lowry. I could go on and on.

What non-literary thing inspires you to write?

Music. Friendship. Love. See, I told you I was cheesy.

You are stranded on a deserted island for five years. What five books would you want with you?

Four very thick blank notebooks and a dictionary. And a pen. I’d be screwed without a pen. And extra ink.

And finally, you know I’ve been begging for a sequel to If I Stay for months. Is there any hope for me, or can you give us an idea of how Mia fares after the novel ends?

I get asked this all the time and it’s a tough one. When I sat down and started writing If I Stay, I wasn’t even thinking about it being a published book (no agent, no contract, no publisher at the time). I didn’t know how it would end and I certainly wasn’t thinking about a second book. But once I finished—and if you haven’t read the book stop reading if you don’t want spoilers—I started thinking a lot about Adam and Mia and where I’d left them. I mean, it certainly is a hopeful ending but the way I see it, they both have some rough times ahead of them. And I don’t mean to get all highfalutin and literary on you but lately I’ve been thinking about this Grace Paley short story called “A Conversation With My Father” in which the narrator argues with her dying dad about the kinds of stories she writes, and basically the story is (to me, anyhow) about a writer’s responsibility toward her characters. So, I’ve been thinking about Mia and Adam a lot lately and what I want for them. Now, I should say that after If I Stay, I wanted to do something entirely different, a comedy, so I wrote this totally different book that I wrote, revised, revised and turned into my editor only to realize that I didn’t actually want to publish it (my editor agreed). So, the short and maddeningly vague answer is: I’m not sure.

Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with us! And Congratulations on the newest addition to your family! She is beautiful! We cannot wait for your next book- whether Mia and Adam are in it or not and you can expect everyone at the FNC to be first in line for the If I Stay movie! Thanks again, Gayle!

For more information on Gayle Forman check out

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