Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Author Interview: Gayle Forman Shares Secrets of "If I Stay" and "Where She Went!"

We are BEYOND excited to share with you our interview of Gayle Forman. Her book, If I Stay blew us away last year and then the follow up to it, Where She Went lived up to every thing we wanted it to (how many sequels can you say that for?)! We are very honored she took time out of her busy schedule to stop by and answer a few questions for us!
Can you give us a quick synopsis of "If I Stay?"
It's the story of 17-year-old Mia, who seems to have a pretty charmed life. She's an amazing cello player, who is on the cusp of possibly going to Julliard. She has this wonderfully quirky, supportive family and a hot rocker boyfriend who’s way into her. As the book opens, her biggest dilemma is whether or not to go to Julliard or stay with her boyfriend. Then she goes for a drive with her family and everything changes. She has one choice left. The book follows this one day in her life, alternating back and forth between the life she had and this intense choice she must make.
 For teens, so many decisions feel like they are life or death ones, though they most often are not. What inspired you to write a YA book that was truly about a life or death situation?
A lot of things inspired it but the question at the core of it was really, what would you do if something had devastated your family and you were in this aware in-between state and could choose whether to stay or go. I’ve never been in such a position before, and few people have, but we’ve all grappled with intense decisions, with mourning, with love, with impossible choices.
One of my favorite things about "If I Stay" is the passion for music that runs through all the characters. From Mia's cello to Adam's guitar to Teddy's drums, everyone has it in their blood. Does that come from your life? Do you play an instrument?
I’m always flattered when people ask this because it’s like, fooled you! No, I don’t play anything, least of all cello. I just did a lot of research. And I am married to a guitar player who has played in several bands so I did absorb a lot of the rock stuff by being one degree removed. But the cello was pure research. My love of music, the way it is an emotional signifier, however, is real. And I think that’s why music seeped into so many corners of the book
A lot of "IIS" takes place in flashbacks, was it hard to keep your time-line straight when you were writing?
No. It’s not chronological so it wasn’t really an issue. Where She Went follows a similar structure, with flashbacks, but Adam’s flashbacks are more chronological and tell more of a straight narrative, so that was actually much more challenging.
Mia has an incredible support system, her parents, her grandparents and her friends. Each character is really fleshed out and memorable. She has some of my favorite parents in YA ever. Who was your favorite to create?
I love them all. Mom, Dad, Teddy and Gramps. But also Willow and Henry. I can’t pick one.
You have Mia conscious in the scene right after the crash, you could have easily had her black out, was it important to you that she saw the aftermath herself?
She needed to have that moment of singular horror, that moment of this can’t be happening before she disassociates emotionally like she has physically. In order for that to happen, she had to see what had gone on. And also, she needed to see it for her to understand the in-between state she was in.
At what point in writing "IIS" did you know what Mia's decision would be?
About halfway through. I honestly did not know when I started writing. It was a process of discovery for both Mia and me.
Did you get teen feedback when you were writing "IIS"?
No. I wrote it very privately and very quietly, showing portions to only one or two people and keeping it very much to myself until I’d sold the publishing rights. I find I do my best work when I don’t show anyone what I’m doing until I’m finished.
When you finished "If I Stay" did you already know that you wanted to revisit the characters?
No! I thought I was finished. And then I went and wrote this whole other unrelated book that I thought I would publish next. But Mia and Adam were not finished with me. They kept whispering in my ear, demanding that I not leave them in this limbo. After a year of them banging on this drum, I finally gave in and wrote the next, and last, part of the story, Where She Went.
"Where She Went" is going to be from Mia's boyfriend Adam's point of view. Which is awesome because rather than just a being a love interest or worse, an idealized list of traits,in "IIS", Adam was an interesting and very brave character in his own right. Can you give us any hints about what life's been like for him since "IIS" ended?
It’s more than three years later. Adam is a rock star. He has not seen Mia in three years. And Adam is deeply, deeply unhappy. He doesn’t know why Mia left him. She just cut off all contact. Though he has another girlfriend, he cannot move on. He and Mia meet by chance and spend this one night in New York City. It’s Adam’s shot at redemption, and maybe Mia’s too. All I can say is that the sweet, loving Adam, he’s still there, but he’s pretty buried under several years of misery.
I read somewhere that you were inspired by the (awesomely awesome) movie "Before Sunrise" when you were writing "Where She Went," is that true? How did it influence you?
Before Sunrise/Sunset are two of my favorite movies. There is a somewhat similar format in that most of Where She Went takes place in a single night as Mia and Adam traipse through New York City and at the end of the night, they both will have to go their own ways. But I was also trying to match If I Stay, which also took place in one 24-hour period, and the characters had this one shot to make a huge life decision and re-define a life.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
At my desk, at home, when it’s clean and my children have not been rifling through it, stealing my pens and paper.
Do you have a favorite YA author or book?
In terms of a classic YA book, I always say Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, because I think today that would be considered YA or middle-grade, but other than that, I think the best YA is being written now and I’m constantly falling in love with new stuff—in fact, I picked my five favorite YA books of 2010 here:
Is it too early to ask what's next after "Where She Went?"
It’s never too early to ask but it’s too early for me to tell.
Do you have any advice for teens who want to pursue writing as a career?
So much of it that I’ve dedicated a section of my web site to it:
What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

When you are really cooking on a project, the characters just come alive and become real to you. So wherever you are, you’re really with them, imagining the barbecue dinner you’re about to “have” with them. And then you just want to rush home. You can’t wait to dive in, to be with them, to be in their world. During the rest of my life, I’m a mom to two young kids, which, much as I love my girls, can be kind of a drudge sometimes. This is such a wonderful escape. Second best is when I get to actually escape and meet my readers. Teen readers are the best. I’m so lucky to write YA! 
Thank you so much for stopping by! We hope everyone will have the chance to experience Mia (and Adam)'s story- Check out If I Stay today and Where She Went starting on April 5, 2011.
  Cello image from here
Picture of Ms. Forman reading from here.

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