Back in the summer when Lauren Oliver came to London we were able to sit down and chat with her about all things ‘Replica’, writing and what’s coming next.
She is so lovely that we could have chatted with her for hours, alas, she’s a busy lady!
Can you describe ‘Replica’ in three emojis? I’m going to consult my emojis and make sure I’m doing it correctly. Well, I would say, they’re hard to describe, the emojis! I’m trying to find an upside down one but they’re aren’t any upside down ones…
One would be this weird one with medical mask, one would be this one with the crying tears, and one would be a bomb because it’s mindblowing. 😷😭💣
‘Replica’ is formatted in an unusual way. Did you write Gemma and Lyra’s stories separately? No, I couldn’t do it that way. I did extensive outlining and planning in advance because I had to make sure time would move for the characters in the same way so you’re never going back and forth through time which is a cardinal rule of alternating POVs. Also, I had to make sure that every chapter would reveal enough information to move you forward without providing information that in the other would be too much of a spoiler. Basically, I outlined very intensively thinking about both stories and how they would fit together.
What do you think is the best way to read it? I mean, it’s funny, there is this debate, but it feels like there’s this obsession with the best way. I deliberately wrote the book in such a way that they definitely are different reading experiences – you read kind of a different book. The order we read things in really matters, just like if you restructured the words in a sentence the meaning would change. But that said, hopefully all three ways are very satisfying. I encourage people to, as much as possible, if they can find a friend who’s interested in reading, to each pick a different POV first and read and see what they think. And if you’re not, you can alternate. You could be reading each chapter in a different order, Gemma first and then Lyra, or vice versa and that way there would be a different book.
What was the last book that really blew you away? Well, the book I’m reading right now is blowing me away. It’s called ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ by Anthony Mara. It’s absolutely glorious. I’ve been reading a lot of really good stuff lately, but before that I read Margaret Atwood’s newest book [‘The Heart Goes Last’] which I love. She’s amazing.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given? My writing advice is super boring, unfortunately, but it’s very useful – write every day. I mean, I’ve been writing every day since I was a kid and I’ve put in so much time and practice that, you know, I think that I’m decent at it and will hopefully get better and better, but not because of any innate talent. I was figuring out that in the past 5 years I’ve written 3 million words and that is so much practice time.
Malcolm Gladwell says that you have to spent 10,000 hours doing anything to become an expert and I’m in the 100s of 1000s of hours now! I’m way up there, but sadly I don’t even think I’m that expert which probably means I’m bad at writing.
Also, it’s reassuring that I can count on myself to get things done now. I know how to do things every day so when you do that you’re also practicing – it’s the discipline to practice which means you can accomplish other goals yourself. So that’s my boring writing advice. I wish I could say go out at midnight, take two heather and shake them under the moon and that will get you an amazing novel!
You did an MFA in Creative Writing. Do you think it helped you? I LOVED doing an MFA in Creative Writing. If you love something, who wouldn’t want to spend two years just studying it, and wearing diaphanous scarves and being pretentious – it’s the dream. But it’s not necessary at all. In fact, I do actually think it did help me craft-wise; it made my writing better. However, it doesn’t teach you how to write novels. They never teach you about plot and structure and that’s really one of the seminal reasons people read. So it’s not necessary, but to me what it did was give me time to feel like I was getting closer to my goal without going to law school and having to take a real job. And that has tremendous value!
You’ve written both MG and YA. If you could only write one, which would you choose? That’s scary. Probably middle grade, which I know will surprise people because my middle grade work is less known, but I’ve already written a bunch of teen books. I’ve written 12 teen books because a lot of them aren’t even out yet. I was a kid when I started to love to read and I was reading middle grade books so there is this sort of joy in it. My career is basically the career of someone who refuses to choose and is terrified of only writing one thing because I’ve written so many different genres, I’ve written four different audiences because I’m working on a second adult book now too and I’ve written sci-fi and fantasy and realistic fiction – just all over the map. It’s true too of my reading. I read very widely.
Where would you recommend someone new to your books start? Um, I’d say just read ‘Before I Fall’ and work your way through my whole biography. Especially as ‘Before I Fall’ is being made into a movie and it’s being released next year so it’s good to read it before the movie comes out. Just read in order, that’s what I say!
What’s it been like watching ‘Before I Fall’ make it on to the big screen? Honestly, it’s been really surreal and I still have no concept that it’s actually happening. Even though I’ve fully seen the movie and I’ve gone to set – there’s no reason for me not to accept it. I keep feeling like ‘Wow, that’s so cool they made a movie out of it!’ as though it’s over and of course nobody else has seen it yet so that part of the process which is most important hasn’t happened yet. I’m thrilled with how it came out – they did a beautiful job. The movie is so good and that is surprising as most of the time they just make terrible movies.
It’s a big risk, isn’t it? It is! And you have no control over it and yet it was so beautifully done so I’m very happy. It’s been an amazing experience.
Does it still feel like your story and your characters? Oh, beyond. They stuck so closely to it, I mean it disturbed me to go to set for that reason. I got very weird when I was on set. I snuck into a closet! I was literally hiding in a closet and they were like ‘You’re being really weird…’. But it really felt like someone was giving me an internal exam or something like that. It felt like somebody had gone to some really private place in an uncomfortable way that nonetheless I am grateful for, obviously.
You’re also a founder of Paper Lantern Lit. Could you talk a little about what inspired that? We were inspired by the desire to continue building books and working with authors and doing ideas that we love, that we want to make, that don’t necessarily speak to me as an author to write. I have a background in editing and I wanted that too to be a part of my life. so that’s what kind of initially inspired it and it’s now been six years and it took us a long time, but probably the past year we’ve truly figured things out to do some things I’m really, really proud of. Then hopefully we’ll just keep going from there. But really just the desire to build stories in every way possible. Stories and narrative are really the heart of what I do so I don’t really have any other interests. It’s everything to me so I like them from every angle – as the editor, as the publisher, as the writer.
I saw on your website that you used to write fanfic. What was it? I wrote fanfiction before I even knew it was a thing because there was literally no internet, but that’s how I started writing. When I was a kid I would read a book and I would fall in love with it, it would end and I’d be really pissed so I’d just keep writing the story. Or I would write short stories using the characters, but both of those are versions of fanfiction. I did this for the ‘Redwall’ series, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and I did it for ‘Wind in the Willows’. So stuff I was reading when I was middle grade and I didn’t know there was any other way as a young person. It was my way of stepping out of imaginative bounds because you still have constraints but you’re having to make your own new stories. You are still having to bring our own creative fortitude to it. I think a lot of authors probably start that way and don’t even know it’s called fanfiction, or didn’t know it at the time.
Sweet or savoury? Savoury for sure.
Twitter or Instagram? Instagram.
Favourite film? The Princess Bride
Dream vacation? Just a vacation period would be great. My dream vacation would last about 7 months and there would be amazing food and there would be physical activity but also late nights out dancing – actually, you know dream vacation is probably Greece. Dancing all night on a beach. Guess where you can do that? Greece.
We know ‘Replica’ isn’t even out yet, but can you share anything about what you’re working on at the moment? Well, I’m working on the sequel to ‘Replica’ (if my editor ever gives me notes…) and too many things. I’m doing a lot of screenwriting now which is great. I’m working a TV series proposal. I don’t know whether it will go anywhere but that’s been fun and I’m working on another adult book. All really fun stuff. The second book in the ‘Replica’ series will have the same dual point of view – two books in one – and I’m really happy because Gemma’s storyline gets really bananas and cool in book two.
Is writing a script different to writing a novel? Totally different! What prepared me for screenwriting is not novel writing, it’s being an editor for Paper Lantern because since we plot and structure our own books we do so based on a really rigorous and traditional understanding of three act story structure. Dating literally back from the time of Sophocles and that’s exactly the kind of vocabulary and structure that screenwriting uses so it’s totally different and I always overwrite first drafts. I always put in description and interiority and have to rigorously prune back. What’s so fun about it is that it requires this rigorous adherence to structure and I’m such a structure geek at this point. As it evident from the hellish structure that I choose for ‘Replica’!
How are you going to tackle ‘Replica’? Let is know at @maximumpopbooks
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