Lauren Oliver is enormously talented yet such a humble and kind person. She’s been writing stories since she was a five-year-old and landed her first book deal at age 25. Lauren quickly followed the triumph of her break-out novel Before I Fall with another YA sensation Delirium. She has most recently published Pandemonium, the second installment in her Dystopian trilogy. Not one to rest on her laurels, Lauren also wrote a brilliant middle grade novel Liesl & Po. She is currently on tour to promote Pandemonium. Check out tour dates in your area to meet Lauren and buy your copy of Pandemonium before all the copies fly off the shelves.
Nicki Richesin: Thank you so much for chatting with TCBR. I first met you when I asked you to contribute an essay about first love to my anthology Crush. You wrote a stunning piece called “Three Little Words” although I don’t think this title ever quite lived up to your writing. Did you have any inkling at the time what a huge success you were about to become?
Lauren Oliver: Eep! That is kind of an awkward question to answer, as I don’t necessarily think of myself as a “huge success.” I’m not sure I thought too much about the future when I contributed to Crush; I try to focus on the process, not the outcome.
NR: Your latest book in your Dystopian trilogy, Pandemonium is a follow-up to your literary sensation Delirium. In Delirium, love is a contagious disease and many of the passages transport readers back to feelings about their own first love. You brilliantly describe how expansive and passionate first love can feel. How do you poignantly describe the intensity of this experience without making it seem clichéd?
LO: First of all, thank you! Writing, for me, is all about radical empathy—you really need to think your way into your characters, to project yourself into their experiences and feel them as a “real” person would. I think this enables you to find nuances and subtleties in feeling that feel truthful to the reader.
NR: You co-founded, with your pal Lexa Hillyer, a boutique literary development company called Paper Lantern Lit. As if you didn’t have enough to do writing bestselling novels, why was it important to you to tackle developing new books by up-and-coming emerging voices as well?
LO: I really like to work. I have a lot of creative energy—even writing for a couple hours every day (which is really all I can stand to do) doesn’t satisfy me. And I missed editing, which draws on different cognitive strengths than writing. Plus, I love working with our authors. They’re so cute!! We really have a great, strong, dynamic company.
NR: My seven-year-old daughter and I are reading Liesl & Po together every night. What a brilliant book and you’re such a romantic! When Will describes how he felt the first time he saw Liesl’s face in the window—ah, that killed me. You’ve inspired my daughter to write ghost stories now. Could you tell us a bit about how these characters first appeared to you?
LO: That is so amazing to hear. I love that your daughter is now writing ghost stories—I love ghosts! The characters of Liesl and Po, and the world they inhabit, really appeared to me during a time of grief in my life. I transformed some of my sorrow into writing, into a story of magic restored to a gray world.
NR: You have a very active blog community (you hold writing challenges and you even let your readers choose the titles Pandemonium and Requiem for your books). This seems like a very modern way of being an author—you’re not isolated writing in your ivory tower. What has being connected in this way with your readers meant to your writing life and to you personally?
LO: I love it; my connection to the blogosphere has been important from very early in the career. I had a lot of “grassroots” support for my first book, Before I Fall, and since then I’ve made an effort to participate in the fan and blogging community. That’s where all the word-of-mouth is. Plus, I’ve had some truly meaningful exchanges with fans and bloggers over the years—messages that have affected me deeply, personal stories we’ve shared, unexpected moments of sympathy and support.
NR: Your father is true-crime writer and professor Harold Schechter. I understand you weren’t allowed to read his books when you were a little girl. Despite this minor hitch, how were you influenced by your father’s career and writing habits?
LO: I saw my father write every single day, without fail (I still do). I’ve inherited this discipline, and I think it’s certainly my greatest strength as a writer, business owner, and person in general. Writing is hard; being able to sit down and do it every day makes a big difference.
NR: In your first novel Before I Fall, I admired how you took a great risk in making Samantha an incredibly dislikable and unsympathetic character. Sam overcomes her detachment and eventually learns how to connect with other people and become engaged in her own life. In the end, she develops a stronger relationship with herself. How did you pull this off, showing how she evolves over the course of the novel?
LO: Yes, I was nervous about that—it’s nerve-wracking to release a book in which the character is so intensely unlikable at the start! I tried even from the start to seed in some of Sam’s vulnerability, so that readers might be convinced to stay with her, and before I started writing, I spent a lot of time simply thinking about her journey, struggling to conceive the variety of reactions she might experience over the course of the week. I knew that she had to rediscover herself—her true self—in order to discover her capacity for caring.
NR: You’ve said that you’re a great admirer of Agatha Christie. Which is your favorite of Agatha Christie’s novels and why?
LO: The funny thing is that all Agatha Christie novels are kind of the same. I should know. I’ve read them all, like, seven times. She’s a master of suspense and plotting. Her books, even the silliest ones, are these fabulous interlocking puzzles.
NR: If you could be reincarnated as any character in English literature, who would it be and why?
LO: Hermione Granger. Um, magic? Hogwarts?? ‘Nuff said.
Thank you so much and best of luck to you on your Pandemonium tour! We look forward to reading The Spindlers this fall and Requiem next spring.
Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies,What I Would Tell Her: 28 Devoted Dads on Bringing Up, Holding On To, and Letting Go of Their Daughters; Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond; Crush: 26 Real-Life Tales of First Love; and The May Queen: Women on Life, Work, and Pulling it all Together in your Thirties. Her anthologies have been excerpted and praised in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Redbook, Parenting, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Daily Candy, and Babble.