March 17, 2015

Event Report: Lauren Oliver at Blue Willow Bookshop

Lauren Oliver
Last Thursday I had the opportunity to see Lauren Oliver at Blue Willow Bookshop on her tour for VANISHING GIRLS (my review).  Even better, her publicist arranged for me to have a short Q&A with Lauren after her talk and signing.  I'd like to thank Lauren and her driver for working with me on a busy, rainy day!

Much of Lauren's talk was advice to aspiring writers.  She particularly emphasized stretching and exercising one's imagination.  She also shared her struggles with trying to write a narrative where something happens.

I wrote down some of my favorite tidbits:
  • She started writing VANISHING GIRLS right after BEFORE I FALL.
  • When she reads, she gets immersed in the story and can feel like a door slams in her face when it ends.  She tries to keep the doors open when she ends her own books, never finishing off all of the ends.
  • The first novel she tried to finish was basically a Jane Austen retelling set in her high school. 
  • Her lowest moment was considering going to law school.
  • VANISHING GIRLS was partially inspired by the way an element of mystery always remains, even in the most intimate relationships.
  • The structure of VANISHING GIRLS (bringing in photos and blog posts) was inspired by Marisha Pessl's NIGHT FILM (my review).
  • The skinny-dipping incident in VANISHING GIRLS (which she read aloud) was based on her sister doing the same thing.
Vanishing Girls Then Lauren opened it up for the audience to ask questions!  (Although, the night actually opened up with audience interaction.  One of the girls wanted to let Lauren know she was even prettier in person.)
  • The Delirium pilot did not get picked up.  However, Lauren just turned in the Panic screenplay and there's a director interested in Before I Fall.
  • She thinks writer's block comes from two sources: our own mental blocks against doing painful and difficult things and the times when some aspect of a book really needs to change to make it work.
  • She always at least writes bullet points, but her time spent outlining varies.  The longest took her eight months.
  •  Lauren does think love is a disease in some ways, and prefers a stable, happy relationship to infatuation.
  • The ultimate point of life is not being happy.
  • Her next project is a middle-grade series called Curiosity House; the co-creator and illustrator is rather eccentric.
Then I got to ask her some questions on my own!  Now, I grew up at just the right time to be a major Olsen twins fangirl, so I asked her a little more about that, since she mentioned working with them in her note preceding VANISHING GIRLS.  She was an editor on one of their books, and thanked with a big contributor picture in the back.  Once, Ashley showed her her prom dresses.

How it relates, though is the way the twins divided traits between them.  It happens a little in every family, but the Olsen twins were raised in a bubble, with almost constant supervision.  Lauren saw how they really divided the bubble between them.

She feels like she learned structure through editing, and learned to love books in a different way.  It taught her to see the seamless mechanical bits that are embedded within stories.

Before I Fall Since VANISHING GIRLS has a major twist toward the end, one that casts the story in a completely different light, I asked her how she managed to keep it all straight.  She brought her answer back to earlier in the night, when she mentioned she's been writing VANISHING GIRLS since immediately after she finished BEFORE I FALL.  It took a long time, and required her to trust other readers.  However, it wasn't too difficult since she knew what would happen.  The biggest issue was making it a surprise without cheating.  Her early drafts were too obvious.

She thinks all of the genres she writes in and age groups she writes for have their own pleasures and challenges.  Lauren wouldn't write them all if she didn't!  When she gets an idea, the main way she knows whether it is an idea for her or for Paper Lantern Lit is if she hears the character speak about the idea.  With PLL, she knows the idea but not the voice.  However, she has been wrong once.

Lauren works a little on everything every day to write and edit her own stuff, co-run Paper Latern Lit, go on tour, and whatever else she has going on.  It's sometimes hard and overwhelming, but little by little the books get written and the books get edited.  She is endless indebted to her business partner, Lexa Hillyer.

I also got a small peek into the Curiosity House series!  I can't tell you much about H.C. Chester, Lauren's curio-collecting co-creator.  His collection partially inspired the series, so that's a concrete fact that I can share.  But Chester is unfortunately unlisted and unavailable to talk to bloggers, so I can't confirm the crazy things Lauren told me.  I'm sure the end result will be absolutely fascinating.  The first book, THE SHRUNKEN HEAD, comes out later this year on September 29.


  1. Ooh fun cover for the MG novel. It's great that Lauren writes for all age groups - that's something I'd love to do, though I do have more YA ideas than anything else. Sounds like you had a fun time and that's great you were able to talk to her on your own.


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