* WARNING - This interview contains spoilers about Before I Fall *
LEC: Before becoming a full time writer, you completed a Masters in Fine Arts and worked as an editorial assistant at a publishing house. For the aspiring authors in the audience, how did these experiences contribute to your success? If you had to choose, which one would you recommend?
LO: Getting my MFA taught me, among other things, how to listen to and accept criticism; it also taught me when to reject criticism, which is equally important. My experiences in publishing provided me an invaluable number of industry contacts, and editing taught me how to build a story structurally and mechanically. I think working in publishing was more helpful for my current career, although I loved pursuing my degree in creative writing.
LEC: Before I Fall struck me as intensely character-driven, while Delirium seemed as much about ideas as people. Delirium is also book one in a trilogy. Do you find that different kinds of books have different needs? How do those differences affect your writing process?
LO: Interesting. Of course I felt that to some extent I was trying to explore different themes in my two books; but in another way, I felt as though both books were grounded in the evolution of their protagonists. In some ways, Lena and Sam actually share a very similar emotional trajectory. I think that transformation is what's most interesting to me.
LEC: In both books, there's a richness and depth to your characters that really brings them to life. I think part of it has to do with they way Sam and Lena often compare their emotional responses to current events to incidents in their childhoods, giving the reader a genuine sense of background and existence beyond the story. How much of your characters' biographies do you plan in advance, and how much arises as you write?
LO: Thank you! Much of it comes to me when I write. I find that getting to know a character is a little bit like getting to know a person in real life. First you see only the superficial things about them--looks, etc--and it is through the process of interacting with them, engaging with them, that you uncover their secret preferences and old stories and quirks and habits.
LEC: It seems that to be commercially successful these days, teen books have to be "high concept" - based around an idea that's inherently intriguing. Your books definitely meet this criteria, but in my opinion are also "literary." By which I mean they're both beautifully written, and at their core, about something - something thought- provoking and wrenching and messy. What comes first in your writing process, plot or theme? How do you strike the balance?
LO: I think characters usually come first. My books usually come from a desire to explore a series of questions--how do you make a mean girl? How do you unmake one? What would a world without love look like?--and from, simultaneously, the needs of a narrator who begins speaking to me, telling me her story.
LEC: The ending of Before I Fall is powerful, poignant and inevitable. Even so, it caught me by surprise, because I believed that Sam had earned a happy ending and wanted her to have it. When did you know that your story demanded its tragic resolution? Was it difficult to write, compared to an easier, more typical positive outcome? What impact did you hope this ending would have on readers?
LO: I actually wrote the prologue and the epilogue first, before beginning the remainder of the book, so I would know who Sam was at the beginning and where she needed to end up. From the start, the ending was implicit in the structure of the story. I never considered ending it a different way, and it struck me as the most meaningful--and thus joyous--way the book could have ended.
LEC: The ending of Delirium is satisfying and complete. Was it originally intended as a stand-alone novel? What can you tell us about the next book in the series, Pandemonium (Feb 2012)?
LO: I was hoping it would become a trilogy but I didn't know, absolutely, that my publishers would want me to continue it as a series. And the only thing I'll tell you about Pandemonium is...read it! :) It's a very different novel, in a way, and Lena is a very different girl. I will say that the book takes place in two different time frames, which is cool.
LEC: Thanks for taking time out to hang with us today!