NZ Booklovers chats with Lauren Oliver, the author of young adult novels Before I Fall, Delirium, Pandemonium, Requiem, & Panic.
One of the first things I realised after reading them all is that all of your novels (if you place the Delirium trilogy into one basket for the purposes of this question) are very different. They might all be YA, but they have very different feels, and subject matter. Did you do this to prevent yourself from pushing yourself into too much of a niche?
To some extent it is deliberate, yes. I never want to have to write only one kind of book. But I think the scope of my books comes also from the fact that I’m simply interested in a wide variety of topics. I enjoy reading many different kinds of books and am influenced by different genres. So I then reflect that back in my work.
How do you come up with the ideas for your books?
It really varies. I don’t have any specific brainstorming technique. Usually, my ideas come from a combination of sources. I’ll get interested in a specific “area” or generalized idea, and I’ll turn it over in my head for a long time, trying to find a way in. Then I’ll read, hear, or see something that gives the idea new dimensionality, renders it accessible—it’s like a door suddenly opens in my mind. Then I start writing.
What comes first, a character or a plot idea?
Well, both. I only start writing once I begin to “hear” a character speak to me. Then again, they’re always speaking to me about something, about an idea or a concept.
Do you think writer’s block really exists, and if so, how do you overcome it?
It exists, certainly, just like anxiety exists; but it’s really just a form of mental resistance. Writing is hard, and so the mind tries to find convoluted reasons why it shouldn’t write. I get through it by taking it word by word, by not setting my expectations too high, by reminding myself that a first draft doesn’t have to be good.
Out of all the books you’ve written, which character is your favourite?
I honestly can’t answer that question. I love so many of my characters! They’re like family.
And which one do you think you are most like?
I’m probably an amalgam of most of my main characters. I think authors tend to write themselves into their protagonists.
When you’ve finished a book (or trilogy), how do you leave it behind, and start on a new one?
With difficulty! It can definitely be difficult to free yourself from the mental entanglements of old characters and old worlds. Usually I cycle through a bunch of really terrible writing before I land on a new and viable idea.
Are you inspired by any particular authors or books?
I’m inspired by almost everything I ever read! I think you have to be, to be a writer. Reading is the art form I connect to the most strongly; it’s a daily part of my life, as critical and inherent to me as breathing.
The game of Panic has incredibly high stakes. Would you have made the jump and entered the game?
I might have. I was an idiot in high school!
If you had entered the game, what would have been your individual challenge?
Something involving worms—I have a terrible phobia of them. And that would have put an end to my involvement in the game.
Heather has a strong, protective relationship with her sister, and in Delirium, Lena takes on a sister role to Grace. Do you have sisters who inspired you?
My older sister, Lizzie, is probably my favourite person in the world—and yes, she inspires me deeply.