Monday, 2 May 2011

Interview: Gayle Forman (Where She Went)

So today I have the brilliant Gayle Forman here at Writing from the Tub, talking about her life as a writer and her newest novel, Where She Went. Without further ado, on with the interview!

Hi Gayle, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. To start, in young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?

I have to be emotionally connected to a character. I have to feel him or her—and by that I mean really and truly feel what the character is going through as he or she is going through it. Typically, this means I become kind of obsessed with my characters when I'm working on a novel. I get insomnia, thinking about my characters at all hours. But that's how it goes. It also means that I want to spend every spare moment with them. But I find when I'm emotionally connected to them like this, it seems to translate into the story and come through the page and hook the reader.

Do you own a Kindle or other e-reader? What’s your opinion on them?

I own an ancient first-generation Kindle, a birthday present from several years ago. And I also read e-books on my iPhone Kindle app. I am not a huge fan of the Kindle because it changes the reading experience. It can be hard to leaf back and forth through a book and some books, like the kind with a lot of vignette style stories, that can really make the reading experience impossible. (I actually gave up reading Suite Franciase by Irene Nemirovsky for this very reason; had I read it in paper form, I'm sure I would've finished it). Also, I like sharing or giving away books. So now I mostly read manuscripts electronically. And the Kindle or the Kindle app is great for traveling. But other than that, I still prefer paper books.

When reading for pleasure do you prefer to read standalones or series? Why?

Standalones. It is the very rare series that can keep me going for the whole thing (Hunger Games, for example). Or it must be something like Harry Potter, where each book is so much its own arc that you don't feel like any one book is a placeholder. There are just too many books for me to spend time on a trilogy.

The YA book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets your books apart from the pack?

I scratch my head about that all the time. Much of it I think is smart publishing. I was fortunate that Penguin and some of my foreign publishers did such a great job at packaging and promoting If I Stay so that it stood out and people picked it up. That really is about three quarters of the battle. In terms of my part, I think it goes back to the first question. I am an emotional person. I connect to my emotions when I write. I think I somehow bring that to the page and give people an emotional reading experience.

How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

Hugely important. On two levels. For one, the way the blogosphere/Twitospehre, FB world carries word of mouth about your book, regardless of whether you fan the flames or not, is unbelievable. It is one of the (many) reasons I feel so fortunate to write YA. We have such a fantastically active and vocal online community that really gets the word out when they love a book and that can do wonders to help give a book momentum.

On a personal level, as an author who blogs, tweets, etc. it can be helpful marketing wise. But for me, who spends so much of her time alone at a desk, or in the company of irrational small people, it is also a nice little lifeline to a larger world, to the writing and reading community. There's not necessarily a practical use there. But it's still very important to my sanity.

Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?

Yes. It's different every time. With If I Stay, I didn't name Mia until about 40 pages in and I named her after this woman Mia Zapata who'd been an up-and-coming band when I lived in Oregon and had been murdered. It was weird because I hadn't been a fan of Mia's band (The Gits) but thinking about Oregon and punk music and death reminded me of her so voila.

Adam was originally named Nick, for my husband, but the real Nick thought it was so weird so Adam just seemed like the perfect name, so I did a Replace All. Having to name Mia's parents in Where She Went was hard because they'd been Mom and Dad for so long and they needed names (the movie people also needed me to name them). So I came up with Cathleen and Dennis and eventually shortened it to Kat and Denny.

The book I'm working on now, I may end up having to change all the main characters' names for complicated reasons but that will be so hard because they have already become these people. But if I change their names, they'll eventually become the other people. Like Adam is so Adam now. I can't imagine him as Nick.

What did you hope to accomplish by writing If I Stay? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?

I wrote If I Stay solely for myself. For my own catharsis. I had no sense of whether it was a viable book. So in that sense, what has happened with it has completely blown me away. With every book I write, I want to give people an emotional experience, so I think I accomplished that. Even when people don't like the book, they seem to vehemently not like it. And that's also an emotional response.

Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?

My teen years. My tween years. My everything years. Everything that has happened and is happening to me influences me as a writer. You are a repository for all your experiences and feelings and it's always a little strange to see something pop out into a story. It's like "wow, I forgot about that!" I seem to have a very easy access to my teenage voice/self. But it's not because I had a particularly sad or traumatic teenagehood. It's again, because I'm kind of emotional. That part of me is still very present. Does that make me sound like a drama queen?

There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?

I am a firm believer that the best defense is more knowledge. If parents are worried about the messages their kids are getting from books, read some of the books and have a discussion. A Gossip Girl book can provide fodder for a discussion of values as much as Hunger Games. I don't think parents should worry that sex or drugs in books will lead kids to have sex or do drugs. It just doesn't work that way. One of the things that has made me so happy is hearing from readers about how they have discussed If I Stay in a mother-daughter book club. Communication between parents and kids can really start to clam up in middle school. Books can be a great way to get that conversation going.

What books do you think we should be looking out for in 2011?

I haven't read too many advanced reading copies this year. I did read one gorgeous book called I'll Be There by Holly Sloan Goldberg that is out in May. I'm looking forward to Stephanie Perkins's next book, Lola and the Boy Next Door. And Laini Taylor has a new book Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I have not read but I have heard is a stunner. So those are three on my radar.

Thank you so much for your time, Gayle. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for beyond the release of Where She Went?

Nope. It's top secret. For now. But check out my blog at and I'll keep you updated with all the latest on books, movie news, etc.


So, have any of you guys read Where She Went, what did you think? It was great to speak to Gayle and I'd like to say a big thanks to her for stopping by :).

1 comment:

  1. I read If I Stay and Where She Went! They were both amazing!! : ) Great, great interview. I love author interviews and this was a superb one! : )


Thank you kindly for the comment, you sweet thing.