It turns out the true test of my authorly devotion is traffic.
If you pose the question, "Will you sit in two hours of traffic for the chance to talk one on one with this author?" and I respond with, "Girl, I'd sit for four hours of traffic for the chance to sit within thirty yards of that author" (totally non-creepily) and then actually do it...well, that's a good sign, is what I'm saying. And for Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay, my beloved Where She Went, Just One Day, Just One Year, and the brand new I Was Here, I was totally willing to sit on my butt for two hours in punishing Los Angeles traffic.
Gayle's panel with Margaret Stohl and Gayle's best friend Deanna, with whom she'd been besties since age twelve, was happening at Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena, which...oh my god, remind me to move to Pasadena, because that bookstore is heaven. I was invited to chat with Gayle a bit before she took the stage, which was all kinds of incredible and slightly nervewracking and in no way did I come across as anything less than the super smooth professional I TOTALLY AM.
Yes, I showed up with my Mia tote bag, like a cool little fangirl. That is TOTALLY a profesh thing to do, okay?
|Plus a lot of stress snacks. Mia holds at least three candy bars and a muffin quite well.|
The words of me, Gillian, your humble interviewer, will be written below in italics and bolded, like this, while Gayle's answers will be in regular type. Like, um, this.
I just finished reading I was Here a couple weeks ago and i was basically sobbing the whole way through--
Do you need a hug?
[Gayle proceeds to hug me because she is a lovely human being who rips you apart and then helps you put yourself back together]
What was the seed of inspiration that made you want to write this book?
I did an article for Cosmo, one of the last big journalism pieces that I did, and it was an oral history of suicide, talking to family and friends of young women who had taken their own lives. And there was one young woman, Susie Gonzalez. It was a very disconcerting experience...When I spoke to her friends and her family, she so came alive. She was so clearly one of those people that had that spark...She wrote fanzines and got all these bands that were pretty big to become friends with her. She had that spark, she had that charisma. She seemed like a person that was really going somewhere. She had a scholarship to school.
And I kept having to tell myself that I wasn't profiling this nineteen-year-old who'd written a novel that everyone was talking about or put out an album or had directed an indie film, but that she had taken her own life. And on top of that, she had been involved with a suicide support group that encouraged her to take her life. So that story really kind of stuck with me.
But then I sort of stopped doing long form journalism like that and I wrote these other others. And I was working on Just One Day and Just One Year, and I started for some reason thinking about Susie, and it made me wonder what it would be like. She also sent her suicide note on time delay.
That was a particularly chilling, heartbreaking detail [in the book].
Right! I thought, what would it be like to get a note like that from somebody who you thought was so alive and bright and had everything to expect from the world? And all of a sudden to get a note like that and be like, "What the fuck? This has to be a joke" and then to find out it wasn't a joke. And so that really gave birth to Cody, and obviously Susie inspired Meg.
|The UK cover|
Why do you think it's important for YA audiences to read about such bleak and difficult subjects as suicide?
I think that when you hit your teenage years, mortality starts to become real to you... Whenever I ask my readers "Why are you drawn to a book like If I Stay that's about a character losing her whole family?", for them it's very empowering to see an ordinary teen thrust into extraordinary circumstances. I think they then can look at their own lives, and it gives them the sense, "I can rise to the occasion." They relate to these characters going through more extreme versions of the tribulations and trials that they're going through. And so it's not a book about suicide, and If I Stay's not a book about car accidents. It's about these people thrown into these situations and having to kind of cope and really kind of rise up.
[interviewer grows a tad emotional and proceeds to gush at the author in a rather embarrasing manner] [gushing redacted to preserve interviewer's tenuous "dignity"]
|The If I Stay cover I first read|
(resounding) YES. (laughs)
(laughs) That makes perfect sense. What was the hardest scene in I Was Here for you to write?
The first drafts I skipped over almost all of Cody's email correspondence with All_BS. That kind of cat-and-mouse or snake-and-mouse dance, that was the hardest to do because there was something about him that was so scary and sinister--I've never written a villain before--and corrosive and seductive. He spoke a grain of truth, and I think that's what made him scary. So those scenes were really hard to write.
I saw the campaign on Twitter, the #IWasHere moments. I was wondering if you had any #IWasHere moments.
Most of my #IWasHere moments have to do with family, and travel too. It's been nice to see people on Twitter showing that. Yeah, seeing the billboard for If I Stay was a big moment, but the biggest moments for me are always small moments with my family where I really feel like I made these girls, I'm molding these girls, these are my family, and that's really at the end of the day the real legacy that most people have. If not their biological family, then the family they create through their friendship circles and that they have an impact on.
Do you have a writing process?
I write chronologically. I tried skipping around, it doesn't work for me--
[We're interrupted by an announcement over the store loudspeaker announcing the upcoming panel and signing featuring international bestselling mega mondo uber superstar author Gayle Forman, something which both of us were rather well aware was happening]
Is it cool to hear yourself described like that?
No, it feels like they're talking about somebody else! They could be talking about Jo...anne Smith! I don't know. (laughs)
It's funny because in person, authoring isn't the most glamorous job in the world, like I always hear authors say it's just staying in your pajamas all day--
Right, and you don't shower! What's nice about it is that your books can be known, but you can stay anonymous.
I'm sure Adam [from Where She Went] would have liked that better [than being an uber famous, constantly harrassed rock star].
I remember when I was writing [Where She Went], I read US Weekly a lot for research, believe it or not, because that helped me empathize what it would be like to go out to the corner store for a thing of bread and get snapped by the paparazzi and you're looking like shit and [the headline is] You're on drugs! You're on the worst dressed list!, and it's awful.
Yeah, that would be really traumatic.
I would be on the worst dressed list a lot.
I would definitely be accused of being on the wildest kinds of drugs every time I went for coffee. So, changing tack, do you have any favorite recent YA reads?
I loved I'll Give You the Sun [by Jandy Nelson] and was so excited when that just won the Printz. I loved Jackie Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming, it was stunning. I love everything Maggie Stiefvater writes [interviewer nobly refrains from shrieking, seizing Gayle's wrists and bellowing OHMYGODMETOO]. It's very rare that I want to read a whole series, but that just kept me completely engaged.
Did you read any formative books growing up that were really important to you?
I read the Ramona books when I was really little. Those were the books that I really loved, and I reread them as an adult because I read them to my daughters. I love reading them aloud so much. Those parents are the best parents in the world. When I got a little bit older I read trashy books like Jackie Collins at an age that I probably shouldn't have, but I did. And then when I was like eighteen I really liked Kurt Vonnegut and Milan Kundera.
I always like to ask this question to authors who grew up before Harry Potter, because if you ask people of my generation or a little older, we almost all universally say Harry Potter.
Right! Because there was no huge vision of kid lit when I was growing up.
Do you have any future projects you can share anything on?
I have three very different--very different from each other, and very different from anything I've ever written--projects all in the hopper right now. I'm working on each one a bit of time, and either they're all going to grow up together or they're gonna knock each other out, gladiator-match, but so far... One requires more research, so I think it'll take a little longer. Two seem to be rising up.
Do you ever think you'll venture out of contemporaries into any other genre?
One of [my projects] is historical. Well, both of them--one of them is in the eighties, which I don't really think of as historical [because] I lived it. (laughs) The other one that I'm looking into is in the forties, so that's really challenging. I feel like I have to research every second word.
Is there a reason you've been so drawn to contemporary?
Those have just been the stories I've wanted to tell. It's also what I'm drawn to read. I do read fantasy, and I've read a fair amount of the dystopians, but particularly in adult, I mostly read a lot of contemporary.
Another Twitter question: what is it like seeing your characters onscreen?
It was really gratifying! [If I Stay] was so well-cast that it all seemed like the characters in my head, so that was really fantastic.
And that was a wrap on my interview with Gayle! I feel so utterly honored and priveleged to ahve been able to do that, and I want to thank Vroman's bookstore, PenguinTeen, and particularly Gayle herself for everything. Now go read I Was Here and cry!