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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Interview with Gayle Forman

A critically acclaimed novel that will change the way you look at life, love, and family.

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartwrenchingly beautiful, Mia's story will stay with you for a long, long time.


Q: What inspired you to write If I Stay?

A: This is such a long and complicated story that I’ve kind of hemmed and hawed around but I’ve decided to stop hemming. In a nutshell here it is:

Ten years ago there was a car accident very much like the one in the book. A family was out driving and then the family was gone. One member of that family held on a little longer before he gave up his fight and I always wondered: Did he know what had happened to the rest of his family? Did he choose to go with them? Seven years later, a 17-year-girl named Mia, an object of pure fiction, pops into my head out of the blue, and I knew she was going to answer that question for me. At least as it pertained to her. That’s how I got the idea.

Q: What was your querying process like?

A: It was an interesting process. If I Stay was my third book, but I was in the position of having to get an agent again because my first agent—the one who’d sold my first two books—was quitting the business. Because neither of my first two books had done terribly well, I was in the same position of every first-time writer of having to prove myself. But the process was much less fraught this time around because, I don’t know, I just was more obsessed with the work than finding representation for it. I sent out a few feelers early on, including an email to one agent I really wanted to work with because she had a strong YA list, but when nothing came of it immediately, I didn’t sweat it. I just finished the book I was working on and only then sent out a query letter to half-dozen agents. Most ignored me. One asked to see the manuscript. After five months, that first agent, the one I’d initially wanted to work with, finally read If I Stay and within hours of finishing it was calling and emailing and offering me very enthusiastic representation. I’ve actually gone into great detail about all this, including showing the query letters for various projects, on my blog. If readers want all the dirty details, they’re here:

Q: Like Mia, did you have aspirations to become a musician?

A: None at all. I’ve never been a musician. I barely even play an instrument, save for a few years of piano lessons and a few years dickering around on the guitar. Mia arrived in my head, fully formed, as a cellist, and a very serious one at that. But like Mia, I’m ambitious, just in other ways.

Q: Did an event as monumental, not necessarily quite so devastating, as that in Mia’s life ever happen to you? How did it change you as a person? As a writer?

A: The family in that car accident I mentioned—they were very good friends of mine. So this was definitely one of the most devastating events of my life. I certainly hope it changed me as a person. Every day I hope to live a little better to honor them. I don’t know that I always succeed but I keep trying. It changed me as a writer, I suppose, in that it added one more mystery to haunt me, one that eventually emerged, transformed through fiction.

Q: If I Stay in it’s entirety was heart wrenching. What was the hardest part of it to write? (yes, I admit, I shed a tear or two while reading ☺)

A: Believe it or not, it wasn’t that hard to write. I know that might sound strange given what I’ve just told you, but I based some of the characters on the friends I’d lost so even though I was writing painful bits, being immersed in the book was like being with them again. A lot of the book was emotional; I cried some serious tears while writing, but that’s different from something being heart-wrenching.

But the really tough stuff all pertained to Mia. One thing that stands out is the accident scene early on: I intentionally wrote that in sort of a distant tone. Mia seeing what she’s seeing but not fully comprehending it or digesting it. The point of it was, if she really took it all in, it would be too much and she’d lose it, lose it for the entire book. 200 pages of waaahhh and nooooooo! So she had to detach. When I finished writing a draft, it was suggested that I needed to give Mia a moment of singular piercing horror, when she recognized what had happened, takes it in and then really emotionally detaches as fully as she has physically. So when I wrote that part, about seeing her hand, trying to wake herself up, screaming that this can't be real, that gutted me. For one, that felt so familiar to me. That’s how you react to bad news: “No, this must be a dream.” Also, by that point, I knew and loved Mia, so I knew what I was about to put her through. That was the hardest scene for me. Oh, and when she finds out about Teddy. I wanted to crawl under my desk into a little ball. There’s a reason that after all those intense revelations, I switch to such happy flashbacks; my sanity depended on it.

Q: What are you working on right now? Is there anything you can tell us about it?

A: I have finished up a new project and it’s with my editor and I’m just waiting for her thumbs up before I make an announcement on my web site about what it is. I hate to be coy but I’m superstitious. So until Julie says “yep,” I keep my mouth shut. You can check in at for updates. It should be coming soon.

Q: What can you tell us about what is going on with the film version of If I Stay?

A: The last I heard we were due to go into production this spring. But it’s still up in the air who will direct. I’ve got my fingers crossed for Catherine Hardwicke but she has several projects in development so it’s just a matter of which one gets greelit first. I heard a rumor that Dakota Fanning was going to play Mia but then I didn’t see it followed up in the trade newspapers, which is how Hollywood announces its official news. Again, I’m as in the dark as anyone. When I get news, I post it on my blog.

Q: If you had the control, who would you cast as your characters?

Dakota Fanning is pretty awesome. I haven’t seen her in anything that she wasn’t amazing in and she’d be the same age as Mia. I also love the actress Mia Wasikowska. I just saw her in In Treatment and thought she was amazing. I have NO IDEA who could play Adam. I have a fantasy of Johnny Depp for dad. Someone a little wild and fun for mom.

Q: Have you always wanted to write for the teen audience?

A: Yes. My first real job as a journalist was at Seventeen and I plotted my way to that job. I really had wanted to work at Sassy Magazine, the coolest teen mag ever, but it had folded by the time I graduated college and moved to New York. But Seventeen had taken over the mantle of sass and cool by then so I worked there for five years. I’ve always written about teens, for teens and in a voice that is authentically teen, I think, because that’s how I write (and, yes, talk). So, it’s no surprise that when I started writing fiction, it was for this age group. I’m not sure how I’m going to pull of being 80 and writing YA, but if Judy Blume can do it, why can’t I?

Q: What are some of your favorite YA books you’ve read recently?

A: I’m glad you said recently; it narrows the field.

I just finished and loved Libba Bray’s Going Bovine and was delighted it won the Printz. I’m completely gaga for Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere, which comes out in March and is spectacular. I finally read Shiver and thought it was even better than all the hype—i.e. so, so good. A few of my favorite books from last year were middle-grade novels (and now Newbery winners): When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and The Evolution of Calpunia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly. The upcoming Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan is wonderful. And I have Marcelo In the Real World on my nightstand. it’s coming on vacation with me next week! I love YA!

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

A: Write for the joy of writing, not for the ambition of getting published. This sounds very hokey, the kind of advice Pa would give to Half Pint, but it’s the truth. The best writing is the stuff that comes from the authentic, crazy, real, risky, you-y part of you. So yes, it’s great to know the trends and the business and all that but at the end of the day, I truly believe the best work is done when you strip that down and write what’s deep inside you. That’s also what I believe is the most gratifying. If you obsess about keeping up with the races, who got what deal, that is where your energy will go when it should go into your work. Sit at your desk. Get your fingers going at the keyboard. Give the magic a chance to happen.


M.J. Horton said...

If I Stay was amazing and I love knowing where the inspiration came from!

BC, what is up with you and these amazing interviews? :D

Emilia Plater said...

Fantastic interview, Bailey and Gayle! Nice and specific questions, in-depth answers. Loved "you-y part of you" - it's really true.

Emilia Plater said...

OH, forgot to mention that I have If I Stay about a foot from my hand right now! I'm hoping to start reading it tonight :)

Anonymous said...

I just ordered this a few hours ago; when I saw on YA blogroll that you'd posted the interview. I cant wait to get my hands on my copy. ;( I got to wait a full week.

deltay said...

Great interview you two, such awesome questions and answers. After hearing such great feedback about IF I STAY, it's definitely been on my TBR pile for a while :)

bclement412 said...

Thanks for your comments guys, and YES definitely pick up your copy of If I Stay *eyes Emilia and deltay and lynkay*

Lol =)

Bee said...

I loved this interview!

I went to the bookstore and read up half the book but had to leave it at that *no money*
Will go back loaded next time :))

Karla Calalang said...

Wow, I LOVED this interview! I hope I can read it soon!

By the way, I left you an award on my bloggy. :D

Elle Strauss said...

Great interview! Loved that book.
I want to know how you go about getting ARCs?


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