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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Story Secrets: BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver + Giveaway!

We're chatting story secrets today with my fellow HarperCollins debut author, Lauren Oliver - and to have not one but TWO advanced copies of BEFORE I FALL to give away! (See below for details on how to win!)

I picked up this book when I went to the American Library Assocation meeting in Boston, and ironically, I found myself reading it the day it is supposed to take place: Friday, February 12th. So I'm very interested to hear about the story behind her story and hope you will be, too.

Welcome, Lauren!


Samantha Kingston, a popular (and very self-absorbed) senior, believes she has everything she wants: the perfect boyfriend, amazing friends, the ability to get away with pretty much anything at her high school. In the first chapter, she is on her away home from a party when she gets into a car accident and dies.
However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, she must relive the day of her death seven times before she discovers she has the power to change her fate. The book is really about her evolution as a character, from someone who is self-absorbed and petty, to someone with a great capacity for love and empathy and understanding.

BEFORE I FALL is such a fascinating look at Samantha's transformation - where did the story come from?
When I was younger, I used to try and visualize, in as much detail as possible, a perfect moment or day. It was a kind of game or relaxation technique, I guess; I often did it just as I was falling asleep. I would try to imagine the kind of day I would be content to relive forever. So that question—what makes a day worth living, or reliving—has always been bouncing around in my brain.

I’ve also always been interested in the mean-girl phenomena. I think a lot of people in high school are cruel without necessarily even intending to be; they’re just selfish and self-absorbed and don’t often think about the ramifications of their actions. I thought it would be interesting to know what would happen if a character could really trace the ramifications of her actions, and was suddenly confronted with all of the effects of her behavior. I wondered how that would affect her sense of self, and her sense of the world and her place in it. I think a lot of the difficulty of being a teenager is that people feel (wrongly, I hope) that they are incredibly isolated. There is a tremendous sense of disconnection. So from those two elements came the idea for the book.

How did Sam's voice come to you?
I typically just hear a character’s voice pipe up in my head and start narrating his or her story. I understand why the Greeks always appealed to the muses at the start of their plays and epics—sometimes it does feel as though the inspiration comes from elsewhere.

How did the theme of changing actions to change outcomes and relationships develop, and did anything surprising come out of that?
One of the big themes of the book turned out to be the importance of striving to understand people in a truthful and multi-dimensional way. It is easy, particularly in high school, to confuse reputations or stories one hears about other people for the people themselves, and I think that’s very dangerous. People are assigned roles early on in school, and often these roles become stifling, and distortions of people’s true selves. Real people don’t fit neatly into categories. They have contradictions, and quirks, idiosyncracies and competing desires.

I hadn’t intended for this to be a major element of the book, but it was. And at the same time I was writing, I randomly ended up bumping into someone from my high school I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. I had tons of preconceived notions about him; we’d been in school together practically since kindergarten, and though we had never actually interacted in a significant way, I felt I knew him because of the stories and rumors I’d heard about him (and trust me, my impression was not favorable).

But I think I must have been absorbing lessons from my book, because I became willing, for the first time in years, to push past those prejudices and actually get to know this person in a real way. And I was surprised—and pleased!—to find that, in fact, he defied and surpassed every expectation I’d had of him. Actually, he turned out to be the exact opposite of the person I’d always assumed him to be in school. I had written him off as selfish, obnoxious, insensitive, and superficial, and he turned out to be incredibly sensitive, understanding, deeply intelligent, and extremely artistic. He’s now one of my closest friends.

The friendships in BEFORE I FALL are so complex - fierce and loyal and affectionate. Were you inspired by your own friendships?
A major element at the book’s heart and core is Sam’s relationship to her three best friends: Elody, Lindsay, and Ally. I, too, have three best friends (we call ourselves, fairly unoriginally, “The Four”), and although my friends are significantly kinder than Sam and her crew, my feelings for them definitely informed the novel. We’ve all been best friends since high school, and concrete details of my friendships worked their way into my writing: for example, in the book Sam, Lindsay, and Elody drink their Dunkin Donuts coffee exactly the same way (no sugar, extra cream), just as I did with two of my best friends in high school. In a deeper way, however, because of my friendships I think I was able to communicate that magical alchemy of fierce love and loyalty and protectiveness and jealousy and worship and, occasionally, resentment, that so often characterizes extremely close female relationships. At least, I hope I communicated it successfully!

Any secrets you might be willing to share?
When I am sad or feeling lonely in social situations, even though I’ll smile and nod and pretend to be listening, I am probably retreating into some fictional world in my head. I really like Miley Cyrus’s music, not in an ironic way. Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors. A best friend and major presence in my life died in 2009, and a year later I still cry about it a lot, but only when no one else is around. There! Now they’re not secrets anymore. :)


Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your story and your heart - TELL ME A SECRET also came out of a loss, and my hope is that those stories can be the most powerful to reach out to others.

Check out the amazing trailer:

AND We have TWO COPIES of BEFORE I FALL to give away!
For a chance to win one of TWO copies of BEFORE I FALL, comment below on one of the following: a) something you wish you could change about your past (or present) or b) tell us about friendships that have been important in your life. Deadline is Monday at 5pm PST, and please leave a way to contact you. Good luck!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I really, really want to read this book. I am thinking about/ planning to teach an entire course (to high school seniors) about journeys next year. I want to include a book like Before I Fall. I want us to think about/ talk about our lives, our friends, and our families and what we really feel/ would want to convey if we knew we weren't going to be here. I know that teens (and adults) sometimes get caught in grudges and are not as forgiving as they could be.

    I know that this does not answer either question to enter the contest! So, I guess that I could talk about a friendship.

    To me, the most surprising friendship I've formed is with my parents. I would never have seen this coming when I was a teen, but as I've gotten older I genuinely enjoy hanging out with my parents. It's pretty awesome/ crazy!

    email: hderaps@mbrsd.org

  3. Yikes! I can't decide what I'd change except maybe that I'd have been brave and traveled more when I was younger. I still plan to travel "someday" but I'll be tweaked if I never get the chance!

    Sounds like a great book!


  4. If I could change one thing about my past, I would have been more outgoing and open to new experiences. You are only young once - don't waste it being shy!

    julstew at gmail dot com

  5. Hmmm...there are a few decisions I'd toy with changing, but then once you pull a thread, so many other things, good things, unravel as well, and I wouldn't want to change the rest. So...I'd like to be fearless.

  6. This interview was superb!

    Okay, I HAVE to read that book. An agent and editor have both told me to get it.

    So I reallyreallyreally need it. Even if I have to wait until I'm done revising to read it.

    Congrats to Ms Oliver on her huge success with this morsel of lovliness!

  7. GREAT interview!!! and great to read AFTER reading the book--makes me want to go back and page through it!

    I REALLY want to ask Lauren about the book's ending--so maybe I'll tweet her about it instead!

  8. This Book is awesome.

    I think the most important friendship I've formed is with my parents. I'd have to say I regret all the trouble I put them through when in my teens, but now that I'm 'grown up' we have a great relationship.

    dawnafra at yahoo dot com

  9. I'm hoping to read this soon! I'd love to be entered. I wish I had traveled abroad in college.

    jpetroroy at gmail dot com

  10. My friends and I are dying to read this book. Being friends with my sister is the best even if our relationship isn't perfect.

    crazycatgirl55 at g mail

  11. This is such a beautiful book. I loved it!

  12. You know, I've seen this book EVERYWHERE, and I've seen so many reviews raving about this. It's insane. I'm pretty much broke at the moment, but if I don't win, (crossing my fingers!) I'll have to pick this up.
    Anyway, something I wish I could change?
    Well one I'd change is how I left my friend, Greg Consolo, defenseless. People picked on him. A lot. It was all so stupid, too. Not only was Greg incredibly smart, but he was one of the most brilliant drawers. We met in advanced art class, and from then me were inseparable. He was like a cuddly teddy bear with all the comforting he did.
    One day I had to leave for a moment to call my mom about lunch. As I was walking back to class, I saw a few kids ganging up on a smaller one.
    "Poor kid!' was pretty much all that crossed my mind. Then I saw the familiar green shirt peeking out form the small crowd.
    It was Greg!
    I wanted to help him so badly, but I couldn't move. I was a wimp and was too scared. I should have helped him.
    My one major regret is that I didn't help him as I should of.

    We remained best friends until last year when Greg moved, and I became part of the "popular" crowd. (It's funny how a new haircut and some fashionable outfits change everything...) But whenever I see someone who needs help, I always stop and do so for Greg. I regret my reaction to his beating, but it was also a valuable lesson learned.

    Hey, don't worry! It doesn't end too badly. Greg and I talk every few weeks, and at his new school, he's managed really well. He has a bunch of good friends, and he scored a girlfriend, too! It's same old Greg, but he'd around people who appreciate him.
    See? Not ALL of these regret stories end too horribly. :)

    Love, Hannah S.
    xoxosweeet AT yahoo DOT com

  13. a) I wish I would have been nicer to my parents growing up. I think as teens we know it all and can't be told different. Now that I am older I realize the things I put my parents through and just thank God that I still have them and can try to be a better daughter.


  14. Great interview! This book sounds wonderful. I give cheers to Lauren with my Dunkin Donuts coffee held high. I drink it everyday!

    I know there is a lot of comments about what you would change, but I wanted to mention my best friend. My wife. Without her daily encouragement and support I would not be the person I am and the writer I am. She gives me wings.

  15. I've had and lost a fair amount of friendships in my life but the best friend I have now is one I know I'll have forever. I can talk to her about things I never talked to anyone else about and we are both completely random and strange and have strange interests that the rest of our friends look at us funny for. But I totally love her for it.


  16. For something to change in my past I would change my shyness. I was terribly shy and very emotional as a kid. It was fine arts summer camp and a lead role in Cinderella in 8th grade that finally drew me out of my shell, but I missed out on making friends because I was so painfully shy.
    greenbeanteenqueen at gmail dot com
    I'd also go back to 6th grade and say yes when someone in class asked if Danny liked me-I said no, but now I wonder if they were asking on his behalf, because you know, it was 6th grade and all!:)

  17. I've seen this book on a bunch of blogs, but never had the opportunity to read it myself. Damn college student pocket money.

    The friendships that matter most are the ones where, despite everything that may be happening, you have a shoulder to cry on. Loyalty and laughter are two other important components.

    A good friend of mine took me in when I was feeling pretty down. I had just broken up with someone I thought was the love of my life, and I was devastated. She and I were both going through breakups at that point, and were also doing some... spring cleaning with a few of our mutual friends. Backstabbers who chase after your ex's are not for me. Suffice to say, we felt not only lonely, but also betrayed.

    So, we spent the whole night and morning eating cookie dough, watching infomercials, chugging coffee, and leaving silly videos on our friends Facebook walls.

    It's times like these, when you think the world's against you, that you discover who your true friends are :)

  18. I wish I could change my relationship with my mom. I was jealous of her friends. Our relationship had lots of layers, just like Sam's relationships.

  19. The friends I have now I have had since early in college. They have been there for me through bad boys and bad times. I have been there for them through the same. That is what is so wonderful about our friendships. We are there for each other and know we can count on each other. When the time comes, one of us will step forward and tell another when they are hurting themselves and need to make a change. We look out for each other, we support each other, but no one is bossing anyone around. No one is starting drama or in secret competitions. The friendships I have with my close group of friends are healthy relationships. If you have ever had a poisonous friendship, you know how valuable a healthy one is.

    *Sidenote.* I just got Before I Fall from the library. I'm excited to read it. Thanks for the interview! If I do win, I will donate the book to my library's YAAC.

    neohippy10 hotmail

  20. I absolutely loved this book. I found that it brought back a lot of memories of life lessons growing up. A reminder of the things that your parents tell you - Treat others as you wish to be treated.

    I have wonderful friends but there are only a few very close ones. I hold the belief that I would rather spend a lot of time with a few people than a little time with many people. Quality over quantity. :D

  21. If I could change one thing about my past, I would definitely go get braces! I've always been to chicken to do it and wished that I had.


  22. Sheesh, only after reading my previous post did I realize hoe sappy and dramatic it was... :)
    Have a great day!
    Love, Hannah

  23. I absolutely LOVE this book. LO did an amazing job on her debut novel.

    If I could change one thing about my past it would be to be more honest with my friends when they were hurting my feelings. When I was younger I would allow people to sort-of run all over me and I wish I hadn't allowed that to happen.


  24. In regards to the past, wish I had taken better care of my body and myself in general.

    Thanks for this contest!


  25. Although our group "Sticky Bunz" has proved to be one of the most important friendships in my life, I'd have to say there was one that if she hadn't become my friend I may not be alive today. I was entering high school in my home town after being gone for 4 years. When I left in 5th grade, I was being picked on and bullied, as it seems like back then we always had to have one or two kids to pick on. It was my turn. So I took off to live with my father with my nose in the air, telling all these kids they could go to Hades cuz I’d never see them again. But I was back after 4 years of horrible abuse and neglect. I couldn’t talk to anyone. No one would talk to me. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. I couldn’t touch anyone or be touched for fear they’d hit me. I felt like an ugly freak.

    Then one day the “fat girl” talked to me. But after 20 seconds of talking to me, she didn’t look fat. Her name was Linda and she had a pretty smile. And I can’t even remember now all those years ago how she got me to let down my guard or what, but we became best friends. I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t entered my life. I was so traumatized and lost and humiliated to come back. She taught me how to be a normal teenage kid.

    You know, now you have me thinking. I should go find her on Facebook and tell her that.  Great interview, Holly! I’m so intrigued about this book now.

  26. These are all fantastic stories of friendship and lost opportunities - I think there are a lot of amazing novel ideas in these experiences, and if you haven't thought about writing your stories already, I hope you do! These are the things that make for powerful reading. Thank you all for sharing.