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.
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!