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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Story Secrets: IF I STAY by Gayle Forman

I'm very excited to welcome author Gayle Forman to Story Secrets today to talk about IF I STAY, in anticipation of the sequel, WHERE SHE WENT. (In fact, Gayle just finished up the sequel's Teaser Tour.)

I had the pleasure of meeting Gayle in person at the wonderful Teen Author Carnival this last May, still to be recorded as one of the coolest events I've been to yet! Gayle was generous and lovely and charming.

Welcome to Story Secrets, Gayle!


On a day that started like any other… Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the one decision she has left—the most important decision she’ll ever make.

Or, I suppose another way to put it is: it's the happiest, most uplifting book you'll ever read that contemplates death.

Or, try this: A story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.

Holly Cupala: I love to hear the stories behind the story – from where did the idea for IF I STAY come?

Gayle Forman: Well, part of this story is a secret and remains so. But I'll be vague and say there was a tragedy that left me with a question: If something catastrophic happened to your family and you yourself were hovering between life and death and knew what had happened to the rest of your family, could you choose to go with them? Would you choose to go with them? So, I'm obsessing about this for years and years when this totally fictional 17 year-old cello player pops into my mind to answer the question.

HC: Anything unusual about the way it came about?

GF: Beyond being visited by a classical cellist who, at 17, seemed way more mature than her 37 year-old creator? As someone who knows nothing about cello, that was weird. And Mia's voice was so very different from mine, from the teen voice I'd written in before. It felt a little like being possessed.

When I sat down and started writing, I really didn't know if this was a book or just some therapeutic exercise. So I didn't have an outline or anything like that, or any sense of how I'd structure the story. I just went with it. And it worked, in this case. As for life, it was a crazy emotional book to write. I call it method writing. I was so feeling the characters that I sobbed my way through writing.

HC: Biggest inspiration?

GF: Music. Love. Oregon. Friends.

HC: Do you talk with anyone about your ideas as you are writing, or do you keep them top secret?

GF: IF I STAY was the exception. I mentioned the idea to a friend of mine, who started crying and then I showed her the first few pages and she gave me the motivation to keep going. But after that, it was like omerta. Keep you mouth shut. I didn't tell anyone, except maybe my husband but I only told him what I was doing, not how it was going and I certainly didn't show it to him. I didn't tell my family or friends or anyone until AFTER it started selling to publishers. I'm such a bigmouth so this is quite out of character for me. After that experience, I realize it's sometimes better to keep ideas close to you chest for a while, so I do tell more people what I'm up to, but I don't blab about it or tell people plotlines. My story secrets are mine until the book goes out.

HC: How have your life experiences helped you get to the heart of your story?

I think we covered the major one but also the music angle. The classical stuff was all research but the punk/pop/inidie scene very much resembles Eugene, OR. where I lived in the early to mid 1990s when the whole Northwest music scene was just exploding with bands like Nirvana, The Spinanes, Crackerbash. So I think that made it into the book. I've also spent some time in ICUs (my mom has had several surgeries) so I guess all that hospital world stuff seeped into me, even though it's been years.

HC: Any secrets you might be willing to share?

GF: Well, the secret of IF I STAY, which I don't know if I'll ever be able to repeat, is to write for yourself. To write the book that just needs to get out of you, without worrying about whether you have an agent (I didn't) or a publisher (also not) but just to feel the story, and not the feedback from imaginary readers. I wrote the book from such a pure place.

Also, other secrets. In the first draft, Adam was named Nick, which is my husband's name. He has a lot of Adam in him. Or vice versa. And there will be a lot of secrets revealed in the back pages of the paperback, which came out in April. So pick it up for some new juicy tidbits.


Thank you, Gayle! Readers, what did you take away from IF I STAY? Were you swayed by the music? The setting? The romance? The dilemma?

Also, don't miss this lovely trailer:


  1. Such a cool interview. This book's on my TBR pile..and shooting up!

  2. Great interview, Holly! I loved IF I STAY, TMAS was so different but they're on the same wavelength. As is music to paintings, sister to family, innocent love & strong friendships to betrayal of friendship & trust . . .

  3. Lovely, lovely cover! And the trailer is terrific, too -- especially the music.

    Sounds like a book with lots of questions. From an Oregon author --- YAY!

  4. I adore this book, and Gayle. I'm waiting for the book that pours out of me like this! Exciting.