I was lucky enough to hear Gayle Forman speak in Pittsburgh this past Friday. I'd managed to read If I Stay, which had been on my reading list for a while, but I just hadn't gotten around to it until the last minute. Unfortunately, Where She Went didn't get to me until the day after her visit. I think that's always going to be one of my biggest regrets. While If I Stay had a pretty powerful impact on me, Where She Went hit much closer to home, and I wish I'd had the chance to read it before getting to see Gayle in person.
Anyways, so I took notes, as I do.
Gayle's speech focused on the idea of writers being liars and thieves. She talked about how the truest of books she's written, a non-fiction book called You Can't Get There From Here, also had the largest gaps of emotional authenticity. She talked about "stealing" other people's anecdotes, and how you should never tell a writer anything. Adam in If I Stay and Where She Went, is largely based on her husband, Nick, a thing she thinks is cute and he thinks is creepy. She steals the details. She steals from people. She steals from books. She steals from life, and so does every writer.
On If I Stay:
Because she was in Pittsburgh, Gayle told us that she did briefly consider sending Mia to audition at CMU, but ended up with Julliard, because come on, it's Julliard.
The story behind If I Stay is a personal one for Gayle. She, too, knew a family that had died in a car crash. Teddy was based on a real little boy who survived longer than his parents, leading Gayle to think about whether he knew, and had the chance to go with them, and the choice to stay or go. The book took on a life of its own. The stolen characters became their own people. "She stole the burden of my grief. She returned something, too. My friends."
There was some complexity to the situation. She wondered whether she had the right to reinterpret a public event, or a private event such as the one above. But in the end, writers write about things they've lived and lived through. They've come out the other side and need to reinterpret what they've just witnessed, to deal with it.
On Where She Went:
WSW is Adam's story. It's also a story of grief. Where Mia lost her family, Adam lost something, too.
The story starts three years later, and is about Mia and Adam's reunion.
She's often asked about writing from a guy's perspective, and she thinks it wasn't too difficult. People accuse Adam of being whiny and self-pitying, but to that, Gayle just says, 'hi'.
There was a lot of stealing from herself throughout her writing process. And stealing from herself and putting it out there to the public, that's a pretty scary thing, Gayle recounted.
She wrapped her talk up, with the idea that lying and thieving, maybe they're justified. Maybe in the act of writing, the act of "relaying your lie to her truth", is powerful enough to justify the lying and the thieving.
Q: What gave her the idea to have so much backstory?
A: It balanced the books out, gave them a break from the intensity of the present moment.
Q: Question from a writing teacher, should young kids be taught structured writing?
A: There's a difference in age between where Gayle is in her writing and where children are. Teaching them structure is important, but what's most important is just getting them to write. "Building blocks are building blocks."
Q: Favorite book?
A: At the moment? Adult book, a book by David Mitchell. YA, Chime, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, The Scorpio Races, and the Curse Workers series.
Q: The first thing she ever wrote?
A: There's a laminated poem that she wrote in her dad's wallet. She also recalled writing a play pretty early on.
Q: Favorite genre to read?
A: YA: contemporary in the past, but now fantasy, adult: mash up of different genres. She doesn't particularly like things that are too genre-esque.
Q: Motivation to write?
A: Dealing with her children all the time is stressful, and writing is kind of an escape from daily life. She was previously a journalist, so she has those built in routines still set up from her early days of writing.
Q: Does she write immediately after publishing a book?
A: She explained the publication process a little bit, and talked about how it varies from author to author. Some start right away. She finds it difficult, as her thoughts are still with the book she's just finished.
Q: Any new books coming soon?
A: Just One Day and Just One Year are her two new books. They are about two people who meet in Europe. The girl falls in love, the boy disappears. The first book is about looking for someone, and finding someone else in the process, and the second book is the same story, only in the boy's point of view.
Q: What is her favorite book she's written?
A: Whatever book she's working on at the moment!
Q: Where does she get her inspiration? Is it all stealing, or are there big revelations out of nowhere?
A: She gets little revelations. Every writer writes differently, but it always comes down to lying and thieving.
Q: Would she change anything in her published books?
A: She doesn't really let herself go there. She wishes the band name wasn't Shooting Star all the time though. There was a funny anecdote about how her daughter uses her old drafts to scribble on. Every author gets one book that comes out the way it does, pretty much perfectly, and for Gayle, she believes that one book was If I Stay.
Q: How much does she work with her editor?
A: Her editor is none other than the beautiful genius, Julie Strauss-Gabel. Gayle talked about how insightful Julie is, and how her words resonate, she "hands me the key to unlock the book". Instead of doing line by line edits, Julie carries out insightful conversations with Gayle on how to rework big ideas in the book.
Q: Is there going to be a movie?
A: Inching its way along, can't say for sure. She updates her blog/twitter if there are any updates to be had!
Q: What was the most difficult book to write?
A: Where She Went
Q: The last question was asked by my lovely friend, Lisa, wondering about Teddy.
A: The reason we don't hear about Teddy until later on in the book is because it has to be a mystery. Gayle joked about how the book was spoiled, ending the Q&A session with "Also, in the end, they all become sparkly vampires."
I didn't get to meet Gayle, as I wasn't feeling too great to stick around for the signing, but I had a blast! Keep reading if you want to hear my thoughts on If I Stay and Where She Went, and otherwise, hope you enjoyed my recap of the event!
If I Stay
If I Stay was kind of a frustrating read. I had heard all the hype about the book, and with the upcoming author event, was feeling pressured to like the book. As I kept reading, though, the book dragged me in, and I ended up finishing it up in a single sitting. The music references were a bit overwhelming at times, even though you don't really need to understand them, unless you want an enhanced reading experience. Adam is pretty much that perfect boy, which, you can have your complaints about him being a two-dimensional character, but all of those complaints are thrown out the window when you read Where She Went, which is entirely written in Adam's perspective. I'm not going to lie, the whole premise of getting to choose whether she'd live or die seemed a bit medically iffy, although it made for convenient storytelling. The book picks up with a beautiful conclusion, and even though I found it difficult to personally relate to, I did see why it would be a book that would strongly resonate with its readers.
Where She Went