Interview with Gayle Forman Part 1 of 2

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by Mike

The View From Here Interview:
Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is an award-winning journalist and regularly writes for Cosmopolitan, The New York Times and leading American teen magazine, Seventeen. IF I STAY is Gayle's third novel and it has just hit The New York Times Bestseller list. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and daughter.

Can you tell me something about yourself?

Hmm, let's see. I'm a Gemini to the core, hot or cold, love or hate. I have red hair (or ginger hair as you'd say) but I'm not a true redhead. I have both the complexion and temperament of a redhead so I have been correcting nature's mistake every six weeks since I was 13 years old. I'm married to Nick, a former punk rock boy now a librarian at ABC News. We have one daughter, Willa and are about to adopt a second child. Oh, also, I lived in England for a year when I was 16 as an exchange student, living with a family outside of Leicester and doing O-levels at a school in Countesthorpe. It was one of the best years of my life.

What's your ideal night?

I love to host parties at my apartment for my friends and their families. I always say it's just going to be a small little thing, but then—I blame those computer e-vites—the next thing I know, it's 30 people, adults and small kids here. It both stresses me out and makes me deliriously happy to see the members of my community in my house, eating food I've prepared, mingling, being a big family together. And of course, there must be a dance party, where we all take turns picking songs, including the kids, and we dance around like maniacs. It's very chic, as you can see.

What's it like to live in Brooklyn and is there much of a writers' community there?

I think the above question answers the Brooklyn community question. There are tons of writers in Brooklyn. It's almost a joke. I tell people that publishers stipulate that you MUST live in Brooklyn before you can get a contract. It's nice to know I'm part of this literary community, although truthfully, I'm not terribly tight with that many local writers. I just haven't met them. I know them sort of peripherally. Most of my writer friends go back to my magazine days (I was a journalist before I became a novelist) and none of them live in Brooklyn and the ones that live in Manhattan are still very bad about coming to Brooklyn. Maybe they haven't gotten the memo about Brooklyn being the heart of the literary scene.

Can you tell us something about your career as a journalist?

I began my career working at Seventeen magazine, a publication for teens. The editor-in-chief at the time was very dedicated to doing serious journalism for and about teens so I became the magazine's senior writer and I covered the most amazing stories, much of them having to do with social justice and young people. Seventeen sent me everywhere from Sierra Leone to write about child soldiers to Northern Ireland to write the about The Troubles and all over the United States. I met some incredible young people who inspired me to no end. People outside of the magazine were constantly shocked and amazed at the stories we did, and dubious that teenagers cared about such things, but of course teenagers did. They were passionate about these stories. When they heard about some young person being mistreated, it didn't matter where this person lived, the reader was incensed, wanted to do something about it. I was constantly grateful to write for a readership that was so engaged. I feel that way now that I write teen novels.

How did you get your first publishing contract?

My first publishing contract was for a travel book that I wrote and the process was a bit of a rollercoaster. My husband and I had travelled around the world for a year and I'd written two chapters of the book and the proposal and my agent sent it out to about 12 editors and four days later 10 of them said they were going to bid, and I was so excited. Then, one by one, they dropped out, saying that the book didn't fit into any one niche—it wasn't a straight travelogue, it wasn't a straight reported book—so it would be hard to market. In the end, though there were two publishers left so I still wound up publishing it with a house I was happy with, but it was definitely a learning experience. Now I know to keep Zen about the whole thing. And just be glad that I get to publish a book.

How do you feel now IF I Stay has been published?

In the weeks leading up to IF I STAY's US release, I had a hard time sleeping. I kept waking up at 4 in the morning and then being unable to fall back asleep. There has been quite a bit of buzz and hype around this book, and that's an incredibly privileged position to be in, and, having had two books come out with not a lot of buzz and hype, I'm beyond grateful. But it's a little crazy-making. Now that the book's out, I feel calmer. It's out in the world. I've done what I've done. It's in the readers' hands now. I like the idea of it wending its way now. I have to let go. So now I'm sleeping until at least 6.

It's a very emotional book, was it an emotional process writing it?

Incredibly. Chances are, the parts where people cry reading, I was crying while writing.

What influences and experiences did you bring into the book?

The thing about novels is that they're like a culmination of your whole life. Bits fly in from here and there. So the influences were from all over the place. The years I lived in Oregon were hugely influential, in part because that was a time and a place when music was very influential (this was the Pacific Northwest in the early to mid 1990s when the music scene was just exploding). I think with the love story with Adam I brought a lot of my feelings for my husband, Nick (and indeed, in the early drafts, Adam was named Nick; it helped me access the lovey-dovey feelings to call him that, but Nick was weirded out by the name so I changed it after I finished). One experience I didn't bring was cello. I knew nothing of the cello. Mia arrived in my head fully formed as a cellist and then I had to go out and learn about the cello to do her justice.

Do you have a set place to write and do you write in silence or with music in the background?

I write at my desk, which is in my family's living room. I listen to music sometimes, and for this book a lot more than usual. I always listened to the Once movie soundtrack before writing. The song "Falling Slowly" was like my Pavlovian writing trick. It made me cry. Got me in the mood to write, and then I was ready to go.

For Part 2 of this interview click here.

To visit Gayle's website click here.

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