Last Friday I had the amazingly unbelievable opportunity to interview Lauren Oliver, the New York Times bestselling author of Panic, Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy. Her latest book, Panic, has come out in paperback in the UK this month and after reading it I had some questions about it- as well as some general ones. So without further ado!
Where did the idea of Panic come from?
The idea of Panic came actually from kind on an unlikely source, it came from a rather humorous fairytale by Grimm’s, one of his lesser known ones called, ‘The Boy who went forth to learn about the Shivers’, and I saw it’s an unlikely source only because Panic is not very humorous and it’s pretty gritty and real. But the fairytale, basically, is about a boy who is literally too “simple” i.e. stupid to experience fear and so he basically goes out, his father is kind of embarrassed and ashamed of him, so he goes out to earn his fortune and and ends up managing to spend three nights alone in a haunted house with very comedic results and thus marries a princess, so he ends up very well of. But I started thinking about fear and mechanisms of fear and why some people are able to embrace or at least withstand fear whereas other people kind of move away from it or do all that they can to minimise fear. So that’s where the idea of Panic came from!
I found it really interesting that in Panic you gave Nat some kind of form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Why did you choose that?
I chose it because I wanted to show, I do think mostly everybody is afflicted by, has their own kinds of deamons and things to deal with and I think for Nat that was a way of kind of deepening her character and also understanding to myself why she would play. Essentially she’s playing for money so she can go out to LA but I felt that she also needed to have something else that she too was running from, fears and anxieties that in her case express themselves through a desire to be really in control.
In the first chapter you used phrases like ‘rewind back to the beach and pause,’ and ‘turn the camera slightly’. What made you choose that form of narration?
That’s a good question! I’m not sure, first of all, it’s in the third person which was a departure from some of my earlier books. And I think unconsciously perhaps, kind of in the language of film, there is a spectator element obviously- this is a game that’s enjoyed by the spectators, way more so than the players. I was inspired by shows like Survivor where there’s alliances and people backstabbing each other and I wanted to show the ways that friendships can deteriorate over time because of the competition- so I think I may have unconsciously been parodying the language of spectatorship.
I heard that Panic has been optioned by Universal, which is amazing, is there any news on that?
We’re just waiting on script provisions now actually!
How did you get started in writing?
Basically my love of writing grew out of a lifelong love of reading, as I’m sure many peoples writing did. I mean really, for me, for years, writing was a personal way of exploring worlds that I loved. So I started doing predecessors to fan fiction. When I was a kid I would find a book that I loved and when it ended I just felt so sad that I kept writing it so I was definitely doing a version of fanfiction. And I just never stopped, after that I started writing stories based on my life which again, I think is very typical and it just grew into an extension of stories that interwove my own experiences with the fantastical or imaginative constructs.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I really really wish my advice was less boring than it is, I mean, I wish there were some spell or certain magic trick, but the thing about being a writer is that you don’t actually need any qualifications. You don’t need to study at school, you don’t need a certain degree, you do need to just read and absorb as much as you can and you also need to write. You actually need to put pen to paper and practice.
Do you have any favourite books?
Yeah! I have plenty of favourite books. I love 100 years of Solitude, I love Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, I love Henry James’ The American, the Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, I love Jane Austen- especially Pride and Prejudice, Agatha Christie, the Harry Potter series, His Dark materials. Lots of stuff. I love Roald Dahl. Yeah.
You had Dodge and Nat talk about if a Bear and a Shark had a fight, which is one of my favourite questions to ask people, so if a Bear and Shark had a fight- who would win?
In which medium? Or in a neutral medium? Neutral medium?
If the shark could be in water and the bear could be on land.
Er- I think the bear would win! I don’t know. But bears aren’t as aggressive. I don’t know, I really don’t know. I mean the thing is that sharks, I feel like they’re clumsier. I think the bear would win. If they were both given equal territory and equal amount of aggression, like they knew they were fighting I think the bear would win.
Yeah, cause bears catch fish don’t they.
And they can go in multiple directions and they’re speedy, they can see and they don’t have that limitation of their eyes being in the side of their head. I would say bear. Is that what you would say?
Yeah, I think I would say bear.