Q&A: Young adult author Lauren Oliver discusses influences, new book

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mike Holliday

Lauren Oliver burst into the young adult fiction scene in 2010 with her New York Times bestselling novel “Before I Fall,” which is set to hit the silver screen in 2017. Oliver, who will be featured at the Texas Book Festival, also wrote young adult novels “Replica,” “Vanishing Girls,” “Panic” and the “Delirium” trilogy. The Daily Texan spoke with Oliver about her past experiences and her recently published novel “Replica.”

The Daily Texan: How did having two literature professors as parents influence you as a writer?

Lauren Oliver: I grew up in a house of books and as you can imagine, my parents read to us and we talked about poetry at dinner, so I grew up with parents who really encouraged narrative and imagination and storytelling as an important and critical part of the human experience. From the time I was a kid, I was always thinking of stories and drawing and writing and reading all the time and it was just a very imaginatively rich way to grow up.

DT: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

LO: I think that in some ways I didn’t. I just couldn’t conceive of a life without writing, but as a result, I never really thought of it as a job as much as you don’t necessarily think of brushing your teeth as a job. I use a [weird] metaphor that I think is pretty close to the truth. I feel a little bit like a whale: I filter the world like whales sucking in the ocean and filtering it out through their baleen. That’s what writing is like — I suck in the world through my writing and I understand it that way.

DT: What compelled you to be a part of the young adult genre?

LO: I actually didn’t know much about YA because [it] just exploded in the last 15 years. When I was a teen, there might’ve been two shelves full of YA books in the back of the bookstore. It wasn’t really until Harry Potter came out [that] the entire publishing landscape [changed.] I was very lucky because I’d been writing adult books and I’d been writing them pretty badly. I got a job interning at a publishing company, and I was an assistant in the YA department, so I started reading all these YA books. As an editor, you have to think really strongly about narrative structure and YA books are notorious for having really strong concepts and narrative structures because teens have shorter attention spans. It’s a really great place if you are interested in the work itself and not in the snobbish accolades of saying you’re a writer.

DT: “Replica” is a flip-book, which allows the reader to flip through the pages one way to read one story, or flip them the other way to read a different story or read both stories in alternating chapters. What gave you the idea for this structure and what was the reasoning behind it? 

LO: The idea kind of grew out of the structure itself. I’ve been separately interested in doing that structure for a long time, but I couldn’t find
the concept. 
“Replica” is in part about forcing us to look at ideas of what makes a human a human and of what we can say is truthful. It’s meant to force us to confront our innate prejudices and that other people’s experiences are as valid as our own.

This book offers you the chance to see two different sides of the story, which forces you to reflect about different perspectives, and also in your reading experience, you’re not reading the same way as somebody else sitting next to you.

Catch Oliver at her Texas Book Festival during her panel Who Are You? (I Really Wanna Know) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.