In Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver made us celebrate life, in Delirium she made us fall in love with love. With Panic, she has us wondering how much we’d be willing to sacrifice…
What inspired your latest book, Panic?
In some ways, I’ve been dealing a lot with choice and also dancing around issues and themes of fear in my previous books. I think I’m interested in what constitutes actual bravery versus superficial bravery and why some people respond to fear by embracing and confronting it while others hide from it. It’s been a latent theme in my previous books but I wanted to deal with it overtly in Panic
With Panic, you returned to realistic fiction. Was there a reason why?
I just really wanted to do something very different from Delirium. But I ended up feeling like there were a lot of similarities, at least thematically, between Delirium and Panic. They both share a feeling of enclosure and entrapment. In Panic it’s a feeling, and in Delirium it was an actual enclosure.
What was it about small-town Carp that made you set Panic there?
I’ve actually been spending a lot of time in upstate New York and I love it, so I feel bad about my depiction because it’s not representative of many communities up there. But it IS very remote and I often think about what it would be like growing up as a teen in a place like that. I grew up in a small town in Westchester, and we would go into Manhattan every weekend and I STILL felt really trapped! Carp appealed to me because as a teen there’s a sense of desperate energy because you have no agency—no matter where you grow up you don’t really have any money or power, you can’t drive, you’re around the same people all the time, your identity has been solidified, often without your consent, and at some point it’s impossible to redefine yourself because people believe certain things about you and your family, and you can’t escape that.
Why did you frame Panic around a dangerous game?
I was inspired by a fairy tale, which is funny because Panic isn’t fairytalesque at all. The Grimms’ fairy tale The Boy Who Went Out to Learn About the Shivers, is about three brothers, and one is very “simple,” so simple that he doesn’t know how to feel fear. So he goes out to learn what the shivers are and spends three nights in a haunted house where he faces all these challenges designed to scare him. No one has ever survived the house before, but his experience is comical because he responds by helping the ghosts warm up and he then drinks by the fire with them, and in the end he marries a princess! So it got me thinking about what it would be like to win a challenge related to fear.
Well, we loved the characters you wrote to face their fears in Panic. Can you introduce people to them using two words – first a descriptive adjective, and the second, the thing that motivates them in Panic?
Heather – normal or average/escape
Bishop – loyal/love
Dodge – fearless/revenge
Nat – optimistic/fantasy
Do you see a future book or sequel for Panic?
I still really love Panic and I see a lot of potential in the game, but I think it would be a spin-off with new characters, and (laughs) I would love to do that, actually! And I never say that, actually, because people always ask me about Delirium, and I just say no.
We’d love to see a spin-off of Panic! And now that Delirium is completed, can you tell us…did you ever consider a different ending?
No. I actually had no idea how controversial the ending would end up being. I always knew how I wanted it to end. I always write the beginning and the end of my books first because it helps be figure out how to bridge the two. But still, sometimes things that you plan end up changing. For example, I had always planned on killing off a pretty substantial character in Requiem but that character resolutely refused to die. (laughs) And I couldn’t do anything but let that character live, and of course, I can’t tell you who that character is….
Ah, now we’re dying to know! Well, if you can’t tell us which character was hardest to kill, can you at least share which one of your books was hardest to write?
I don’t have a favorite book because books are totally like children, you don’t have a favorite or a least favorite, but Panic was the hardest to write.
Speaking of writing, did working in publishing help you as a writer?
It taught me about narrative structure, not just beautiful language, which is what I studied in my MMA writing program. It made me think about how to actually tell a story, build tension and move readers through a book. It changed my career tremendously.
You’ve had such a successsful career and now you’re championing new writers through Paper Lantern Lit. Can you tell us more about that?
There are writers that have great voices and amazing skills but they don’t necessarily know how to create a book—how to structure, how to plot. I started Paper Lantern Lit to work with writers and to help them create a book and teach them about writing within the context of actually writing a book with us. Then we place it with traditional publishers or do an e-book, and it’s great! We’re very small—three full-time editors and a couple part-time people, but most of all we just have a really great time.
I have some exciting stuff! I have my first literary adult novel coming out this fall, Rooms. I also have a YA for next year and a new middle-grade trilogy launching called Curiosity House about four extraordinary children who grow up in a very strange museum, and the first book is The Shrunken Head. It’s really fun! I can’t tell you about the YA because I haven’t figured out exactly how to describe it yet, but I can tell you it’s about sisters. I’m always working on a million things!
OK, Time for Quick Questions!
Favorite author as a teen? Jane Austen
Person you’d love to join you on a book tour? Neil Gaiman
Your character that you’d like most to spend a day with? Sam Kingston because she would have the most fun!
What motives you most…mortality, love or fear? Fear, but not in the typical way. I’m very anti-fear. Most decisions I make in life are to minimize fear in my life.
Book you WISH you wrote? Harry Potter!
Happy endings. Yes or No? No! It depends. I like complex happy endings. You make your own happy endings every day.