Forman is a bestselling, award-winning author of young adult novels. Leave Me is her first novel for adults. Her novel If I Stay won the 2009 NAIBA Book of the Year Award and was a 2010 Indie Choice Honor Award winner. The film adaptation was released in 2014. Forman is also a journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and Elle.
Q&A with the Author:
Maribeth’s heart attack becomes a pivotal moment in her life. Have you had an experience that transformed the trajectory of your own life?
My life is, fortunately, less dramatic than the lives of my characters. So for me, it’s less that one Dramatic Moment That Changes Everything, than a collection of moments, which build up over time, that eventually lead to a change, which also doesn’t happen all at once. So in that way, I am more like actual people than book characters (though I very much hope my book characters are like actual people) in that change is usually gradually and hard-won. So, for example, Leave Me was inspired by my own health scare—a week of chest pains that had me convinced I was going to need bypass surgery. (My mom had her first bypass surgery at age 48, in spite of having no risk factors other than a family history of heart troubles.) Unlike Maribeth, mine turned out not to be my heart, but that week of chest pains created a domino effect that, over a period of years, transformed how my husband and I split the work of parenting our kids and how I went about getting support. It took years, and many other small catalyzing moments, but that was certainly a part of it. Bonus: I got a book idea out of it.
Many readers will identify with the relentless busyness of Maribeth’s life as a wife and mom. She’s constantly in motion and being busy seems to be a major part of her identity at the start of the novel. Is that a trait that you share? How do you break away from the everyday demands of life to inhabit your characters’ worlds?
I have worked at home for years (as a journalist before I became a novelist) so when we had kids, there was never any question that I would stay home with them and write. But as my kids grew up and my work life got busier, what wound up happening was me shoving a full-time job into a 25-hour work week, a constant game of scheduling-jenga, as I tried to balance work needs (not all of which are writing) and travel with the cooking, carpooling, homework helping, field trip chaperoning, and the general functioning of the family. There have been stretches of time when I felt like every day was a marathon that I would finish, then wake up and do it all over again. So, short answer, yes I identify with Maribeth. I identify a lot.
Luckily, one antidote to all this is that writing is part of my work. Writing has always been a form of escapism for me. When I’m deep in a book, I’m lost in it, in that same satisfying way I’m lost in a book as a reader. So it is actually quite easy to break away from the demands of real life into my characters’ worlds. The deeper I go, the greater the escape.
Your young adult novels have had wide crossover appeal, and they have attracted many adult readers as well. What made you choose to write a novel for adult readers? Did it bring new challenges?
I have never felt that I write for any particular age group or readership. I write first and foremost for myself. And I usually write about things that adult me is trying to figure out. It’s just that for the last decade, the people who have come into my head to tell these stories have been between the ages of 16 and 24.
I got the idea for Leave Me years before I really wrote it, after I had those aforementioned chest pains and began imagining how in the world I would cope if I had to have heart surgery. But then it went back on the shelf. When I dusted it off and started writing it in earnest, I found that the original premise—how would a busy working mother cope with such a crisis?—took a backseat to what I really wanted to write about, which was marriage and family life. When I started writing Leave Me, particularly writing about the experience of parenting, I felt like I had wandered into an orchard I had never seen, and there were all these low-hanging apples.
Of course the flipside of this is that Leave Me is probably the most personal book I have ever written. There is a lot of me in Maribeth, and that was where it was the most challenging.
What authors are on your personal must-read list? Any noteworthy fangirl moments?
The YA community is pretty tight so when I go bonkers over a book, I reach out to the author and fangirl away. This is actually how I became friends with some of my favorite authors: Jandy Nelson, Melina Marchetta, Jacqueline Woodson, Libba Bray, Nova Ren Suma, Ruta Septetys, Maggie Stiefvater, Jason Reynolds, Stephanie Perkins, and Matt de la Peña. I fangirl first, then force them to be my friends. I’m quite clever that way.
On the adult side, I will read anything Junot Diaz, Jennifer Egan, George Saunders, Rebecca Solnit, Curtis Sittenfeld, Dave Eggers, Ann Patchett, Megan Daum, and Brian Morton write. I just read Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and now want to read everything he’s written. I would will read anything Emily Nussbaum, Marjorie Ingall or Kate Harding write, including their grocery lists. If I met most of these people in real life, I would probably get all shy and hide in a corner.
What can readers expect from you next? Will you return to young adult fiction or are there more adult novels in your future?
Is that an either or question? I will return to young adult, and there are more adult novels in my future. I can do both. I am, after all, a Gemini.
Book Title: Leave Me
Author: Gayle Forman
ISBN: 9781616206178 | $26.95 HC | Algonquin Books