Lauren Oliver, bestselling author of popular teen novels Before I Fall and the Delirium Trilogy, makes her leap into the adult literary scene with Rooms, a haunting story narrated by two ghosts. After Richard Walker dies, his embittered ex-wife and two children arrive at his mansion to claim their inheritance. But the house also comes with two ghosts, Alice and Sandra, who are deeply rooted to the house. As their connection unfolds, so too does the Walker family’s woes in this gripping novel about secrets, lies and family. Oliver recently spoke with Between the Covers on Rooms, shopping and more.
Between the Covers: Rooms is an imaginative and gripping tale of the living and the dead, and you tell the stories from both worlds seamlessly and realistically. What was your inspiration? Do you believe in ghosts?
Lauren Oliver: Thank you! I don’t think I believe in ghosts in the traditional sense. Then again, I’m not actively a disbeliever, and several of my novels for younger readers deal with visions of the afterlife. So I’d certainly say it’s an area of deep curiosity. Mortality in general, and the meaning we make of life, really interests me, maybe because I wasn’t raised in any particular religion and had to kind of untangle that stuff for myself.
BTC: Alice and Sandra, the resident ghosts, are the narrators of this spellbinding story. What drove this creative decision? Was it challenging to create ghostly characters with such distinct voices?
LO: It was immensely challenging, not because I knew they had to have distinct voices and characteristics but because of their physical limitations. They’re really spectators. They’re almost incapable of interacting with or influencing the central action. So in that way there’s something theatrical about the novel–it’s as if Alice and Sandra are watching a play. Initially, I was inspired by the idea not of ghosts per se but of a house that absorbs and can reflect back memories–I wanted to render a literal depiction of a “memory palace,” which is a pneumonic device for storing information.
BTC: The remaining Walkers – Caroline, Minna and Trenton – are the epitome of dysfunctional. Why put these three troubled characters in the same house as the ghosts? What was it about Trenton that made him the only human who senses the ghosts?
LO: Well, truly highly functional people with no issues to explore probably don’t belong as protagonists in a novel, since novels are really about character development and character collisions and crises. To be honest, although the Walkers are certainly a troubled family, they don’t seem hugely more troubled than other families I know. So maybe I just know a lot of dysfunctional families! And in Trenton’s case, I think that his interaction with and attraction to death makes him able to perceive the ghosts where the other family members can’t.
BTC: The structure of this novel is so unique in that each section takes place in a different room of the house. What was the intent behind this? How difficult was this to craft and execute?
LO: The book was really inspired by the concept of memory palaces. I wanted to explore the idea that we are not just shaped by the things we own but that in some ways the shaping is reciprocal; our homes become mirrors of our emotional states just as we buy and keep objects that we hope will transform us, on some level, emotionally. The structure was very difficult from a practical standpoint because all of the drama of a particular section had to be extremely contained, which of course limits what you can depict in terms of action. But it was a welcomed challenge.
BTC: Do you look forward to the possibility of movie/TV adaptations of your work or dread the loss of control of your work? Imagine you’re in charge of the world – or at least Hollywood. Who would you cast in the movie version of Rooms?
LO: I think it’s a little bit of both. I would welcome and embrace the possibility to do a good film or TV adaptation with the right people on board. Rooms would definitely be a challenge for Hollywood, because of its narrative structure. But if it ever does go, I hope Meryl Streep plays Alice!
BTC: You’ve had such great success as a teen and middle grade author. What prompted you to tackle writing for an adult audience? Did your writing process change with the different readership?
LO: For me, it’s all about character and story. Certain stories demand to be told in a certain way, for a certain audience. Rooms is in some ways a deeply domestic drama–it’s contained, it’s set in one place, and it’s about families and marriages and parents and children and the way all of these can fail us. So it was patently adult, from the time I began to write it. That said, I didn’t deliberately set down to write an adult book. My ultimate goal as a writer, however, would be to build a flexible enough career that I can work in all three genres, for all three audiences.
BTC: I totally support your disapproval of bananas and practical shoes. What was the last great pair of shoes you purchased?
LO: Oh my goodness. You know what? I just realized it’s been months since I bought any great shoes. I really need to go shopping! In late spring I bought a pair of Yves Saint Laurent studded ballet flats, which are actually quite practical despite my averred preference for high heels. I need to go buy a pair of Giuseppe Zanottis, stat!
BTC: What can readers expect next?
LO: In the spring of 2015, I have a new young adult release called Vanishing Girls, and in the fall I launch the first in a new middle grade series. And right now I’m working on a new adult book. So…lots to come!