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!
Get ready to laugh out loud as two young actresses share glimpses into their personal and professional lives. Danielle Fishel — remember Topanga Lawrence from the 90s sitcom Boy Meets World? — and Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s Girls bare it all in poignant memoirs.
Fishel’s Normally, This Would Be Cause for Concern is more than just a tell-all, although fans will enjoy learning of her celebrity dating roster which included Lance Bass and Ben Savage. She also shares her undying love for Jared Leto, who rescued her from the L.A. freeway following an accident. Fishel, who is reprising her role of Topanga in the new Disney show Girl Meets World, is as entertaining and appealing on the page as on the small screen. Storytelling comes naturally, and she has plenty of juicy gems for readers involving awful auditions, red carpet faux pas and dating disasters. But behind the stories, she shares her neuroses and faults making this a refreshing Hollywood memoir.
In Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, the actress reveals personal struggles which aren’t far removed from the character she plays on TV. Both deal with OCD, therapists and awkward dating experiences. Dunham excels at documenting her coming of age and her professional experiences in a male dominated industry. She tackles big issues with hilarity and honesty in this series of essays, sure to appeal to fans of David Sedaris and Nora Ephron. Dunham has said of this book, “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you with this book, but also my future glory in having stopped you from trying an expensive juice cleanse or having the kind of sexual encounter where you keep your sneakers on. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle.”
Five Days Left is the emotional journey of two people facing life-changing situations and making ultimate sacrifices in the name of love. Debut author Julie Lawson Timmer took time to answer questions about this powerful novel — sure to become a book club favorite — which Jodi Picoult calls “unique, gripping and viscerally moving.”
Between the Covers: Mara and Scott are two ordinary people, living in different cities, pursuing dynamic careers and dealing with marriage and family. Over the course of five days, these two ordinary lives are extraordinarily changed. What was the genesis and inspiration for this story of a woman battling Huntington’s disease and a man battling the foster care system and even his own wife?
Julie Lawson Timmer: A few years ago, a friend of mine died after a long struggle with cancer. She was in hospice for the last several months of her life and she was spectacularly brave in facing what she knew would be her last months, weeks and days. During that time, and after she died, I was consumed with thoughts about what that must have been like for her — to know she wouldn’t be there for her kids’ graduations, their weddings, etc. I decided that writing about someone dealing with a fatal, incurable disease would be a way to explore the feelings my friend might have had. I also felt that exploring and writing about those feelings would be a way for me to honor her, even if the book was never read by anyone else. I chose Huntington’s because I didn’t want, or believe I had any right, to write my friend’s story. Five Days Left is not biographical in any sense.
I wanted to give Mara a break from her difficult situation, and adding the online group allowed me to do that. When I was casting around in my imagination for an online friend who Mara could become close to, Scott materialized, as did his job as a middle school teacher and coach. Technically, Scott and his wife are limited guardians of Curtis, not foster parents. Foster parenting involves months of background checks and classes and applications, etc., while being a limited guardian is a relatively immediate process, at least in Michigan. Given the urgency in Curtis’s situation, the foster system wasn’t appropriate. However, the concept of fostering and being a limited guardian are similar in that ultimately, you are caring for, making sacrifices for and, often, loving deeply a child who isn’t your own, and whose future is not in your control. In this regard, foster parents and limited guardians are in a similar position as step-parents, a role I hold. As a step-parent, I also care for, make sacrifices for and deeply love children whose future isn’t in my control, and I wanted to explore that.
BTC: In telling the stories of Mara and Scott, you explore sensitive issues such as foster care, suicide, infertility, adoption and marital durability. What led you to tackle such powerful topics? Describe the research process involved in ensuring accuracy of the details so integral to these characters’ stories.
JLT: [The research] was the biggest surprise for me about the process. When I first came up with the idea for the book, I actually wasn’t intending to do much research. I thought I’d spend a little time online learning a bit about Huntington’s – which I knew nothing about – and then rely on “artistic license” to fill in the details of the disease in a way that advanced the plot. But “a little time online” is all it took for me to realize how horrible Huntington’s is, and to realize there was no way I could write about it unless I did it as accurately as possible. I thought (and still think) I owed it to the Huntington’s community to get the disease right.
So, I did months of research on my own, and then I talked to some Huntington’s experts to confirm that my understanding of the research was correct, and that I’d represented it accurately in the novel. In many cases, I’d gotten the facts wrong, and I ended up making significant changes to Mara’s sections in order to correct the inaccuracies. I’m certain – and upset – that I didn’t likely get the disease completely accurate, but any mistakes were my fault, not that of the experts.
BTC: Mara’s voice is engagingly honest from the first sentence of the book. The reader is painfully aware of her anger, fear and even joy. How were you able to capture all these emotions and create an authentic portrait of one woman’s struggle against mortality?
JLT: I was highly motivated to get those feelings as right as I could. For my friend, who lived it. And for me, too, as I have certainly spent my share of time, as I imagine most mothers have, thinking about how I would feel if I knew my children would have to grow up without me.
It was a struggle, in early drafts, to keep Mara from feeling overly sorry for herself. But I spent a long time thinking about her, and who she was, and I knew that she was not a complainer. She was a strong, stoic woman who wanted to be treated that way. So, I dialed her down quite a bit and ended up with someone whose thoughts and fears were truer to what I believe Mara’s would be.
BTC: Almost even more surprising is the clarity of Scott’s voice. His love for his wife and foster son are evident as is the anguish he feels when he may lose one or both of them. How difficult was it to write from a man’s point of view?
JLT: My husband is a “guy’s guy,” which is how I’d describe Scott, and I have some close friends who are the same. I suppose I channeled them to a large extent. I did run a number of things about Scott past my husband – character motivation, turns of phrase, that sort of thing – to make sure I wasn’t attributing thoughts or phrases to him that weren’t ones a man would actually have. And there were times when my husband would say, “Uh, no way would he say that,” and I’d have to revise the dialogue. My husband’s help, from character motivation to dialogue to plot issues to making dinner and cleaning up so I could write is something I could talk about for a long time.
BTC: As heartbreaking as the story is at times, you tell it beautifully and manage to keep within the five-day timeline. Share with us your writing process for plotting this carefully constructed dual story. As a debut novelist, working attorney and mother to kids and dogs, how on earth did you find time to sit down and write?
JLT: Thank you for that lovely compliment! As for my plotting process, I am a major plotter/outliner. I carefully plotted how each story would go before I began writing. For an early draft, I wrote Scott’s entire story, and then Mara’s, and then did something close to cutting and pasting to get the chapters to alternate. In later drafts, I realized the story came out better if I wrote each chapter as it appeared in the book, rather than writing all of one character’s chapters at once.
As for the work/family/writing balance, that one was, and remains, tough. I discovered the only time people aren’t looking for me is between the hours of 4 a.m. – 6 a.m. Even then, because my company is global and I’m in the habit of checking email often, I could sometimes end up on calls or reviewing contracts before dawn instead of writing. But most days, those dark, quiet hours were mine, and I found that I could get two solid scenes written in that time. My wonderful husband set coffee every night and often left encouraging sticky notes on the coffee maker for me – something that made a huge difference, especially on cold, dark winter mornings.
BTC: How excited were you to receive such glowing recommendations for your novel from the likes of Jodi Picoult, Jacquelyn Mitchard and Sarah Pekannen? As a debut novelist, what was it like navigating the book world with publishing icon Amy Einhorn, and more importantly, can you clarify the rules of the literary drinking game that you and she created during the course of finalizing this novel?
JLT: I’m so grateful to those authors for taking the time to read a new writer’s book and then give a blurb for it. They’re wonderful. I was beyond excited to see those blurbs and honestly, I’m not sure it’s sunken in still. It’s surreal to think that these authors whose work I’ve admired for years have actually read my book, and that they liked it. I have a writer friend who emails me from time to time and her entire message will be, “JODI PICOULT!” or “CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE!” or any of the other names. When I read those emails, I think, “Oh, that’s right! It did happen!”
I loved working with Amy Einhorn (my same writer friend used to write those emails, too: “AMY EINHORN!”). In Amy’s first editor letter, which listed the various changes she thought I should make, she said the book should be “a five-hanky read” and that although it had made her sniffle a little, it hadn’t made her cry. When I set out to do my revisions, I put sticky notes all over the wall of our home office, to make it easier to organize the plot, and to my daughter’s horror, I added a few sticky notes at various intervals around the room with the notation, “MAKE AMY CRY!” After that, any time Amy emailed to say a certain revised scene had made her cry, I’d announce to my family, “Amy cried!” and we’d all cheer. A few times, I made the announcement at dinner, and we all raised our glasses to the fact that I’d made Amy cry. When I confessed this sordid family practice to Amy, she and I started joking that we’d invented a (terrible) new drinking game.
BTC: I’m sure our readers would love to hear what you’re working on next. Can you share any details?
JLT: Sure. Briefly, my next book is about estranged families, step parenting and the dreadful practice of “rehoming,” where people who no longer want their adopted children advertise them online and then hand them over to people who have merely responded to an Internet ad rather than going through the rigorous process of being qualified to adopt. It is completely different from Five Days Left, but as I expect every book I write will do, it explores different forms of “family” and how families survivel, or don’t survive, challenging situations.
Cole is a top-ranked student whose main focus throughout high school has been getting into an Ivy League school. But he’s been distracted lately ever since girlfriend Winnie dumped him for jock Josh. As Josh and his band of morons continue their routine harassment and Winnie only looks at him with scorn, Cole’s best friend Gavin convinces him to exact revenge. Wickedpedia by Chris Van Etten is the terrifying story of what happens when online retaliation goes horribly awry.
Following success pegging Josh as a plagiarizer and getting him kicked off the soccer team, Gavin and Cole set their sights even higher. The duo create Wikipedia pages for Josh, Winnie and the rest of their cronies with the intent of ruining their lives. Josh is first and his page is filled with crazy lies capped with the gruesome details of his death. When Josh dies in a freak accident identical to that imagined by Gavin and Cole, the pair drop any future Wikipedia fun and games. But why are articles about classmates’ grisly deaths still being created? And more importantly, who is making them come true?
When Cole finds a Wikipedia page created for him which includes a date of death, he knows he has one week to find the murderer’s identity or his fate will be the same as his classmates. This fast-paced, suspenseful tale reads like a good horror movie, but it's not for the squeamish. Wickedpedia marks the return of the popular Point Horror series with a focus on online misdeeds. Other titles include DeFriended, Identity Theft and Followers. These contemporary creep-fests are perfect for fans of R.L. Stine and Caroline Cooney.
Travel to the spectacular coast of England this summer in two novels that capture its beauty and serenity. Marcia Willett’s The Sea Garden and Gil McNeil’s A Good Year for the Roses are stories of friendship, family and love that share a picture perfect setting.
In The Sea Garden, Willett introduces us to Jess, fresh from university, and on her way to Devon to receive the prestigious David Porteous painting award. Jess accepts the invitation of Kate, Porteous’ widow, to stay with her in her Cornwall cottage. Jess’ own family fractured with the death of her father several years earlier so she embraces Kate’s friendly overtures and is delighted to become part of her circle of family and friends. Her stay in Cornwall turns into more than a romp on the beach as long-buried secrets from the past come to light. This multigenerational novel is a finely constructed story which weaves together a net of confidences, infidelities and lies. Readers will enjoy the memorable cast of characters in this emotionally charged story which underscores the power of the past.
Molly, recently divorced from a boorish and boring husband, is in need of a new home for herself and her three sons in McNeil’s A Good Year for the Roses. Fate intervenes when she inherits her aunt’s manor house on the coast of Devon. The estate comes complete with her eccentric Uncle Bertie, a foul mouthed parrot and a semi-functioning bed and breakfast named Harrington Hall. Molly’s overbearing father and conniving brother are enraged at her fortune and try everything to convince Molly to add the B&B to the family’s hotel business holdings. As her boys adjust to rural life, Molly reconnects with old friends and finds contentment in her aunt’s beloved rose garden. The luscious locale sparkles in this gem with delightfully quirky characters and an appealing heroine.
On August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned his office following a speech to the nation the previous evening. The exposure of White House involvement in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal was at the root of his resignation, and three new books take readers back to this tumultuous time in American history and examine the events, the people and the lasting impact.
Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter’s The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 carefully examines the final tapes which were released last August. Nichter and Brinkley share the information gleaned in a readable narrative offering readers a better understanding of one of the most controversial presidencies in history. From the burgeoning relationship with China, to the SALT I agreement with Russia along with glimpses of the encroaching shadow of Watergate, Nixon’s complex portrait as a political genius marred by hubris and paranoia is well-drawn.
Former White House Counsel John Dean was in the middle of these events, and in The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It he uses personal transcripts from meetings and conversations along with documents from the National Archives and the Nixon Library to track the extent of Nixon’s knowledge and the timeline. Dean provides portraits of key players and highlights critical mistakes which led to the scandal. Dean’s first-person insight is compelling, and he also answers questions surrounding those 18 ½ minutes of missing tape.
Rick Perlstein sheds light on the lasting impact of the Nixon White House in The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. The United States was in the midst of turbulent political, economic and social upheaval during the 1970s and, following Nixon’s resignation, appeared on a path toward a more centrist global view. But when Ronald Reagan almost snared the Republican nomination for president from incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976, pundits were stunned. Perlstein’s carefully researched and impeccably written account is an engaging chronicle of the times and their political aftermath.
Check out BCPL’s Tumblr for the Richard Nixon Library’s playlist of online Watergate tapes, videos, photos and documents relating to the resignation.
Two books cordially invite readers to the wild and wonderful world of weddings. Bestselling novelist Mary Kay Andrews and debut memoirist Jen Doll offer different takes on nuptials in each of their new books titled Save the Date. Andrews shares a behind-the-scene look from the florist’s perspective, while Doll explores what she’s learned about life as a frequent guest. Both are stories of young women trying to figure out this love and marriage thing in an ever-changing world.
In Andrews’ version, Cara is recently divorced from a philandering husband and has renounced love. But it’s hard to escape as she builds her reputation as one of Savannah’s top wedding florists. She has snared the wedding of the year and, if successful, her career will be cemented, she will be able to pay off her loan to her father and her business will be in the black. But when the bride disappears, Cara’s future looks bleak. Cara pursues the runaway bride and, along the way, is forced to come to grips with her real feelings about love – especially in light of the persistent attentions of sexy, charming Jack Finnerty. Readers will be rooting for the immensely likeable Cara as she chases a bride and finds her dreams.
Doll, an unmarried journalist, has attended dozens of weddings, and each has impacted her in some fashion. From courthouse to destination, with few guests or hundreds, Doll has seen a variety of ceremonies and has a takeaway from each. The entertaining reception stories include confronting an old nemesis and drunkenly melting down. Doll explores the institution of marriage and expresses the normal anxieties of a single person whose friends are tying the knot. It’s also an interesting glimpse at the evolving relationships of a singleton with couples over time. Doll’s exploration of marriage allows her to shed light on society’s changing perceptions of marriage and her own possibility of walking down the aisle.
Maddy Freed is a struggling young actress living in Brooklyn with her director boyfriend Dan in The Actress by Amy Sohn. Dan’s film starring Maddy is selected as an entrant at the prestigious Mile’s End Film Festival and, following its premiere, both of their lives are changed forever.
Maddy earns critical acclaim and wins an acting prize at the festival, but she also captures the attention of the sexy and single Hollywood heartthrob Steven Weller. Weller is 40-something and trying to reinvent his career. He is immediately captivated by Maddy, and she finds herself whisked away to Venice to Steven’s palazzo — ostensibly to audition for the most sought-after role in Hollywood. But the chemistry between them is palpable, and Maddy soon finds herself enchanted by this Hollywood A-lister.
Their whirlwind affair is passionate and intense, and when the couple ties the knot, the tabloid wags are shocked. The rumors swirling around Steven and his sexuality have dogged him for years, and the speculation doesn’t let up after the wedding. Maddy is head-over-heels in love with her husband and refuses to consider the hateful gossip. But when her career outpaces his, and Steven’s absences are longer and more frequent, she finds herself wondering if she really knows the man she married.
Sohn delivers a stylish, salacious and sizzling summer story set in glamorous and scandalous Tinseltown. Ruthless actors, scheming agents and the pervasive press all play supporting parts in this page-turner about one young actress coming to terms with her own ambition and deciding what role she will play in life.
Two novels highlight the beauty of the beach and celebrate the power of female friendship. Enjoy perfect summer escapes with Anne Rivers Siddons’ The Girls of August and Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer.
Siddons introduces readers to Maddy, Rachel, Barbara and Melinda when they are in their 20s, newly married and seeing their husbands through medical school. As the four become fast friends, they make a pact to spend one week together in August at a beach house. Though their lives change, the women keep this promise and travel to different beach houses over the years to reconnect. That is, until Melinda dies in a car accident and the August ritual is abandoned. Years later, Melinda’s husband remarries Baby, a 20-something who tries to resurrect the annual trip. The four end up at Baby’s remote family home on a barrier island off the South Carolina coast where jealousy simmers, secrets are revealed and friendship is tested. Siddons once again delivers an emotionally satisfying Southern summer tale with well-drawn women dealing with real, explosive issues.
Looking for a different beach? Travel north with Nancy Thayer to beautiful Nantucket. This lush setting is where Maggie and Emily meet as children and develop an unlikely, but strong, summer friendship. Emily is from a moneyed family whose mother wants nothing to do with the islanders. Maggie is the daughter of a local seamstress struggling to make ends meet. As the two get older, real life gets in the way and the girls drift apart. Emily wants more from life than simply being the wife of a successful husband while Maggie works hard, saves her money and longs for a passionate romance. It seems unlikely their paths will cross again until one wealthy Wall Street broker begins wooing both women. This engaging novel has romance and drama, but its centerpiece is the beauty and strength of lasting friendship.
On the Rocks by Erin Duffy opens with Abby trying on the Vera Wang wedding dress of her dreams. At that moment, her fiancé Ben changes his Facebook relationship status to single and Abby’s life is shattered in this charming novel of friendship, family and love in the crazy age of social media.
As Abby struggles to get over Ben, her best friend Grace decides they both need a change of scenery and rents a quaint cottage in Newport for the two to share over the summer. While the pair leaves their problems behind, they enjoy sea breezes, refreshing cocktails and the attentions of handsome men. Abby also secures her very own dating coach when she meets Bobby, an awkward, out-of-work lawyer who demands that she focus on dating as if it were a job. But dating has changed in the 12 years Abby was with Ben, and social media has put a scary spin on the social scene. From Facebook to a walk-of-shame website, Abby navigates her new role as a singleton without the privilege of privacy and the possibility of being cast as a viral victim just a click away.
Duffy’s fresh story is a humorous but realistic foray into contemporary dating. Bad dates, laughable pick-up lines, crazy families and clever dialogue are peppered throughout this fun and relatable story that's ultimately the tale of one woman’s unpredictable journey to happiness. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand, Sarah Pekkanen and Nancy Thayer should definitely pack this one on vacation!