Books & Writing
About If I Stay & Where She Went
+ What was the inspiration for If I Stay?
If I Stay came from a very personal place. I go into a lot of detail about the story behind the story in the extra bonus material in the paperback, but in a nutshell, here is the deal:
Once upon a time, there was a family: a mom, a dad, a little boy like Teddy and another little boy, just a baby. And once upon a time, there was a snow day. And a drive in a car. And a mysterious car accident. And an unfathomable tragedy. Once upon a time, one of those family members held on a little longer, though by the time the news reached me, all the way across the country in New York City, the devastation was complete. The whole family had died. But that little boy’s act of tenacity, followed by his surrender, it haunted me. Did that one little boy know what had happened to the rest of his family? Did he choose to go with them? It was out of the fog of that persistent question that one day, almost seven years after the fact, this total stranger popped into my consciousness. Her name was Mia. She was 17 years old. And a cello player. And she had no relation whatsoever to the people I knew. But the minute I met her I knew she was going to take me on a journey, to answer that question that had been living in me for years: What would you do if you had to choose?
+ Was If I Stay based on true events?
The car accident was based on personal events, the rest of the story, and the characters of Mia and Adam in particular, came from my imagination. I’ve never been in an accident like that. Never had an out-of-body experience. I don’t play the cello (or any instrument) nor has a ever asked me to play him like a cello, either. Novels are an interesting stew, a bit of real life might provide a premise or a need to explore certain terrain. And then these fictional people show up on the scene to help you do what you need to do.
+ What was the inspiration for Where She Went?
Answer contains SPOILERS for If I Stay. Okay, here’s the deal: I never intended to write a sequel. After finishing IIS, I had an entirely different book I planned to write but Adam and Mia…well, they had different ideas. Even though I’d ended IIS on a hopeful note, I’d left Adam and Mia in a pretty rocky spot—I warned you about spoilers! Adam had made this enormous promise, with serious consequences for both of them. And Mia had made this enormous decision, with serious consequences for both of them. Turns out, my unruly characters were not content to sit out there, in limbo. They started banging on this drum in my head. Hey lady, you put us through that to leave us here? So, they sort of bossed me into writing the sequel.
+ Was Where She Went based on true events?
Bits of personal events always filter into your stories but Where She Went is probably the least connected to my life of all of my stories. I’m not a 21-year-old angst-ridden rock star, though I do share Adam’s superstitious side and some of his conflicts about when creative and commercial intersect. I am not usually recognized, except by my children’s friends and that’s only to be identified as so-and-so’s mom. The New York City you travel through in Where She Went, however, is very much my city. And the way grieving is dealt with in Where She Went, that too is something I grappled with. So I suppose the emotions are real, but the events are made up.
+ In Where She Went, Adam borrows an iPod. Does he ever return it?
DO NOT FRET! Adam returns the iPod AND he sends Nick a new one (fictional Nick, that is). In some earlier draft, you saw him go back to Manhattan and pack his bags and do this but that was all kind of draggy so I cut it. But OF COURSE he returns the iPod. COME ON. This is Adam we are talking about.
+ Will there be a third Adam/Mia book?
Okay. Just to make this crystal clear. And don’t read this if you haven’t read If I Stay and Where She Went because it’s a spoiler. But I keep getting asked if there is a third book for Mia and Adam. And if you have finished Where She Went, I have to ask you to ask yourself this:
Do you really want a third book?
I am so flattered that you ask. Am so flattered that you want to spend more time with the characters. But think about the ways books work. They operate on conflict. A third book would either be Adam and Mia in boring middle age. YAWN. Or I’d have to introduce some new conflict. You know, like give someone cancer. Would you want me to do that to them? Have they not been through enough already???!!!!
I love you all for asking. I love you all for wanting to be with them. You can always be with them in the pages of If I Stay and Where She Went or in your own imaginations. But the only reason I even wrote Where She Went was because Adam and Mia were banging in my head, telling me that they weren’t happy where I’d left them. They’re happy now. They’re quiet now. I’m happy for them now.
+ Will there be a Where She Went movie?
I have no information to share at this time about another movie. If I have any news in the future, I will be sure to share it.
About Just One Day/Year/Night
+ What was the inspiration for Just One?
It’s become a cliché but it’s the truth: Just One Day came to me in a dream. I dreamt about this guy and a girl and they were in a warehouse and even in the dream, I knew they were abroad and that they’d shared this intense day together. I woke up and started unspooling the story. At first I thought Just One Day would be one book—with the exact same ending, I might add—but a week later I was in the shower (it’s where all breakthroughs happen) and I realized that if I split the story into two books, it would be much more complicated and challenging. That’s how Just One Year was born.
+ Was Just One based on true events?
Allyson, the heroine and of Just One Day, and I are very different, but we share one thing in common: Travel changes us from the people we were on our way to becoming to the people we became. When I was sixteen, I was an exchange student in England and that year changed the trajectory of my life. I like to think the same for Allyson. In Just One Day, we see her for a year in her life but I feel like the Allyson at the end of the book, and the Allyson ten years later, is radically different because of her travels. Some of Allyson’s travels (and Willem’s in Just One Year) come straight from my travel diaries, too.
+ Will there be a Just One movie?
We've tried, a few times, to combine Just One into a film script. And much as I love the idea, blending the two stories into one film won't work unless we want a four-hour-film.
So, we are looking at a different way to tell the story that gives us a bit more time and space to do the characters justice.
I'll keep you posted!
+ Will there be another Allyson/Willem book?
No. That series ends with the Just One Night novella.
+ Have you been to most of the foreign locations in Just One?
Yes. Unlike the music in If I Stay and Where She Went (I am not a musician), I was not faking with the travel. I used to travel a lot. Once upon a time I even wrote a book about traveling.
About I Was Here
+ What was the inspiration for I Was Here?
Years ago, I did an article about young women and suicide for Cosmopolitan. There was one woman, Suzy Gonzales, whose story really stuck with me. She seemed so charismatic, so alive, and yet she had taken her own life, under very sinister circumstances. Years later, I was thinking about Suzy, about how it would feel to know someone so bright, so brilliant, so full of promise, and to receive an out-of-the-blue email suicide note. And when I did, Cody was there, raring to go.
About Leave Me
+ What was the inspiration for Leave Me?
Being a mom. Loving my kids. Sometimes feeling completely overwhelmed by all I have to do. Plus a heart scare years ago that had me fretting about who would take care of my kids, or me, if I something happened to me.
About I Have Lost My Way
+ What was the inspiration for I Have Lost My Way?
Umm, a midlife crisis? A nervous breakdown? Writer’s block? The last YA I'd written was I Was Here, which was published in 2016, but I'd written it in 2012. In the intervening years, I’d tried, several times, to write a new YA novel but nothing felt urgent or authentic. I hit the wall on eight different novels. I’d start something and be all gung-ho but then I’d get deeper in (and in some cases, all the way in, with a draft) and lose faith. I became convinced I couldn’t write anymore. Which was terrifying on multiple levels: Writing is the thing I love, the thing I’ve always done, even before I knew I wanted to be a writer. It’s how I work things out. It’s also how I support my family. And something I’d assumed I’d be able to do for a while longer at least. But now I couldn’t. It was like I’d lost my way. That’s what I kept saying to myself. “I have lost my way,” and that brought me to Freya, who’d also lost her way, and then to Harun and Nathaniel. Each of their stories begins with that same line: “I have lost my way.”
+ Will there be a sequel to I Have Lost My Way?
No plans in the works for one. But who knows? I never planned a sequel to If I Stay, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters…so I wrote Where She Went.
+ What books did you love to read as a teen?
I read highly inappropriate books as a teen. Jackie Collins. Harold Robbins. Sydney Sheldon... The things I knew about cocaine and oral sex at 14... But by the time I was in high school, I was reading "literature" like Vonnegut and Dostoyevsky and Milan Kundera. I always tell adults the trick is to get kids to read anything. Books are just gateway drugs to other books.
+ Who are your favorite YA authors?
Too many people to name (Nina LaCour, Elizabeth Acevedo, E. Lockhart, Jandy Nelson, Jacqueline Woodson, Tiffany Jackson... I really could go on). Right now the breadth of Jason Reynolds work, his off and on-page message, is incredibly inspiring to me.
+ What is your favorite cry book?
Charlotte's Web. And not just when Charlotte dies. (Spoiler?) Like all the way through.
+ When did you start writing?
I started writing as soon as I learned my letters. If you want to know when I started writing professionally, that took a bit longer. It wasn’t until after college, when I became a journalist. If you want to know when I started writing novels, not until the ripe old age of 34. There is a hidden message in here, oh 14-year-old-panicking-about-not-publishing-a-book-yet: It’s not a race. It’s a marathon… or some non-sports-related metaphor of your choosing.
+ What made you become an author?
- Boredom. When I was little, there was no Internet or cable TV and my parents made us do things on weekends that were really dull. (Nature hike, anyone?) The only way to survive was to retreat into my imagination and make up stories.
- Poverty. This is not necessarily a wise move, choosing something as random or luck dependent—yes luck, as well as talent and hard work—as writing to get you out of the money pit. But it worked. Before I was an author I was a journalist, which was a very interesting job that I loved, in part because of all the travel. But then I had a baby and couldn’t travel, or didn’t want to. And I had bills to pay and I was panicking and someone suggested I write a novel and I started writing my first novel, Sisters in Sanity. (This is not as out of left field as it seems. I’d been writing for and about young people for most of my career as a journalist and Sisters was inspired by an article I wrote for Seventeen and I’d already written a book though it was nonfiction.) That first YA novel didn’t exactly get me out of the money hole, but it did make me realize that writing YA fiction was exactly what I wanted to do, and inspired me to work as hard as I possibly could to make sure I could keep doing it.
- Escapism. I’m a mom, and half of my life involves cooking and cleaning and carpooling and lice checks. (It’s very glamorous, no?) The other half of my life involves the worlds I escape into within my books. I need both of those halves. I need the escapism that writing offers and I need the grounding that parenting offers.
+ Why do you write YA/write for teens?
I write about young people, but I don’t write young stories. The things I write about in my books—love and death and sacrifice and transformation and choosing the person you want to become—these are all things I grapple with now, as adult Gayle. But for whatever reason, the people who come to me, the characters who whisper in my ear and help me tell these stories, they are younger. I think it’s because life just feels more real and more fraught and the stakes seem much higher when you’re 18, or 21 than at my boring old age. So while I write about teens, I don’t know that I write just for teens. To tell you the truth, I really write stories for myself. That said, I LOVE having a teen audience because they are so enthusiastic and generous and vocal. The funny thing, adult readers who read YA are like this, too. YA is the place to be and I’m grateful it’s where I landed.
+ How long does it take to write your books?
It varies. If I Stay took about three months from the time Mia arrived in my head until I had a draft that was not terribly different from how the book turned out. Where She Went, Just One Day and Just One Year each took about a solid year of painstaking writing and revision.
+ Why do you write books?
Because it is cheaper than therapy.
And because you guys read them. Thank you for reading them. Without you, I couldn’t do this.
+ Where do you write?
I can write anywhere. With coffee. If there's a way to write without coffee, I have not discovered it.