Gayle Forman, the author of If I Stay, became a film producer with this film adaptation. She confessed that Adam, the boyfriend of heroine Mia, is like her husband and she got a very romantic line from what her husband said to her! How romantic!!! What’s Up Hollywood also got “exclusive” information about where the idea of the story of If I Stay came from, and her writing style.
And we have her signed book for you! Details are coming!
Q: Where did you get the idea of Mia’s story? Have you had any life or death experiences?
I wrote If I Stay in 2007, 2008. In early 2001, we had two good friends and their two children, and they all were killed in a car accident, a lot like the one that is in If I Stay. It was absolutely devastating. But the thing that was really tormenting for me was one of the children lived longer. He was in a helicopter and they brought him to a trauma center and he was in surgery and then he died. By the time we got the news, the whole family was dead. But that piece just killed me because I always had this picture of this little boy, eight years old, alone on a helicopter. His family is dead. And I wondered, “Did he know? Did he know what had happened to them? Did he decide to go with them?” This was just my own personal grieving process and something I thought about. I wasn’t ever going to write about it. I wasn’t even a novelist back then. So that was 2001.
Then in late 2007, this character pops into my head one morning. She’s 17 years old and she has dark hair, very serious, and she’s a cello player. I knew nothing about the cello, but that’s who she was, and I knew she was a cello player. And I knew that she was going to answer that question of what would you do if this thing had happened to your family and you were aware of it and you could choose, but as it pertained to her. So I didn’t know what her decision would be until I was about halfway through the book.
Q: I heard Adam is kind of like your husband, so what’s your husband like? Was he a rock star?
No, no. He was not a rock star. But when we met, we lived in Oregon, and he was a skinny, blue-haired punk rock boy in a very, very popular band. He’s also somebody who was very, very sweet and able to be kind of vulnerable and also very giving too, somebody who would kind of want what was best for you even though it might not be what was best for him, and even though that might be hard. There’s certain lines from the book and the movie that are taken directly from us which is like…
He never wrote a song about me. I’m like, “Why won’t you write a song about me?” And he’s like, “Because I only like to write songs about things that make me miserable.” So he was the inspiration and the seed. I think that I was thinking about how in love I was with him when we fell in love when I was writing that story, but Adam became his own thing. Adam is definitely more successful and he’s sexier — sorry, Nick — and he’s got more confidence and more swagger to him. My husband’s a little bit more self-effacing and shy.
Q: Did you transform from a journalist to a novelist, because you knew journalism was dead?
I didn’t do it because I knew the internet was changing journalism. I did it because I had a baby and I didn’t want to travel how much I’d been traveling. Also, my husband and I bought an apartment and I had three pieces killed. Financially, it was terrible. We couldn’t pay our bills. I remember telling people, “I don’t know what to do. I can’t make my living as a writer.” And somebody mentioned a young adult novel and said, “You should just write one.” The idea was like a light bulb and I wrote the first one. I didn’t know that I could write a novel, but all the years of journalism had taught me that I could. So I wrote my first young adult novel, called Sisters in Sanity, which I think, even to this day, like 35 people have read. But it made me realize what I wanted to do. And then I wrote If I Stay.
It was strange because my daughter at that point was three, and of course the book is about a lot of things, but I came to realize when I finished it, that it’s about the sacrifices you make for your children without even realizing it. And one of the sacrifices that I made was giving up journalism because I couldn’t have that life and be the kind of mother I wanted to be. So I had to find a way that I could be home and still support the family. That’s how I wound up writing books and that’s how I wound up writing If I Stay, which strangely then became this book that made my career.
Q: How do you change your perspective to that of a teen’s?
I wish I could say I switch my brain to the teen’s perspective. I keep having these ideas for novels to write that are adult novels and they’re about characters that are my age but I’m less interested in telling their story and the voice comes less naturally to me. So I don’t worry so much about the trappings of teen life. The emotions are forever. The emotions that you feel as a teenager I think are no different. I just think adults don’t allow themselves to feel those things the way that teenagers do. The adults put up so many filters and so many blocks. I think that’s one of the reasons I like writing from a younger perspective. I think the stories that I write are about young people but they’re not young stories. I’m dealing with death and life and these decisions and sacrifice and identity and things like that, and things that are going on in my own life now.
Q: When you’re writing you dig out from these walls? It must be pretty hard…
I think I’m a pretty emotional person and my emotions are always pretty accessible to me. That can be a detriment. It can mean that in life I’m not really good at letting things roll off me. I feel things pretty deeply and I have to work very hard sometimes just to let it go. On the flip side, as a writer, it means that I have access to those emotions and I have an ability I think to bring them to the page. So I think all things in life, there’s a flip side. One aspect of it is really positive in the way that it allows me to write and maybe even to relate to other people, but sometimes it can be hard to be that emotional of a person.
Q: You’ve traveled to many countries. What have you learned from your traveling experiences and what do you encourage through your books to young people?
The next two books that I wrote, called Just One Day and Just One Year, are a lot about travel and the transformative power of travel, for young adults. But I think what I learned traveling and how that translates in the book is that traveling made me a braver person because I think the world looks very scary on TV. And then you get out into it and you find out that people, by and large, they’re actually just like you. They have the same things that they worry about. They worry about their families and they fall in love and they have their hearts broken and they’re good. That’s the overwhelming thing…
I think that filters back into the books that I write because I don’t really write villains. I think that life itself is complicated and difficult enough that I don’t need to have bad people. I believe in difficult people and people who are burned and maybe it makes them act in harsh ways sometimes. But I just don’t believe in bad [people]. I know they do exist, but my experience with the world has not been that way. I have always been treated with such generosity that it just kind of I think infuses even when I’m not writing about the wider world.
Q: What’s a writer’s lifestyle like? You get up 6:30, 7 and get the kids ready and then you start to work?
Then I start to work. Then three o’clock the kids come home, and I try and be finished working. They’re used to having me. They’re spoiled. So they get angry when I do work stuff when they’re home. I don’t write on the weekends because my husband’s off on the weekends and weekend is family time. Sometimes when I’m really under the deadline, I might work into the weekends. Or when I’m really going crazy with a book that I’m just obsessed with, I can’t stay away from it.
If I Stay opens in theaters August 22nd.