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YA Wednesday: A Q&A with Gayle Forman

Do you believe in love at first sight?  In Gayle Forman's new young adult novel, Just One Day, JustOneDaypredictable, reliable Allyson Healy meets free spirit Willem on the final stop of her Teen Tours! excursion and it turns her world upside down.  Allyson throws her usual caution to the wind and one day with Willem becomes the first day of life on her own terms.  One of our Best Teen Books of January, Just One Day is romantic, funny, and meaningful.  It is also only half of the story.  Like she did with If I Stay and Where She Went, Forman's next book, Just One Year, will be Willem's point of view.  I guess I'm back to waiting anxiously for the next Gayle Forman, but there are worse things...  I haven't had the chance to meet the author in person but I sent her some questions about Just One Day and her second two-book story arc--you can see her answers below.

Amazon: What was the inspiration for Just One Day?

Gayle Forman: There are two answers to that. The inspiration came, yes, in a dream. I dreamed a guy and a girl in an abandoned warehouse, recognized they were abroad somewhere and had just shared an intense day (and night) together. In a hazy, half-sleep state, I spun out the rest of the story. But the larger inspiration of the book is all the traveling I’ve done, starting when I was sixteen and was an exchange student and carrying on to the year I traveled around the world with my husband. Travel can be exhilarating and exhausting, romantic and harsh, but it’s almost always transformative.

Q: Paris is the perfect setting for both a whirlwind romance and self-discovery--does the city hold special meaning for you and if so, why?

A: Paris does hold special meaning for me, but not for any of the reasons you’d set a romance there. In fact, I was wary of setting the love story part of the novel in Paris because it’s become a bit of a cliché, and also hard to pull off because it’s been done so well so many times before (which is why it’s become a cliché). But Paris, which can have a reputation for, ahem, rudeness toward foreigners, has actually always been very kind to me. I’ve met open-hearted, generous people who are funny and interesting and it was almost automatic that the guy and the girl in my dream would be in Paris. But Paris can also be intimidating, and it needed to be for the sake of the story, for what happens to Allyson after she wakes up without Willem and what she faces when she goes back without him.

Q: What is your favorite Shakespeare play or character and why?

A: As You Like It, which I became very familiar with through the writing of Just One Day and its sequel Just One Year, is currently my favorite play. It’s so rich and resonant and romantic and funny and full of great lines about identity and masks. I’m quite fond of Rosalind (even if Jaques has all the best lines). I’m also a big fan of Kate from The Taming of The Shrew and Paulina in The Winter’s Tale.

Q: What is the most outside-your-comfort-zone thing you've ever done?

A: In 2002, my husband and I traveled around the world for a year; the first stop was the South Pacific island nation of Tonga, which we’d chosen as a first stop because it seemed like we were baby-stepping our way into the wilds—it was a tropical island; English was spoken. But there were so many intensely deep cultural divides, in ways I didn’t even begin to understand, that the place felt both familiar and so strange. Subsequent stops—from Cambodia to Uzbekistan to Malawi—never felt quite so strange to me, so fully outside my comfort zone so much as Tonga did. Then again, I’m a big believer that every time you push out of your comfort zone, you expand it, so perhaps Tonga felt so strange simply because it was the first stop.

Q: Your next book, Just One Year, is Willem's side of the story--did you write them at the same time or one after the other?  Did you know after writing If I Stay  and Where She Went that you wanted to write another set of novels in the same style?

A: For about the first week, I envisioned Just One Day as a standalone, and then I was in the shower—otherwise known as The Place Where All Writerly Breakthroughs Happen—and I realized that it was actually two books. And by making it two books, the whole task became infinitely more complicated and challenging because I had to plot them together, intertwine so much, so subtly, within each book and also between the two. Plus, I had to fully understand both characters before I began writing the first book, so I didn’t have that luxury of figuring out Willem as I wrote his story. I was excited when I had that revelation in the shower, but there were many times when the writing was so challenging, I sort of wished I’d just stayed dirty that day.

Q: What is it about telling a story from both sides in separate books, versus a dual narrative in a single novel that appeals to you?  Do you have any interest in writing a series or trilogy?

A: If I Stay was not planned as a series. I decided to write Where She Went after the characters kept waking me up in the middle of the night, almost screaming at me because of where I’d left them. So I started thinking about their futures and it started to come into focus and it was Adam’s story, skipping ahead several years.

With Just One Day and Just One Year, it’s different; the books intertwine, the narrative of one really weaves into the other. All that said, I think the appeal is the same. You have two novels, with different narrators, different gendered narrators, and each novel having its own arc, because each narrator has his or her own journey. But taken together the two books tell a larger story. I like that If I Stay and Where She Went can be read separately and I expect Just One Day and Just One Year will be the same. But the hope is, that read together, readers will come away with a richer, deeper experience. I suppose that if I needed a trilogy to do this kind of storytelling, I would, but I can’t see wanting to write a story in three parts, from one character’s point of view.

Q: What's the best book you read in 2012?

A: What is it with all this favorites? It’s impossible for me. So I’ll give two.  Best YA read was Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity. Best adult fiction was Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Speaking of an amazing series. I read In The Year of the Flood first (also terrific) although it’s the second book and loved it for its own story. Then I read Oryx and Crake and had my mind fully blown and understood the world in a far richer way. I can’t wait for the third book in her Mad Adam trilogy.

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