Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Writing was always a part of my life. My parents definitely encouraged my sister and me to live imaginatively; we were constantly playing make-believe, scribbling down stories, inventing worlds of our own, and of course, reading. I’m not sure I always knew I’d be able to write for a living, though–for a long time, I wanted to be a ballet dancer!
Why do you write for young readers?
I think I’m drawn to writing young adult books because the themes of many coming-of-age stories–identity, first loves, self-definition–strongly appeal to me. And I love writing middle grade books because the first books I ever loved, the first books that ever inspired me, were written for that age group (The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe; Matilda; the Redwall series). But I have an “adult” novel coming out in 2014 and I think I’ll probably continue writing for all ages.
I wanted to write a book about love–not just romantic love, but love between siblings and family members and friends. At the time, the country was in the middle of a panic about bird flu (or maybe swine flu–I always get them mixed up). The epidemic never materialized, thankfully, and I started thinking about how easily people could be driven into a panic over fears of contagion. Then I started thinking about the fact that love bears many “symptoms” in common with certain psychiatric disorders. And the idea was born.
Did you have the series planned as three books from the beginning?
I was hopeful that the series would be a trilogy, yes, although I wasn’t entirely sure that HarperCollins (my publisher) would agree with me. But I did have a loose idea of the arc for an entire trilogy in mind.
Do you follow an outline?
I try to outline, definitely–otherwise I just end up writing pages and pages of character description and absolutely no plot. I’m a very boring writer unless I think rigorously about what will happen. Of course, the plot often diverges from the outline as I get into the writing, but that’s normal.
Lena just kind of came to me. Certain elements of writing are, for me, technical (like the plotting); I have to think and plan very carefully. But other elements seem more like alchemy. Characters step onto the stage of my mind and just introduce themselves.
How does the finished series compare to what you initially imagined?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I’m definitely proud of the series; each book is very different, which was important to me.
Are you surprised by the reaction your books have received?
Yes, very! Surprised, grateful, thrilled, excited.
How do you feel now that your trilogy is complete?
It’s definitely bittersweet. I lived for more than four years with the same set of characters and the same dilemmas. It’s sad to leave them behind–like moving to a different state and having to make a whole new set of friends. At the same time, there’s a relief to it. I brought the series to a conclusion and I’m satisfied with it.
My next teen book, PANIC, comes out in Spring 2014. It’s realistic fiction, and stand-alone, and altogether different from the Delirium series. I’m very excited about it. And I’m also working on an adult novel, ROOMS.
Looking back, how has your writing evolved?
I think (at least, I hope) that with every book I get a little stronger as I writer–a little clearer, more concise, a little less prone to cliche. Every time I reread any of my books, I always find words that might be cut or images that can be strengthened.
Is there a book from your own youth that still resonates with you?
A ton! I still read Matilda every time I’m sick. And I will always love The Wind in the Willows. It’s possibly the coziest book of all time.