Internationally known for her young adult novels (including I Was Here, Just One Day, and If I Stay), author Gayle Forman has taken on the challenge of writing her first adult novel, Leave Me (Algonquin, Sept.), in which she tackles marriage, motherhood, friendship, and identity. Show Daily caught up with Forman just before she begins her very full BEA schedule.
You’ve been very successful as a young adult novelist. What made you decide to write an adult novel?
I had set out to write another YA novel. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to write about marriage and motherhood. When I started writing it, particularly the scenes with the kids, it was like finding this orchard with low-hanging apples. It was so exciting and satisfying to write it in an honest and unvarnished way.
Were there things you wanted to say that you couldn’t for a YA format?
Not really. My editor noticed there was a lot of profanity and said, “You’re doing this because it’s an adult novel.” I laughed because there is less sex in this than in the YA novels because we’re talking about middle-aged married people.
Tell us about Leave Me.
A woman has a heart attack and emergency surgery. She’s trying to recover back home, with four-year-old twins, a husband who can’t deal, and her mother, who is useless. She is so overwhelmed, she runs away, and it becomes a story about what she is really running from. The novel may have begun as a cathartic revenge fantasy—the mother who finally says, “Enough!”—but as I got deeper, it evolved into a story about the unsaid things that interfere with our ability to take care of ourselves. When I told my friends about this book, so many confessed that they have had this same fantasy of just staying on that train.
What compelled you to tackle this topic?
It’s an interesting time to be talking about working, family, balance, and what you are and aren’t allowed to do, especially with the discussions surrounding this election cycle. What if this was a man who left? By the end, Maribeth’s shocking choice to run away, to take care of herself—to be selfish—no longer felt quite so shocking or so selfish to me. It felt like something that she was entitled to. Like something we are all, at times, entitled to.
When you first starting writing YA novels, did you have any idea the readers would identify so strongly? Did you know you were on to something?
No. When I wrote my second novel, If I Stay, I didn’t have an agent or editor. I was writing it in a corner in my family living room. I had no idea; I was just writing into a vacuum. When it started getting such a big response, there was this disconnect from my quiet writing life and this international response. It was mind-blowing.
Why do you think you can tap so successfully into teenage issues?
Even though I am writing about young people, I am not writing young stories. It’s still stuff I am trying to tap into as an adult.
Are you excited to be meeting booksellers today?
I am one of those people who go into my local bookstore to ask what I should be reading, and the booksellers put books into my hands. When I imagine some bookseller somewhere in the country doing the same with my books to someone else, I am awed and grateful. I understand this is where people find out about books. They really championed If I Stay, so I hope they will like this one as well.
Today, Forman is part of the “Women of Fiction” panel, 2–3 p.m., on the Downtown Stage. Later she will participate in Library Journal’s Day of Dialogue, “Big Authors Panel III,” 4–5 p.m., at the UIC Forum, 725 Roosevelt Rd. Tomorrow, she will be signing in the Algonguin booth (1829), 10:45-11:45 a.m.
This article appeared in the May 11, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.