What inspired you to become a writer?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I never thought of it as an actual career. Growing up, it seemed about as likely as becoming a ballerina or an astronaut. But here’s the secret: writing and publishing are two very different things. And I always knew I’d write, because it was something I really loved to do. But it’s still kind of amazing to me that my work has been published, and that there are people out there reading it. So I feel very, very lucky.
What’s your writing process?
There’s a great quote from E.L. Doctorow that goes, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” That sums up my writing process perfectly. I’m not a planner or an outliner, but I always have a vague idea of where I’m headed, and I can usually see as far as the next chapter. Still, there’s a whole lot of darkness up ahead, and as I write further into each book, I’m always just hoping that those headlights will be enough to get me all the way home.
Where did you come up with the idea for The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight?
Several years ago, on a flight from Chicago to Dublin, I was seated next to a man from Ireland. He was reading a book that I loved, and we started chatting, and ended up talking for much of the flight. He was older – probably in his sixties – and there was nothing romantic about it, but it was nice to meet a kindred spirit, someone who loved books the way I do, and it made the hours pass quickly. When we arrived in Dublin, we walked off the plane together, but we ended up in separate lines for customs, since he was an Irish citizen. We didn’t exactly say goodbye; I think we both thought we’d see each other on the other side, but my line ended up being really slow, and when I finally made it through, he was gone. It was obviously a much different situation from the one in the book, but it definitely provided some of the initial inspiration for the story of Hadley and Oliver.
And what about This Is What Happy Looks Like?
Because my name is very, very common, a lot of emails intended for me end up going astray. I’ve always wondered about the person getting all of them, and what might happen if she actually wrote back, sparking a correspondence between two total strangers. It seemed like an interesting way to start a love story. And I was intrigued by the idea that the completely wrong person could actually turn out to be exactly the right person.
And The Geography of You and Me?
This one started in two different ways. First, with the blackout. I was in Manhattan in 2003 during the massive blackout that affected much of the East Coast, and it was such a surreal experience – one that made me really fall in love with the city. So I’d been wanting to write about it for quite a long time. Secondly, I was interested in exploring the idea of a long distance relationship. There’s a line in the book that goes, “How long could a single night really be expected to last? How far could you stretch such a small collection of minutes?” Basically, I was interested in seeing what would happen if I brought two characters together, and then – after a brief, but very real connection – pulled them apart again. So that’s where the story began for Lucy and Owen.
What inspired you to write Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between?
There are certain days in life that stand out more than others, and when I think back on the night before I left for college, I’m always stuck by how – even all these years later – it’s still so vivid. I wanted to try to capture those last twelve hours: all the excitement and heartbreak and emotion. Most of my books are one big hello, but this one is one big goodbye.
What about Windfall?
I’ve always been obsessed with things like fate and timing and chance, and I love to write about moments in time that act as hinges – days where there’s a really clear split between a before and an after, where yesterday everything was one way, and tomorrow everything will be different. I’m not sure anything represents that quite so perfectly as winning the lottery. It’s the ultimate wish fulfillment, a fantasy pretty much everyone’s had at some point, and more than that, it creates this really seismic shift in people’s lives, which for me is always the most interesting place to start a story.
And Field Notes on Love?
I’ve always loved trains. There’s something so soothing about the rhythm of them, and the way the world passes by out the window. I’ve never taken a train all the way across the country, as Hugo and Mae do in the book, but I’ve been on some long rides, and I wanted to explore what would happen when you took two complete strangers and put them together on a journey like that.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
My advice for writers always sounds really simple, but it’s true: The very best thing you can do is to read a lot and write a lot. The more you read, the more you’ll understand the way a novel works, and the more you’ll stumble across examples of really great ones. And the only way to figure out if you can write a novel yourself is to actually sit down and try to write one. Don’t be afraid to fail, because even failure can be useful when it comes to writing. Every single word, every single sentence, every single chapter – it’s all getting you to the next word or sentence or chapter, which might turn out to be the one that works. So just write what you’re most passionate about, and don’t worry about the rest of it. Writing is always going to be a leap of faith, and that’s not an easy thing; there will always be critics and rejections and naysayers. All you can do is focus on the part you can control, which are the words themselves. Make those the best you possibly can.
I’m doing a book report on you, but I need more information. Help!
First of all: thank you! That’s so nice. If you can’t find what you need on this website, or elsewhere online, then feel free to get in touch with me through the contact page, and I’ll do my best to respond in time.
Can I send you some of my writing?
I’m honored you’re asking, but if I read everything that was sent my way, I’d never have time to write more books of my own. So sorry!