The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in Lauren Oliver’s case.
The 30-year-old New York Times bestselling author is the daughter of two literature professors. Her mother teaches pre-1920 British literature at C.W. Post and edits a literary magazine. Her father teaches pre-1920 American literature at Queens College and is well-known for his true-crime books.
“I was brought up in a culture where the importance of reading, creativity and imagination were emphasized,” said Oliver, who grew up mostly in New York’s Westchester County and now lives in Brooklyn.
Her father, Harold Schecter, has served as her role model.
“Dad’s incredibly disciplined. He always wrote every day, still does,” she said.
Oliver says she writes by word count, 1,000 a day when working on one book, and 1,250 a day when two are on the table.
So far, she has published a novel and a trilogy for young adult readers, ages 14 and older. “Half my readers are over 30, though,” she said, observing that “teens and people in their early and mid-20s deal with the same questions of identity and romance.”
Oliver also has produced two books for 8- through 12-year-olds, and her first adult novel is due out from HarperCollins next year. Now she is working on another young adult novel, a series for middle-graders and a new idea for an adult novel.
“Requiem,” released this month, is the final book of her dystopian trilogy that began with “Delirium” and “Pandemonium.” It completes the saga of teen heroine Lena Holoway who lives in a world where love is a prohibited, deadly disease curable via a government-mandated treatment. The trilogy is the basis for a new Fox network drama pilot starring Emma Roberts as Lena.
Oliver claims to have been “serious about writing” from the start. At age 6 or 7, “I wrote stories about cats, and my own stories about characters I read about,” she said. “I wrote fan fiction before it was a genre.”
In middle school, she said, “I started applying imagination. I created little magazine editions for my friend Jackie. They all ended with her kissing the boy of her dreams.”
As a high school freshman, she wrote her first novel, “a riff on Jane Austen.” And as a senior working on a bachelor’s degree in literature and philosophy at the University of Chicago, “I wrote a novel, got an agent, made the rounds. It was rejected by virtue of having no plot. My second novel had the same fate.”
Finally, while pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing at New York University, she said, “I learned a ton.” Concurrently, she had a full-time job in Penguin’s Young Adult book department, where “I learned how to tell a story and plot” by absorbing and reading established writers, and editing fledgling talents. She also started work on what would be her first published novel, “Before I Fall.”
Oliver left Penguin to write full-time, but the experience provided the impetus for another of her current enterprises. As co-owner of the 3-year-old literary development company Paper Lantern Lit, she helps young authors learn how to plot and tell stories — and be commercially viable.
“We provide the concept and an outline, and match each project with a good voice,” she explains. “It’s intensive [for the writers] at first, but we encourage independence, then release them like baby birds.”
The company, she says, distinguishes itself from “packagers that are like a factory. We are author friendly, hands on, and produce beautiful and strange books.”