Lauren Oliver is well known and quite beloved for her young adult and children's books. Her first novel for adults, Rooms, is a ghost story, but is completely unlike any we've read before. In an elegant blend of real and supernatural worlds, the story takes place entirely within the walls of one house, moving from room to room and unfolding through the voices of seven different narrators—including two ghosts.
What was your inspiration for Rooms?
I’m really interested in old houses. I grew up in an old house, and when I grew up there, I was always thinking about the people who must have lived there before and the people who lived there afterwards. Part of the idea for Rooms was I wanted to just be able to tell a house’s story—all of the dramas and tensions and romances that have played out within one home—and be able to tell it in a way where you’re collapsing the timeframe and telling multiple stories that have existed at different points.
I also love stories of dysfunctional families that can be in a home—This Is Where I Leave You being a recent example, which is about family that returned home to observe shiva, but also The Corrections. There’s a whole literary tradition of dysfunctional families that return home and collide.
What sort of research did you do on ghosts or haunted houses for this book?
My ghosts are unlike other apparitions or spirits that one would typically find in Gothic literature or “Ghost Hunters”-type TV shows. My ghosts have real personalities and narratives and patterns of speech. But I did do a lot of research about who they were and what kind of life they lived. One of my ghost narrators was born around 1920, and the other was born in the early 1950s in Georgia. They have had experiences that I didn’t really know about—like anything, when vacuum cleaners became common usage, what it was like to grow up in Georgia in 1955.
Did you draw on any well-known haunted houses?
No, not really. One of my best and oldest friends is obsessed with ghosts and obessed with hauntings, so I’ve gone with her on different ghost missions and tours. And I have an old house in upstate New York which is allegedly haunted. Although I have never had any experiences with the ghosts, several of my friends have.
But the research I did was more about encapsulating their personalities and what their experiences would’ve been.
There are seven main narrators in Rooms. Did you have one you enjoyed writing the most?
I really loved writing Trenton. I had a particular fondness for him because he was one of the first characters that came to me. Sandra was a hard voice for me to capture because she’s so incisive and foul-mouthed—not that I’m not foul-mouthed, but I’m foul-mouthed in a very different way. She’s older and she’s so ornery. And so it was hard for me to get her voice, but once I did, it was so fun. She says the most ridiculous things, uses the most ridiculous metaphors. She’s a crass, loud, doesn’t-give-a-shit kind of person.
This is your first novel for adults. Did you face any new challenges in switching to an adult audience?
I came across a million challenges regarding Rooms because of the way that it’s structured and the way that there are so many narrators and the fact that it takes place in one house—but those are not necessarily challenges endemic to it being for adults. It’s hard to say, because those are challenges endemic to the book, and I couldn’t have written that book in that way for anybody who wasn’t an adult. So of course they’re related, but afterward it feels like the challenges pertain to the material itself and not to any audience.
In March 2015 I have a teen book called Vanishing Girls, which is a realistic novel about teen girls in the aftermath of an accident, for fans of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. In fact E. Lockhart blurbed it. In the fall I’m launching a middle grade series that’s really fun, called Curiosity House. And then currently I’m writing a teen book and an adult book.
Is there anyone you’re excited to see while you’re here for the Southern Festival of Books?
I’m here for like one second, so no. I’m just going to catch up with two of my friends, Claudia Gray and Lev Grossman, though now it turns out I’m probably going to miss him.