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Lauren Oliver's Replica interview

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Charles Grantham

Form and content come together beautifully in Lauren Oliver’s brilliantly ambitious new book, Replica, out Oct. 4, 2016. Written as two books in one, Replica blends the stories of Gemma and Lyra — one a girl, and one a Replica, born and raised in a research facility. Readers can read the book straight through, as chapters alternate between each character’s perspective, or read Gemma’s story in full, then Lyra’s story in full.

If this sounds complicated, we’re with you. Fortunately, Oliver got on the phone with us to clear up our questions, explain why she took on such a complex project, and hint at the sequel, Simulation, yet to come. EW is also proud to reveal your exclusive first look at Replica’s interactive jacket, below:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m intrigued by this book — but I don’t completely understand it. Can you explain it in your words?

LAUREN OLIVER: It’s two books in one, basically, and each of the books is told from a different person’s perspective. They are independent in that each story has a full arc on its own, and you can read it straight through. You don’t need to reference the other story in order for it to have a complete meaning. But they’re interdependent in the sense that, by reading them together, you get a much fuller picture and understanding of the whole story. Basically, it tells a third story that’s much larger.

So if somebody were to read only Gemma first, and then read Lyra’s book after, and then somebody else read it all at once, would they come away having read the same book?

That’s an interesting question. Yes, and no. On the one hand, they will have absorbed the same amount of information over time. On the other hand, the impact of reading the books, like one book and then the other, alters your experience because of things you’ve learned that are deliberately placed in one book or the other. Plus the chapters, if you read them alternating, which you can, have been designed for that way of reading, too. So you’d read a Gemma chapter, then a Lyra chapter, or a Lyra chapter and a Gemma chapter. The chapters have been arranged so that they’re speaking to each other, in a way.

So you’d lose the speaking-to-each-other chapters [if you read one full story, then the other]. But then I’ve heard people say it’s incredibly cool to read Lyra first because of things you then know when you pick up Gemma’s and start to read her experience, and vice versa.

How did you come up with this idea?

Well I don’t really remember! I kept saying, “Why did I decide to do this? I will never do this again.” The book is about identity and what makes a person an individual, and what makes a person a person, really. So I guess it actually started years ago: I had played around with the idea that it would be cool to publish two books at the same time, one of them for the adult audience and one for the teen audience, that would essentially feature two different characters, but maybe one of them is an older sister and one is a younger sister. And I still might do that, so nobody else steal my idea! I’d been thinking about how many adults read teen books, and also that there do seem to be very different exigencies about, not that you can’t tackle the same themes or questions or even worlds in adult and YA, but that there are different ways of storytelling, different formal ways of storytelling.

So Replica was kind of was an outgrowth of that idea, because when I started thinking about these two different girls, and that kind of mirroring effect you’d get, which, in a book about clones and identity and individuality, seems like it would have been a good structure for it. It was, but it almost killed me.

What part almost killed you?

First of all, moving the characters through time the same way. In each chapter, if you are reading them in alternating passages, time has to be progressing in the same way. The reader can’t have to move back and forth in time when they’re alternating, so that was difficult. But also, just pacing out the information so that all three ways of reading it are viable. It’s hard enough in a novel to figure out where and how reveals should happen, and how they’re going to impact the rest of the story. But when you’re doing it in three ways, it’s even harder.

Writing two books sounds complicated enough, but then having them fit together like a puzzle must be even more difficult.

It was really difficult. And not every single chapter speaks directly to the other, although they do pretty much. I mean the truth is, you have to basically be able to read one straight through and then the other and feel like it’s additive — that is, enhances the reading experience — not like, all of these mysteries have been solved. Each Gemma and Lyra have to have their own mystery and progression, but in order for the books to actually speak together, they have to actually be uncovering things not just for themselves, but in one another’s storylines. It was hard.

Do Gemma and Lyra exist in the same time?

Yep. They meet at one point.

So will we see their meeting from both perspectives?

Yep!

How long did it take you to write?

Two years. Two and a half, maybe?

Sounds pretty fast.

Yeah, I mean, it’s a little over double what it usually takes me to write a book.

How did you keep things organized? I’m picturing you have a serial killer wall with notecards and pieces of string.

I really should have done that. I didn’t, and I think that was also partly why I took a lot of time. I’m writing the sequel now, and I’m way more careful from the beginning. There were things I didn’t fully understand when I was writing it. I mean, first of all, I outlined it tremendously. Second of all, when I was first doing it, I hadn’t thought through the fact that time was going to have to be moving for both of them in the same way. Because I mean, for any book where you have a chapter from two different points of view and you’re alternating, you can sometimes move a little bit backwards or a little bit forwards, but not really. If you move forward, you have to move forward for both characters.

I hadn’t fully realized that. That was so hard, because I basically finished writing both books, and went back through and I was like, “Okay, well this doesn’t work at all.” There were times, for example, where Lyra had been sleeping overnight, but then the corresponding action that I’d written for Gemma unfolded over the course of an afternoon. So I had to completely rewrite those passages so that they would both be moving through time in the same way.

Now I’m thinking about the sequel because when you’re even talking about how [the two stories] speak to each other, for example, the chapters that are numbered the same kind of have to be unfolding at the same time. “Speaking to each other” means, if you get to the end of a Gemma passage where she’s being told, let’s say, “Replicas are criminals and they have no morality,” what you really want is for the numbered chapter after that, in Lyra’s section, to show Lyra doing something criminal.

Are you worried that people will be intimidated, or “pre-confused” by the book?

“Pre-confused,” that’s great. Can we make that a word? I haven’t been [worried] until you asked me! I’m just kidding. I mean, maybe. But you can literally pick it up and do whatever you want with it, and you’ll come away with something. I was pre-confused for you, is what you need to know, so you can be “post-not-confused.” Because any way you pick it up, except by inventing a sheer, new way of reading a book that doesn’t exist, you’re going to have a great experience.

I think also, one of the things that makes the book exciting in a way, and will make it exciting to people who love books, is that people have really enjoyed, afterward, being able to speak with other people about how they read it, and how that influenced or changed their feelings about it.

What’s the sequel, Simulation, going to be about?

It still follows the same two girls and is told from their perspectives. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there are even more mix-ups that occur. It’s actually more complicated.

Did you have any input into the jacket?

I didn’t, and they did such an amazing job. I love it. It’s amazing. They deliberately chose to make the jacket so you could play with it and interact with it in much the same way that you can interact with the book itself. It’s fantastic. To be honest, I had no idea how they would even start to make the jacket, but that’s also why I’m not a designer and they are. Erin Fitzsimmons is a genius, and she has done so many of my covers. We just love her.