Why Lauren Oliver explores toxic friendship in her new novel Broken Things
Lauren Oliver is keeping pretty busy. The best-selling YA author, best known for titles like Before I Fall, just published her new thriller Broken Things and is currently in production on a pilot based on her hit novel Panic. (She wrote the adaptation herself.) To add to that, she’s running her own production company with other women, Glasstown Entertainment, which is in the thick of the booming book-to-movie pipeline. Oliver says their work reflects “the changing media landscape,” in which “there are fewer divisions between how people consume content.”
EW caught up with Oliver on the many projects she’s working on. Read our interview below. Broken Things is now available for purchase.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Broken Things is a mystery-thriller, but it’s about female friendship. What do you hope to convey?
LAUREN OLIVER: I’m very interested in general in female friendship stories. They’re at the heart of all of my books…. In this case, I was really impacted by the movie Heavenly Creatures. These friendships: It’s a toxic intimacy. I’ve had those friendships in my life that become the center of your world, but at the same time, you can lose your connection to reality. It’s like clinging to each other as you drown.
What’s your secret to keeping the reader drawn in? This is a slow-burn, but it’s engrossing.
I wish I could tell you! It’s a lot of trial and error, honestly. In this case, as usual, you do some of the blocking: Since tension and suspense is all about information and who knows what when, trying to get those big moments down in some kind of outline [is important] so you don’t get lost. Then it’s just a sensibility thing. That’s why writing requires so much practice: You have to feel it as you go through. To be honest, I didn’t know [the final twist] until I got to the page where I was writing it, which was a very shocking experience.
So did that change the book?
No, actually. Once I got to the place … I realized it was the inevitable resolution. Everything I’d written had implied and entailed what happens in that moment. It’s the only time I’ve been scared while writing a book.
You’re turning Panic into a potential series for Amazon. What’s it like adapting your own book?
I love working with them. This project had so many different permutations; it was [previously] at Universal as a feature. A little bit over a year ago, I confessed my deepest desire to turn it into a TV show. One doesn’t always love their books, but I’ve always really loved this one…. It’s interesting, writing a novel is such a solitary experience, so it’s really nice to watch [those involved] find their way into the world and see them relate to it. But it’s a big learning curve, for sure. [Laughs]
Have you been making any changes? Has your conception of the story changed at all?
We’ve been going through the casting process, and I realized that even though I wrote the adaptation, that Heather the protagonist, as she’s lived for so long in my head, is actually not the same Heather that’s on the page, exactly, in a TV show. She would honestly be intolerable to watch! You don’t have access to interiority, and she’s so quiet and depressive in some ways. But it took me a long time to see it. I was carrying around a lingering impression of somebody, if you just read the pilot, is not representative. There are changes to the story, too. Most of it is faithful, but of course, the reason to do it is to be able to expand and interweave a much deeper sense of all the characters and the town. It’s required different storylines.
You’ve been writing in the YA space for years, and it seems like it’s really hitting in the TV and movie world right now. Would you agree?
People are realizing belatedly that the problem with teenagers is not that they are consuming content online, but that their habits have shifted to such a degree that they watch exclusively from streaming services. There’s a lot of people investing in content and it’s not easy to differentiate yourself. And, honestly, I’ve never been a fan of people who are derogatory toward making content for young people. It’s a very important time for people to see themselves reflected in stories. Those [teenage] years are really transformative, and to be able to process them through a variety of fictional representations is critical.
You’re also doing a bit of this with your own production company, Glasstown, which is women-run. Panic is set up there, for instance. How would you articulate the mission of the company, given this evolution?
Our emphasis on narrative structure has made us particularly poised to do work in Hollywood because the exigencies are the same and we’re so framed in it. We want to do both. We want to adapt other things as well, and we do have adaptations that we’re working on that are adapted from books and graphic novels we’ve found. Not everything we make is adaptable to film; not everything we’re trying to do for film and TV is appropriate in book form. But part of the changing media landscape means there are fewer divisions between how people consume content. If people identify with these brand and story verticals, they just want more of them — regardless of the medium. It’s different ways of connecting. Glasstown, because it has film and TV now, is uniquely positioned to do that.