Everyone has them: those fears that paralyze you, freeze you in your tracks. And in Carp, N.Y., the setting of Lauren Oliver’s latest young adult novel Panic, the graduating seniors must face those fears during their last summer at home in a game to win $67,000.
The game, aptly called the Panic, requires students at the high school to pay into the pot throughout their four years, and at the end of it, they have a chance to reclaim that money. But they have to complete some pretty gruesome tasks to get it, from cliff diving to haunted house visiting to Russian roulette.
“I’m kind of a dark person, first of all,” Oliver says jokingly. “No, the inspiration originally came from a Grimm’s fairy tale, a comic one, which is kind of exceptional since none of them are very funny. Basically it’s about a boy who is so ‘simple’ — in the context of the time — he doesn’t know what fear is. He doesn’t understand what people mean when they say they have shivers or goose flesh. And so he goes forth trying to make himself deeply afraid … It really got me thinking about what it is that makes some people more capable of withstanding fear than others. And there’d be some motivation other than just courageousness to make people withstand fear.”
And she’s not so sure she’d be able to take more than others. “I have an intense phobia of worms,” she says. “I would have dropped out [of the Panic] and not done it.”
To form the cast, she created a web of different characters. “Creating a novel is like working your way into a party where you don’t really know anyone yet, and you’re just starting to get a feel for it,” Oliver explains. “You know, you’re just trying to make small talk to the people who come up to you who you don’t know. So I basically started with every single player.” And in doing so, she created a town and a group of characters that set the tone.
Learning how to do so also came from her past experience as an editor. “I was writing these long, boring thoughtless novels for adults. I ended up getting a job at Penguin in the young adult section,” she explains. “My reading and my writing have always been really respondent to one another. As an editor you’re expected to read a ton of books, and really, in that capacity, was how I learned how to tell a story. And that’s it. At this point, I’ve done basically everything. I’ve done children’s books and in the fall I’ll have my first adult book.”
Oliver will share more about her writing and her techniques when she comes to town as part of the Story Crush Tour on Wed. March 5. She’ll stop by Blue Bicycle Books along with Katie Cotugno (How to Love), Robyn Schneider (The Beginning of Everything), Melissa Kantor (Maybe One Day), and Courtney C. Stevens (Faking Normal). The authors will take part in a Pre-YALLFest panel and discuss their writing.
“[The tour has a] sorority girl feel, and we hop across the country together on trains, planes, and automobiles,” says Oliver. Panic hits book shelves on Tues. March 4 — just in time for the panel discussion on Wednesday.