Lauren DeStefano on the Birth of a Bestselling Series
Lauren DeStefano stepped onto the young adult lit scene in 2011 with her dystopian debut, "Wither." The book's heroine, Rhine, lives in a world where genetic experiments have left the world's populations with shortened life spans (women die at age 20, men at age 25). When she is kidnapped and forced to marry the wealthy Linden Ashby, Rhine discovers she is not alone--two others, Jenna and Cecily, are also to be married to the same man. A sequel, "Fever," followed the story of the sister-wives in 2012, and the author found herself with a New York Times bestselling series. The Chemical Garden trilogy comes to a close this month with the publication of "Sever." DeStefano reveals how she sparked the series in this exclusive essay for Bookish.
The Chemical Garden trilogy began one afternoon while I was sick with the flu. I wasn’t feeling well enough to leave my bed, and so I opened my laptop and did what I often do: read through my archive of abandoned story ideas.
One such idea was for a short story about a world in which a dwindling population forces mankind to take desperate action. The few sentences I had written told of a household in which a man had taken three reluctant brides. I had outlined brief features and personality traits for the three brides, and something about a tragic death. I expected that the story would be 3,000 words at most, and that I could finish it while I was recovering.
A few days and 20,000 words later, I realized that this short story was turning into a full-on novel. And not only that, I began to suspect that one book wouldn’t be enough to tell the entire tale. So I kept writing, uncertain of where my efforts would take me, as the world grew and took shape around me.
Within a few days, I was feeling much better, but I couldn’t drag myself away from the keyboard. Every time I sat before it, more of the story appeared. I became obsessed. I called in sick to work day after day. I silenced my phone. If not for the persistent meowing, I’d have forgotten to feed my cats.
Even as I wrote the first draft, the characters and the story surprised me. Within a month’s time, I had completed the first course of the journey.
It was several months before I was contracted to write the second book ["Fever"], and more than a year before I sat down to write the third and final installment ["Sever"]. But, while each book is its own separate piece of the journey, one thing they all have in common is the magnetic pull that held me to my keyboard. For all three books, time disappeared around me. My cats clawed the furniture for attention. A friend threatened to stage an intervention. Dust accumulated on my shelves.
That feeling of timelessness is my favorite aspect of writing. The Chemical Garden Trilogy is written and will be published in its entirety. I’ve received letters from readers who have told me that my books accompanied them on long drives and in hospital waiting rooms, and that it provided for them an escape from time, in which the world around them faded away. That is a key thing that writers and readers will always have in common. That’s what stories are for.
Lauren DeStefano is the author of The Chemical Garden Trilogy, which includes "Wither," "Fever" and "Sever." She earned her BA in English with a concentration in creative writing from Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut. Visit her at LaurenDeStefano.com.