Sometimes life works in mysterious ways. Take author Amy Talkington. Before she penned her first novel — the young adult ghost story Liv, Forever — she was going to tell her tale as a screenplay for a movie. But after she wrote it as a book, it got optioned by a film company…who hired Talkington to write the screenplay. Though in talking to her about the book, it seems that some of what happened while she wrote the novel wasn’t so mysterious.
I always like to start at the beginning: What is Liv, Forever about and where did you get the idea for it?
Liv, Forever is a young adult novel, my first. It’s about a young artist who lands at a prestigious boarding school. Just when she starts to get in the groove, and falls in love for the first time, she’s murdered. While lingering as a ghost, she learns she’s the victim of a conspiracy that has claimed many other lives. She has to connect to the one guy who can hear her, work to expose the conspiracy and, hopefully, reconnect in some way with her love.
The idea came from a bunch of things piling up in my brain at once. First, I just had this character I wanted to write: Liv. Emotionally, she’s a lot like I was in high school and I wanted to explore that.
Secondly, I’ve been interested in ghosts and the supernatural world for a long time. So, I started to think about how I might craft a ghost story involving a character like Liv. I got excited about the metaphors a ghost story could bring to a teen novel.
And, finally, when I was working on the story, the Occupy movement was happening, and I was really struck by the great divide in our country between the 99% and the 1%. I wanted to tap into that suspicion we all have that the 1% would happily sacrifice us in order to serve themselves. So all that comes to play in the school’s mythology and conspiracy.
As a kid, you went to a boarding school. How much of that experience inspired, or at least informed, the book?
I went to Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. Choate is nothing like Wickham Hall. Choate is a diverse, inspiring, and tolerant environment. And I flourished there. The only similarity between Wickham and Choate is the Art Center. I definitely had Choate’s Art Center in mind as I wrote the art scenes. It’s the place where I had my first solo show of paintings, the place I had art flirtations, like Liv does, and the place where I started to find my voice as an artist. So it’s kind of a sacred place to me and I loved giving Liv that same sanctuary.
In the press materials, it says, “The novel aspires to be Ghost for the Twilight generation.” Do you think this is fair thing to say?
That’s a producer’s pitch from a Deadline Hollywood article. I would never, ever put it that way myself, but I can see where they’re coming from. There is definitely a dynamic that is similar to Ghost: there’s a ghost who has to use a third party to communicate with her loved one. And I think they just use “Twilight generation” to mean “teenager.” So, it’s fair enough, I suppose, but I personally would never say that’s what the book aspires to be.
What works of fiction — books, movies, whatever — informed the way you depict ghosts in your novel?
I’m not a big paranormal reader, so I needed to explore how other people played the “ghost” rules. The books that I read or revisited were [Gail Forman’s] If I Stay, [Alice Seybold’s] The Lovely Bones, Tonya Hurley’s Ghostgirl, Libba Bray’s The Diviners, and Maureen Johnson’s Name Of The Star. They are all excellent books that involve ghosts in some way, but aren’t necessarily defined as part of the paranormal genre.
You originally conceived the story as a screenplay, but then realized it would be a good book, and wrote it as such. How much of the story had you figured out before you made the switch and what made you think it would work as a book, or work better as a book?
While still imagining it as a movie, I worked out a very detailed treatment for the story. But there were several reasons I started to think about writing it as a book. First, I wanted to explore Liv’s voice in a way that I couldn’t in a screenplay. Also, I knew I wanted to create a deep mythology and history for Wickham Hall, something that could really flourish and develop in a book. And, the story just felt like it might have the right ingredients for a good young adult book. So I took it to the one book editor I know — from Choate, actually — and he offered me a contract. I’ve always wanted to write a book, so it seemed like my perfect opportunity to go for it. Of course, after I signed the contract and realized that I’d agreed to write a book, and fast, I freaked out.
The irony being that the book has already been picked up as a movie, with you writing the script. Will the story you tell in your script differ from the one you tell in the book in any significant ways?
I have a series of what I call “Ghost Death Statements” interspersed throughout the book. In fact the book opens with one. They are first-person statements in which each of the ghosts tells how she died. They’re one of my very favorite parts of the book, but they won’t be in the screenplay. I mean, you just can’t stop a movie every ten minutes and have a ghost talk directly to camera, explaining how she died. At least not in a mainstream movie. So I have to find more cinematic ways to bring all that information into the screen story.
In writing the script, have you made any changes and then thought, “Dang, I should’ve done that in the book”?
Not yet but I’m sure I will.
You’ve previously directed some shorts and the movie The Night Of The White Pants. Is there any chance you might direct this one? And would you even want to?
I’d love to direct this movie, and there is a scenario in which that could happen. But more likely we’ll bring on another director.
Who do you think would be good to direct it?
We’re still figuring out exactly what the movie version of this story is, so it’s hard for me to say. I think there are some really exciting horror directors to look at, and also some awesome new indie voices.
What about casting, who would you want to see in the major roles?
You have to believe Liv is an outsider. You also have to believe that her emotions run deep beyond her exterior. Some of the actresses I picture when I think of Liv are Chloë Grace Moretz, Elle Fanning, and Hailee Steinfeld. It’s not so much about the way they look, but more because of their emotional depth and acting chops. But I’m sure new faces will emerge as we’re developing the project as well.
I’d love to be able to discover new actors for both Malcolm and Gabe but type-wise, picture someone like Ansel Elgort for Malcolm and someone like maybe Rory Culkin for Gabe.
Finally, prior to becoming a screenwriter, you wrote for a bunch of music magazines, including my alma mater Ray Gun. So I’ll ask, what albums did you listen to the most while writing the book?
I was really trying to access my emotional teenage self while writing this, so I was mostly listening to the music of my teens, all the cassette tapes that I packed to take to boarding school, such as The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground And Nico, Echo And The Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain, Bauhaus’ In The Flat Field, and The Cure’s The Head On The Door, amongst others. Though of course, I also listened to some newer stuff, songs that set the mood such as Fleet Foxes and The xx, both of which ended up on Malcolm’s playlist for Liv.