Born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, Lauren Thoman studied music education, though soon realized that the life of a band director was not for her. Her passion for pop culture and watching and analyzing movies and TV shows led her to become a frequent contributor to a number of prominent online pop culture outlets, such as Parade, Vulture, PopSugar, Looper, and Collider.
Her debut novel, I’LL STOP THE WORLD, will be published by Mindy Kaling under her eponymous imprint with Amazon Publishing, Mindy’s Book Studio, on April 1, 2023. She lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee with her family.
Voyage: What was the inspiration behind your novel, I’ll Stop the World? What made you want to tell this story?
Lauren Thoman: I’ve always loved time travel stories of all sorts, and the idea of someday writing my own had been bouncing around for a long time in the back of my head. I started thinking about what most time travel stories seem to have in common, and what I might do differently. I realized that in most time travel stories—not all, but most—the protagonist either knows how they time traveled, or what they need to do once they arrive in a new time, or both. It’s rare to have a story where the protagonist knows neither. So I started kicking around what a story like that might look like. What would someone do if they found themselves in a completely unfamiliar time, with no idea how or why they got there, and no clue how to get back? What do you do, where do you go, who do you ask for help? And if you don’t have a Doc Brown or a time machine or a background in quantum physics, how do you even begin to tackle this situation? Those questions were really intriguing for me to play with, and from there, the premise of the story emerged.
And then when it came to how I fleshed it out, I just started layering in all the elements that tend to draw me into a story in any genre. I love ensemble casts and complicated group dynamics. I love stories that tackle big philosophical questions in an interesting way. I love stories about family and friendship, and I love stories that come together like a puzzle box. So I was like, okay, I want to do a time travel story with this sort of amped-up fish-out-of-water premise, and I want it to include all of these pieces I find interesting. What does that look like?
From there, I just kept asking myself, is this interesting? Is this something I would want to read? If I ever looked at a scene or a plot point and thought, “this is boring” or too obvious or too contrived or whatever, I’d trash it and go back to the drawing board. I had no assurance that anyone would ever read it but me, so I mostly wanted to write something that I would enjoy as a reader.
V: When you write your stories, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away?
LT: That’s a hard question, because the answer can change from story to story. Broadly speaking, though, I almost always include a speculative element in my stories, but that element will always be in service of much more universal themes. Everything I write is grappling with big questions that I find myself thinking about in real life—fiction just allows me to tackle those questions through the lens of time travel or superheroes or ghosts or magic. It’s a way of forcing my mind to consider new perspectives, and try to consciously step outside my own life experiences. I try to use my characters to poke at those questions in different ways than I normally would, from different perspectives, and hopefully, in the process, broaden my own thinking on whatever topic I’m exploring.
So I guess the one thing I hope readers take away from all of my stories would be empathy and curiosity (which are technically two things, but I believe they go hand in hand). I hope they’re inspired to ask new questions, or maybe think about ideas in different ways. I hope my writing prompts them to consider perspectives they might not have before. I’m far from the first author to say I believe reading helps build empathy, and I think one of the ways it does that is by stirring curiosity in the reader, inviting them to put themselves in other people’s shoes and think about why they may respond in different ways than the reader might to various situations, what might be motivating them, what they’re afraid of. I think no matter what else I’m thinking about or hoping for when I’m writing a story, that much is always true.
V: What was the hardest scene of I’ll Stop the World to write?
LT: Can I say the entire middle of the book? I had the climax of the story in my head very early on in the process, as well as the setup. I knew where all of the characters started, and where they ended, and how all their stories came together. But man, was getting them there ever difficult. The problem with writing from multiple points-of-view is you want each of them to have their own compelling story, and that’s a lot easier said than done. It was a huge challenge to not only maneuver each of them where I needed them, but to make each of their individual stories interesting.
As far as individual scenes go, there’s a flashback scene toward the end of the book between two characters that explains some important backstory, and that was a real challenge because it was a different dynamic than they’d had for the rest of the book. It took a bunch of revisions to get it to feel like you were reading about the same people you’d been getting to know up until that point, just at an earlier moment in their journeys than we’d seen yet. It also had to deliver a lot of important plot information—there are a few scenes like that—and writing any exposition-heavy scene is always hard, because it feels a little like delivering a classroom lecture to the reader, and how do you make that interesting? How do you deliver all that information in a way that allows them to retain it and apply it going forward? So trying to do that while also working with a different version of the characters than I’d previously been writing, at a different point in the timeline, and having it still fit in seamlessly with the rest of the book, that was very tricky for me. Hopefully I pulled it off.
V: If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
LT: That’s hard because in a way, I wish I could go back to my younger writer self. I didn’t start writing until I was an adult, and I just sat down one day when my kids were tiny and started writing a book. I didn’t plot it, I had done exactly zero work educating myself on writing craft, I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry, I was not plugged into writer social media. Every scene was a surprise and a delight. I’d have these late-night fits of creativity and stay up late typing as fast as my fingers could go, and wind up with these wild scenes I hadn’t even considered earlier in the day. I was the very definition of a pantser, and I kind of miss that unabashed creative freedom. (Yes, that book was a mess, but I still have a lot of affection for that unruly toddler of a story.)
So I guess what I’d tell my younger writer self is, enjoy this. Don’t worry about if it’s publishable (it’s not), or if it will get you an agent (it won’t), or what happens in the sequel (still have no idea). Publishing will come eventually, and your craft will improve with time, and yes, you will even learn how to (sort of) plot. Just try to focus on how much you enjoy the act of writing itself, of creating characters and worlds from nothing. Commit to memory the feeling of being so invigorated by story ideas that you can’t sleep until you write them down. Hold onto as much of that creative joy as you can, for as long as you can. Because eventually, there will come times when words will not come so easily, and you’re not going to want to write but you’re going to have to do it anyway. And when that happens, it’s going to be important that you’ve still got that stash of joy that you can return to every now and then, to remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place, and what you love about it. The energy that comes so easily to you now will become a well of fuel that you return to later. Take care of it as best you can, add to it when you can and in every way that you can, so that there’s always plenty to draw from when you need it.
V: What are your writing must-haves?
LT: My laptop, a beverage (I’m trying to drink more water, but it’s probably soda more frequently than it should be), and limited distractions. I am like Dug the dog from Up and will take any and every opportunity to pay attention to something other than what I’m supposed to be doing, so the fewer things vying for my attention, the better. I don’t typically even listen to music when I write, although I do fine in places like coffee shops where it blends into the general background noise. I also can’t write freehand, much to my own dismay. I have very romantic ideas of sitting outside on a sunny day with a leather-bound notebook, penning new stories in scrawling script, but alas, it is not to be. It’s a computer or nothing for me. My dogs also would say they’re necessary to the process, and I often have one of them behind me in my chair when I’m writing, but I’m not sure how much they help.
Head to our Instagram page (@voyageya) to hear Lauren read the first page of I’ll Stop the World, which will be published under Mindy’s Book Studio, which was created by Mindy Kaling! Find Lauren’s video under the videos tab.
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