Gayle Forman: Haunted at 17


My new novel, 17 & Gone, comes out this week on March 21, and to mark the release of this story about a 17-year-old girl haunted by the missing, I’ve asked some authors I know to join me in answering this question… What haunted YOU at 17? Here’s Gayle Forman revealing the ghost she was chasing when she was 17 years old…

Guest post by Gayle Forman

This is me at 17. I’m the girl in the middle with the large gray cardigan and the blow-dryer pointing at her head. I don’t look particularly haunted, do I? I wasn’t.

I was happy. Happier than I’d ever been in my life. I’d just spent most of the previous year living in England, in this dinky little village of 500 people, and somehow had wound up at this crazy school full of the loveliest anarchists and punks and poets and hippies and musicians and brainiacs and weirdoes you could find. It was the first time in my life I’d felt part of a community like that, and the first time that the suspicion that I’d always harbored—that life could be bigger than it was in my suburban town—was proven gloriously true.

But two months later, I was back in my suburban town and I was miserable and sad and feeling like that entire experience was made-up. That it was a haunting, a spectral reality that hadn’t really existed, that I’d only conjured. I didn’t want to escape my haunting. I wanted it back.

So I chased it. For years. I traveled after high school instead of going to college and I traveled while I was in college. I traveled as a journalist and then when I got married, I traveled around the world for a year with my husband.

But though I loved traveling—loved all the things it taught me and all the ways it changed me and all the people it introduced me to—and though it showed me how big the world was, I don’t know that I captured that sense of largeness I’d found, and had been haunted by, the year I lived in my little village.

I only captured the ghost, so to speak, when I stopped chasing it. When I settled down in Brooklyn, and found the loveliest community of punks and hippies and writers and parents and artists and chefs and activists and teachers and musicians. Life feels strangely big here, even when my daily range doesn’t take me that far from home (though five miles from home is the Center of the Universe). As it turned out, the big life I was looking for all along, it didn’t have so much to do with location (though I can’t imagine living anywhere other than here) so much as finding the meaning in my own life in the context of a larger community.

I will have to stage a mass photo on a bed, with guitar and hair dryer, and then the haunting will truly be over.

Just One Day

Gayle Forman is an award-winning author and journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, The Nation, and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Find her online at

Follow @gayleforman on Twitter.


Don’t miss the other posts in the series. Throughout the week, more YA authors will reveal what haunted them at 17. Here are the Haunted at 17 posts so far…

Feel inspired and want to share what haunted you at 17? If you write a post on your blog, leave a link or tweet it to me. I’ll send you some 17 & Gone swag if you’d like it, and I’ll be featuring all the posts in a round-up at the end of the week!


Want to win a signed hardcover of 17 & Gone, some swag, and a signed hardcover of Imaginary Girls to keep it company? Every commenter on this Haunted at 17 post will be entered to win. You can also enter by filling out this entry form.

The giveaway is international. Closes 11:59 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 28. Two winners will be chosen.

 17 & GONE NEWS:

  • 17&Gone_thumbIf you’ll be in New York City for the NYC Teen Author Festival, come see me and get a signed copy of the book! Full schedule here—look out for me on Friday, March 22 at the Union Square Barnes & Noble or Saturday, March 23 at McNally Jackson or Sunday, March 24 at Books of Wonder!
  • The 17 & Gone Blog Tour is all about the images that spoke to me—and inspired and illuminated parts of the story—while I was writing the book. I collected them all on my Pinterest inspiration board, and each stop on the blog tour reveals one of these images and a passage inspired by it. Here’s the first stop: my guest post on Mundie Moms.
  • I’m touched and honored to say that Courtney Summers is holding a giveaway for 17 & Gone right now—she’s been so kind and supportive, which means extra-much to me because I admire her like whoa! She’s giving away 17 & Gone (along with an ARC of the anthology Defy the Dark). Enter her Facebook giveaway. This giveaway closes soon!
  • If you’ve pre-ordered 17 & Gone or plan to buy it this week (thank you so much for your support! it means the world to me!) and can’t be in New York City to get it signed, I have a way to sign your book from afar. Leave a comment on this photo on my Facebook author page and I may just mail you a signed and personalized bookplate.


What haunted Tiffany Trent at 17?


Turning Points: Guest Post by Gayle Forman

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? I’m honored and excited to host their stories. Read on as Gayle Forman, author of YA novels I love more dearly than I can express in words, reveals her own turning point as a writer in a deeply honest, inspiring post…

I am not a very enlightened person.

Oh, I try to be. I try to be kind and open and generous, but I’m a Gemini, so I have a flip side that is also begrudging and jealous and resentful. Really. I can be such a pissy little thing if I don’t watch out.

So the turning point in my career is actually kind of strange.

Sisters in Sanity

It was about six years ago. At that point, I had published many, many magazine articles and one book, my nonfiction travelogue called You Can’t Get There from Here, which was fun while it lasted but not something I saw doing again (I had to travel around the world for a year to report it; there is a reason a trip like that is called journey of a lifetime). I was on the verge of publishing a YA novel, Sisters in Sanity. After writing Sisters, I’d experienced something I’d never felt in all my years of being a journalist: contentment, a sense of this being what I wanted to do.

Of course, in my world, contentment is coupled with fear (I already told you I am not very enlightened). Because now that I’d figured out what I wanted to do—write YA novels—and I sensed I was pretty good at it—I’d been writing about and for teens for much of my career anyway—it all mattered. I mean, how many chances did you get to write books that bombed—and You Can’t Get There bombed, and the early signs for Sisters weren’t looking so promising—before the nice people in the publishing houses took away your chances to publish books?

Which is why what happens next—this turning point—is all so weird. A short while later, it became clear that the publisher of Sisters in Sanity was not doing anything to promote it, and that my homemade efforts—a song we recorded based on the book; a book trailer made by a Hollywood friend of mine, this being in 2007, in the dawn of book trailers—were not even being used, and that the book would indeed go the way of 99 percent of novels, i.e., slide quietly into the remainder bins. Shortly after publication, a friend of ours was over for dinner, someone in the alternative publishing universe. We were in my kitchen when he asked how the book was doing. I told him the sad truth. He asked, “Aren’t you bitter?”

The thing is, I am no stranger to bitter. I can be impatient and petty and easily embittered. Last week, at my daughter’s dance recital, I became bitter when a grown man cut in front of me in the popcorn line, thus getting the last of the batch of popcorn. Yes, it was rude of him to do so, but seriously, I get bitter over this? There is something wrong with me.

But when my friend asked me if I was bitter over the fact that the publisher had done squat to support my book and the book was going to bomb, I made a decision. I decided I was not going to be bitter. I was going to choose to not be bitter. Even if I had to work really hard at it. Because for one, as I explained to my friend, I was a published author, with two books to my name, and I was still, if barely, making my living as a writer, which is a pretty enviable position. But even more important, even then, I understood that if I gave in to the bitterness, it would do what bitterness does, it would corrode me from the inside out, eat away at the soft, open parts of me where I’m pretty sure the stories come from. So I told my friend this:

“I’m not going to be bitter. I’m just going to keep writing books and hope that one day maybe I’ll write a book that hits, and people will go back and read Sisters in Sanity.”

At the time, it was a most pie-in-the-sky dream. Like how when I was twelve, I used to fantasize about becoming friends with Bono. There was simply no basis in reality for it.

My friend looked at me like I was being very hippie-dippy. And then he said a very nice thing. “Well, I’ll be bitter on your behalf then.”

Somehow, I managed to keep true to my word. And Sisters did bomb. And then the editor I’d worked with on it left the publishing house—and editing—and my agent, who’d sold my first two books, shut down her shop. So I had no editor, no publisher, and no agent, and it wasn’t like anyone was clamoring to take me on. Ten years as a professional writer and I was back to square one. That seemed like a most justifiable reason to be bitter. But for the second time, I made an intentional decision not to go there. Instead, in a very Pollyanna move, I would view the crash-and-burn of my career so far as an opportunity!

If I Stay

So, with no agent and no publisher and no idea if it was even a viable novel, I started a book that was living deep inside me. About a girl and her family, and the love of her life, and music, and a choice. This turned out to be If I Stay. The book that launched me, I guess you could say.

Now’s the part in the story where I tell you that I have turned all Zen and learned to never be bitter again. But that’s not how it works. And I already told you about the popcorn guy, which was a couple weeks ago. And there is always something to feel pissy about. Every writer at every level experiences fear, and that fear seeds bitterness. And, yes, I’m still scared someone will take away this privilege I have of writing books for my job. But with writing and publishing, I have to re-teach myself the turning-away-from-bitterness thing all the time.

I do this for two reasons. There is the obvious karmic, good-energy stuff of not giving in to the dark side. It feels so much better to go to the gratitude place. And just as there is always something to feel bitter about, there is always something to feel grateful for. But there is also a practical side for writers, for all creative people, for all people, really. It can be oddly satisfying to wallow in bitterness. For about two seconds. And then you get pulled under and have to expend all this energy just swimming, keeping your head above water. Energy that would otherwise be spent creating.

Sisters in Sanity never did find its audience. Well, not in the U.S., anyhow. In France, they love that book. Some of my French readers tell me it’s their favorite of all three of my novels. Sometimes they tell me this while I am in France. And sometimes when that happens, I am transported back into my Brooklyn kitchen, back to that conversation with my friend all those years ago, back to that single fateful decision that has brought me here.

—Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is an award-winning author and journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and Elle in the US. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Visit Gayle at or

Follow @gayleforman on Twitter.

Want more in this blog series?

The Turning Points series will continue with new guest posts three times a week. Subscribe to distraction no. 99 to keep up with the series, or read all the posts with this tag.

Here are the posts in the series so far:

And look for open giveaways on the giveaways page so you can win some books! 

Series images by Robert Roxby.