Meet Stephen Chbosky, whose 1999 novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower took the world by storm, inspiring young people everywhere to participate in the world around them. This novel has transcended time and remains an important staple in YA fiction—it was even made into a movie in 2012, which Chbosky wrote and directed as well. Now, 20 years later, he has written a new novel, Imaginary Friend, and I have had the pleasure to speak with him about it.
1. I’m sure most people are familiar with your first novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower, but your new novel, Imaginary Friend, takes on a much different genre than Perks. What was your motivation/inspiration behind this change?
My motivations for Imaginary Friend were many. One of my favorite genres is horror, I love Stephen King. I also love coming of age stories. Perks came out of my love for coming of ages stories, so Imaginary Friend came out of that same love, but for horror. I had such a great time with the Perks movie. It was the most satisfying experience of my life, so I wanted to do that again but in a different way. Also, to prove that I could write another novel. Most of what I do is in movies and T.V., and I wrote Perks when I was younger.
2. Imaginary Friend came 20 years after Perks. Was this lapse in time intentional, or did it stem naturally from your writing process?
It wasn’t a deliberate career move, but it’s how things worked out. It was a very ambitious book and I wanted it to be special. If I put something into the world, I want people who like my work to know that it was my best effort. When I wrote Perks I was single and had no children. I could throw 16 hours into writing, but now I have a wife and children and my family comes first. I started Imaginary Friend 10 years ago.
3. How has your relationship with writing changed/evolved over the years and what (if any) factors have influenced this change?
It has changed as I’ve gotten older. It is harder now, harder to find time and to focus. Due to that, I’ve had to change some of my process to accommodate that. It’s harder to write now but it’s also more meaningful. Every time you stare at a blank page is a chance to do something special with it and I take that more seriously now, because now that I am older I have less blank pages to work on. It adds a lot of meaning for me.
4. Not only are you an author, you are also a screenwriter and director. How do these overlap and what challenges do you face trying to balance them all?
All of the different things I do influence the other. Writing screenplays are merciless when it comes to structure and because of that I am always thinking about the story moving forward, even in a longer book like Imaginary Friend. Naturally, as a film director it has made me think more visually with hearing and sound. So when I write a book, all these elements find their way into a novel. On the flip-side, since novels are treated as more serious than movies, my novel writing always reminds me to make sure my movies are quality. I always try for my best no matter what.
5. What is some advice you have for aspiring authors working towards publication?
1st is to never use the word aspiring again. I wrote Perks when I was 26 and the 2nd draft when I was 27. I couldn’t find an agent for a year, and due to circumstance and luck I got a publisher and an agent. Was I writer when I was 27 when I didn’t have a publisher? Yes of course, if you write you are a writer. It isn’t up to some publisher. It is important that writers and artists feel they are a part of their work.
2nd work hard to find your authentic voice. I don’t mean to write about your childhood, unless that is your voice. Think about the books that you love and have inspired you. I wrote coming of age stories because I love them, I wrote a horror novel because I love horror and Stephen King. Those are my passions, so I did it. I did because I loved it and it was my authentic voice. If you do that—where you’re always challenging yourself to get better—you’re gonna have a much better time with it. There are writers who write pulp fiction and that is their authentic voice, and it is just as authentic as Fitzgerald and Hemingway. All that matters is their authentic voice.
3rd I offer a 4 point plan; One is to write down every idea you have. It is very important that it is every idea. It could be page, a paragraph or a sentence. Two create a PDF of that document and register it with Writers Guild of America East or West for proof that it is your idea. Three share it with 5-7 friends or family members. It has to be people whose taste you trust and who want you to succeed. No frenemies or people that would want you to fail. Four is listen to them. Say it takes you a year to write a book or story, so say you’re 20 years old, you have 60 chances to write something remarkable. Time is so precious, what if you spend 1 of your 60 years on one idea, but these people love this other idea more. By having this discussion, little by little you learn about your characters and a genre that you weren’t sure about and find your best narratives and titles and themes. What’s funny is we as readers can identify peoples identities. You know what a Stephen King book is, everyone who writes has that style and their version of it. It helps them find it a little faster. You never know when the right time is going to come and you never know when you won’t get the chance. If George Orwell had written Animal Farm at a different time, or gone with a different idea, it may not have become what it did. Write the story that feels right to you, but find the things that are most intriguing to others as well. It really increases your chances of having a successful novel.
6. Do you have any ideas or plans for future novels at the moment?
I believe that I will write a sequel to Imaginary Friend. I have many other ideas, I love directing movies which is a (good) distraction. I have many ideas though and Imaginary Friend will not be last my book.
7. And lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything right now that you would recommend?
Ironically, my current read is the novel Dear Evan Hansen. I am directing the movie of the musical and it is quite good. I am reading it professionally but it’s a great book, so I would recommend it to anyone.
I had an amazing time speaking with Stephen, everything he says is full of little nuggets of wisdom, all of which I made sure to share. I have always been a big fan of his work and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. If you wish to purchase Imaginary Friend, you can do so from Changing Hands here. You can also read my review of the novel here if you’re on the fence about it, I promise it’s worth it!