Saturday, June 28, 2014

Author Megan Abbott: The Fever Behind The Fever {+ Giveaway}

The Fever coverI’m excited today to welcome author Megan Abbott to Thoughts in Progress to talk about her latest release, THE FEVER.

Megan had been scheduled to visit with us earlier this month, but due to her hectic physical book tour wasn’t able to stop by until today. To celebrate the release of her book, she’s giving away one copy to a lucky visitor to Thoughts in Progress. Please see the end of the post for details.

First, here’s a brief summary of THE FEVER

        The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.
        In the idyllic community of Dryden, Tom Nash is a popular high school teacher and the father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and Deenie, a diligent student with a close-knit group of friends-who are all horrified one day in class when Deenie's best friend, Lise, is struck by a terrifying, brutal, and unexplained seizure.

        As Lise clings to life in the hospital, the seizures systematically infect more teenage girls, one by one, sending the entire town into terrified, questioning chaos. Is there a dangerous virus at work? Is it something in the school itself? Are the girls faking it? Who or what is to blame-and who will be next?
        As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.

Please join me now in welcoming Megan as she discusses the real-life inspiration for this book – ‘The Fever Behind The Fever.’

In January 2012, I was watching the Today Show when this teenage girl appeared on screen. In her hoodie, with her nervous smile, she looked like the All-American girl. But something was wrong. When she tried to talk, her words were broken up by these barks, her head jerking left to right. 

“I was always so active,” she was saying, “Everyone was always so happy to be around me. I just don’t feel like myself anymore.” She was one of 18 girls, all in Le Roy High School in upstate New York, who were afflicted with these sudden tics and motor disorders over the course of several months. Watching them, and their terrified parents, I couldn’t look away. I started writing The Fever that very week. 

From the very start, I had a clear idea how I wanted the novel to unfold—and what the cause behind the mysterious symptoms would be—and it was quite different from the way the real-life case unfolded. I built the story around one family, the Nashes, and around a complicated knot of female friends­ of my own creation. But watching the unfolding in Le Roy definitely helped me. It reminded me, throughout, how high the stakes were for the afflicted girls, how upsetting and destabilizing it was for the community. To see young girls stricken one after another and not understand why—the palpable fear and anger never left my mind. Nor did the face of that first teenage girl, the panic in her eyes. 

Just a few months ago, long after I finished THE FEVER, I talked to Dr. Jennifer McVige, the neurologist who treated many of the Le Roy girls, and the experience was quite moving. Ultimately, the girls were diagnosed with conversion disorder and mass psychogenic illness—very real disorders that are psychological in origin (caused by stress, anxiety or trauma) and with very real, involuntary symptoms. But they were all getting better despite everything they’d been through, and it was inspiring. 

In THE FEVER, the real-life case is just a jumping-off point. It became a way for me to tell a story about families and teenage girls and hysteria in a small-town—a story I’d been wanting to tell, in one way or another, since I was a kid reading Shirley Jackson stories and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But I think many of us who heard about the Le Roy girls, saw them on the news or read about them in the newspaper or in the New York Times magazine, were similarly affected. 

It struck a lot of nerves, but the question is why? I wonder if it’s because it reminded us of how vulnerable we all feel, how (despite scientific advances) mysterious the mind truly is, how complex the lives of teenage girls can be (particularly those under stress or recovering from trauma or turmoil) and how the culture at large still tends to want to minimize them, not take them seriously. It’s hard to be a teenage girl and maybe never harder than now. 

These thoughts shuddered through me as I wrote THE FEVER, and continue to do so. As much as we think we’ve made life more efficient, that we have a greater grasp on how to be a parent, how to protect our children, that science now dispels myths and there’s a pill for everything—something can still happen, as it did in Le Roy, as it does in THE FEVER, to remind us the world is still an enigmatic place, filled with surprise and challenge and mystery.

Megan, thank you for sharing this look at how THE FEVER came to be. It’s intriguing how real life gives away to fiction sometimes and you’re so right about terrible things still happening despite all of our advances.


Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of six previous novels. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Believer, Los Angeles Review of Books, Detroit Noir and Queens Noir among other places. She received her PhD in literature from New York University. 

She lives in New York and recently served as the John Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Currently, she is working on the screenplay for her novel, Dare Me, soon to be a major motion picture.

For more on Megan and her writing, visit her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


This giveaway is for one print copy of THE FEVER. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will end Monday, July 7. 

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter widget below and following the instructions. The widget may take a few seconds to load, so please be patient. The winner from this giveaway will have 72 hours to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. The email will have ‘Thoughts in Progress Megan Abbott’s Tour’ in the subject line, just so you know what to watch for (in case it goes into your spam folder).

Thanks so much for stopping by during Megan’s visit. Had you heard about the case involving the Le Roy High School girls before? 

*This post contains affiliate links. a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I did hear about this story previously on a TV news show. It was really strange. Thanks

  2. I never heard of the story of the girls before! It seems very interesting and sad though

  3. No, I have never heard about the case involving the Le Roy High School girls before.

    skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net

  4. Megan, thanks again for sharing how THE FEVER came to be. It's an intriguing story. Wishing you much success.

    Hi all, thanks for stopping by.

  5. Mason - Thanks for hosting Megan. I've been a fan of her work for some time.

    Megan - The Fever has been on my TBR since I first heard of it. I'm very much looking forward to reading it. I wish you much continued success.

  6. I remember that case in New York and see how it could've inspired a story. I know I wouldn't want to be a teenager now. They get so many mixed signals and no clear picture of what is right and what is wrong.

  7. sounds scary, but disaster and contagion stories set in small secluded places are always the best ones

  8. Have heard so much about this book! Hoping to get a chance to win it!

  9. I do not know anything about this case.

  10. I have not heard of this case either. Sounds an interesting read.

  11. I do remember seeing that story on television. It was a scary thing since my daughter was not much older than those girls at the time.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.