Andre Aciman on Returning to 'Call Me by Your Name' World With 'Find Me'

Courtesy of Christopher Ferguson; Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The author continues the love story of Elio and Oliver in his new book, available Tuesday.

Though André Aciman published the novel Call Me by Your Name 12 years ago, it gained a new level of acclaim in 2017, when audiences witnessed his love story come to life in Luca Guadagnino's film adaptation starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet.

Following the success of the Oscar-nominated Call Me by Your Name, Aciman's novel topped the New York Times best-seller list and won a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction. Call Me by Your Name has sold more than 800,000 copies in the U.S. and Canada, has been translated into 32 languages and has even cultivated a fan society that likes to dub themselves "peaches" in honor of an infamous scene in the book.

Now, with Find Me, Aciman's fifth novel, the author returns to the world of Call Me by Your Name. The book begins 10 years after Elio and Oliver's love story ends, with readers reintroduced to Samuel, Elio's father, as he embarks on an unexpected journey with Miranda, a woman he spontaneously meets aboard a train.

Not jump-starting the story with Elio and Oliver was intentional, Aciman explains: "I couldn't do that again. It's just too much Elio and Oliver again," the author tells The Hollywood Reporter. "When you're writing a story you need conflict. If you don't have conflict, you don't have plots, you don't have anything. With Elio's father, you know nothing about him. You don't know what his life has been, what his troubles are, what kind of personality does he have and where is he going in his life?" 

In the second part of the novel, readers are reintroduced to Elio, who is now a pianist and beginning a new relationship — though remnants of Oliver still remain, as detailed in an excerpt shared with THR. Then readers learn the fate of Oliver, who is a professor in America and has a family. "Writing the second novel allowed me to finally lead up to the moment Oliver returns," Aciman says of revisiting Oliver years after he left Elio.

Throughout the novel, readers are transported to Rome, Paris, New York and back to the Italian countryside in four chapters named after musical terms ("Tempo," "Cadenza," "Capriccio" and "Da Capo"). Aciman calls the music "the core of the story," with Elio, Oliver, Samuel and new characters Miranda and Michel simply counterparts to the melody playing through the words on the page. As to whether Elio and Oliver's chapter is closed or whether they will have the happy ending many fans hoped for is something readers will have to wait to find out. Regardless of the ending, Aciman describes concluding his story as his own personal "homecoming." 

Aciman spoke with THR ahead of the book's Oct. 29 release about what inspired him to revisit Elio and Oliver, why he doesn't think Find Me is a "sequel" and why he identifies with Elio. 

What inspired you to write Find Me, and did the film adaptation of Call Me by Your Name play any role in that decision? 

Even after writing the book, I had a thought of going back to it at some point. There's something really fascinating about these two characters who basically find each other and love each other. There's no rules, nothing standing in their way except for the age and marriage for one of them. Over the years I tried many times to write about Elio being 22 years old, going to college [or] getting out of college. What's he going to do with his life? Who is he going to meet? It just wouldn't work. Eventually I got to the idea of writing about the father. 

As I was writing this book, the film hadn't even been finished yet. But the success of the [first] book and later with the film as well, it just told me I was on the right track. There was a lot of encouragement. People wanted a sequel, or what they call a sequel — mine's not really a sequel, but okay, let's call it that. Whenever I lack confidence, which is almost always, it was nice to get feedback from people saying, "We can't wait." 

So how would you define this book, if not as a sequel? 

It's more like it's inspired from the first book. These are the years that happened between the moment the two separate, when they get together, and so it's just filling in spaces that were left open in the novel of Call Me by Your Name. It's not so much a sequel. It's more so, what happens? Who have they become, and what are they doing? These are the kinds of questions I was asking myself as I was writing.

Because you were writing the new book as the film was released, did the reactions from fans influence you to alter things you had already written or were planning to?

No. I mean, it's a complicated question you ask, because a lot of people have written to me and they basically attached to their email fan fiction. My answer to that all the time is, "I'm sorry. I cannot read it, because if I read it and I end up writing something that seems similar, you can be upset with me." This is something I've been saying to everybody. I mean, it sounds horrible, but think of the consequences. So I didn't even want to begin going there. As for the movie, I liked the movie a lot, but it's very different from what Find Me is.

Given that you're returning to this world years later, what were some of the challenges you encountered when writing Find Me

When I wrote the first story, I knew I wanted the father to have a newer relationship, but as I was writing, I was aiming toward a meeting with Elio. Elio, this time, was going to be the one to give sort of advice and encouragement that the father had given him 10 years earlier. That's where I was headed. But God knows, how do you get there? As far as the second part, I thought it was going to be challenging, and it wasn't challenging at all because I wanted to write about the cadenza, the piece of music that this guy composes in the Holocaust, and that's where I was going. But I had no idea how I was going to get there. I knew Elio had to meet someone who was going to give him the manuscript, but then I realized this is not a nice friendship but a relationship. Let's see where the relationship goes. I was having a grand time in describing their relationship. 

Without giving away the ending, did you always know how Elio and Oliver's story would end? 

Yeah, and usually I never know where I'm going with the story. People always wrote to me, "We want to see them together" or, "We want the same book, but tell this stuff from Oliver's perspective." And my answer was that Oliver, at that age, has very little introspection. Whereas as he gets older, he begins to have introspection at the age of 40. He's a person who is aware of it. He still successful with other people, but he's a bit of a troubled person. He's not happy. People always ask me, "What do you think of Oliver?" You know what? I have a hard time with Oliver because I don't understand him. I'm not that way. I'm like Elio, totally. 

You've mentioned in interviews that you don't understand why people cry after reading and watching Call Me by Your Name. Why is that? 

When people react to something that is very powerful in my book, I always wonder: What was it? Why are they reacting? Basically it means I am successful when I can't admit it to myself. That's really the bottom line, because I'm a very insecure writer, and you can tell only because an insecure person could write Call Me by Your Name. I don't think that people like what I do. And when they say they do, I don't trust them

Both the book and film versions of Call Me by Your Name have resonated with audiences. What is something that you have taken away from your story that audiences have brought to your attention that maybe you didn't think of when writing it?

One thing I learned from my character, from the book and from the reaction to the book, is that people love a degree of honesty among people and to be able to speak what one feels: to say it, not just to feel it, and say it in a way that is persuasive to someone else. In other words, when you're flirting with someone, you can be as indirect as you want, but in the end, you open up and you are candid with people. This is something that I didn't know all my characters did. They were always very candid and open and honest with other people. 

There has been buzz around a potential film sequel to Call Me by Your Name. Will Find Me be adapted for film, and will Armie and Timothée reprise their roles? 

You know, the only answer for you is that I wish it were. I wish somebody would be writing to me to even help with the script, because I love doing that, but no, nothing yet. They're very quiet about it, and I understand why. 

Should the film be adapted, do you have an idea for actors to play the roles of new characters Miranda and Michel? 

The truth is I don't see the characters very well. I see their energy and I feel their pulse, but I don't see them actually. It's very difficult for me to visualize what some other people visualize right away.  

What about for Elio and Oliver? After watching Call Me by Your Name, did you start envisioning them as Timothée and Armie when writing? 

I didn't see them in while writing because, first of all, the characters are much older, so it would be really weird to see a 23-year-old playing the role of a 34-year-old. It just wasn't right. 

In past interviews, Armie and Timothée have both mentioned how they get asked to sign peaches. Is this something you encounter with fans, and can you even look at a peach the same way again after writing that infamous scene? 

You know, it's very difficult in a household when my sons have peaches in the summer. Basically the joke has to come up. It has to. But, on the other hand, I'm happy when I see people make "impeach" jokes with peach and so on. I liked that I have brought it to the culture and it has become sort of mainstream. I've signed peaches, of course. There's a group of people reading who call themselves "peaches," and there's about 23,000 of them around the world, and they travel together. It's a secret society, and I'm really happy about that too.

A secret society? 

Yes a society of fans called the "peaches," and they wrote a book together, which they sent me, and they're very, very close. It's a wonderful friendship. I like that. I like that people bond over something that I created out of my imagination. 

So it's safe to say that you started a peach movement? 

If only to go to Washington, D.C. I'll carry a banner. 

What do you hope that readers take away from Find Me

I think what I hope that they will personally like are the love stories in it, because I do believe in love, though I don't like to use the word. The fundamental message of the book is just about love, really. But it's also about time. It's the fact that our lives are very short. I don't believe in death. I think death's a terrible thing. I don't accept it, and we all have to fall away. What could we do knowing that life is going to end at some point? That's the beauty of love. It goes to the end. Once we're gone, we're going to forget that we have loved people. That's the worst of it. Not that people will forget us, that we won't have a memory of anything. We won't even have dreams to remember anything. Those are terrible things.

Find Me is available now. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.