As an obsessive fan of both fashion and all things pop culture, I've been a fan of the website Go Fug Yourself for years — long before I became friends with its co-creators, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. The mix of quick wit, humor and old school 90210 references is the perfect read when you need a break from work or a treat at the end of the day. It's like candy. Really smart candy.
So when they told me they were working on a young adult fiction book, I couldn't wait for it to come out. Spoiled did not disappoint. It's a perfect summer beach read about Indiana girl Molly, who discovers at 16 that her father is mega-movie star Brick Berlin and subsequently has to move to Los Angeles to live with him and her half-sister, Brooke.
Hilarity ensues — along with some lesson-learning, of course. Jessica and Heather have brought all the things I love about the website on a daily basis into a fun little tale. I chatted with them about their experience writing the book, why so many grown-up ladies are obsessed with YA fiction, and such important topics as One Tree Hill and The Hunger Games. Did I mention I'm 35?
Most of us know you from your site Go Fug Yourself, so what made you decide to write fiction?
JESSICA: Heather and I had been itching to write a novel for ages — we're both big readers, and I think the opportunity to try to create something entirely out of our imaginations was something that felt really challenging, and really fun and exciting.
HEATHER: It's fun riffing on found material, as we do on GFY, but it's also a bit like a safety blanket — I mean, some of those pieces write themselves, the outfits are so bad. It's a lot more terrifying to invent the subject matter entirely.
The book is definitely a natural progression from GFY in that it's fun, frothy, a wee bit snarky and rife with pop culture references. What was your inspiration? Also, there are definitely a lot of references that aren't from this teen generation. Were you thinking of your "older" (and I use that term lightly!) GFY readers too?
JESSICA: There were actually even references in the book that we had to take out, because they were TOO "old." For example, we had a whole joke in there about Kevin Coster, and our editors had to gently point out that 15-year-olds are not running around referencing his version of Robin Hood. I think we were trying to toe the line between writing something that would be appealing to teens, and would still have some goodies in there for the adults who might want to read the book.
HEATHER: Yes. One of the Easter eggs in there is that there's a character named Jennifer Parker, which is the name of Marty McFly's girlfriend in Back to the Future. Younger readers who don't know the movie as we do won't bat an eye, but some of the ones who are our age or up might pause on that for a second and go, "Ohhh." Or, not, and it'll be just me and Jessica who giggle every time we read her name. That's okay too. We didn't want to be super insulting to teens and assume that the only people they've ever heard of are, like, Justin Bieber and the Kardashians, but we definitely had to be careful not to write an entire novel that was only inside jokes for people 30 and up. If a side effect of toeing that line is that a 15-year old reads this and goes out and rents Back to the Future — whoops, sorry, STREAMS it, I'm showing my age there — then I will be thrilled to have helped someone connect with 1.21 jigawatts of awesome.
What was the hardest part about writing the book?
JESSICA: For me, I think it was sort of hard to be able to think about the plot line in a way where I was able to hold everything in my head in a chronological format — like, I could remember what had come before whatever I wrote, but I had to keep reminding myself to set up things that were also to happen in the future, instead of just...typing stuff. I was really lucky to be working with Heather — for many reasons, but especially because she is really good at that sort of thing, and was able to rein me in when I spaced out.
HEATHER: The timing was tough — we had about three months to do it, and it was during the Globes, the SAGs, the Grammys, the Oscars, Fashion Week, and the beginning of Fug Madness. In fact, "madness" is an apt word for how that time was. With two of us, it wasn't just divvying the book in half and running off. We each wrote every chapter, because one would do the rough and one would do the polish, and then we'd probably each read it again and tweak it AGAIN later. I also found it weirdly hard to name characters. We got better at it, but at first it was a lot of IM'ing back and forth spitting out random names and surnames. We realized too late that we have a LOT of M names, and a lot that end in "y" — Molly, Shelby, Danny, Teddy ... We didn't name them all at the same time, so it's sheer accident. I guess we must have a "Y" fetish.
Do you each have a favorite joke, reference or line?
JESSICA: I love all kinds of bits and pieces from it, but I think one of my favorite little parts is that no one seems to have noticed Jennifer Parker's name but us. I also really love a line that Heather wrote, where one of the characters refers to the other as "a dusty visitor from Planet Yawn." That turn of phrase always makes me chuckle. Ed note: That Planet Yawn line made me laugh out loud and spit out my Diet Coke!
HEATHER: Jess wrote Brick saying, "Cancer is a vicious thief," and it accidentally got cut from an early draft and when I realized it I was like, "No, Jessica. It has to come back. It's SO BRICK." I love the chapter with the stylists, Bangs, Boobs, and Botox. My heart always breaks a little for Molly when Danny leaves her that sunflower at the end of chapter two, and I love whatever the hell is happening in the fourth Dirk Venom movie where Brick is wearing the clown makeup. My husband was like, "Can I please SEE that movie?" There are a ton of little things. I love the soap Lust for Life and its various plot twists, and inventing fake movie titles.
Will there be a sequel? What can we expect?
JESSICA: Yes! It's not exactly a sequel-sequel as much as it is...a companion book. It is sequel-ISH. Sequel-esque! It focuses on Brooke and Max, who find themselves thrown together under a rather unusual set of circumstances. Shenanigans, as always, will ensue.
HEATHER: I always call it a follow-up rather than a sequel. Right now it's called Messy, and it picks up a couple months after Spoiled.
Did you imagine anyone (actor-wise) in the main roles when you were writing?
JESSICA: Not while I was writing it, but since we've finished it, I'll be watching ABC Family and a teen actor will pop up, and I'll think, "if this were a TV show, Cassie Scerbo (who is on Make It Or Break It) would make a great Brooke," or the like.
HEATHER: We did maybe occasionally imagine Brick as Paul Johansson, whom we love on One Tree Hill as Dan Scott, and whom we loved back in the day in Soapdish (as Bolt, who is very Brick-ish) and 90210 (John Sears). But if he hadn't played Bolt we wouldn't have known he could do anything but vague menacing stuff. Bolt is a delight. I will never forget the scene where he bursts in on Sally Field, and is wearing a spandex onesie, and blurts, "I was at the gym doing leg lifts with Father Corey when I heard about your accident at the soup kitchen." Brick Berlin would TOTALLY do leg lifts with a priest.
As for YA books in general, what do you think it is that makes them so insanely popular right now with women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond? Why do we care so much about Bella and Edward and Katniss and Hermione?
JESSICA: In part, I think that a lot of YA books are popular just because they are GOOD books, you know? Hunger Games and Harry Potter are beautifully plotted and executed, regardless of the age of the reader. I do think that the success of Harry Potter and Twilight, across all age groups, has made adults feel more free to say, "hey, I love young adult books." Just because the book is about a teen, it doesn't mean that the story won't resonate for someone older. For example, I love Sarah Dessen and I find some of her books deeply poignant in a way that I don't know I would have been able to grasp when I was younger — not because teens are incapable of understanding complex emotions, because they are, but because revisiting youthful heartbreak as an adult kind of breaks your heart all over again, and that adds a whole other emotional level to the reading experience.
HEATHER: When you're a teen, you feel EVERYTHING. And it all means so much. When you're my age, you have a little perspective on how what happens right that moment won't always be the MOST IMPORTANT or WORST EVER THING EVER IN THE HISTORY OF EVER, but as a teen you can't think that far ahead because it's unfathomable that you will EVER be as creaky and old as a 33-year old. What I'm getting at is, emotions are so raw and intense and all-over-the-place at that age, YA books can really tap that vein because all those feelings are universal. Not everybody has fertility woes or midlife ennui or a mean parent or whatever, but no matter who you are, you felt that roiling coming-of-age confusion when you were a teen. So the books that tap into those emotions are universal for people. It's my understanding that a lot of people love the Bella and Edward romance, and while Edward to me is creepy and obsessive and stalkery, when I was 15 I would've LOVED the idea that somebody as ordinary as me/Bella could've inspired the devotion of a super hot dude that everybody else covets. Katniss deals with things we didn't, and so does Harry Potter, but there are such familiar emotions there: isolation, fear, loneliness, determination to do right.
What were your favorite tween/teen books when you were that age? What drew you in?
JESSICA: Oh my gosh, so many. I read constantly. I literally used to take a book into the shower with me, because I needed reading material at ALL TIMES. Of course I loved the soapy drama of Sweet Valley High. I adored the brilliant sharp humor of the Anastasia Krupnik books — talk about a book series that never talked down to its readers or shied away from a slightly adult joke, given that in the first of those books, Anastasia decides she's going to name her baby brother One-Ball Reilly, a joke I did not get for a LONG TIME. I loved Harriet the Spy — that book made me long for a dumbwaiter, for the shenanigans. (Actually, I am apparently very influenced by the architecture in the books I read as a kid, because we gave Teddy McCormick in Spoiled a room in a turret as a nod to Anastasia Krupnik.) I loved all the Judy Blume books — although the retro menstrual accoutrements of Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret? had me confused for a long time. I made my father read me Charlotte's Web, like, 500 times in a row. Now, as an adult, that book makes me cry like a baby, so I don't know how he got through it. And I really loved the MURDER-Y DRAMA of all the Christopher Pike books when I was older.
HEATHER: I loved those Christopher Pikes, man. Judy Blume, Anastasia — I also had no idea what One-Ball Reilly meant, and I think I was way older and thinking about something entirely different when I suddenly sat up and shouted (to myself), "ONE BALL. OH." Growing up in the UK meant I read a lot of Enid Blyton, like the Secret Seven and the Famous Five, who always had such odd, great picnics in every book. They loved food AND danger. Mallory Towers was my favorite boarding-school series of hers. And, also, I loved Sweet Valley High, and the Sweet Dreams anthologies, and Francine Pascal's Caitlin trilogy — which itself was made up of three trilogies, so I guess it was a ninelogy. Ennealogy? Anyway. My favorite part of those books was who turned up on the covers. I bought the first three Caitlin books in England, bound together as one, and Yasmine Bleeth was on the cover. Courteney Cox and Jeanne Tripplehorn both covered Sweet Dreams books. Of course I didn't realize this until they got famous much later, but once I did, I got a good laugh.
What are your favorites of late? And why?
JESSICA: Oh, let's see. I really liked Hunger Games — I ADORED the first one, in particular. Obviously, I love love love love loved Harry Potter. I have reread those books countless times. They are a miracle of plotting. Recently, I really, really liked Stephanie Perkins' book Anna and the French Kiss. It is DELICIOUSLY swoony. I also recently read and LOVED Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which is just hilarious and touching and wonderful.
HEATHER: I get all my book recommendations from Jessica, so: see above. I burned through Megan McCafferty's "Bumped" and the five Jessica Darling books, too, and right now I have Maureen Johnson's The Last Little Blue Envelope waiting for me on my Kindle. I also loved The Year of Secret Assignments and The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty.
And just for kicks, how do you feel about the casting of The Hunger Games....grown-up lady America's latest obsession? Personally, I take issue with both Gale AND Peeta. Though I'm totally down with Jennifer Lawrence.
JESSICA: I think Jennifer Lawrence is going to be great. She's a really good actress, and I think she is going to be totally believably tough and fierce. I think Josh Hutcherson — who is playing Peeta — is totally unlike how I imagined that character, but he seems to have a sort of innate kindness in his face that works for that character. As for Liam Hemsworth as Gale, again, that is not at all how I pictured Gale. However, in his defense, he WAS the best thing about the Miley Cyrus movie The Last Song, so...I am withholding judgement there. I actually have faith that the movie going to be good. I kind of appreciate the desire to do some unusual casting.
HEATHER: Liam Hemsworth is actually exactly how I pictured Gale, so I'm okay with that on the surface, although he was terrible in that Miley Cyrus movie — and that is not a contradiction of what Jessica just said; he is in fact also one of the best things in it, and yet he is still not good, which tells you a lot about that movie. I mean, I look at it this way: I love Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family. In the books, Emily has red hair; on the show she's played by the tall, dark, and stunning Shay Mitchell, and in the end, it doesn't matter that Shay is different than the originally designed Emily because Shay nails it. Whereas Michael Gambon certainly looks the part of Dumbledore, but he's horrible that role — he sucks out all the fun from it, he yells, he gets in Harry's face...to me the performance is wrong even though the visual is right. There are all kinds of roles where the casting doesn't match exactly to the text, so I'm going to withhold judgment on all of them. Until they show up at a premiere looking crazeballs, of course, and then it's ON.
Snag your copy of Heather (below left) and Jessica's book Spoiled here!