Q&A: The Fug Girls
One of our covert workday pleasures is checking gofugyourself.com for the latest LOL-inducing rants from fashion police and nymag.com contributors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. So when we found out they had penned a young adult novel, Spoiled (in stores next month), we naturally had to check it out. Click through for Heather and Jessica’s thoughts on Sweet Valley High, their next project, and striking a balance between soap opera and sincerity, and check back in June for our full review of Spoiled.
From the publisher: “Sixteen-year-old Molly Dix has just discovered that her biological father is Brick Berlin, world-famous movie star and red-carpet regular. Intrigued (and a little terrified) by her Hollywood lineage, Molly moves to Los Angeles and plunges headfirst into the deep of Beverly Hills celebrity life. Just as Molly thinks her life couldn’t get any stranger, she meets Brooke Berlin, her gorgeous, spoiled half sister, who welcomes Molly to la-la land with a smothering dose ‘sisterly love’…but in this town, nothing is ever what it seems.”
To me, Spoiled felt like a combination of Gossip Girl and The Parent Trap. Did you have any particular teen movies or books in mind while writing the story?
JESSICA: I love that combo! For a while, I was describing it as Clueless plus Sweet Valley High plus The Parent Trap. I love Gossip Girl, and I am sure it influenced me to an extent, but I think Spoiled is more PG-rated than Gossip Girl. Clueless was a bit of an inspiration in the sense that it, too, is set in Los Angeles and involves the shenanigans of a girl who has more heart than perhaps the people around her suspect.
HEATHER: I was inspired by the stuff that struck a chord with me as a teen ? books about friendship, sisterhood. Even Sweet Valley High had its moments. When poor, deaf Regina Morrow got dumped and did cocaine and then DIED, man, that freaked me out. But seriously, I think for me the best books were the ones that balanced the heart and the jokes ? even the Ramona Quimby books had sweetness and sass mixed together ? so tonally that’s what we were aiming for.
What inspired you to write this? Do you enjoy YA books specifically, or did it just happen to be the best genre for the story you wanted to tell?
JESSICA: We were so excited to try fiction. Heather and I both enjoy reading a lot of YA, and also I think that, as a genre, it worked best for the sort of stories we wanted to tell. I also think that the sort of writing we do naturally lends itself well to YA ? our readers would probably be very surprised if we came out with something about, you know, disaffected middle-aged men and the power of their ennui. Regardless, I think it’s a genre that appeals to a lot of people, including myself, and it’s a really fun and engrossing emotional place to set a story.
HEATHER: We can all relate to a well-told story about emotions that strike a chord for us, regardless of whether the focus of the story is [someone who is] 16 or 36. Our sensibilities definitely run toward YA, but it also seemed like a natural fit for us just because we have some perspective on our own teen years. I’m too close to the experience of being a thirtysomething woman to write a story about being a thirtysomething woman, I suspect. A bit of removal brings useful perspective. That cliché about hindsight being 20/20 is apt. You can look back at your own past and see things in it that color a story you want to tell.
Can you describe your writing process? Did you take turns writing, or was every line a collaboration? How did you balance your daily blogging with your writing schedule?
JESSICA: If every line were a collaboration, we would totally still be on the first chapter! Although, actually, every line kind of did turn out to be a collaboration, now that I think about it. Basically, we wrote a very detailed outline and then broke it out into assignments ? I’ll take this chapter, you take that chapter ? and when we were done, we traded, and edited each other’s pieces. So we did each basically write every word in the book, just not at the same time. As far as juggling the book and the blog, you know, we just did it. Sometimes one of us would work on the blog while the other had the book, but much of the time, we just had to do both and sacrifice sleep and a social life.
HEATHER: We were pleased not to have to do total overhauls, though. For us, the trick was inching back from writing for an audience of our peers to writing for a teen audience with the double bonus of appealing to our peers. Not that we have to strip anything away for teens ? they are smart ? but sometimes our references were a little out of date, or we’d go too overboard on the camp and need to pull it back and give it more of a relatable anchor. We found the parody was most effective if it wasn’t being thrown around in every single line, but sometimes there was the temptation to go full soap opera and we’d have to smack ourselves on the wrists.
There are some pretty heavy topics discussed (dead mothers, negligent fathers, sibling rivalry). Did you have trouble figuring out how to treat those subjects with respect without delving into territory that was too dark for the audience?
JESSICA: I didn’t worry about that too much. There are so many YA novels that are really dark ? especially now that paranormal books are so popular ? and I think that oftentimes teens are smarter than they’re given credit for. By the time you’re 16 or 17, you may well have experienced death, and you’ve certainly dealt with emotional trauma of some sort ? be it with a boyfriend, friend, or what have you. Because we wanted the book itself to be funny, we couldn’t get toohardcore emo, but I always trusted that our reader would be able to negotiate the tough bits along with the funny parts.
HEATHER: The trick was just trying to make sure everything our characters said was true. If it was about something dark, or about using humor to try and pull out of the darker places, it had to feel genuine. Because if it didn’t, then that’s disrespecting those issues, and we didn’t want that. But I agree that we know teens don’t need to be shielded from a lot of that stuff. We wouldn’t have wanted it that way when we were that age. But teens can also smell a fraud from a mile away, and so we had to be conscious of, as they say, keeping it real.
Are the characters in the book based on any real-life people, or on any celebrities? I pictured Brick Berlin as a Tom Cruise type, but taller.
JESSICA: That’s a good one! I have used that descriptor for him, for sure. I’ve also described him as Arnold Schwarzenegger without the accent or the political aspirations. But none of the major characters is really based on any one specific celebrity.
HEATHER: Every now and then a character will do something or have a trait that belongs to Jessica or to me. Those are more little inside nuggets for our friends, just fun things we threw in there. And the way we mapped out our timeline, Brooke and Jess share a birthday, and Molly and I do. We didn’t draw on any friends or real people, though, beyond likening [Brooke Berlin’s best friend] Arugula’s tall beauty to Tyra Banks. I like it better when the readers sketch the characters in their own heads.
What’s next in terms of publicity for the book? Do you have more writing projects scheduled?
JESSICA: We are really gearing up for Spoiled‘s release! We’re doing some signings in California, but hopefully we’ll be able to visit other parts of the country, as well ? that’s all kind of getting figured out right now. We’re finishing up the follow-up to Spoiled [called Messy, due out sometime next year], working on Go Fug Yourself, and still writing for NYMag.com. So we’ve got lots of stuff on deck!
HEATHER: We’re also putting our heads together for more YA ideas. We’ve had such a blast; even if Spoiled and Messy are the last novels about Brooke Berlin, Jessica and I want to keep going. We don’t want you to be rid of us yet.
If you found out your long-lost parent was a movie star, what’s the first thing you’d do?
JESSICA: Get him to introduce me to Clooney!
HEATHER: Ask for major, major dirt.