1. The book is such a fun mix of hip lingo (even includes a handy ARISTOBRATS ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO TERMS, ABBREVIATIONS AND OTHERWISE COMPLETELY MADE-UP WORDS) and a great storyline. How did you come up with the story?
I really wanted to write a kind of anti-Clique book — something that I would be proud for my daughter and her friends to read. Despite its “bratty” title and the obvious comparisons to The Clique series, Massie Block ain’t invited to this party! These are popular girls, yes, but undyingly loyal friends, incredibly plucky and smart and…hello!?…nice.
Also, at Winchester, I was the editor-in-chief of my eighth grade “paper” The Pied Piper. It was a small, silly little compilation of our personal creative expression. I thought “okay, what if I took that idea and expanded it out as far as it would go?” I also had met a blogger named “Bryan Boy” who had been a fan of my first book, The Booster. Bryan had just been this young kid in the Philippines doing a cool fashion blog from his bedroom. He’s now sitting in the front row of couture fashion shows and having lunch with Anna Wintour. Marc Jacobs named a bag after him. The webcast idea came from that nugget — with social media, the stage can get very big, even for a foursome of eighth grade friends.
2. I love that book is about nice girls rather than mean—this gang (Lylas—love you like a sister—name for the main group in the story) goes out of their way to include the “underpopular.” But the girls were aware of a social hierarchy and wanted to be on the top of the “populadder,” like anyone does! But they never stepped on other people to remain relevant. Also, your use of hip language makes it feel like I was reading a much edgier book than it was. It was appropriate! Did you purposely decide to meld those two elements (hip with nice) or was the lingo a natural outcropping of the story as you wrote it?
I guess if you can be hip and mean why can’t you be hip and nice? I have an eleven-year-old and an almost-fourteen year old. Kid characters just aren’t that different from adult characters — they’re complex, mean, nice, sad, hopeful, self-absorbed, generous, etc. I couldn’t write a cartoon version — I eat breakfast with the real deal every morning.
3. How did you come up with all the words the girls used?
I don’t think my son realizes that because I’m his Facebook Friend I get to read almost everything he writes. (I eventually showed him the feature he could use to block “certain” people if he wanted to). So I got some of the ideas from him, but I also used a lot of what my friends said. Like kid #1: “those jeans and way great.” Kid #2: “so way great.”
It was that kind of lingo that defined who we were. You either got it or you didn’t…but eventually, if you wanted to spend time in the country, you had to learn the language.
4. I like that Ikea brings Ghandi into the mix, that she wants to see some racial equality in her school and that she reaches out to others to do it. What made you decide to go that route?
Simple — I just don’t think they’re enough African American girls in white girl books. The fact that she’s an activist is based on my daughter’s interest — she gets very passionate about causes, particularly environmental.
5. Why did you decide to set the book in a private school rather than public?
I went to Winchester (in Pittsburgh) so I had the school and its details ingrained in my head. It was fun to go back there and “play around” without actually having to be there.
Plus, I always have more fun writing about rich people. I’m a fascinated voyeur of people who have (seemingly) sumptuous lives and endless money. Selfishly, if I have to go into my character’s house everyday, I want the air conditioning to work, the duvet to be fluffy, and the maid to clean up after me. Is that so wrong?
6. You did a great job of capturing the eighth grade mind-set and also the truths they see before they learn to subvert them. For instance Parker thinks “Why did people standing at podiums always say the exact opposite of what was true?” Was that something that just grew out of the action and Parker’s development or was that a thought you had yourself, back when you were in 8th grade.
I wrote that during the elections. I was typing the scene and literally looked up and heard some politician saying something or other (clearly, full of %$#@!). So I was thinking it: Why do people standing at podiums always say the exact opposite of what’s true?
7. Will there be a second book for the LYLA’S?
But of course!
8. Why did you make the switch from Women’s fiction (The Booster was fantastic!) to middle grade literature?
The standing at the podium answer or the real answer? So the real answer: supporting myself. The publishing industry is enormously tough. I wrote two new adult books and couldn’t sell them (no one was really buying anything from anyone). I was depressed, tired and hopeless. My agent suggested a young adult project. It was just what the doctor ordered — a blast to write, happy, zippy and someone wanted to buy it! I still have two adult manuscripts waiting to burst free but I actually think I’m cut out for this genre.
9. I really loved two scenes—one was between Parker and her mother—Parker is soaking in the bathtub while her mother talks to her through the door. It’s beautifully done, with pauses between her mother rambling on, just trying to connect with Parker and Parker diving under the water, both seeming to understand the script they’re following. It’s clear their relationship is changing and both are uncomfortable, but there’s a warmth there—very understated.
Also, with Parker and James. Parker snaps at James questioning his facility with the camera and he holds her gaze, giving her the opportunity to recognize his appeal and in the flicker of his smile and her flushed neck, it’s clear, without being overt, these two have a future. Very sweet, very well done.
Do you purposely craft these scenes to be underplayed (while so much of teen drama is exaggerated when it comes to shoes and clothes, etc.) or is this simply the way they flow for you?
I think I don’t know how to do it any other way — these are the details I notice. Maybe it’s because I’m very visual? Maybe it’s just the stuff that sticks to me? I picture being there that moment and I try and imagine what I see and feel. What would James do right this second that would make me know that I’m just going to love this guy forever? What was it like when my mom was trying to connect with me through my bedroom door when I was that age? What’s it like when I’m trying to connect with my daughter through her bedroom door? What does my house sound like at night after everyone goes to sleep?
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The video trailer for the book