A conversation with the satirical fashion bloggers about their new book
Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan are a new-media success story: They met as recappers on Television Without Pity, and now they blog about fashion full-time at their wickedly satirical site, Go Fug Yourself, and as correspondents for New York. But this summer, they're turning back to an old medium. On June 1, Heather and Jessica are publishing their debut young adult novel, Spoiled, which follows Molly Dix as she moves from her childhood home in Indiana (where Heather went to college) to Los Angeles (where Jessica grew up and the pair both live now) to live with her newly-discovered movie star father, Brick Berlin. With its witty dissection of celebrity culture and a story that focus as much on sisterhood as on teenage romance, Spoiled is both a nostalgic wink to readers who grew up on Judy Blume and the Sweet Valley High novels and a great entry point for girls just starting their exploration of YA stories. We spoke to Heather and Jessica about their favorite YA books when they were growing up, how writing a novel influenced their partnership, and why young adult novels rule the literary marketplace today.
I know you liked the Sweet Valley High books, because you reference them on the site. What other young adult books did you read growing up? What books influenced you as you were thinking about Spoiled?
Jessica: I as a child, and even now, am a huge reader...I read the Anastasia Krupnik books, I really loved Harriet the Spy. I read just a ton....I basically used to take my books into the shower because I found showering quite boring and I needed reading material.
Heather: I also read a lot of the same books as Jessica, a lot of Judy Blume. I tended to read a lot of stuff that my sisters lent me or I could sneak out of their rooms. There was this old romance series called Sweet Dreams—I devoured them. What cracks me up about them is not only were they terrible, but now, I'm like, wait a minute, that girl looks familiar, and it would turn out the girl in the spiky hair and the argyle sweater vest on the cover grew up to be Courtney Cox.
Judy Blume, she had one I loved, Just as Long as We're Together, which is really friendship book. I was a bit of a sap at heart. Heather and I both remember reading Forever [Judy Blume's novel about two teenagers who decide to have sex, then later break up]. We both had talked about how we read it too young, and I wonder if that influenced our decision not to go with any too mature content in Spoiled. I remembered reading that book and feeling so confused. Maybe as an adult that imprinted on me, that I don't want to put anyone through that confusion.
I think that's one of the reasons we gravitated to YA is because as much as people can sit down and talk for hours about whether they like The Corrections, or Freedom, the conversations that seem to be most fun or most uniting are the ones about what you read about growing up. Like, "Where were you when you read the book where Regina tried cocaine and died of a heart attack?"
Have you read YA books throughout your lives, or did you only begin to revisit them again as inspiration for Spoiled?
Jessica: There's definitely been an upswing in the last five years. When Gossip Girl hit, I read them, and said, "Why aren't I reading more of these YA books? I love them." In my library, the YA section was always better curated than the adult stuff.
Heather: I don't know that i ever even classified it in my head as YA. As you're growing up, you loose track of what books are targeted at me. My journey was more looking at what kind of fiction appealed to me. I would come home from college and read every fluffy romance novel that my mom and my grandmother had been trading....I think it was Gossip Girl that make me aware that they're classifications, but they're not boundaries.
Do you think the television adaptation of Gossip Girl gave adults permission to read young adult books again?
Jessica: I think you could probably make the argument that the overall success fo the CW and the WB has opened the door for grownups consuming media that's directed at teenagers.
Heather: It's the network brought you these adult-teen soap hybrids. Buffy the Vampire Slayer reminded me that something that's allegedly aimed at teens can be mature and funny and emotional and engrossing....Gossip Girl has cracked it open for a much wider audience...I do agree with you that I think the time slot and the network has given people a way to justify their interest, an interest I think they don't have to justify.
Jessica: I was just going to bring up Harry Potter. I think that's completely of an example of adults saying this so-called kids' book is awesome and I'm going to stay home all weekend and read it...I personally have never really believed in the concept of a guilty pleasure. I don't really feel guilty about anything I enjoy.
Heather: I don't know if the Hunger Games is technically classified as young adult, but it's a book about teenagers. That's one that people feel that they don't have to apologize for because it's quote unqoute about something. It's grisly, it's emotional in a different way. It doesn't just have to be a girl gets her first kiss at boarding school, but those books are great because they tap into something we felt so strongly...we were all such crazy, mixed-up emotional hormonal beings back then, it's those things that cling to us.
One of the things that struck me about Spoiled is that while it's a lot of fun, it also has interesting class politics: Living in the country and being middle-class represent virtue, and the city and celebrity are kind of corrupting.
Jessica: I don't know if it has to do with class as it has to do with celebrity specifically. I grew up here in LA, and my parents were not around the industry, and we're a very, very normal family. It's not based on my experiences personally. But both of us have seen a lot of crazy stuff from a lot of crazy celebrities. And quasi-celebrities are often worse.
Heather: It's more about a clashing of the universes than the clashing of the classes. You see the velvet rope culture, who's allowed in and who isn't....It's more about showing up at the new school and being the sore thumb and how much of yourself do you hold on to in trying to relate to these other people? How much do you give up to try to fit in?
You've written the blog together for a long time. How did you write the novel? Did you take different characters?
Heather: We started writing out different chapters. Any section written from Brooke's POV or Molly's POV was going to be written by someone else. But we decided to abandon that.
Jessica: I think Heather and I are fortunate that we've written together for so long...It was more making sure the chapters sounded like they were written by one person.
Heather: For our New York pieces we publish under one byline. We flip a coin. When they are free-form pieces, whoever won or lost would write until they lost steam and we'd send it to the other person. We're used to making our writing styles connect seamlessly, so you know it's by us. People don't really notice.
Still, writing a novel is very different from writing blog posts. What did you learn about each other as writers while working on Spoiled?
Heather: In a totally superficial way, we've learned each other's quirks. We both have words we'll overuse. Jessica's for the first book was quizzical. Mine was rancid, which is a weird word. We're writing the sequel right now, and I'll think I'm using a word too much, and I'll do a quick check. We had new ones. Jessica had one where she always put Brooke in wedges. I know I have them, I just don't know what mine are, because they're mine. So I really only know hers because I read hers really fresh...I've noticed little things like that. Even with Go Fug Yourself, I'm a fan of Jessica's just like anyone else.
Heather: So I'm excited for her to send me her chapters.
Jessica: I think Heather and I are fortunate in that I can see with certain writing partners, it would be a very contentious relationship. We are not as all contentious. We never ran into an argument where we'd have a huge disagreement about where something was going. Because our deadline was so fast, we didn't have time to do anything other than think how are we going to knock this out?
Heather: One thing I think we learned is we're egoless. This sounds self-loving. But thank goodness, because we didn't have time to be divas. We really did not want to be those people who email their publisher on their first book and say we didn't get it done. You learn you really can lean on this person in a time crisis the way I thought I could...The other nice thing about our partnership over the years, if one of us reacts to something with big, big nerves, the other one automatically relaxes...we sort of find a way to balance each other out automatically. It's super-exciting. I just hope people enjoy it. You really want the YA audience to enjoy it, but we have a lot of people who support our website who have been awesome about saying 'I'm going to buy your book,' it's so great. Every time someone's willing to spend money to support you, you want to feel you did right by them.
Read all the posts in our Young Adult Fiction series.