The Big Idea: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

I have a shameful confession to make: I owe Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan some books. See, many years ago, they won a Web award of some sort for Go Fug Yourself, their righteously snarky fashion blog, and part of their prize package was a couple of books from me. And I never sent them. Because, apparently, I am the worst human being who ever lived.

Somehow, the two of them managed to pull their lives together in the face of this complete neglect, and write not one but two young adult novels about the lives of Hollywood teens, the second of which, Messy, hit bookstores this week. Here they are to talk to you about it. And Heather and Jessica: Come to one of my LA area tour stops next week. I’ll totally give you each a copy of Redshirts. I SWEAR.

HEATHER COCKS and JESSICA MORGAN:

In many ways, our Big Idea was born eight years ago. By day, we write Go Fug Yourself, a lighthearted blog about celebrities’ red-carpet fashion missteps, an endeavor that lets us exorcise our pop-culture demons while referencing everything from Judy Blume to that time poor, until-recently-deaf Regina Morrow snorted coke in Sweet Valley High No. 40 and immediately died (subtle moral: don’t do drugs, kids). So when we got the itch to write fiction, it seemed smart to stick to the voice we’d spent so long honing, as opposed to glancing at the bookstore shelves and trying to copy whatever we saw. It would be a strange swerve for us to pump out a Very Important Adult Work about suburban ennui or murder most foul, and although as readers we respect and enjoy the limitless creativity in the fantasy and paranormal genres, as writers we are self-aware enough to know that is not where our strengths lie — Twilight’s sales numbers be damned.

So we stuck to our guns and set our novels, Spoiled and Messy, in a universe we’re more familiar with: Hollywood (although in its own way, this town is as otherworldly and peopled with supernatural bodies as any). One of us grew up near L.A. and the other is a transplant, so it made sense to channel our experiences into a tale that touched on a relatable emotion for both our young-adult target audience and beyond: the fear of change, and struggle to decide how that change should or should not redefine you. Doing it through the prism of gentle Hollywood parody, which is second nature to us at this point given how absurdly acquainted we are with things like Jessica Simpson’s gestational period, was a natural way to keep our books in the Go Fug Yourself family tree.

Sure, it was occasionally tough to resist the impulse to throw in a scorching hot psychic ghost centaur — at a recent author event at Torrance High School, all the kids toted books with spooky supernatural covers, rather than something like Spoiled’s cheerful makeup-centered design – but we had faith that there was room in people’s hearts for the living as well as the mythologically dreamy. Especially because epic battles can be so stressful. Sometimes, a reader needs a break from being constantly afraid a character they love is about to bleed out on the rug (oh, hi there, Gray Hairs Ron Weasley Gave Us).

Specific to Messy, our challenge was deciding between a direct sequel to Spoiled or something more anthologized. Spoiled tells the tale of Indiana transplant Molly Dix, whose mother dies right after revealing Molly’s her father is not only alive but also the world’s biggest movie star. Molly goes to live with him in L.A. and meets her flashy half-sister Brooke Berlin, and the two co-narrate their exploits while dad Brick pops off to Key West to shoot Avalanche! in front of a green-screen with as many real polar bears as he can muster (“White fur is the apex of fear. Everyone knows that”). The emotions in that scenario are universal even if the circumstances aren’t: You don’t have to have been spawned by a Schwarzenegger clone to understand what it feels like to be the new kid, or to be ignored, or to have half-hearted bangs , and we’ve all had to figure out how to present ourselves so that we can soldier forth and be happy. Molly was the ultimate outsider, and the perfect vehicle.

But the closer we got to Book Two, the more we worried that Molly’s journey might dry up a little once she stopped being a true fish out of water. People might get sick of two incessantly warring protagonists, yet bored of a pair of happy half-sisters who only fight over who gets to drive the car. How could we weave new identity struggles into this bizarre universe without it feeling like a retread?

Ultimately, we hit on the idea of a partial sequel, shifting to a self-made outsider rather than an accidental one. Messy became the story of Molly’s best friend, the green-haired misanthrope Max McCormack, whose dire financial straits lead to her taking a job ghost-writing Brooke Berlin’s fame-mongering “personal” blog. It was a way for us to wink at the Web site that brought us here, without being grossly reflexive about it (“Read this book about a girl who’s just like us!”), plus it afforded us a fresh perspective. In Spoiled, Molly is marooned without her beloved mother and her familiar surroundings; Max makes herself an island by choice.

And where Molly’s version of self-preservation is figuring out how much of herself (if any) she had to change to survive in her new life, Max’s approach is to push violently against her social opposites so that the rejection she expects from them won’t hurt her. Plus, using Max let us check in with Molly, kept us from fully resetting the universe, and let us retain the juxtaposition of opposites – and a more taut connection to Spoiled itself — by remaining in Brooke’s head for part of the book. Brooke defines who she is by what she wants her father to see, and in that sense Messy is very much a continuation from her arc in Spoiled. So we call Messy a follow-up — not a sequel, but closer than a cousin. You could suggest we ended up having our cake and eating it too, but Brooke Berlin would never endorse the public consumption of baked goods.

And as a bonus, Brick Berlin still acts like a horse’s ass, which means he’s as close to a centaur as you can be without having hooves. Huh. Maybe we’re more supernatural than we think.

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Messy: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound

Read an excerpt. Visit Go Fug Yourself. Follow the authors on Twitter.

9 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

  1. I love the Fug Girls! But I must hang my head in shame because I haven’t read Spoiled yet. But it’s been on my radar and so is Messy. But after reading this I think I’m going to stop by the bookstore and get their book.

  2. Isn’t giving people copies of Redshirts more of a punishment than a prize? Even for people who have a crappy website and probably deserve the punishment…

    I kid, I kid… I got Redshirts yesterday and finished it before dinner and I’m sure I’ll read it again once my wife gets done with it. And I follow Go Fug Yourself daily, lots of fun writing there. :)

  3. Amazon sent out the preorders a bit early so I’ve had my copy of Messy for a couple weeks. Its absolutely delightful, just like Spoiled. I breezed through it and half a bottle of wine in a night on the porch and it was a most wonderful night.

  4. Nope, not buying it. I lived in Hollywood for 5 years, it is DEFINITELY a mythological place.

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