We're back on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, with a return visit from E. Lockhart, who toured last year with her young adult novel The Boyfriend List. She's back with a new book, Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything. If you saw the show on Oprah earlier this week about the "stupid girl" trend, including all those teen novels about being on the A-list, rich, pretty and stupid and all that, this book is the polar opposite. It's smart and funny, and it's about really learning to see people and understand them instead of just making superficial assumptions.
The book is about a girl called Gretchen Kaufman Yee who goes to a wacked-out art school in New York City. She's a collector of plastic Chinese food and odd figurines, a passionate comic-book artist, and a crazy Spider-man fanatic. She's also completely freaked out by the opposite sex -- in particular, the Art Rats, a group of guys in her drawing concentration. One day, she wishes she could be "a fly on the wall of the boys' locker room," just to find out what the heck guys really talk about.
And the next thing she knows... she is.
On the wall of the locker room.
Now, for the interview (with some different questions, since she's a return guest):
How much, if anything, do you have in common with this heroine?
I come from a mixed background, rather like Gretchen does; although she is Jewish/Chinese American and human/insect (depending on which part of the book you're in), while I'm Jewish/WASP. I was interested in that split identity. Other than that, she's much cooler than I am -- her collections of comic books, plastic Chinese food, strange figurines and such are all things I'm attracted to but never really pursued.
If you could pick a place where you could be a fly on the wall, where would it be, and what would you want to learn?
In high school, I would have picked the boys' locker room, just as Gretchen does (or is magically forced to). There was just so much about boys that perplexed and distressed me, at the same time as it fascinated me.
Now -- I'd like to be a fly on the wall during the rehearsals of a great piece of musical theater. I've been writing about summer drama camp, and listening to a lot of show tunes for that book (Dramarama, early 2007), and I'd love to learn how a really stunning musical comes together.
How have things changed for you as a writer since your first book?
I'm going on tour for Fly on the Wall, with three other YA authors, including fellow GCC member Tanya Lee Stone (A Bad Boy is Good for a Girl). I've never been sent on tour before, and it will be either wild fun or a terrifying nightmare, I am not sure which. Everything else is pretty much the same. I write. I procrastinate. I write.
Your book uses type style, fonts and the arrangement of type on the page as part of the way the story is told -- almost in an ee cummings way. Is that something you came up with, or was it something your publisher did in typesetting?
The change of font for when Gretchen becomes a fly was the publisher's decision, but the manuscript of Fly on the Wall does have all those carriage returns, the italics and all that odd punctuation, yes. I was trying to get a stream-of-consciousness feel, and proper sentence structure just got in my way.
What are you working on now?
I'm finishing revisions on the Dramarama book I mentioned earlier, which is about two theater-mad teenagers who spend a summer of jealousy, love, jazz hands and bad behavior at musical theater camp. It has been so so so much fun to write. But before that, I have the sequel to my book The Boyfriend List, coming out next September. It's called The Boy Book: A Study of Habits and Behaviors, plus Techniques for Taming Them.
(Hmm, sounds like that could be useful for big girls, too.)
Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
So much of Fly on the Wall takes place in a boys' locker room. The biggest challenge was how to talk about-- well, what I needed to talk about -- and make it entertaining and un-clinical and also not too crazy offensive, even when the characters are offending one-another. So I invented a lot of slang -- mainly body part slang and homophobic slang. And most of it is very ridiculous. I had a great time.
For more info, visit her web site. You can also take a quiz to determine your fly style and enter to win a free copy.
This book got me thinking about where I'd like to be a fly on the wall. In high school, I'm sure I wouldn't have picked the boys' locker room. That would have been way more information than I was ready to handle at that time, and besides, I was the girl the guys didn't think of as a girl, so I heard a lot about what they really thought of girls in the school even without going into the locker room. I think I would have wanted to be a fly on the wall for get-togethers of the school's "in" crowd. I was sort of an adjunct member of that group. I was on the fringes of the group in school, but didn't get invited to extra-curricular happenings. My senior year, that group started getting together to work on our trig homework, and I was included. It ended up that not a lot of homework got done. Instead we just hung around eating nachos and talking, and my hope was that this would make them realize that I could be fun, so they might invite me to join them for other things (there was a weird attitude in my school that if you were smart, you weren't capable of having fun and wouldn't enjoy fun or funny things). Then I found out that they were still getting together to do stuff like go to movies or hang out on weekends, and I was never invited. I would have wanted to be a fly on the wall to see if they really were having a lot of fun, or if I was better off being at home and reading. And maybe I could have buzzed them and annoyed them for being jerks.
Now, I'd love to be a fly on the wall at my publisher to see what really goes on behind the scenes there, how they decide on books, how they decide which books get the attention, what gets said about me and other authors. I guess that's the equivalent of the boys' locker room at this stage in my life. Except without the nudity (I hope!).
So, if you could be a fly on the wall anywhere, where would it be, and what would you want to learn?