Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, bloggers extraordinaire, have mastered the art of multitasking.
You run Go Fug Yourself, a blog with hilarious celebrity fashion commentary. How easy, or difficult, was it to transition from writing your blog to writing two young adult novels?
HEATHER: It was nerve-wracking, for sure — with GFY we are riffing on found material, but a book is created wholly out of our heads. That’s a lot of pressure, and you just have to hope you have the imagination to make something great. But tonally, we’ve had eight years of practice writing together, so that part wasn’t too hard. We picked a genre and a story that we thought fit really well with the way we write on the blog, so that it’d be as seamless as possible. It did require us to be very organized; we had a short time to write both books, so we had to be able to work on chapters concurrently without fear of, say, killing off a character in chapter three that the other person had just made the star of chapter four. So we did a detailed outline that mapped out the emotional and plot beats for each book, chapter by chapter, so that we could always be working at the same time and know that the pieces would fit together.
JESSICA: In terms of literally transitioning your mindset from writing the blog to writing the book, it wasn’t that taxing. It was kind of refreshing to be able to move back and forth between the two projects, honestly. When we needed a mental break on one, we could work on the other. They were each a kind of writing sorbet — it’s good to have two projects running at once, sometimes. At least for me.
What has been the best part of running GFY? What are your favorite types of posts to write?
HEATHER: Well, I love getting to work with Jessica — she is the greatest partner anyone could want — but I think she’d agree with me that the best part has been the people we’ve met. Fug Nation is full of hilarious, smart, and intensely loyal readers, and getting to meet them at book signings has been one of the absolute highlights of the entire thing. One girl in Boston actually thanked us for bringing together such a cool room full of people, because she said it was hard to meet new friends there but waiting in line she’d met a dozen or so. I loved that. The generosity of spirit at play in Fug Nation is immense. People brought us stuff, made us stuff, have seen us both through hard times (whether they knew it or not), and when my dad died, people actually donated to the autism charity my family supports. Unbelievable.
JESSICA: Yeah, our readership has been truly wonderful. We’ve also had a lot of fun getting to do things like going to Fashion Week, too — which we do for New York magazine, but which is a job we got thanks to GFY. Getting the opportunity to do that has been amazing. There is no better people watching in the world than at Fashion Week. Let’s see. In terms of our favorite posts to write, I think it really varies. It’s most fun for me when it’s something I can really get worked up about — about a year ago, Lea Michele did a spread in GQ that was just ridiculous (she was wearing tiny panties and sucking on a lollipop), and it was satisfying to get to work up a head of steam about it. We also both really enjoy covering the Met Gala — the clothes are so extreme, it’s exponentially more entertaining to write about than just your average awards show.
Heather and Jessica don “Fez-inators” that feature their favorites: Prince Harry and George Clooney. Courtesy of Brookline Booksmith.
The main characters of “Spoiled” and “Messy” seem to be looking for their place in society. They’re trying to get by in a crazy environment while maintaining their true identity. Is that one of the messages you wanted to get across to readers?
HEATHER: Absolutely. We’ve all been the new kid, whether it’s at work or at school or in a new city. We’ve all had to adapt in circumstances that maybe aren’t our first choice. So it becomes about how you choose to be, how you choose to react. Do you compromise who you are, just to make life easier? What concessions are okay, if any? It’s about being strong in the face of change, or in the face of people who want to tear you down — those are things everyone can relate to, but especially teenagers. We wanted to remind them that it’s always just better to be you, because you are the one who has to fall asleep at night, and you are the one who has to be proud to be you when each day is over.
“Spoiled” follows 16-year-old Molly Dix as she discovers who her biological father is: movie star Brick Berlin. She moves California to live with him and his beautiful daughter, Brooke, right in the middle of the Beverly Hills spotlight.
Max McCormack has green hair, an attitude and a love of writing. She mocks the glam lifestyle with her best friend, Molly Dix. Molly’s sister, Brooke, wants to please her famous father. When Max becomes a part of the plan, things get a little bit… “Messy.”
Are any characters in the books based on your personalities? (I noticed the connection between Molly and Heather’s name…)
HEATHER: Ha! Yes, we were so subtle there. It would be hilarious if Jessica said, “Yes, Heather is Shelby Kendall,” or even better, “Yes, Heather is Brick.” But really, we sprinkled in bits of ourselves and our friends across everyone. Molly hates her big toe; that’s me. Max compulsively anagrams things; that’s also me. We have yet to meet anyone who has knitted the internal organs, though, so Mavis Moore right now is a true original.
JESSICA: Molly and I share a pomegranate allergy; a friend of ours once joked that he wanted to start a jug band called Uncle Grandma, and that also made the book. But those are really just little shout-outs and details that we thought were fun. Otherwise, they’re totally fictional.
Why write these books about Hollywood teenagers? What do you want readers to take away from them?
HEATHER: Well, the easy answer is that we live in Los Angeles, so we thought it’d be fun to parody this town a little. Jessica once remarked that Hollywood is sort of like high school, so the marriage of faux high school with ACTUAL high school seemed like an appealing place to set some books, and I like that observation. We also liked the idea that even people in extraordinary situations (and extraordinary houses), have ordinary problems. These emotions are the things that unite us. You don’t have to be the illegitimate daughter of Hollywood royalty to understand feeling overlooked, or lost, or rejected. But it’s definitely a lot of fun to read about that happening when you can throw in fake movie titles like Tequila Mockingbird and references to Iron Man branded bundt pans.
JESSICA: Yeah, the Hollywood stuff is fun — it’s part of what makes the books, I hope, fun beachy reads. But the core emotions are hopefully somewhat universal.
Joanna Philbin, Jessica Morgan, Heather Cocks, Deb Caletti and Aaron Hartzler speak at the LA Times Festival of Books. Photo by Becca Gross.
You two HAVE to be addicted to TV/ pop culture at least a little bit. How do you choose what to include in your blog (and books) when there’s so much to choose from?
HEATHER: Oh, yes, I can cop to that. For better or worse, I am hooked on entertainment. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in England, where we only had four channels, or because growing up where there were only four channels heightened my ability to be entertained by almost anything (snooker, men and their dogs herding sheep for half an hour…). But I’m always fascinated by TV, and how hard it must be to make. Movies are a big deal and all, but you’re given a 2-3 hour window to make everything happen. On TV, you get 13 to 22 hours, and then maybe another 13 to 22 hours, and another… Keeping characters true and fresh and fun is a challenge I’ve always appreciated and been fascinated by (while also suspecting I could never do it myself). As for what to put in the blog, the nice thing about GFY is, it’s very focused. We just deal with bad celebrity fashion. So choosing what to feature comes right down to what inspires a reaction in us, good or bad.
Some random 90210 starlet in jeans at The Grove may not appeal to us that much, so it’s easy to eliminate it; conversely, Leighton Meester in a see-through tulle jumpsuit on the red carpet is a pretty easy choice to make. That’s going on the blog every time. Although hopefully there won’t be more than one time. But that’s one reason we don’t post a zillion times a day right now, the way a lot of gossip news sites do. We have finite material, basically. The worst thing is feeling like you’re putting up a post because you have to, and trying to find something to say about nothing at all. For the books, we probably split the difference a bit — some of the obvious stuff to parody, and some light inside jokes that might never even get noticed at all. Like how Jennifer Parker, one of Brooke’s friends, is named after Marty McFly’s girlfriend from Back to the Future.
JESSICA: We have started covering more TV shows on the blog — with our Fug the Show, and Fug the Fromage (which is dedicated to cheesy movies) features, which felt like a natural extension of our interests. We also met working at Television Without Pity, so in a way, including some TV recaps is returning to our roots. The circle of life!
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