Swanky Seventeener Melissa Roske recently sat down with Sixteener Laurie Elizabeth Flynn to talk about about her YA debut, FIRSTS (January 5, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press).
About the Author
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn went to school for journalism, where the most important thing she learned was that she would rather write made-up stories than report the news. She also worked as a model, a job that took her to Tokyo, Athens, and Paris. Laurie, who snorts when she laughs and drinks at least six cups of black coffee a day, lives in London, Ontario, with her husband Steve, and their spoiled spoiled chihuahua, Abra. Laurie is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.
About the Book
Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time – the kind Mercedes never had herself.
Melissa: You wrote FIRSTS in three weeks. What was it like to write a 320-page book in such an incredibly short amount of time?
Laurie: It was a pretty crazy experience. It started out as a NaNoWriMo project, which meant I had to write really fast. The first draft had issues, of course – and it went through some changes. But the process was really fun. The reason, I think, is that this was my first attempt at YA. I had written two new-adult books prior, but this time I just let myself go with the flow. I had no outline or anything. From there, it turned into something really important to me.
Melissa: What was the revision process like?
Laurie: It wasn’t all that painful. I entered the book in Pitch Wars and was able to revise with a mentor, Lori Goldstein. It was a cool experience for me, because I’d never had another author – or anyone, for that matter, including a critique partner – read my books. Lori gave me great feedback, and so did my agent, Kathleen, which made the book stronger. Revising with my editor was an amazing experience too; we clicked really well. It all came together pretty easily. It’s different for every project, though. I wrote FIRSTS from this magical place, where the words just came to me. It definitely hasn’t been like this for every book!
Melissa: The premise of your novel – a sexually experienced 17-year-old provides a virgin-deflowering service – is extremely original. Where did you get the idea?
Laurie: I wish I had a good answer. It just hit me one day. I thought, “Hmm… what if there was a book about a girl who wanted to give guys the perfect first-time experience so that their girlfriends could have a perfect first-time experience?” Then the name of the main character – Mercedes – popped into my head, and the story unfolded from there. I knew it would be risky, but I figured nobody would ever see the manuscript besides me, so I took a chance. I’m glad I did.
Melissa: FIRSTS is steamier than your average YA. What was it like to produce such sexually explicit content? Did your publisher have any specifications or limitations on what you could and couldn’t write?
Laurie: My publishing team was completely fearless. Like my amazing agent, Kathleen, they believed in the book and didn’t tell me to cut back on anything. I knew from the beginning that the story would push some boundaries, but I thought: “Hey, I’m willing to go there.” So I did. I also knew there would be parts of the story that would be difficult to write, or make me uncomfortable. I also knew that Mercedes isn’t the most likeable character. But that’s a good thing. You want your readers to care about the characters you’ve created, and the world they live in. And if I’m feeling passionate about something I’ve written – or sad, or excited, or happy – I hope the reader will too.
Melissa: Mercedes is good at chemistry and tutors other students. What is your connection to the study of chemistry? Is it a subject you’re familiar with or did you have to do lots of research?
Laurie: Embarrassingly enough, I was horrible at chemistry in high school! Math and science too. But it felt right for the character, so yes – I had to research the subject extensively. Luckily, my father-in-law is a retired high school chemistry teacher and was able to help me. He read my book and pointed out the errors. He was a great resource.
Melissa: Wait. Your father-in-law read FIRSTS? What did he think?
Laurie: He really enjoyed it! My parents, and my mother-in-law too. I was nervous to show it to them at first, because the book is a little provocative. But everyone’s been so supportive. My in-laws even called to tell me how much they enjoyed the book, and how well they think it will do with teens.
Melissa: What is your writing routine like? I know you have a day job, so how do you juggle both aspects of your life?
Laurie: It’s definitely a hard balance to achieve, but I feel good about it most days. I try to write for about two hours in the morning before heading to work, and if I’m drafting I aim for 1-2K per day. I also write on my lunch break. If I’m feeling particularly motivated, I’ll do a bit of writing in the evening, or use that time to respond to emails.
Melissa: Any advice for aspiring writers?
Laurie: If your book idea scares you, or you’re not sure how people will react, go ahead and write it anyway. If you feel strongly about something, it’s going to come through in your writing.
Lightning Round Questions
Coffee or tea?
Coffee, definitely. Black coffee – and lots of it. That’s my fuel.
As a model I did some interesting photo shoots, like one where I had to sit in a birdcage. Another time, in Japan, my agency told the client I was a ballerina. I’m not. In fact, I’ve got no grace or rhythm at all. When it was time to “audition,” I had a hard time keeping a straight face. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life!
Big sister, little sister, in the middle, or one and only?
Big sister. My sister, Erin, is two years younger and is also my best friend. It’s pretty awesome.
My chihuahua, Abra. She’s named after a character in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I usually call her Abby, though. Or Princess Abby. She’s quite spoiled.
Music to write by?
Normally I don’t listen to music when I write, because I find the lyrics distracting. Sometimes, though, I write to movie soundtracks. American Beauty is my favorite.
Is there a band you listened to at 16 that you still listen to?
The Doors and the Rolling Stones. I’m completely old school.
What were you reading when you were 16?
I was totally obsessed with The Lord of the Rings. I loved Tolkien’s huge, all-encompassing imagination, the extraordinarily intricate worldbuilding, and the characters. They felt so real to me.
Sweet tooth or salt-a-holic?
Regrettably, both. I’m just as likely to be eating a plate or nachos as digging into a jar of Betty Crocker cake frosting with a spoon.
Do you write longhand or type?
I type, because my handwriting is atrocious. I used to try to handwrite and decipher it later, but I was never able to tell what I’d written half the time! It’s hazardous.
About the Interviewer
Melissa Roske is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. Before hanging out with fictional characters, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she wrote for Just Seventeen magazine, where she was later offered a job as an advice columnist. Upon returning to her native New York, she selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, wrote and contributed to several books and magazines, and got certified as a life coach. Melissa lives in Manhattan with her husband, Henry, daughter, Chloe, and the occasional dust bunny.
She is the author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN (Charlesbridge, summer 2017).