Swanky Seventeer Jilly Gagnon recently interviewed Anna Breslaw about her debut novel, SCARLETT EPSTEIN HATES IT HERE, a contemporary YA published by Razorbill/Penguin on April 19, 2016.
About the Book:
Scarlett Epstein, a New Jersey teenager with straight Cs and an overactive imagination, starts to write fanfiction about the other students at her lame public school. Eventually they find out, and she realizes things aren’t as black-and-white as she thought they were.
About the Author:
Anna is a New York-based freelance writer and author who’s written for Cosmo, Jezebel, Glamour, New York Magazine, GQ.com and elsewhere.
Where to find her:
Jilly: Fanfic is a huge part of your story; did you ever write it yourself? (If so: DETAILS.)
Anna: In high school, when I was writing fic/actively engaged in fandoms, my main two were Buffy and Harry Potter, mostly the latter. Also some anime (Slayers and Hellsing, for anyone familiar) and some video games (Final Fantasy 7 & 8—mostly 8. I think most of my then-friends liked 7 more but it was too emo for me).
Jilly: A strong theme in the book is hiding who you feel you really are. Can you talk about why that resonated with you?
Anna: When I was in upper high school, I was the least pretty and least wealthy girl in my group of friends, and also the one who never had a boyfriend, so I basically assumed this hyper-jokey, nothing-bothers-me, almost non-sexual persona. Even though I felt like inside, that was really far from the truth—I was really sensitive and wished I could be seen the way my friends were.
But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized it goes both ways: Girls like Ashley might want to be seen as more than just hot and popular.
Jilly: I absolutely loved Scarlett’s takedown of the pretentious book-signing tools. Without spoiler-ing anything, what inspired that (ah-may-zing) moment?
Anna: Ugh, this is a long one.
I had internalized sexism about writing by the time I was in high school/college: If you’re a cool girl, you like Kerouac and Bukoswski. Never pick up anything with a pink cover. (It makes sense this bullshit idea is so pervasive when you think about how much of the Western canon—i.e. what teenagers read in English class—is written by white dudes, how early that becomes the normalized voice.)
Eventually all those little sexist elements and offensive lines added up (“At thirty-two Denise was still beautiful,” which Scarlett quotes in disbelief, is a real line from The Corrections), and eventually I realized I was actively hurting myself by insisting that these were the only books that had merit, because these were the books that thought I was dumb. It’s not that different from liking a guy who doesn’t like you back, tbh: You’re undermining your own feelings, and your own worth, in a similar way.
ANYWAY, I wanted that moment to be Scarlett waking up and realizing that by reducing Ashley to a 1-dimensional “dumb slutty mean girl” stereotype, she was playing right into the hands of the patriarchy. And hopefully communicate to teens that there’s no need to brainwash yourself into liking books that don’t like you back. I could have spent that time reading so many better books!
Jilly: What’s one thing a reader wouldn’t know about Scarlett? About Gideon? About Ashley?
Scarlett secretly likes Coldplay. Gideon’s maybe lost his virginity already. Ashley got a really good SAT score.
Which were you: the defiant dork, or the more-to-you fitter-inner?
I definitely tried to fit in more than Scarlett does. Tried but didn’t always succeed.
What’s the most embarrassing fandom you were part of at 16?
I honestly don’t think any fandoms are embarrassing. Like—even Frasier fanfiction (which exists, by the way) is cool. Enthusiasm has the power to make things cool.
What fuels your writing…literally? What food or drink do you need on hand before ideas flow?
I keep a giant bottle of water by my desk and another one in the fridge. Also: Chocolate chip Clif bars.
Favorite book at 16?
Probably Story of My Life by Jay McInerney, which is lame, but it was the first book that made me realize it was OK to write fun, voicey fiction and not required to write super-dense, long-winded “prose.” (Also: I hate the word prose.)
Favorite book now?
It’s hard to pick one. I’ll always have a soft spot for The Secret History, which I reread like once a year. Right now I’d have to say: Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and the subsequent books in that series. Animals, by Emma Jane Unsworth, It by Stephen King, and Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll.
If you could Mary Sue yourself into any current TV show, which would it be? (Dish on the why, too!)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, because I have loved it since I was fifteen and I’ll love it forever. I tried to make Lycanthrope High, Scarlett’s favorite show in the book, an homage to Buffy. Pretty obvious, I think.
About the Interviewer:
Jilly Gagnon writes young adult fiction, comedy, and personal essays. In the past her work has appeared in Newsweek, Elle, The Toast, The Hairpin, Vanity Fair, The Onion, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. Her comedy book series Choose Your Own Misery (co-authored with Mike MacDonald) will debut in 2016. So far three titles are planned. She has lived in the Boston area for over 10 years, but will always be a Minnesotan at heart. She recently started to play the violin, because she’ll also always be a masochist.