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lip lit: q&a, heather cocks and jessica morgan (bloggers of Go Fug Yourself and authors of Messy)

If you haven’t read Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan’s hilarious fashion critique blog, Go Fug Yourself, you’re missing out. Starting as a inside joke for themselves and their friends, the blog grew to such popularity that they receive over 3.5 milion unique visitors every month. The duo criticise — and occasionally commend — celebrities on their outfits, with a refreshing perspective and honest candor. You know when you and  your best-friend drink too much wine at home and start leafing through magazines and say you kind of like Lea Michele’s dress, but it also looks like the love child of a can-can dancer and liquorice all-sort? That’s essentially the tone of Go Fug Yourself – but Cocks and Morgan are far more coherent.

As well as blogging for GFY, last year the duo released their first YA novel, Spoiled. Spoiled is centered around Mid-Westerner Molly Dix who is thrown into the Hollywood World when she discovers movie star Brick Berlin is her father, and the struggles she and her half-sister Brooke have in accepting each other and their new lives.

Cox and Morgan have followed this up with Messy – a sequel of sorts. Messy follows what happens when Brooke decides to write a gossip blog – but she gets Molly’s best friend Max to write it for her.  Messy is sharply-written and full of the wonderful observations and turns-of-phrases that Cox and Morgan display daily on GFY. It discusses themes that are not only relevant to us as teenagers, but ones that continue into early-adulthood — such as making concessions in order to get you closer to something you want (and the emotional struggle that can come with this), and the constant desire to please your parents by making your own firm imprint in the world, without their help. Messy pumps with energy and heart, you feel for both Max and Brooke, and this is what makes the work so engaging – both girls are just trying to forge their own way in the world. And really, who can’t relate to that?

I was lucky enough to be able to do a Q&A with Cocks and Morgan about Messy, Go Fug Yourself, young adult fiction and, of course, Kayne…

Messy involves a Young Hollywood gossip blog that provides biting (but honest) commentary about the behaviour of certain young starlets. Do you hope the book in some ways will serve as a warning to its readers about how their conduct could easily be recorded and broadcast?

JESSICA: Honestly, I didn’t really think of it that way. Obviously, it’s good to remember that you should not put anything on Facebook, for example, that you wouldn’t want your mom to see eventually, but we weren’t really writing a cautionary tale about that, as much as we were reflecting the fact that right now, celebrities live very much in a fishbowl.

HEATHER: Some of what we hope people will take away from it is, stupid behaviour is stupid behaviour, no matter who you are. One of the things I love about Brooke is that she’s not a sycophant — she’s not sucking up to the likes of Moxie Stilts just because she wants to be famous. Even though she’s using Max as her Cyrano, she’s willing to tell it like it is. Fame doesn’t make dumb behaviour okay. Idiocy is idiocy, and it’s good for anyone to remember that, famous or not. Whether you’re the girl who betrays herself to get in with the popular clique, or the dude who is disrespectful about his girlfriend in front of his guys because he wants them to think he’s cool.

Max struggles with her identity and image when swept along in Brooke’s world (and then there is Brie, who seems to relish being Brooke’s doppelganger). What advice would you give to young girls who feel the pressure to turn themselves into something they are not?

JESSICA: Well, I think the typical thing to say is, “just be yourself!” And of course that is generally good advice. But I think what I would actually say would be, “be yourself…and if you want to turn yourself into something else, turn yourself into something amazing.” Because if people didn’t decide to turn themselves into doctors, or firefighters, or from sad people into happy, confident people, we’d all be in quite a muddle.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with evolving as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons — for your own personal growth, to be a more confident and productive person, to contribute more. Because the thing is, Max starts off the book kind of unhappy. She’s got writer’s block, she sort of hates everyone, she wants to escape her life. So Max picks up some good things from Brooke along the way — and vice versa.

HEATHER: I always look back and think how grateful I am for every decision I made that I’m not embarrassed to look back upon — which is tough advice to give a teen, because it’s hard for them to look so far forward (or at least it was for me when I was a teen). But you are the one who has to live with yourself. You may grow up and apart and move away from your friends, and you’ll never know what they remember or forget, but you will know everything you did. Can you sleep at night knowing you hurt someone? Are you okay with giving up parts of yourself just to have an experience — say, losing your virginity due to peer pressure? Can you endure short-term high-school jerkitude if it means standing true to what’s right for YOU in the long-run — be that issues of intimacy, or social betrayal? I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but there is so much going on in a teen’s life, and a lot of it is presented in black and white terms of, “If you do this, you’re cool, and if you don’t, you’re a loser.” Hang onto the grey areas, and you’ll hang onto yourself.

Brooke’s mother is MIA, Molly’s has passed away and Brick is mostly MIA. Many children’s and YA novels have at least one absent (or not present) parent. Why do you think this has become such a hallmark in YA?

JESSICA: I think it’s because in many YA books, you need to have the parents out of the way in order to get the kids in sufficient dramatic trouble. If they’re being properly supervised by a loving and present adult, a lot of the shenanigans in many YA books could not occur. So it’s almost a plot point requirement. And, of course, the protagonist with one or no parents is a pretty traditional set-up in books in which the young protagonist gets up to adventure — look at almost every fairytale there is. For us, Brooke’s mother being absent and Brick being MIA drives a lot of what Brooke does — she wants parental approval and validation more than anything. Max, on the other hand, has two parents who are up in her grill more than she would perhaps like, especially her mother.

HEATHER: Parents drive a huge part of who you are, both the presence of them and the absence of them. Or, like Brick, when they’re present in their very absentness. But I also think there’s something compelling in forcing a protagonist to go it alone. My analogy is that I worked at the independent student newspaper at Notre Dame, and I always thought that was a much better training ground than one that had a faculty advisor. It forces you to bear total responsibility for your decisions. The moral decisions are yours. The journalistic integrity is yours to uphold and defend. The tone is yours to set. It makes you grow up faster, but it also means you’ll make mistakes, and that really IS the best way to learn what’s important and to get better. Eliminating a parent in a book is similar. When you become self-reliant, you’re forced to answer a lot of your own questions and it ends up better defining who you are. Perfect for a protagonist.

Brick’s one-liners are hilarious. Have you ever considered giving him an internship or guest commentary at Go Fug Yourself HQ?

JESSICA: Unfortunately, Brick is far too busy with post-production on Avalanche! and pre-production on Mudslide?!? to return our emails.

HEATHER: He would make a great advice columnist, though.

And what about Brooke herself — if you could describe her fashion aesthetic and choices on GFY, what do you think her standard fashion critique would be?

JESSICA: I actually think Brooke has very good taste. Expensive, certainly. I think she possibly suffers from the fact that she wears her skirts quite short and occasionally gets too aggressive with the Mystic Tan.

HEATHER: I also suspect she’s a bit of a slave to labels. She’d pick the uglier Vuitton over the cuter Topshop and then regret it later.

You’ve covered the front rows at Fashion Week for New York Magazine – what’s been your most surreal celebrity encounter?

JESSICA: Fashion Week is really fun — the whole experience is pretty surreal. I had a moment at my first fashion week where I was walking to my seat and I got my heel caught between the runway and the carpet and I came perilously close to falling over into Anna Wintour’s lap. That was probably my personal most surreal moment. I thank God every day that didn’t actually happen. I almost died. My entire life flashed before my eyes.

HEATHER: I interviewed Kanye West once at a Rodarte show. I wasn’t expecting to talk to anyone — we don’t always — but I was circling the room just trying to recognize who was there, and I looked over and he was standing four feet away from me, chatting with a reporter from The Daily, with zero entourage around him. When that interview finished, nobody else was queueing up — I am not even sure anyone else realized he was there somehow, precisely BECAUSE he didn’t arrive swaddled with handlers. I decided I had no choice but to try and have the experience, so I asked him for an interview, and he gave it. It ended up being picked up here and there because it was the first time he’d talked about the long-form music video he’d just directed. I also asked him whether he has his on-stage alter-ego, like Beyonce has Sasha Fierce. His answer was, “I AM the ego.” It made no sense and thus was brilliant. So that was pretty freaking surreal.

Have you ever had any irate emails from stylists, publicists or celebrities because of your GFY critiques?

JESSICA: Some! Not tons, actually — most huge celebrities are too busy to spend too much time reading random blogs, and the only time we really hear from a publicist is if we got a fact wrong. I once had one email me to let me know that her client was an actress/model, not just a model. She didn’t care that I hated the woman’s outfit, she just wanted me to know she was acting now. The celebrities we hear from, by and large, actually are very good sports about the whole thing.

HEATHER: I would imagine some of the stylists prefer to remain anonymous if their work is critiqued online — it’s probably pretty easy to do that, since the celebrity usually gets both the credit and the blame. Not many of them stand up and defend their work when it’s being savaged (and who can blame them?), and maybe that’s because a lot of it is driven  by a celeb with bad taste. We do occasionally hear stories from people who’ve witnessed or worked with a celeb insisting on a certain outfit that’s awful because he or she has bad taste and the stylist in question is just sort of… stuck.

Are there any plans to write a third book about Brooke Berlin?

JESSICA: Not at this exact moment. But we’d love to write more about her if people want to read more about her!

HEATHER: If there is demand, we will gratefully supply.

Would you ever venture into writing for a more targeted adult audience, or do your hearts lie with the YA world?

JESSICA: Never say never — hopefully, we will be writing books for a long time, so who knows what we will write? That being said, we really love writing (and reading) YA. Our next book will definitely be YA.

HEATHER: The nice thing is, YA does target adults also. To me, the label is more about the protagonist’s age than the target demo, although obviously the latter is important too. But lots of authors out there are proving you can write a smart YA book for teens and adults, and we hope we can count ourselves among them.

Who is your favourite character from Young Adult Literature?

JESSICA: My favorite is Anastasia Krupnik. Anyone who lives in a turret and keeps detailed lists of the things she hates is a girl after my own heart.

HEATHER: It is really hard to choose. Anastasia is a big one. I know it’s a populist answer, but I do love Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood. I admire that Hermione is incredibly smart, but that things still don’t come easily to her — sometimes I find things come too easily to smart characters in books, but although Hermione is naturally brilliant, we really see her applying her brains to solving puzzles, and she’s not infallible. She’s a great example of someone who is proud of being smart and also knows how to use it rather than rest on it. And Luna is smart in a different way — she’s perceptive. Both of them have a strong enough sense of self to ignore their detractors, and to press on even though they’re being made fun of for being (or looking, or both) different.

 

Messy, Allen & Unwin, $16.99

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