Interview: March 2009
Elizabeth Scott is the author of the acclaimed novels for teens BLOOM, PERFECT YOU, STEALING HEAVEN, LIVING DEAD GIRL and the newly releasedSOMETHING, MAYBE.
In this interview with Teenreads.com's Alexis Burling, Scott discusses how her main character, Hannah, deals with her less-than-ideal family life, and elaborates on the book's theme of failure and the difficulties of picking yourself back up again. She also comments on today's hyper-sexualized society and the treatment of celebrities in the public eye, and shares details about her upcoming tour and the three books she'll be publishing in 2010.
Teenreads.com: SOMETHING, MAYBE first appears to be all about lost love, found love, shattered expectations, renewed hope, and loneliness. It also deals with failure. Teagan fails out of design school in New York and is afraid to apply to schools again in case she fails a second time. Hannah’s mom is steeling herself against any possibility of future love because she doesn’t want to “fail” at love again. Hannah doesn’t want to let Jackson in (or anyone else, for that matter) because she doesn’t want to be disappointed once again. What’s the significance of this theme, and how might teens gain perspective on it?
Elizabeth Scott: I think failure is something we all experience at one point or another, and it sucks. It sucks so much and to keep going or to try again --- argh! But you have to do it, I think.
The thing about failure is that when it happens, it becomes very easy to write off the experience altogether, or to try and make yourself "safe," and that really closes off your life.
TRC: Hannah works in the drive-thru call center for BurgerTown, a fast-food chain --- and apparently, the call center is separate from the restaurant. So, is this actually the case in “real life”? Is the call center for a Burger King in New York actually located in, say, Kansas? I always thought there was a person in a little room inside the store, maybe behind the kitchen.
ES: Hannah's job really does exist! I read about a call center that one of the fast-food chains was using in a newspaper article and was totally fascinated by the idea that you might be placing your order at a drive-thru with someone who is sitting hundred or thousands of miles away.
TRC: Hannah’s mother is basically a webcam call girl (without the touching, of course). While you make a concerted effort to portray her “job” in a bearably embarrassing (for Hannah) yet seemingly confidence-boosting (for Hannah’s mother) light, isn’t there something incredibly depressing about it all? What are your thoughts about things like sex cams and the fact that this type of content is so readily accessible by teens?
ES: Well, I don't know that I'd equate Candy with a call girl, but her job does involve talking about herself and listening to others while wearing lingerie and it's certainly not a conventional career choice. I think the reason why Candy does what she does is out of her desire to be famous, or to at least relive the small glory she did have as one of Jackson's girlfriends and then on the short-lived sitcom "Cowboy Dad."
I also think there is something rather depressing about spending your life hoping to be famous and/or being admired as an object, but I can't bring myself to pass judgment on it. I don't feel that I have the right to do that. I do wish our society wasn't so sexualized, and that there wasn't so much twisted pressure on girls, but that pressure --- to be "hot" and sexual, but not too sexual --- has been around for a long time.
As for the availability of sexually explicit material for teens --- that's been around for a long time too. It might be a little easier to get to using the Internet, but it was certainly out there when I was a teen, and that back in the dark ages, aka "life before the Internet."
TRC: As the creator of these two characters, what are your thoughts on how Hannah can learn from her mother’s example as far as sexuality (and flaunting it) is concerned? Did you hope to sound a warning to young girls about what could happen if they didn’t take their bodies/sex seriously, or was this an unintentional side effect?
ES: Well, Hannah's clearly not thrilled with her mother's job --- who wants to see their mother in underwear day in and day out? --- and keeps her own body very covered, but that reaction --- doing the opposite of an exhibitionist/embarrassing parent --- is a very normal one.
As for not taking one's body and sexuality seriously --- I'd argue that both Hannah and Candy do that. Candy is very serious about her body, not just because of her job, but as you read the book, you'll notice that she doesn't date, and isn't looking to. In fact, she rarely goes out --- and there's a reason for it. Work is her life, and based on her past, that's very clearly all she wants and can handle. (And, of course, she wouldn't mind being famous either, but I'd say you could even tie that in to her grief over what's happened in her life; all she has left, in her mind, is the ability to try and recapture her brief brushes with fame rather than true happiness.)
Hannah obviously takes both her body and sexuality very seriously, but I'd say that's far more due to her father than her mother, even if she doesn't realize it.
TRC: Throughout the book, the aging Jackson is seen as a bit of a joke by Hannah (and others) despite his celebrity status in the past. Is this a statement on how we as a culture view celebrities, allow them to flaunt their bodies/wealth/crazy lifestyle, then discard them for appearing “too old” or pathetic after their 10 minutes of fame are up? Can we blame celebrities for getting out of control, what with the larger-than-life expectations we place on them?
ES: Well, any time you have someone in their 70s acting like a twenty-something, it *is* embarrassing to see.
Having said that, I do think we, as a society, tend to fall hard for celebrities and then really enjoy those moments when they mess up. I think we've gotten to a point where adulation is almost eclipsed by the glee that ensues whenever a celebrity's life turns problematic.
TRC: Did you model Jackson’s character after anyone? Of course, Hugh Hefner comes to mind.
ES: Well, there are many, *many* aging celebrities who don't seem to realize that getting old is inevitable. (And of course you could argue that it's because we certainly don't embrace the elderly --- very few of us think about getting old with anything remotely approaching joy. Or even acceptance.)
TRC: The story of how José and Hannah’s mother met and the fact that it was love at first sight does sound like a “fairy tale.” Do you believe there is such a thing as “love at first sight?”
ES: I do actually believe in love at first sight. There, now you know what a sap I really am!
TRC: Hannah’s crush, Josh, is reading Dostoyevsky’s THE BROTHERS KARAMOZOV for pleasure. Have you ever read the book? Did you like it?
ES: I have read the book, and I did enjoy it, but I should add that although Josh acts like he is reading the book for fun, he's actually reading it for school.
TRC: People often think of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy first when they think of classic Russian writers. Would you consider yourself a Dostoyevsky fan, or do you prefer Tolstoy?
ES: I like them both and will always be grateful to the college professor who introduced them to me.
TRC: Are you trying to give teens a subliminal, or maybe not so subliminal, message about reading classics here?
ES: Ha! I never even thought about that until now. I wanted Josh to be reading a book that was "serious" because I knew Hannah would like that, and so I went over to my bookshelves and grabbed THE BROTHERS KARAMOZOV. So much for messages!
TRC: Josh is interested in Hannah but only because he has the hots for Hannah’s mom. What prompted this plot line?
ES: Well, the thing about Josh is that he's really everything Hannah *doesn't* want. He looks great and sounds great, but who he is inside is not at all the kind of person Hannah wants to be with. And as for him liking Hannah's mom, well, it's very much something he'd do --- he likes attractive women. And it's not that he doesn't like Hannah too, he just thinks Candy is hot. And never bothered to tell Hannah that --- or perhaps Hannah just didn't want to see it.
TRC: When Hannah and her mom are having a heart-to-heart at the end of the book, Hannah’s mom says, “Love hurts. It’s --- love isn’t wonderful or magical or any of those things. It’s like losing a part of yourself you can’t ever get back.” What were your reasons for writing those words?
ES: Well, at the risk of sounding like an idiot --- it's simply what came out when I was writing. Do I agree with it? I do, to some extent, because when you love someone, you do give a part of yourself to them and that part is always going to belong to them. I also wish that love wasn't portrayed in the media as something that will somehow magically fix your entire life, because it can't do that.
TRC: How about when she says a few beats later, “I love him. Not past tense. Not gone. I won’t ever love anyone else.”?
ES: I do believe it's possible that you can love one person and only one person. I also believe that you can love more than one person. I can't say what love is for everyone. But I know what it was for Candy, and that's why she says what she does.
TRC: Are you going on an author tour for SOMETHING, MAYBE, or are you planning on doing any publicity-related events on your own? If so, what do you like best about the whole publicity game? What do you like the least?
ES: I'll be doing a book signing at Books of Wonder in New York on Sunday, April 5th from 1-3 PM with TWO New York Timesbestselling authors --- Cassandra Clare and Lisa McMann --- and I'm looking forward to that! I'll also be reading from the book on April 1st at 6 PM as part of the Teen Author reading night at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library.
As far as publicity --- I love giving away books (those of you who've read my blog know that!) --- and I like running contests. But I try not to get too caught up in it because that way lies madness, and plus, I'd rather be writing.
TRC: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?
ES: Next year, it looks like I'll have three books out! Right now, I don't have a lot of details, but it looks like there will be one from Simon Pulse next March, one from HarperCollins next summer, and then a third from Dutton in the fall. As soon as I have more details, they'll be on my website, http://www.elizabethwrites.com.