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Interview: March 2008

March 2008

While the main character in Elizabeth Scott's debut novel, BLOOM, appears to have everything a teenage girl could possibly want, the protagonist in her latest work of fiction, PERFECT YOU, is painfully aware of how imperfect her life seems --- to both herself and those around her.

In this interview with Teenreads.com's Alexis Burling, Scott delves into some of the most difficult aspects of teenage life captured in this book, from relationship woes and failing friendships to personal insecurities and dealing with unconventional parents. She also discusses her inspiration behind the story and how the finished product differed from the original idea, and sheds light on the sage advice offered by one of the novel's unlikely characters.

Teenreads.com: Well, hello again! Thanks for doing this follow-up interview with me. I really enjoyed reading the answers you shared in the interview you did for us for BLOOM. Congratulations on all your well-deserved success! Before we talk about PERFECT YOU, can you share anything you learned from readers about their reactions to BLOOM since we last spoke?

Elizabeth Scott: Hi Alexis, great to talk to you again!

Reader reaction to BLOOM has been so lovely, and I'm grateful to everyone who's written to me and shared their thoughts! (And I do have to say, a lot of people want to know if Evan is based on a real person. Sadly, he's completely fictional!)

TRC: What was your inspiration for PERFECT YOU? Grandma is certainly a hoity-toity character; with all the opinions she throws around, she still has a lack of understanding and inability to see who her grandchildren really are. But there’s a sense that she’s also very misunderstood by her family and that she’s only too aware of how they perceive her. Perhaps she’s actually the rock who keeps the family from falling apart completely. Would you agree?

ES: I decided to write PERFECT YOU after getting an idea for a story about a family who had to deal with an extremely demanding relative moving in. The original idea was very (*very*) different from how the story ended up, but that's one of the fun things about writing --- there are always surprises along the way!

I do think that Grandma is the person who keeps the family together in a lot of ways --- she isn't very loveable in many respects, but she does love her daughter and grandchildren fiercely, albeit in her own way.

TRC: Isn't she trying to teach her daughter a very important lesson about learning how to take control of her own life and be responsible? It would be easier for Grandma to fork over a pile of money and be on her way. What can readers learn from Grandma’s actions?

ES: I don't know if she's trying to teach Kate's mom a lesson, exactly, but I think she knows better than anyone what the consequences of having a lot of money ---and an unhappy family --- can be. And I think she really and truly does want Kate and Todd and Kate's mother to be happy, but knows money won't fix things. Money --- and the material things that come with it --- is nice, but I think Grandma is a perfect illustration of how money really and truly can't buy happiness.

TRC: Kate and Anna’s friendship is a perfect example of how kids can be so cruel to each other in the race to be “popular.” It’s clear that Kate misses Anna deeply, yet despite her actions, I get the sense that Anna also misses Kate, but for selfish reasons. Would you agree? What did you want readers to learn from how the two treat each other throughout the book?

ES: I do think Anna misses Kate, and that having Kate around is a security blanket of sorts for her. She knows that Kate liked her before she became popular, and she wants --- needs, even --- to know that someone will be there for her if things change.

I also think she does miss Kate --- genuinely misses her --- but loves who she is now more than she misses her, and fears that being her friend will remind her --- and everyone else --- of who she was before.

Having a friend decide you aren't friends anymore is one of the most painful things that can happen. I don't care how old you are, it hurts. And even if you know, deep down, that you're not going to be friends with that person again, you can't help but hope that somehow/someday you might, I think, because that person was so important to you, and was such a huge part of your life.

TRC: In the beginning, the last thing that Kate thinks is possible is that Will could like her. Sure, he can make out with her behind the dumpsters at the mall, but actually "like her-like her"…? No way. It turns out she’s wrong. Do you think Kate’s insecurities reflect the way many young people see themselves when it comes to potential partners? Where do you think these insecurities come from?

ES: I think Kate is a little more insecure than some people, but she's lost her best friend, her family life is chaotic at best, and she feels very alone. And I think we've all had times when nothing is going right and when something seems like it might go okay, part of us just can't believe it. And for Kate, when Will starts acting like he might like her --- at least, like her enough to make out with her --- she's had so many bad things happen that she just can't believe anything good can happen.

I also think trying to figure out if someone likes you and how much they like you can be nerve-wracking. Wait, who am I kidding? It IS nerve-wracking. And letting someone know you like them means putting yourself out on more than a physical limb --- you have to put yourself out there emotionally too. And that is beyond nerve-wracking.

TRC: Todd and Kate seem to have a nice, supportive relationship amidst all the family chaos. What inspired you to throw Todd’s character in the mix?

ES: I always wanted Kate to have a sibling, and I knew it would be a brother. (Is it just me, or are there more sisters than brothers in young adult novels?) Todd was originally going to have a smaller role, but he ended up being so much fun to write that he was around a bit more than I thought he'd be.

TRC: Kate and Will’s relationship, while so adorably frustrating, is so palpable that you just want to scream, “Oh would you two just get together already!” Why did you shape their relationship in this way? What might readers learn from their behavior?

ES: I just couldn't see Kate saying, "Okay, Will seems to like me --- sort of, maybe, I mean, we haven't really talked about that kind of thing --- but hey, you know what? I've decided he likes me, and so he does like me!" (Actually, I can't see anyone thinking that, but kudos to you for your self-confidence if you can!)

Kate is so afraid of being hurt, of having to suffer another loss, that she just can't bring herself to believe that Will really likes her. Plus I think it's very easy to think, "oh, those two should get together" when you're not one of the people involved --- do you know what I mean? It's just *so* easy to say, "Oh, go for it!" when you're not the one who has to actually go for it.

TRC: When Will actually gets up the nerve to ask Kate out, she says no, because she wants to “end something before it could end on her." What do you think this reaction is about? Do you think your readers will relate to this type of behavior?

ES: Kate's reaction to Will finally asking her out is all about how he asks her out --- she knows he's made himself look bad, and she knows him well enough to know that he can be charming and not mean it, and so she assumes the worst. And why does she assume the worst? Well, again, I think Kate is terrified of being hurt, and really believes that nothing good is ever going to happen to her. So ending things with Will by saying no when he asks her out is her way of making sure that she won't say yes and end up getting her heart even more stomped on than it already has been.

As far as people relating to Kate --- well, I hope they will! And I do think that most people know what it's like to get hurt, and understand how easy it is to feel that you have to do everything possible to make sure it can't happen again.

TRC: While much of PERFECT YOU focuses on miscommunication between Will and Kate, or Kate and Anna, Kate’s parents have quite a dysfunctional relationship as well. Would you agree? What prompted you to write that plot line?

ES: I don't know that Kate's parents have a dysfunctional relationship, exactly; I think it's more a relationship that's fallen apart. I think the qualities that originally drew them together --- Kate's mom loves how carefree her dad is, and her dad loves how her mom believes in him --- aren't enough to keep them happy when Kate's father decides to pursue a career without thinking about the consequences of it, and when he's unwilling to give it up even when it's clear that it's hurting everyone.

TRC: Toward the end of the book, Grandma tells Kate, “You have to decide who you are and what you can do and then go after what you want. Because believe me, no one is going to give it to you…The world will knock you down plenty. You don’t need to be doing it yourself.” This is so poignant --- and so true! How does this quote relate to your life as a writer, and what might readers take from Grandma’s words of wisdom?

ES: I hadn't thought about it relating to writing before, but you're right…it does. It SO does! Writers --- or at least me --- face plenty of rejection, which isn't fun, and I do struggle with trying to remember that a rejection of my work doesn't mean I'm a reject.

I do think what Kate's Grandma says is true --- no one is going to give you what you want. It would be great if it happened, but in the end, the only person who can decide who you are and what you do is you. And when that happens, let yourself be proud of that, and believe in who you are.

TRC: How about this quote from Grandma: “Things end. People leave. And you know what? Life goes on. Besides, if bad things didn’t happen, how would you be able to feel the good ones.”?

ES: I don't think it's the most fun thing to hear, but I also think it's true.

TRC: In your mind, who is the strongest character in the book? The weakest?

ES: I think the strongest character is Kate, who goes through so much and tries so hard to keep herself and her heart safe, only to learn she can't protect herself from life, and I'm also pretty fond of Kate's grandmother, her mom and Todd.

As for the weakest character, I think it's Kate's dad, who loves his family --- but not enough to stop thinking of himself before he thinks of anyone else.

TRC: Chapter 37 provides a closure of sorts that I’m sure many readers will appreciate. Did you plan to write this chapter from the beginning, or was it something that popped up after you had finished the book?

ES: It was always going to be there. I knew how the book was going to "end," and I also knew it wasn't "the end" and that was something Kate was going to realize --- that things do change and that life does go on.

Also, I wanted to show her and Will together some more!

TRC: You seem so adept at writing about the ins and outs of teen relationships: the false starts, the embarrassed silences, the fumbling behavior. How do you do it?

ES: Remembering how my friends and I felt --- and acted --- in high school helps a lot. I think it's easy to look back on being a teenager with this sort of warm glow and forget how hard being a teenager actually is.

I also think teen relationships aren't different from adult ones in many ways. Liking someone and figuring out everything that goes along with it is never easy. (Well, maybe it is for some people, but the five of them sure haven't shared their secrets with me.) 

TRC: Was writing PERFECT YOU different for you since it was your second book? Did anything change in your writing process?

ES: My writing process hasn't really changed since I wrote BLOOM. I'm a pretty boring writer --- I get an idea, I make some notes, I think about things for a while, I do an outline (not one of those dreadful things they make you learn to do in school, but a rough sketch of what I know will happen and what I think will happen) and then I write. And rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite some more.

Is everyone asleep? (See, boring!)

TRC: I want to know what happens next! Are you writing a sequel, or is the rest left up to our imaginations?

ES: I don't have a sequel planned now, so what happens next is up to you....

(Well, as long as it's happy! I don't want Will and Kate to break up! But then, I confess, I have a vested interest in those two.)