if you’re never sorry

Cracked Up to Be came out four years ago on December 23rd and January 5th will mark the third anniversary of Some Girls Are’s release. It is weird to think about that! Especially Cracked Up to Be. Cracked Up to Be is one of my more personal books but not in the sense I am Parker and we have done the same terrible things. But there are little injections of myself in the pages, moreso than any of my other novels. Parker goes to a Catholic high school that looks exactly like the one I attended (how STRANGE). I was that kid in art class who was told to “think outside the tree” which upset me at the time but made me laugh years later. The very opening conversation with Chris heckling a girl named Jules was one I overheard on the bus in the 9th grade. I never forgot it so onto the first page it went. (Tip: don’t have ridiculous conversations near me or I will put them in a book.)

I already announced this on Twitter and Facebook but in Fall 2013, St. Martin’s will be releasing a bind-up of CUTB and SGA called What Goes Around. It will be a nice lead in to All the Rage in early 2014. Not only that, it is very cool to have Parker and Regina in one place because these are the characters I owe a lot to and I am going to tell you more about that in a second. But first, this is the cover, which I think is such a clever combination of key elements from the originals:

I’ve mentioned before that writing Cracked Up to Be was a response to agents disliking a female character in a previous (unpublished) novel I’d written. I actually revisited that novel before writing this post and noticed the male characters are just as flawed as, if not more flawed than, the female protagonist but the majority of my rejections for that novel pinpointed the unlikability issue as female one, one that needed ‘correcting.’ Then again, that old novel has a variety of problems in it, so it’s hard to say definitively that the awful expectation that Girls Must Always Be Nice at the Expense of Themselves is the reason I didn’t debut with that particular book. The rejections did make me at least consider the possibility, which made me very angry and inspired me to write a female character that spit in the eye of those expectations: Parker Fadley.

Minor spoilers ahead!
If you have read Cracked Up to Be you know that Parker is abrasive and cruel. She is foul-mouthed. She can be selfish and petty and that selfishness and pettiness causes her to make the worst mistake of her life. Initially, the reader might think that mistake is what brought her to this level of utter unpleasantness but no, they will discover she has always been this way but now she’s worse. She views her pain through a very narrow lens, one that is primarily focused on herself, even in the end. And even in the end, She is not ready for the bigger picture but she can at least acknowledge that there is one. She is a girl with a long road ahead of her. But she will probably never, ever be ‘nice.’
End spoilers!

Can I confess something to you? Even fueled by my anger and indignation, writing Cracked Up to Be was hard. So much of what Parker did made me uncomfortable and sometimes it still does. As someone who wants to be liked and thought of as Nice even, yes, at my own expense sometimes (I am working on this), the meaner I made Parker, the more I wanted to find ways to apologize for her and to convince readers that, at her core, there was a NICE girl. A nice girl that fit into a nice-shaped box. And was nice. But every time I came to a point in the book where I could make her sharp-edged existence a little softer, I forced myself not to; sometimes I even chose to make it sharper. That is not to say that there are no soft or even nice moments in Cracked Up to Be, but I wanted them to be earned, not given, and there are far fewer than there would have been if I’d just wanted you to like Parker for the sole purpose of forgiving her mistakes.

Needless to say, Cracked Up to Be gave me the tools to write Some Girls Are. I could not have written Regina and those girls if I still carried with me that need to apologize for their anger. I could have not written any of my girls–Eddie and Sloane too–if I felt the need to apologize to readers because they didn’t fit into a box of sugar and spice and other tiresome and damaginge gender stereotypes.

My site analytics tell me I get a lot of searches about how to write mean GIRL main characters or unlikable FEMALE protagonists. I have never gotten a search referral about unlikable or mean protagonists–female is always specified. It’s as if the people searching need permission to write them and they want to know, can a girl really be more than NICE?

First I think–how is this answer not obvious?

But then I think of myself at 21, feverishly typing Cracked Up to Be wondering, “Can I really do this?” I was so scared to let a girl be angry and unkind simply because she was a girl and girls are expected to. Be. Nice. I was even scared of my own anger about the whole thing because what if writing an angry girl meant she would never be read. But writing Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are helped me to unlearn this. And those books found their readers and I am so grateful for that.

Now I kind of think of Parker and Regina sitting on my shoulder for each subsequent novel I’ve written, reminding me that girls can be difficult and messy and angry and that they can be nice too–because of course your female characters can be nice–but on their own terms and without apology. When I get asked, and I do get asked this, about how to write female characters–likable or not–that is what I want my answer to be. Write your female characters on their own terms and never apologize for that. And don’t let anyone tell you that you should.

Anyways, the release annversaries and the bind-up announcement made me think about all this and so I wanted to share it with you.

Thanks for reading.