An Interview with Laura Ruby
Laura Ruby’s most recent young adult novel, Good Girls (HarperCollins, 2006) features “One party. One hook-up. One cell phone photo that wreaks havoc on Audrey’s senior year, forcing her to reconsider what it means to be ‘good.’”
You’ve written for different age groups and in completely different genres. How do you adjust to this during the writing process?
Whatever adjustments I have to make don’t feel like adjustments, they’re more like a refreshing change of pace. Switching genres and age groups helps keep me challenged, intrigued, entertained. (Because if I’m not intrigued and entertained by what I write, no one else will be!)
We know from reading about you that Good Girls was inspired by a real-life incident related to one of your teen daughters and that the objectification of women makes you furious. Did writing this book help release some of your rage about these issues? Also, would you consider your novel feminist?
I have to admit that I’m still angry and disappointed that women are not only objectified, that they sometimes choose to objectify themselves and one another. I think we’d all be better off if we offered each other more support and less criticism.
And yeah, I think my novel is a very feminist novel. I think Audrey and her friends learn to own their own choices (and their consequences), refuse to apologize for exploring and/or enjoying their sexuality (or not exploring it, as they case may be), and demand the same right to personal and sexual autonomy that boys seem to have.
One of our Teen Advisory Council members wants to know: Why do you think girls who are sexually active are called “sluts” and guys who are sexually active are called “studs”?
The age-old double standard. We still believe that a sex drive is natural for guys, but something that a girl should be ashamed of. Drives me crazy.
The character of Luke in Good Girls is pretty complex. He, too, has a reputation—as a “player,” and this fact doesn’t necessarily hurt his social standing. However, it does misrepresent who he really is. Do you think it’s common that guys get labeled just as unfairly as girls? Do you think it bothers them as much if it does happen?
I do think guys get a bad rap because of the behavior of a minority. A large study of teen boys done in North Carolina a few years ago found that fewer than a quarter of the boys would qualify as a so-called “player”—cold, selfish, sexually predatory—while most boys surveyed were very sensitive and wanted love and relationships as much as girls. And yet we often allow these “players” to define all teen boys.
I think the problem with this is that teen boys feel like they MUST act like “players” in order to fit in, and because they believe that’s what girls expect and perhaps even want. That’s bad news for everyone.
One of our Teen Advisory Council members also wants to know: As you get older, how did your relationship with your parents change?
Drastically! I was a gloomy, unhappy teen, writing a lot of bad poetry about darkness and heartbreak and unrequited love. My parents were practical people, a cop and a former teacher, and they both had a hard time understanding what I was going on about and why I lived in my own head so much. (And they were both extremely worried I’d never get a real job) Now, they’re thrilled that I’ve found work that I enjoy so much (and I’ve realized that I inherited quite a bit of their practicality).
The Chicago Public Library’s Teen Volume collections include two other titles that also deal with the topic of reputation and rumors; it’s fascinating to see what it’s like to be on the other side of the gossip—to be the one everyone else is talking about. Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher involve two other teen girls about whom rumors are spread at their schools and throughout their towns that they are “sluts.” In one of those books, one of the teens actually takes her life and the other is terribly depressed. Your book, Good Girls, also tells the story of a girl’s reputation in question, only it seems worse, in that there’s “physical evidence,” yet Audrey, while mortified, is pretty upbeat. What made you decide to make her such a strong character?
I didn’t consciously set out to make her such a strong character, she evolved that way, almost as if she told me who she was during the writing process.
I do think, though, that Audrey wasn’t completely debilitated by her experiences the way the characters in Story of a Girl and Thirteen Reasons Why were for a couple of reasons. The first because she was older, which is important. The second reason is because her school work was always the thing Audrey used to distract herself from pain; she could lose herself in it even while dealing with this horrible humiliation, she could still envision a happier future. More importantly, she wasn’t suffering alone. Her friends had also coped with the same kind of pain and embarrassment, albeit on a smaller, more private scale. She realized that girls everywhere were laboring under the pressure to both be sexy AND be saints, the sort of absurd pressure that nobody should have to deal with.
With the advent of easily accessible technology, the effects of rumors are instantaneous and more widespread. How do you think teens can cope with falling prey to these rumors? What advice would you offer a teen who has had a terrible rumor spread about him or herself?
I’m not sure you can completely avoid being the victim of rumors electronic or not; someone, somewhere, might say something terrible about you and you’ll have to deal with it. To cope, I think the best thing to do is to reach out to everyone you can—parents, friends, teachers, librarians. You might not be able to stop the rumors, but with the help of people who care about you, you might be able to stop the rumors from affecting you so deeply.
I’d also add the obvious: technology doesn’t have to be used to spread rumors, it can be used to connect with people as well. You can join online clubs, support groups, listservs, etc. (Mom moment: Just don’t use your real name/address/or other identifying information on listservs or social networking sites. And be very careful who you allow to photograph you).
What is the worst rumor that you’ve ever heard? How did you react? What made it stop?
Ironically, the worst rumors that I’ve heard were about Good Girls. About six months before it appeared, someone got a hold of an advanced copy and reviewed it on a blog, accusing me of a) having done a lot of “parking” in my day, and b) spying on my stepchildren and using their personal lives as fodder for my book. I was absolutely horrified by the latter. Though the book was inspired by one of my stepdaughters (as much of my work is), she never experienced the situation that Audrey in my novel did, nor was Audrey modeled upon her. I write fiction, not memoir. Luckily, both my stepchildren read the book and loved it.
As far as making it stop, well, I couldn’t—and I still can’t—stop people from saying what they will about me or my books. But though it might be something I have to accept, I don’t have to subject myself to information I don’t need. I no longer read blogs that mention my books if I can help it.
It was good to see that Audrey had a strong relationship with her parents. And it was very realistic that even though she had that relationship, the problems she went through did put a strain on that relationship and she did have to “heal” on her own terms. Did you purposefully give her this support system or did it develop as the story was written?
Like Audrey’s individual strength, her relationship with her family was something that developed as I wrote, rather than something I planned.
I have to say, though, a number of people have told me that they think that Audrey’s parents were model parents and I think that’s funny, because in my mind, they didn’t react well. Audrey’s dad was furious and barely spoke to her for six months while her mother medicalized all of her feelings by dragging her to the gynecologist. They loved her, but they didn’t understand her and couldn’t accept her choices, at least not at first. I guess that’s realistic, but also sad.
It was kind of funny that Audrey’s dad owned a prom and bridal store. Had you had experience with this or what was the inspiration for this?
No experience at all, actually! And I can’t even remember what inspired me to give Audrey’s dad the shop. It felt right, so that’s what I did. So much of writing is like that.