YA Wednesday: A Conversation Between Libba Bray and… Libba Bray
As you’ve probably already realized, one of our goals for the YA Wednesday column is to bring young adult fans (and general readers!) closer to new and established authors through cool interviews, playlists, and other content. So when YA author extraordinaire (and Michael L. Printz Award winner for Going Bovine) Libba Bray agreed to interview, um, Libba Bray, how could we say no? After all, no one else can really get to the heart of Libba than… Libba herself. So she talks to herself and us about her newest novel, Beauty Queens (available May 24), a snort-inducing and uproarious mixture of Lost, Lord of the Flies, and the Miss America pageant (yes, you read that last part correctly). Incorporating her well-known wit and sharp observations about today’s culture, Bray’s new novel is about more than a plane crash full of pretties gone awry—it, as Bray explains below, “satirizes consumer culture, reality TV, politics, rom-coms, the beauty industry, and religion while exploring issues of gender, race, sexuality, beauty, and identity.”
Here to explain more about Texas pride, being called an “eco-friendly fembot,” and the benefits of Beauty Queens on one’s skin is none other than Bray & Bray.
Q: Hi Libba. I understand that today I have the opportunity to interview you. Er, me. Us?
A: Will this be on the test?
Q: God, I hope not. How about I’ll be “Q” and you’ll be “A.”
A: Sure. Figures you’d get to be the exotic, Scrabble-tastic letter. Mom always liked you best.
Q: So your new book, Beauty Queens, is about a planeload of teen beauty queens who crash on a “deserted” island, which turns out to be the location of a rogue operation running a super-secret arms deal. Hijinks ensue.
A: Wow, that’s exactly what I would’ve said.
Q: Admit it: This was your chance to scratch your James Bond itch.
A: Well, you may only live twice, but I’ve seen all the Bond movies about a dozen times. I like it when things blow up. If they can blow up with sequins, so much the better.
Q: The book satirizes consumer culture, reality TV, politics, rom-coms, the beauty industry, and religion while exploring issues of gender, race, sexuality, beauty, and identity.
A: And things go ‘splodey. Don’t forget.
Q: And things go ‘splodey. In more ways than one. What was the inspiration for this book?
A: I signed a contract, for starters. The less prosaic answer is that years ago over lunch, my editor David Levithan said, “A colleague and I came up with an idea and you have to write it: A plane carrying teen beauty pageant survivors crashes on an island. And…scene!” I thought it sounded like great, campy fun—a chance for a feminist take on Lord of the Flies. The intervening years have seen some pretty profound and depressing setbacks for women, not just legislatively but in entertainment, too. We went from “Norma Rae” and “Mary Tyler Moore” to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “Bride Wars.” I was at the store, and even the product names suggested we were broken in some way—“repair” “correct” “age defying.” I think there was one product targeted for men and it had some really straightforward name like “Moisturizing Lotion. For Men.” No judgment just, “Oh, hey, you have dry skin? Here’s a product to help with that, dude.” The end.
Anyway, I kept coming back to Lord of the Flies. Golding paints a pretty grim picture of humanity. Without the trappings of civilization, the boys devolve into savagery. But for the girls in Beauty Queens, it’s almost the opposite: Without the expectations and pressures of civilization, they have the freedom to be themselves—or at least to start figuring out who they might be. Mint?
Q: Thank you.
A: You’re welcome. This is so Meta, isn’t it? Seems like James Franco should be here.
Q: I’m starting to understand what people mean when they say you’re odd and a little annoying.
A: Harsh. I don’t treat you this way. Remember, I’m a delicate flower. You know, like the Venus Flytrap. Or Audrey II.
Q: Moving on. I know you like to create a playlist for everything you write. What was on this one?
A: Oh. You know. (knowing wink)
Q: Er, yes. I do. But maybe other people would like to know.
A: Oh. Sure. No problem. There were thirty-six songs, including: Beauty Queen/Roxy Music, Mystery Girl/The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Guyana Punch/The Judys, Paper Planes/M.I.A., Diamonds Are Forever/Shirley Bassey, Porpoise Song (Theme from “Head”)/The Monkees, Teenage Dream/T-Rex. And of course, Ladybird by Nancy Sinatra in honor of Ladybird Hope, one of the many characters readers will meet in Beauty Queens.
Q: Speaking of Ladybird Hope, presidential hopeful and the most famous Miss Teen Dream who ever lived, author of Get Scared, America!--any truth to the rumor that she bears a passing resemblance to a certain former governor from Alaska?
A: Sorry, I can’t answer that. I just put food in my mouth.
Q: But…you’re typing these answers.
Q: Hoo-kay…there are commercials for TV shows in the book, like “Pirates Bodacious IV: Badder and More Bodaciouser”, and products like Lady ‘Stache Off and Maxi-Pad Pets, the revolutionary fashion maxi-pad that makes you feel like you’ve got a special friend in your pants. ™Were you drawing on your former life as an advertising copywriter?
A: No. I just really like writing about maxi-pads.
Q: You also recorded the audio book for this one. Was that a fun experience?
A: Very much so. I’m indebted to the amazing team of director Bob Deyan, producer Paul Gagne, and engineer Mark Ahronson, who really led the way. In the booth, I discovered that my New Zealand accent stinks, my English accent isn’t any better, and by hour eight or nine, even my American accent wasn’t too keen. Also, in the future, I will only be writing three-word sentences. I’m sorry for all the tongue twisters, audiobook recording people! Much respect.
Q: Miss Texas plays a prominent role in the book. And you’re originally from Texas. What is it about Texas and beauty queens?
A: I’m from the hometown of two former Miss Americas. Gotta say, I’ve got a soft spot for women who can twirl flaming batons to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” while wearing non-flame-retardant sequined leotards. It’s our version of Fight Club. We also have the highest number of state executions. I’m sure those two facts aren’t related, though.
Q: Okay, I’m cutting you off. One last question: What’s the single best thing you’ve ever read about your writing?
A: After The Sweet Far Thing (the third book in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy) came out, a very sad reader wrote to voice her opposition to a choice I made near the end of the novel. “I know why you did it. You are an eco-friendly fembot who survives on the tears of teen girls. With the tears I have shed, you will live forever.” I swear I wanted to cross-stitch that on a pillow. It’s awesome.
Q: Thanks for talking with me today, Libba. (Me? Us? Oh, I’m so confused…) Anything else you want people to know about Beauty Queens before we go?
A: Yes. It will soften your skin while you sleep!
Q: That’s a lie.
A: Fiction is made of lies. And pretty fonts.
Q: Say goodbye, Libba.
A: I just did. Whoa. This is doing my head in.