Outward Blonde (Excerpt & Author Interview)

unnamedOutward Blonde by Trish Cook

“You’re not going to believe this, Jem!” I say when my best friend finally picks up FaceTime. Her cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead are slathered in one of those masks she uses whenever she thinks she might be getting a zit. Which never actually happens. That girl is flawless.

“Try me.” Her lips are barely moving, which means the mask must be almost dry, which means she’s probably more interested in peeling than talking right now. That will change once she hears my news.

“Guess who I just matched with on Tinder?”

Jem’s mouth moves the tiniest bit downward, her attempt at a frown. She looks just like my mom after a fresh Botoxing: incapable of any facial expression. “Using an app to find a boy is kind of pathetic, don’t you think?” she asks.

“Jem, Jem, Jem. You didn’t say the magic word. A girl like me deserves a real man, not some immature boy.”

“Well, what you’re going to get on Tinder is a real creeper, Lizzie,” she warns. “And I like partying with you too much to let you be found all over the city in a bunch of different garbage bags. Not to mention, I’d be such shit at giving you a eulogy. One, because I hate public speaking, and two, I wouldn’t be able to bring up any of our best times together without giving the adults at your funeral a coronary. So no.”

“You haven’t even seen who it is yet. Pretty sure you’ll think he’s worth the risk.”

Jem closes her eyes and puts a hand over her heart, adopting a sweet little voice that’s nothing like her loud normal one.

“What I’ll miss most about my BFF Lizzie Finklestein is sneaking out with her on school nights, using our never-fail fakes to get into all the best bars, doing body shots until we puke, and making out with random college guys who have no idea we’re still in high school. I’ll never forget the time we ‘borrowed’ her mother’s Benz and almost ran over a group of Japanese tourists in Times Square. . . .”

I hold my hand up in front of the computer screen. And in my hand is my phone, which still has the picture of Hot Tinder Man on it.

“What . . . the . . . FUCK?” Jem is impossible to impress and I’m pretty sure I’ve finally done it.

“I know, right?” The only thing standing between me and this guy at the moment is my mom, who doesn’t take her Ambien until right before she goes to bed. When she zonks out, I’m sneaking out.

“It’s not really him,” Jem says. “You do know that, don’t you?”

“Everyone knows he’s on Tinder,” I tell her. “And that he likes his girls younger. We’re perfect for each other. It’s, like, fate.”

“Oh, please.” Jem peels off an inch-wide strip of mask starting at her chin and ending at her hairline and shakes it at the screen. “It’s an old, bald, smelly, fat creeper pretending to be him so he can rape and dismember you.”

“Dismember. Good SAT word, Jem. Mrs. Lemelson would be so proud,” I say, invoking our prudish, perma-single English teacher. “But I guarantee you it’s really him. If you don’t believe it, come to the Standard with me and see for yourself.” Jem’s peeling like crazy now. “It’s not him, and that fat smelly old creeper is going to throw you into the Hudson once he dismembers you. Do you really want to be shark bait?”

“I thought you said he was going to leave me in garbage bags all over the city?” I tease. “Besides, I’m pretty sure there are no sharks in the Hudson. And if you were really that worried, you’d be my wingman.”

Jem strips off the final bit of mask. Her face is a gorgeous deep caramel again, except for the smallest pink dot you’ve ever seen on the side of her nose. It’s probably from the colored pens we used in art class today. She points to the supposed “zit.”

“I can’t be seen in public like this. Activate your Find My Friends app so I’ll at least be able to tell the cops where some of your body parts are.”

I shrug. “Okay, but you’re missing out. Because I’m pretty sure James Franco would be up for a threesome. Just think of the pictures we’d get pretending we were going to go through with it—”

“Fake Franco, you mean,” Jem interrupts me.

“He’s the real deal,” I tell my friend, and click the Face-Time screen down before she can try to convince me some more he’s not who he says he is. Or worse, decide to come along and initiate a threesome for real (which she knows I’d never participate in, leaving her with James Franco all to herself, and she’s smoking hot so who could blame him, so, like, no way).

There’s a knock at my door. My mom peeks her head inside my cavernous room. She peers first at my king-sized canopy bed, which is currently covered in pillows of every shape and size but not me. Then she glances over to my dog’s bed where Poochie—my adorable googly-eyed Shih Tzu with a crooked underbite—is fast asleep. She’s twitching and smiling and probably dreaming about bully sticks, her favorite treat. Whoever decided dried bull dick might be a good dog snack is a certified psycho, but Poochie is obsessed with it so I guess I’ll have to keep buying it.

Finally, Mom realizes I’m sitting on my white leather chaise by the window, like always. My laptop is on my lap, like always. And I’m not doing my homework, like always. Mom has on a silky nightgown and robe. That must mean it’s Ambien time.

“You almost ready for bed?” Her eyes are glassy and she’s a bit wobbly—both sure signs the medicine is already taking effect.

“Yeah! Don’t you like my pajamas?” I gesture at my crop top and miniskirt. I hide my high heels under a throw so she’s less likely to realize the outfit screams “going out” and not “going nighty-night.”

Mom ignores my clothing and stares straight at my forehead, where a subtle, stubborn swath of acne has been camped out since sixth grade. If Jem had my skin issues, she’d never go out again. Luckily there’s such a thing as cover-up or neither would I. “Did you remember to put on your prescription face lotion?”

Figures that even when she can barely focus, all she can see is my flaws. I don’t reply. She won’t remember my answer in the morning or that she ever asked anyhow. Mom mumbles goodnight and shuffles down the long hall of our penthouse apartment. It takes her forever to get there.

As a little kid, I used to hate the yawning distance between. Instead of staying tucked in, I’d make a break for it every night, jumping as far from the mattress as possible and sprinting away to be with her and my dad. Warm and safe between them was the only place I could ever get a decent night’s sleep. After all, Ursula the Sea Witch didn’t live under THEIR bed.

So good thing I’m not a little kid who’s scared of an evil fictional octopus anymore (mostly), since that kind of comfort isn’t even an option now that my parents are divorced, Dad went to live out his save-the-world dreams in Africa, and Mom decided she prefers being in a medicated coma to snuggling.

Even better is that I actually like how far away they are from me these days. Especially at night. Because you do the math: divorced dad living in another country + mom’s room being down an endless hall + her having an anxiety disorder that requires daily doses of Klonopin x Ambien = me being able to do whatever and whoever I want to, whenever I want to.

Which, tonight, is none other than James Franco.

***

BookBandit Blog (BB): Can you tell me a little about yourself and your path as a writer?

Trish Cook (TC): A little about me: I’m an avid reader, writer, rower, and runner as well as music and pop culture fanatic. I’ve always enjoyed writing, even as a little kid, and always did it for enjoyment. Once I graduated college, any time someone asked me what my biggest dream was, I’d always say “to write a book.” It took me a decade or so more to actually get started on that dream, but since then I’ve never looked back. OUTWARD BLONDE is the fifth YA book I’ve had published (and I’ve certainly written other ones that have never seen the light of day—I consider them my precious practice babies.)

BB: What was the inspiration behind Outward Blonde?

TC: For Outward Blonde, the inspiration came from my publisher, Adaptive Books. They have a really unique way of approaching YA books: They take unmade film projects and ask YA writers to create novels based on them. Outward Blonde was originally a movie set to star Hilary Duff.  Adaptive came to me with what they call a “spark page”—just the most basic outline of what the story is: A spoiled, rich New York girl gets in trouble and gets sent to wilderness camp. I never read the script for the movie that was never made. I just developed the story based off the spark page and had so much fun doing it.

BB: What was your writing process like, and how did it differ from the writing of your previous books?

TC: The drafting process was pretty much the same as writing my other books: I let the initial idea run around my brain for a good week or so, and then I sat down at my computer and started to write. I didn’t outline or try to get too down and dirty with details in the beginning, because I wanted to see what turns the story took naturally as it went along. My characters often surprise me and I love it. That’s one of the most exciting and interesting parts about writing for me. The editing process for Outward Blonde was very different than my normal one. For the team at Adaptive, a first draft is more of a jumping off point for trying all sorts of creative ideas to make it even better than a solid base to make small tweaks to. Some of the notes they gave me were ginormous. Some were minor things. Some didn’t work. Most worked like magic. And we never would’ve known unless we tried them all. Now, I have a book I’m insanely proud of, that is better than I ever imagined it could be, and I have them to thank for it!

BB: If you could describe Outward Blonde only using three words, what three words would you use to describe it?

TC: Funny, fierce, and honest.

BB: Of all the characters featured in Outward Blonde, which would you say you identify most with? Least with?

TC:  As a teen, I was probably most like Lizzie. She’d rather appear though than share her true feelings with anyone, especially the soft and squishy ones. I love when she figures out that real,  honest relationships are built on trust where you show someone your true self, the good AND the “bad.” It’s a scary, huge leap but so, so worth it. I probably relate least to Ari, I think mostly because he’s a boy and kind of less mature than the other kids on the trip. I’d love to be a graffiti artist like him, though!

BB: Can you tell of any upcoming projects that you’re working on?

TC: I have this big idea I’m just starting to put on paper that was sparked by a crazy news story. It’s still very much at the fledgling idea stage so we’ll see if it works out!

BB: What advice would you offer to aspiring writers?

TC: To all aspiring writers: Write. And keep on writing. And don’t let anyone make you stop. Share your writing with friends you trust, or find an online community. Writing is a lonely sport, but we do it to connect with others through words. So let someone see what you’re doing. You’ll get better because of it and find a sense of camaraderie too. Join clubs at school, like the newspaper or literary magazine, and share your talents with others. Be brave and submit your writing to contests. There are even summer programs and literary conferences that are like writing camps where you can go and bond with other creative people. Dream big. Why not? You never know what you can do unless you try. Trust that you know yourself well enough that you’re probably not going to grow out of whatever it is you dream of doing. If you’re scared—even more reason to give it a shot. That just means you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and that’s okay. Be brave. Start now.

I just want to say THANK YOU to author Trish Cook for taking the time to answer a few questions for me and the blog! For more information about Trish Cook and Outward Blonde, be sure to check out her website!