When I first met Molly Backes in 2010, my friend Jill introduced her as “Molly whose first YA is being published next year.” This is how authors introduce each other. It’s sort of like how dogs get to know one another, only more direct. Authors, like dogs, prefer to hone in on what is truly important about someone new.
And what is important about Molly is that she is talented, funny and wrote a fab YA, which captures teen angst and the trails and tribulations of friendship with a fresh voice.
Her debut novel The Princesses of Iowa, focuses on perfect Paige Sheridan whose life is just dandy until a few too many beers and a car crash change everything.
Molly was kind enough to let me pester her with questions, erm, I mean interview her for the Swagger blog.
Me: I just posted my picks for the top five YA novels of all time, what would yours be?
Molly: You know this is an impossible question! I’m going to cheat and just list the first five YA books that really made an impact on me: Rob Thomas’s Rats Saw God, Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk, Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever, John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.
Me: Your main character was a prom queen type who has a sort of fall from grace and then realizes that the prom queen kitten-heels she used to wear, don’t so much fit anymore. What was it that inspired your empathy for the much maligned prom queen trope?
Molly: I started writing this book when I was teaching 7th and 8th grade English, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the “good girls” in my class – the girls who got up at 5am to curl their hair and do their makeup and got straight As and played sports and worked so hard to be perfect – and I always wanted to ask them if they were happy, if all that effort was working out for them, you know? I wasn’t like that; I was doggedly pursuing my own creative weirdo interests all through middle school and high school. But as a student, I always kind of assumed that those other girls had their shit together, and as an adult I realized that no one has her shit together in high school. So I wanted to explore that.
Me: You included a (totally awesome) prologue in your book. I’ve heard from various experts that prologues are a “no-no” for fist time authors for whom a prologue might land their manuscript in the nearest slush pile. Did you run into any resistance to your prologue?
Molly: Not at all, and I’m happy I never heard that advice! I think the prologue is what helped me sell the book, actually, and it was helpful for crafting later plot points as I moved through the revision process.
Me: You are currently a regular contributor to and member of the fabulous blog The Debutante Ball but your tenure is almost up. How has this experience informed your writing and furthered your success?
Molly: My year at the Debutante Ball forced me to write a blog entry every week, which was a good exercise, and it led to some little essays I wouldn’t have written otherwise. Plus, I became good friends with my fellow Chicago Debutante Rachel Bertsche, author of MWF Seeking BFF.
Me: You are the assistant director at StoryStudio Chicago, a fabulous resource for writers in the Chicago area. How did you become involved in StoryStudio and how does your work there inform and improve your writing?
Molly: I started taking classes at StoryStudio shortly after I moved to Chicago in 2007, and started working there about six months later, in the spring of 2008. I was a part of the Advanced Fiction Workshop for three years, and extensively workshopped parts of early drafts of The Princesses of Iowa, which was enormously helpful. Now I teach writing, which helps me to think about my own process. I’ve learned a lot from my students.
Me: And Now I Will Morph…
The fabulous blog Forever Young Adult posts interviews with YA authors under the subtitle “Between Two Lockers.” This is especially yummy reading as they ask the kinds of questions teens might ask each other. In tribute to them, I’d like to ask you a few questions my own inner teen might like to pose (though she would never have used the phrase “like to pose” – jeez.)
Who, in your book, deserves to be “Carrie-d” (pigs blood, creepy scepter etc.) in the end and why?
Molly: Ha! A lot of people seem to hate Paige’s mother, and others hate her friends Lacey and Jake. But even though they’re all totally flawed, I think they all have redeeming characteristics, too. I don’t think anyone’s irredeemable enough for pigs-blood. YET.
Me: In your own personal, real-life YA story would you rather end up with the boy or save the town/whales/children/vulnerable baby bunnies?
Molly: I would totally save the whales and bunnies. The town, children, and boy are on their own.
Me: What five songs would make the playlist for your book?
Molly: Songs that are actually referred to in the book (and/or that I listened to obsessively while writing): Dar Williams, “Iowa;” James Taylor, “Fire and Rain;” Saving Jane, “Girl Next Door;” Sting, “Fields of Gold,” and the Cure, “Jupiter Crash.”
Me: What five songs would make the playlist for your actual high school experience?
Molly: Songs that I listened to obsessively while writing (in high school): Sarah McLachlan, “Possession;” Indigo Girls, “Fare Thee Well;” Dar Williams, “As Cool As I Am;” Hum, “Stars;” Sheryl Crow, “Strong Enough.” Bonus track for the summer after high school: "One Song Glory" from Rent. Musical theater nerd!
Me: Who is in your shower? (If you don’t know this game, you get to choose three people with whom you would willingly, nay, enthusiastically, take a shower.)
Molly: I would totally shower with a bunch of elephants.