A teen out of water
The dynamic duo behind fashion blog Go Fug Yourself pen their YA debut
It’s no secret—I’m a diehard fan of Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, who provide absolutely brilliant, side-splitting celeb fashion commentary on their website, GoFugYourself. Whether it’s sharing their love for Diet Coke, "Intern" George Clooney and Tilda Swinton, or writing in the voice of Britney Spears, these Los Angeleno women deliver one snappy pun after the next. And it doesn’t stop there. They regularly blog for New York Magazine’s website and are the authors of not one but two books.
When I heard that Heather and Jessica were writing their first young adult novel, Spoiled, to say I was excited is an understatement. I emailed every possible person I could to get a copy. When that didn’t work, I ended up "borrowing" my friend Stephen’s copy before he even had the chance to read it. Stephen, I’m sorry. I’ll get that back to you . . . eventually.
Spoiled follows two teenage girls who discover they’re half sisters: Molly Dix (small-town girl from Indiana) and Brooke Berlin (celebutante-in-training from Los Angeles). Were either of the sisters based (however loosely) on any current celebrities?
JESSICA: I wouldn't say that either of the girls is based on a current celebrity—especially Molly, who is really supposed to be The Every Girl, at any rate. Brooke, I think at one point we described to each other as, "Paris Hilton with a soul (and a brain)," but as we actually started writing the book, that sort of fell away. Brooke, actually, would be ENRAGED to be even mentioned in the same breath as Paris Hilton. So in the final analysis, I don't think either of them are actually based on a real person.
HEATHER: Yeah, with Brooke she started out sharing traits, at least conceptually, with people like that—the idea that she desperately wants notoriety. But I'm pleased to say she morphed into something much richer, to the point where I don't know that I could read her and think of anyone except Brooke Berlin.
Since you’re both authors of the book, I’d love to know a little more about your writing process. Would you switch off on scenes? Collaborate while one dictated and the other wrote? Have Intern George take notes while you sunned by Chateau Marmont’s pool?
JESSICA: Ooh, I like that last idea. We should do that for the next one! Basically, we wrote a very detailed outline and then split up chapters and worked concurrently, then traded and edited the other's work. So we both ended up writing everything, more or less. But because we had an outline, that freed us up to be able to work ahead without worrying that, say, when we got the other person's chapters, half of the characters would be murdered or something.
HEATHER: We had such a tight deadline that we both always had to be pushing forward on it. That outline kept us from accidentally treading the same plot ground or double-covering any emotional beats. But from our years of working together, writing under one byline for New York Magazine's website and whatnot, we are used to starting something, then shipping it off to the other person, and tweaking it and refining and trimming. That part of it came pretty naturally—thank God we'd had the practice. We just innately know at this point that nothing is ever personal. Is what I wrote not quite working? I'd rather know than have Jessica be polite. It's like, "Awesome, PLEASE change it, then, and save me from myself." You just sometimes get so buried in trying to churn out copy that you can't take a step back and take a breath. Having a writing partner means that someone's fresh eyeballs are always on each part.
Most of this book is based in Los Angeles. I was super pleased to see how accurate your descriptions of the city were. Are you both from L.A.? Did you have opportunities to personally ‘scout’ locations (like the restaurant Campanile, where Molly and her father, famous actor Brick Berlin dined?)
JESSICA: We both live here, and I grew up here, so every place in the book (that is real) is a place we've been, including Campanile, although sadly we didn't think to pop over there to "research." While writing the book, I spent a lot of time, actually, picturing the way you'd have to drive to get places (like, "If Molly is going from the Berlin house to Teddy's house . . . yes, she has to turn left on Sunset") which is probably the ultimate sign of someone who grew up here—I was worried about people's traffic routes! It was actually really fun to write a book that's set in our own city, and because L.A. is almost a character itself in Spoiled, we wanted it to feel realistic. Now, I find myself places thinking, "This would be a great setting for a scene." We wanted to make sure our characters didn't spend ALL their time at the Berlin house, or school.
HEATHER: Some of the locations came to us naturally, from our own experiences. Like, Jess and I have been to Campanile for the Thursday Grilled Cheese night. I did fortify my own memories with a peek at photos on the website, though, and a look at the menu. The Internet makes that so nice. And The Getty is burned in my brain, because as much as I find the actual art collection underwhelming, that location is fabulous and hard to forget. I have NOT been to Nobu (again, hello, Internet pictures) but we probably should have gone and told ourselves it was a work expense, although I hate sushi so that might not have been so fun. I am essentially the only person in L.A .who hates sushi. It's how you know I'm not native. I grew up all over the place—my family moved a lot, so I was born in Texas, but did my formative years in England, then spent some time in Miami and Calgary, Canada, before college at Notre Dame and then living in Austin. I'm a total mutt. My L.A. is less ingrained in me than Jess' is, therefore—like, my impressions of it and the places I've been come from a much less deep pool of memories and experiences. However, I have personally scouted 405 traffic many times, and found it to be terrible.
I felt, when I got to the end of the novel (and I won’t reveal any spoilers here), that things were set-up for a sequel.
JESSICA: We are working on a follow-up—I wouldn't really call it a sequel, EXACTLY—called Messy! It comes out next spring sometime.
HEATHER: At the time we wrote Spoiled, we knew there would be a Book 2, but we didn't know exactly what it would be. We had several ideas, but all the scuttlebutt was that major cliffhanger endings weren't in vogue, so we decided to keep things light and yet not totally tied up in a neat little bow, so that we could figure out where the story would go next—and with whom.
So much of your job—whether on the site or in the novel—is observing and dissecting fashion. Are you fashionistas yourselves in your own closets? Can you name some designers or stores you love to frequent in Los Angeles?
JESSICA: The funny thing is, because we work from home, most of the time I'm wearing jeans and a tank top. And Los Angeles is so casual. So although I do really LIKE clothes, and I do love to shop, in my day-to-day life, I'm really casual. In terms of stores here in Los Angeles, I love Barney's for a splurge (like everyone else), and I have this great little consignment shop that I love, called Entre Nous, on 3rd near the Beverly Center. It is really great, you can always find something interesting in there. There's a little boutique in Venice called Principessa, which I LOVE. But in all honestly, I wear a lot of J. Crew. Like, A LOT.
HEATHER: I have never been a fashionista. I simply don't have the budget, and I've never been good at finding stores outside malls that sell interesting or well-made stuff. And now, I'm a mom of twin toddlers, so I don't have time. It's like, okay, I have two hours to shop—Bloomies, Banana, Gap, pit stop at Williams-Sonoma to ogle kitchen equipment I don't need, and . . . yep, out of time. I have a tough body to fit because my top half runs a size smaller than my lower half—SOMETIMES; naturally, my size is different depending on the designer—but I do find that if I catch the right sale, Diane von Furstenberg's dresses sometimes fit me decently. But I really can't have nice things. My children won't let that stand. They're like, "What THIS needs is a macaroni handprint on the front."
In 2008 you both wrote a fashion homage book, The Fug Awards, which was an extension of your site with all new material. What was more difficult to write, in your mind? Were you more nervous about that book or this one landing in bookstores?
JESSICA: Well, they sort of feel like apples and oranges to me. The Fug Awards was known territory—it was so similar to what we did on the site that it didn't feel like a huge challenge in terms of the actual writing. That book was more challenging in that it was really hard to write without it becoming dated (in fact, I think impossible), and logistically it also had a lot more balls to juggle (legal issues, photo rights, etc). I think Spoiled was more daunting creatively, because we were creating a work out of whole cloth—but for that very reason, I found Spoiled to be exponentially more creatively satisfying. We're very, very proud of The Fug Awards—we worked really hard on it, and I think it's really funny—but fiction is much more exciting, for me. I think that makes Spoiled a bit more nerve-wracking, as well. It's so much more personal.
HEATHER: For me, Spoiled was a lot harder. I love riffing on found material, but creating something entirely fresh and new that lives and dies with you . . . that is hard, and that is scary, and that is where neuroses are born. So in that sense, the good response Spoiled has gotten feels that much more fantastic. We poured a lot of ourselves into both books, but the Fug Awards had the comfort zone of knowing that anyone who read GFY would probably love it and know exactly what they're getting into when buying it, whereas with Spoiled, it was, "Will our readers expect something different? Will new readers and teens think we're terrible and nerdy?" It was uncharted territory. And I am a homebody, so of course emotionally I'd rather hide under the covers and play Angry Birds.
You’ve received an accolade of awards for your website—from Entertainment Weekly to Time Magazine to The Guardian. Is there any award you’re most particularly proud of?
JESSICA: I know it sounds corny, but I am honestly totally thrilled any time we get ANY award. Though I know rationally that the site is successful, in my mind it's still this fun thing that I write with Heather that's read by people we like. (Which is still true—our readers are awesome.) So when we get an award or someone is excited to meet us, or whatever, I am always like, "NO WAY THANK YOU YAY!" Which I guess is good! Of all those, I would say that making the EW Must List for Fug Madness, our yearly tournament to determine which celeb was the fugliest of all in the past year, was the most thrilling: we didn't know it was coming! So that was awesome. We are really proud of all the Bloggies we won for writing, as well. But honestly, all of them are exciting and flattering.
HEATHER: Anything where readers vote is thrilling to me, just because they're so loyal and supportive and it really gets me emotional. In fact that's one reason the EW Must List mention makes me so happy, because it's a double-whammy: It was back when No. 10 on the list was always reader-nominated, and that's where we came in. So a reader felt THAT passionately about us that he/she submitted us, and EW apparently agreed enough that we got picked. Flattering and gratifying on both levels.
In terms of the site itself, do either of you get dibs on a certain celeb when an awesome photo comes in (I’m looking at you Kiki Dunst). Or is it that you’ve each assigned yourself to take on the voice of someone, and split up the randoms? (I’m thinking of you “Jenny” Lopez!)
JESSICA: For most celebs, it's first come, first serve, but there are a few that we do have dibs on. Heather ALWAYS writes J. Lo, and Karl Lagerfeld, and Kanye (and maybe a few others—Heather is great at creating an iconic GFY voice for someone), and I always do Britney Spears, and I also do our figure skating coverage. We also have celebs where one of us probably knows more about them than the other, like, I would be more likely to write about a Real Housewife, probably, because I watch all those shows religiously. But for the majority of celebs, it is just whoever gets to the pic first.
HEATHER: I'm not even sure how we split up those other celebs. I suspect it's because one of us happened to get to a picture first and did something with it, and then response was good, and so it became a pattern. Like, if I tried to write a Britney letter at this point, there would be a riot. And I wouldn't want to, because I loved what Jess did with the Britney pictures, and so like anyone else I'm always waiting to see what she'll do with the next one. There are definitely some people we sense the other will be able to cover more thoroughly in terms of adding context. Like, I can't deal with any of the Housewives—no idea what any of those wackos are doing—but give me a soap star and I'm ON IT.
Are there secret fashion weapons you cannot live without? Please tell me it’s gold sequined hotpants, underneath a kimono with matching fur turban.
JESSICA: You read my mind. I am wearing that RIGHT NOW. Actually, though, I do have a caftan that I like to wear around the house when I'm not ready to get dressed but I don't want to look totally schlumpy. It is RIDICULOUS and I love it. But my real—and possibly boring—fashion weapon is a good bra and a good pair of jeans. Good jeans are PRICELESS—at least in my life, where I wear them nearly daily.
HEATHER: I have never understood how people go braless. I also think one really seriously hot pair of heels is key, because they can dress up your jeans and make you feel fancy even if you otherwise are in a T-shirt. And they also obviously go with dressier clothes. But a hot shoe is my mood-lifter.
Have either of you had the chance to meet Intern George in person?
JESSICA: No and I worry I would pass out if this were to occur.
HEATHER: Can you imagine? I'd probably be all, "You're five years late to work," and he'd be like, 'SECURITY.'
Megan Fishmann is a publicist at Algonquin Books in North Carolina.