Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks, authors of Spoiled, answer Ten Terrifying Questions

by |February 3, 2012

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Jessica Morgan

and Heather Cocks

authors of Spoiled

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1.  To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

JESSICA: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California — on my mother’s side, I am actually a third generation Los Angeleno, which is rare in a city with so many transplants. I have a degree in English Literature from UCLA.

HEATHER: I am in, fact, exactly the transplant Jess refers to – In fact, I’m rather a mutt. My sisters and I were all born in Houston, Texas, to a Chicago native and a Brit. We moved to England when I was about to turn six, and I spent my formative years over there, moving back to the US at thirteen for two years in Miami before finishing out high school in Calgary, Canada. I have a degree in American Studies from the University of Notre Dame, which was a perfect major for me because so much moving meant I hadn’t taken American history since I was in fifth grade and it was mostly in cartoons.

2.  What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

JESSICA: When I was 12, I wanted to be an Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast (I can barely do a cartwheel). When I was 18, I wanted to be an Oscar-winning actress (I was the co-president of my high school drama society, much like Brooke Berlin, but…yeah, that wasn’t going to happen either). When I was 30, I was pretty happy with what I was doing — writing for our web-site, Go Fug Yourself, with Heather.

HEATHER: When I was twelve, I wanted to be either an actress or a singer, with a side gig as a truly excellent tennis player. Once I figured out I wasn’t even a truly good tennis player and that actors and singers are crazy, I grew out of that and at eighteen wanted to be a journalist. Then slowly I learned that while I love writing, I hate reporting – and yes, journalists still technically do both. I was no good at ferreting out hidden stories, and I hated interviewing people: I’m self-conscious at it, I’m afraid of the silences, and most of all I feel like I’m bugging them. At thirty, I wanted to be a published fiction author – and lo and behold! But since Jess and I started working on GFY and our joint writings elsewhere, I’ve stopped dreaming of other careers, which is a good sign, as I certainly don’t think any other careers are dreaming of me.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

JESSICA: I don’t know if any of my core beliefs have changed, fundamentally. But I am certainly much more tolerant of people’s mistakes, and more understanding of the fact that almost every situation is more grey than it is black and white than I was at 18.

HEATHER: I went to a really small school, and I thought drugs were baaaad, and that only bad people did them. Now I think drugs are stupid, but that plenty of good people do them while having a really stupid moment. At eighteen, I wasn’t thinking a whole lot of other super deep thoughts. At heart, in the major ways, I am still the same, probably right down to the insecurities.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

JESSICA:  I don’t know if I would say that these pieces DIRECTLY influenced my actual work as a writer, but I can say that I really loved them when growing up: 1) the Merchant Ivory adaptation of A Room With a View, which is much more swoony than anything we write — and is perhaps the most swoonily romantic thing ever — but which I must have seen 100 times and can still essentially quote from memory. I love that movie so much. 2) The early Adrian Mole books, by Sue Townsend, which are snarky and hilarious and touching, and really brilliant at creating sympathy for a protagonist who is actually often sort of  a terrible person. 3) Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books, which have a wonderful, smart, sassy heroine, and which are the reasons one of the characters in Spoiled has a bedroom in a tower. There are so many others, though. I was, and still am, a voracious reader.

HEATHER: The Blackadder TV series on the BBC is one – my father showed us that at an early age, probably too early to understand exactly HOW naughty a couple of the jokes were; he hated crassness but if it was cleverly raunchy, aka British, he rarely batted an eye. Anyway, for years I’ve implored people to watch it and know that Rowan Atkinson is so much more than Mr. Bean, and Hugh Laurie is not just Dr. House.

I’d also cite The Princess Bride by William Golding, because there is so much cleverness and wit in that, but never in broad strokes. Basically, those two and their ilk inform a lot about my perspective – I love to play with language and use it to create humor, rather than just broad situational comedy. I like when comedy comes from a point of view, however barbed or skewed it may be. And, the movies Airplane and Soapdish. Because I love parody when it’s done right.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

JESSICA:  I actually don’t think there WERE innumerable artistic avenues open to me. The only very creative thing I can actually do with a measure of success is write.  And maybe match accessories to outfits.

HEATHER: I can’t even do that. So there you go. I also can’t draw – at ALL, it’s pathetic — and I used to be a great singer but only as an alto, and that’s gone now. I can’t compose music. I can play it, but only to a certain level of adequacy. Writing is the thing that’s felt the most natural to me, and I have such admiration for people who can tell a story that it made sense to want to try it myself. It’s hard. The writing, I can do; the storytelling is where I struggle the most. And so of course I want to work the most at it. I really want to tame that beast, you know?

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

JESSICA: Spoiled is the story of a girl who learns, on her mother’s deathbed, that the father she thought was dead is actually the most famous movie star in the world. She moves in with him, and her half-sister (who is not pleased with this development), and shenanigans ensue.

HEATHER: It’s a relatable fish-out-of-water tale – everyone has been the new kid before, either at work, or in school, or in a city. Or in your yoga studio. Whatever. Somewhere. We all know what it’s like not to know quite where to tread, or how to fit in, and to have to figure out how to be your best self – or whether to be yourself at all.

(BBGuru: here is the publisher’s blurb –

Sixteen-year-old Molly Dix has just discovered that her biological father is Brick Berlin, world-famous movie star and red-carpet regular. Intrigued (and a little terrified) by her Hollywood lineage, Molly moves to Los Angeles and plunges headfirst into the deep end of Beverly Hills celebrity life. Just as Molly thinks her life couldn’t get any stranger, she meets Brooke Berlin, her gorgeous, spoiled half sister, who welcomes Molly to La-La Land with a smothering dose of “sisterly love” … but in this town, nothing is ever what it seems.

Set against a world of Red Bull-fuelled stylists, tiny tanned girls, popped-collar guys, and Blackberry-wielding publicists, Spoiled is obsessively readable and great fun … unless you are famous.)

Click here to buy Spoiled from Booktopia, Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

7.  What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

JESSICA: I just hope they close the book and think, “That was really fun. I can’t wait to read the next one.” And, of course, the truism that our thighs should be our greatest mystery.

HEATHER: The desire to pick it up again someday. And a grin.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

JESSICA: Oh my gosh, so many. It’s very hard for me to pick just one author. I do think I will have to give a shout-out to Stephen King, who I think is perhaps one of the best writers working today when it comes to populating his worlds with little, everyday details. He gets a lot of credit for being scary, but to me what is genius about his books are how good he is at capturing the details of the real world in the midst of a story that is often otherworldly. I also greatly admire JK Rowling for how beautifully plotted the Harry Potter series is, and I love her for really delivering the goods at the end. So many multi-book series end with a whimper and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows was a wonderful, fitting end. I am just really grateful that those books exist, both because I personally love them, and because I think they made a whole generation of children into readers.

HEATHER: I think JK Rowling is a rock star – she embodies everything I feel is beyond my capabilities. She had this gold nugget of an idea, and then she plotted it so intricately and beautifully that you can see the early weavings of later larger ideas. Everything you need in that series is sprinkled throughout every book. It’s a marvel of plotting. Likewise, Jasper Fforde’s books are dense with creativity and detail. Turning the page for the plot becomes almost secondary to wanting to figure out which book characters he’s going to tease next – like the scene where the narrator has to step into Wuthering Heights and moderate Heathcliff’s weekly off-the-page anger-management counselling, or Miss Havisham is revealed as a whip-smart small arms and fast cars enthusiast. And he does love a pun, as do I.

9.  Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

JESSICA: I actually don’t really have very many extremely ambitious goals — I don’t even make New Years resolutions! I think I just hope to be able to continue to write books that people enjoy.

HEATHER: My goal is really just to make people not regret buying our books. Especially our Web site readers – they read us every day for free, so if that loyalty extends to them wanting to spend money on one of our books, we desperately want them to feel that loyalty was rewarded with something quality.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

JESSICA: Writing is a muscle and you have to exercise it. I know a lot of people who say, “I’d love to be a writer,” but they’re never writing anything. A writer writes. So sit down and start typing.

HEATHER: Exactly right. And don’t worry about whether it’s good or bad. If you’re like me, you want to do it all right the first time, but with writing you just have to do. Get the bad out and then make it good. It’s okay. Everyone does it. Do not be afraid to suck.

Heather and Jessica, thank you both for playing.

Click here to buy Spoiled from Booktopia, Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

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About the Contributor

John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French, Korean and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for over twenty-five years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au.

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