Q. Where did you get the idea for The Boyfriend List? Did you have a boyfriend list?
A. In high school, I used to keep a list of all the boys I ever kissed. There were little hearts dotting the is and everything! But when I looked for it some fifteen years after graduating, the list had disappeared.
I hoped it hadn’t fallen into the wrong hands.
And there was an idea.
It was quite a difficult book to structure, in the end. After all, a list is not a story, and with the list structure I had to tell Roo’s story completely out of order–flashing back to her middle school years, forward to events of sophomore year, forward again to shrink appointments in which the events were discussed four months after they happened, etc.
Q. Readers often wonder how much an author is her main character. Are there any similarities between you and Ruby? Did you ever lose a friend over a boy?
A. All the events of the story are fictional. The element closest to true is Jackson’s note-writing style. My first serious boyfriend used to write me notes like that and leave them in my mail cubby.
I used to live in Seattle, and the locations are largely real– the B&O Espresso, the U. District, etc. But Ruby’s parents, her houseboat, her school, her various obsessions and interests– those are imaginary.
How am I like Roo? As a teenager, I was definitely a thrift-store maven. In both high school and college I was a scholarship kid surrounded by very wealthy people. I also have Roo’s tendency to hyperanalyze small human interactions.
Yes, I have lost friends over boys–and boys to friends. I wanted to write about heartbreak on more than one level–the heartbreak of losing a friend as well as the heartbreak of losing aboyfriend.
Q. "Tommy Hazard" has struck a chord with many readers. Did you have a Tommy Hazard? What was he like?
A. Tommy was actually an afterthought. I had a chapter that was toolong and wanted to break it up, which meant I needed anotherboy–and I wanted to do something different than what I’d donein the other chapters.
I’ve been a little sad that so many girls love Tommy so much. Hello!?! Tommy Hazard and Prince Charming–neither one exists! You can’t hold out for them or you will be sad and disappointed. Or you’ll end up being the kind of girl (like Kim) who snatches other people’s boyfriends because she’s deluding herself that she’s found perfection. Real boyfriends are real people. With flaws and often without glamour.
Q. The footnotes are a fun way to convey information. Where did you get the idea to use them? How did you decide what to put in them?
A. I’ve always liked footnotes. I trained to be an academic (I have a PhD in English literature) and I loved putting huge rambling asides in my footnotes while my central argument went on unimpeded by whatever tidbit had distracted my attention. I also love David Foster Wallace’s essays, in which he uses copious and often hilarious footnotes. So I wanted to try using them to convey the inside of a teenage girl’s mind.
How did I decide what to put in them? I wrote like a zillion and then my editor helped me figure out which ones were boring.
Q. Jackson is horrible at giving gifts. What is the best gift you’ve ever received from a boy? The worst?
A. The worst: Well, the half-carnation on Valentine’s Day really did happen to me, my senior year of high school. But the worst gift ever was a USED OFFICE TELEPHONE (with several lines, etc.) that my boyfriend shoved, UNWRAPPED, under my pillow on Valentine’s Day.
I already had a telephone.
This one involved wood veneer.
It was a random thing he found in the junk room of his office!
The best: There was a guy in college who later became my boyfriend. He graduated two or three years before me, and every now and then he used to just send me a letter, chatting about stuff. On my birthday one year, he sent me this tiny pin made out of a dead fish. It was a good-looking little fish, and it had been varnished or something, and mounted on a pin. I wouldn’t wear it now, but at the time it seemed hilarious and punk rock and pretty all at the same time. It was small and it was a surprise, and I could tell he’d thought about my taste (questionable as it may have been). It worked much better than a dozen roses.
Q. Ruby loves movies, and the novel has fun movie references sprinkled throughout. What is your all-time top ten movie list?
A. I can’t put them in order. Too stressful! But here’s the list:
• Gregory’s Girl
• Repo Man
• Annie Hall
• His Girl Friday
• Bringing Up Baby
• Moulin Rouge
• Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
• Singin’ in the Rain
Q. This is your first novel for teenagers. Was there anything surprising about the process of writing it? Did you learn anything new?
A. I had a terrific amount of fun writing this book, but writing it was not so different from writing for adults or for younger kids, both of which I’ve done. I just try to write the best story I can.
Q. What were your favorite books as a teenager? Did any books or writers influence you while you were writing this book?
A. I read all the great early young adult authors when I was twelve and thirteen: Paul Zindel, S. E. Hinton, Judy Blume, M. E. Kerr. But I was more of a drama girl in high school and didn’t read as much as I had in junior high. I fell back in love with books in college, reading great nineteenth-century novelists like Dickens, Austen, and the Bronte‘s.
Writing The Boyfriend List, I was influenced by Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which is about this guy who’s always making lists and mix tapes. He goes back and visits his major old girlfriends to try to figure out what went wrong with his current relationship. I loved Hornby’s book–it’s tremendously clever and engaging– but parts of it didn’t ring true for me. I thought there might be something fresh I could do with a similar concept.
Q. What is your writing process?
A. I write every weekday morning at my computer in my home office. A plump cat or two for company. More coffee than is good for me. I wear pajamas and look rather unattractive. I do not answer the phone, I do not clean the house, I check my e-mail only as a reward for doing my job. Sometimes I offer myself other ridiculous little rewards for writing–like: I can go out to the drugstore and buy toothpaste if I write two pages! It is borderline psychotic.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
A. Go to college. Read as many books as you can. Try to get an internship at a publishing house or magazine. And write. It is very easy to say you are a writer and not write. But if you actually write stuff–then you are a writer, whether published or not.