Last month, I reviewed The Princesses of Iowa by Molly Backes. Now that you've all had time to buy the book and read it, we can talk to author Molly Backes about how awesome it/she is. Wait, what do you mean you haven't read it yet?! Look at your life, look at your choices, people. What, what, what am I going to do with you? Well, if this B2L interview isn't enough to convince you to run to your local library or bookstore RIGHT NOW, I don't think we can be friends anymore. I have a new BFF, and her name is Molly Backes.
THE ACTUAL BOOK-RELATED QUESTIONS
While Paige's high school experience was pretty much the antithesis of mine, hers still felt very real and believable to me. Often, the popular kids in YA veer off into a cartoonish caricatures of real people, but you managed to avoid that. How much of your own high school experience informed Paige's point of view?
I definitely wasn’t the Homecoming Queen! I actually only went to one school dance in all of high school (Homecoming, freshman year). My date was a swishy gay boy, and somehow a friend of mine had invited herself along with us, so all three of us went out for a “fancy” dinner at Red Lobster, and then went to the dance, where my third-wheel friend spent the night throwing herself at the cute gay boy, while I tried to keep the chaperones from noticing how drunk my ex-boyfriend was, and then miserably watched my actual crush slow-dancing to a fast song with a girl who wasn’t me. Good times!
So yeah, I was more obnoxious theater kid than popular teen queen, but I generally believe that most of us had more in common with each other in high school than we realized – I think that no matter who you were, and where you fit into the complex social order of your particular school, you probably spent a good deal of time feeling lonely and misunderstood and alienated and like everyone else was having more fun than you were. Even the popular kids! And that’s kind of what I was thinking about as I was working on this story. Maybe you look like the stereotypical popular girl on the outside, but inside you're probably just as confused, insecure, lonely, and searching as the rest of us.
Mr. Tremont plays an important role in Paige's character development. Is he based on any teachers or professors you had?
He actually is! When I was 19, I took this poetry class with Dan Beachy-Quick, who was only like 25 at the time, and who, in addition to being kind of a genius and totally cute, was just SO excited about poetry that he made US excited about poetry, and my whole class fell in love with each other. We began a tradition of bringing our million-dollar ideas to class each week because we had a plan to make a million dollars, buy a bus, and then drive around the country with DBQ, like, bringing poetry to the masses, man.
Mr. Tremont also has some of my other favorite writing teacher, Mark Baechtel, and some of my good friend Cameron Gale, who teaches English in Des Moines, and quite a bit of me, as well – I spent much of my twenties teaching 7th and 8th grade English, and now teach creative writing.
Jacque Sheridan: the worst, or the VERY worst? No really, sometimes as I was reading, I had to put the book down in fury at some of the things she said, possibly because I know mothers just like her. Was it as hard to write some of the more horrible characters as it was for me to read about them?
Ha! I have to confess that Jacque was actually one of my favorite characters to write, because she was so over the top – she’s the critical, youth-obsessed mother most of us have encountered in some form or another, taken to a hyperbolic extreme. It’s actually WAY easier for me to write characters who say hilariously awful things than it is to write legitimately kind characters – what does that say about me?
One of my favorite scenes of the book was when Paige and her nerd friends go to the I-80 Truck Stop and have a tacky Iowa merch competition. Do you have a favorite piece of Iowa kitsch?
In college, we used to go to this truck stop – not the I-80, though actually I think this one was called the “Brooklyn 80,” maybe? – and it was also completely strange. For one thing, the walls were carpeted, and on these carpeted walls hung a glorious collection of velvet Elvis paintings. The night before my physics final, my friend Tim and I went there to study – basically, Tim had to teach me ALL the physics, or I was going to fail the class – and I was like, this is never going to work, I’m going to fail out of college and live on the streets and die alone – so Tim went to the gift shop section of the truck stop and came back with this tiny statue of an angel pig – a pig with wings. Because I would pass physics “when pigs fly” right?
Later that night, we ate some bad ranch dressing & got the worst food poisoning of our lives. I managed to pass my physics exam – and the class – between moments of vomiting my face off, and we never went back to truck stop where the velvet Elvis paintings hung. But I still have that pig.
I am seriously impressed with your physics skills that you managed to pass. I think you must not have needed Tim's help to begin with.
THE YA QUESTIONS
If your real life adolescence was a YA book...What would you, the main character, be like?
1/3 Daria Morgandorffer, 1/3 Lindsay Weir, and 1/3 Damien from Mean Girls.
Young Molly, age 14, on her way to her one and only high school dance. Little does she know she's about to spend half her night sitting on a metal picnic bench in the high school courtyard with her hand clamped over her idiot ex-boyfriend's drunk mouth to keep him from yelling about what a slut his current girlfriend is.
Who is your secret crush?
The angsty, artsy, emotionally unavailable genius.
At what point would the reader pump his/her fist in victory?
When I finally dumped the angsty, artsy, emotionally unavailable genius.
And who would play you in the film adaptation?
Claire Danes. Or possibly the Progressive Insurance girl.
THE SLUMBER PARTY QUESTIONS:
What is your secret power?
Uncanny ability to spot (& identify) wildlife; particularly useful when driving in the rural Midwest.
Do cows count as wildlife?
What is your #1 favorite food?
Pizza from Maria’s Pizza in Oregon, Wisconsin
Tell me about your area of expertise.
Bats! Did you know that bats are the primary pollinators of the agave plant, which is where we get tequila? And one little brown bat can eat 1000 mosquitoes in an HOUR? So without bats we would have way more mosquito bites, and way fewer margaritas. Bats are the best.
BATS ARE MY FAVORITE! Sometimes when I get reaaaaaaaaaallly drunk I start talking about how much I love bats. For extended periods of time. It's pretty socially unacceptable. You would think my friends would try to save me from myself and put an end to this behavior, but they like watching the trainwreck.
If you could assemble your own Ocean's 11 of fictional characters, who would you pick and why?
Frankie Landau-Banks – criminal mastermind, obvs
Adah Price – would be able to look at the situation backward & forward
Boo Radley – VERY sneaky, good at hiding
Hermione Granger – thorough researcher, & we’d store all the loot in her bottomless bag
Margo Roth Spiegelman – will create an elaborate distraction
Cinna – in charge of disguises
Veronica Mars – will infiltrate the operation, good at undercover work
Angel – brute strength (& chiseled jawline)
Zach Morris – can stop time if anything goes wrong
Kitty Pryde – able to walk through walls, very useful in a heist
Hoban “Wash” Washburn – getaway spaceship driver
What is your best karaoke song?
A cowboy version of “In Your Eyes.”
Tell me something scandalous!
I actually hate karaoke! I KNOW!
This is TERRIBLE news for our slumber party! I guess we will just have to play a lot of Just Dance instead.
What is your favorite adult beverage?
In this heat? Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. You can take the girl out of Wisconsin….
What book have you read the most number of times?
The Monster at the End of This Book
Who is your "freebie"?
I think you get an extra, because isn't EVERYONE's freebie Logan Echolls? Pretty sure he's on an entirely different plane of freebiedom than the rest of the world.
YA authors are so cool. Who would you give a BFF charm to?
Claire Zulkey, author of An Off Year, because we have matching greyhounds (and they’re in loooooooooove).
If you were invited to the FYA slumber party (and obvs, you ARE), what is the most crucial snack food and/or movie and/or anything you'd bring?
Puppy Chow – the snack made of chex, peanut butter, chocolate, and powdered sugar, not actually dog food, though I wouldn’t put it past me.
PLUS “Cards Against Humanity,” which is like Apples to Apples, but dirty.
You mean to tell me that Apples to Apples ISN'T dirty?
And now we play the world's greatest slumber party game, MASH! Molly gave us her top 3 choices for each category, and we added one really horrible option.
That serial killer from the town michelle bachman claims she's from
The Baby Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica
Canoeing in the Boundary Waters
Hanging with a Dolphin Pod
Brooklyn 80 Truckstop
# of Kids
a bunch of dogs
Baby Wolf Cuddler
Midwestern Tour Guide
Lawyer for Monsanto
1987 Renault Alliance
Harold Chasen’s souped-up hearse
Drunk driving demonstration Vehicle
It's a good thing you'll be making bank by selling your soul to Monsanto, because you'll have to shell out a lot of cash to get an apartment big enough to house your 42 children, and I bet you burn through a lot gas going back and forth to all those soccer practices in the hearse. At least you and Bobby will always have the Boundary Waters to remember your love by.