Trish Cook talks about wilderness camps and how her novel evolved from a movie idea.
1. Can you tell us a bit more about your latest novel, Outward Blonde?
Outward Blonde is about Lizzie, a super-rich New York teen who is living a Kardashian sort of life until she gets arrested and her parents send her to wilderness camp. There, she has to do without all the comforts she’s used to and contend with dirt, dust, rain, way more physical activity than she likes, and kids who are nothing like her friends at home. She has to figure out how she got where she is, learn to fend for herself, and determine who she wants to be. It’s a comedy, family drama, and romance all wrapped up in one fun package.
2. How did you come up with the plotline for the book? Is it in any way based on your own experiences?
Outward Blonde was originally a movie set to star Hilary Duff! My publisher, Adaptive Books, came to me with what they call a “spark page” — just the most basic outline of what the story is: A spoiled, rich New York girl gets in trouble and gets sent to wilderness camp. I never read the script for the movie that was never made. I just developed the story based off the spark page and had so much fun doing it. And while it’s not based on any of my personal experiences, there are certain nuggets in the book that my family recognizes: My older daughter has a blanket named Buddy and was terrified that Ursula the sea witch lived under her bed when she was little, my younger daughter dislikes reading so much I’m not sure she’s ever finished an entire book, and my husband loves the Grateful Dead, so the counselors at wilderness camp are named after Dead songs (Scarlet=Scarlet Begonias and Jed=Tennesee Jed), their last names are from band members, and they sing Dead tunes around the fire.
3. Did you do any specific research for the book?
I researched how many wilderness programs are structured, what types of activities they do, how they get supplies and how often they return to a home base. But the most interesting research I did was interview a friend of my daughter’s who had gone to wilderness in high school. She gave me the lowdown on what it was really like there, and shared a lot about her feelings while there and in retrospect. She’s a kick-ass young woman and you have her to thank all the in-depth knowledge about wilderness “bathrooms.”
4. What are you most proud of about the book?
I really like the tender moments between Lizzie and Jack, and Lizzie and her dad. She’s had such a wall up around her heart for so long, and it choked me up to have her be brave enough to let those walls down. That’s how honest relationships are forged. It is a giant scary leap to let people see the squishy parts of you, but it’s so, so worth it. So I was proud of Lizzie for believing enough in her value and worth to do that, and proud of myself for having been able to express those kinds of emotions through my writing.
5. What is the best thing about being a writer?
My characters often surprise me and I love it. That’s one of the most exciting and interesting parts about writing for me. I also love making my own hours and having the flexibility to work from home. But mostly, I just love the creative process and creating. It’s such a rush.
6. What is the worst thing about being a writer?
Probably the same things that are great about being a writer, but on the flip side: Working alone can be very isolating, especially when you add in the fact that you’re so much in your head all the time. I often say writing is a lonely sport.
7. If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Write. And keep on writing. And don’t let anyone make you stop. Share your writing with friends you trust, or find an online community. Join clubs at school, like the newspaper or literary magazine, and share your talents with others. Be brave and submit your writing to contests. There are even summer programs and literary conferences that are like writing camps where you can go and bond with other creative people. Dream big. Why not? You never know what you can do unless you try. If you’re scared — even more reason to give it a shot. Be brave. Start now. Ha, that’s way more than one piece of advice!
8. Who are some of your own favorite authors at the moment?
In YA, favorites right now are Joelle Charbonneau, Christa Desir, and John Green. If we’re going old school, Judy Blume. My favorite book in high school was The Cheerleader, by Ruth Doan MacDougall, which no one has ever heard of but it was thrilling to me, to think teens back in the 1950s were the same as teens when I was growing up which are the same as teens now. The milestones you have to go through are universal, no matter what generation you grow up in. Also, the best book I’ve read lately, while not strictly YA, is a memoir called Look at You Now by Liz Pryor. It’s about a pregnant teen sent to a lock-up facility to have her baby, and it is beautifully written and so compelling.
9. What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m hard at work adapting a movie into a YA novel. It’s a very swoony romance along the lines of The Fault in Our Stars. After that, I have this big idea I’m just starting to put on paper that was sparked by a crazy news story. It’s still very much at the fledgling idea stage so we’ll see if it works out!
“You’re not going to believe this, Jem!” I say when my best friend finally picks up FaceTime. Her cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead are slathered in one of those masks she uses whenever she thinks she might be getting a zit. Which never actually happens. That girl is flawless.
“Try me.” Her lips are barely moving, which means the mask must be almost dry, which means she’s probably more interested in peeling than talking right now. That will change once she hears my news.
“Guess who I just matched with on Tinder?”
Jem’s mouth moves the tiniest bit downward, her attempt at a frown. She looks just like my mom after a fresh Botoxing: incapable of any facial expression. “Using an app to find a boy is kind of pathetic, don’t you think?” she asks.
“Jem, Jem, Jem. You didn’t say the magic word. A girl like me deserves a real man, not some immature boy.”
“Well, what you’re going to get on Tinder is a real creeper, Lizzie,” she warns. “And I like partying with you too much to let you be found all over the city in a bunch of different garbage bags. Not to mention, I’d be such shit at giving you a eulogy. One, because I hate public speaking, and two, I wouldn’t be able to bring up any of our best times together without giving the adults at your funeral a coronary. So no.”
“You haven’t even seen who it is yet. Pretty sure you’ll think he’s worth the risk.”
Jem closes her eyes and puts a hand over her heart, adopting a sweet little voice that’s nothing like her loud normal one.
“What I’ll miss most about my BFF Lizzie Finklestein is sneaking out with her on school nights, using our never-fail fakes to get into all the best bars, doing body shots until we puke, and making out with random college guys who have no idea we’re still in high school. I’ll never forget the time we ‘borrowed’ her mother’s Benz and almost ran over a group of Japanese tourists in Times Square…”
I hold my hand up in front of the computer screen. And in my hand is my phone, which still has the picture of Hot Tinder Man on it.
“What . . . the . . . FUCK?” Jem is impossible to impress and I’m pretty sure I’ve finally done it.
“I know, right?” The only thing standing between me and this guy at the moment is my mom, who doesn’t take her Ambien until right before she goes to bed. When she zonks out, I’m sneaking out.
“It’s not really him,” Jem says. “You do know that, don’t you?”
“Everyone knows he’s on Tinder,” I tell her. “And that he likes his girls younger. We’re perfect for each other. It’s, like, fate.”
“Oh, please.” Jem peels off an inch-wide strip of mask starting at her chin and ending at her hairline and shakes it at the screen. “It’s an old, bald, smelly, fat creeper pretending to be him so he can rape and dismember you.”
“Dismember. Good SAT word, Jem. Mrs. Lemelson would be so proud,” I say, invoking our prudish, perma-single English teacher. “But I guarantee you it’s really him. If you don’t believe it, come to the Standard with me and see for yourself.”
Jem’s peeling like crazy now. “It’s not him, and that fat smelly old creeper is going to throw you into the Hudson once he dismembers you. Do you really want to be shark bait?”
“I thought you said he was going to leave me in garbage bags all over the city?” I tease. “Besides, I’m pretty sure there are no sharks in the Hudson. And if you were really that worried, you’d be my wingman.”
Jem strips off the final bit of mask. Her face is a gorgeous deep caramel again, except for the smallest pink dot you’ve ever seen on the side of her nose. It’s probably from the colored pens we used in art class today. She points to the supposed “zit.”
“I can’t be seen in public like this. Activate your Find My Friends app so I’ll at least be able to tell the cops where some of your body parts are.”
I shrug. “Okay, but you’re missing out. Because I’m pretty sure James Franco would be up for a threesome. Just think of the pictures we’d get pretending we were going to go through with it—”
“Fake Franco, you mean,” Jem interrupts me.
“He’s the real deal,” I tell my friend, and click the Face-Time screen down before she can try to convince me some more he’s not who he says he is. Or worse, decide to come along and initiate a threesome for real (which she knows I’d never participate in, leaving her with James Franco all to herself, and she’s smoking hot so who could blame him, so, like, no way).
There’s a knock at my door. My mom peeks her head inside my cavernous room. She peers first at my king-sized canopy bed, which is currently covered in pillows of every shape and size but not me. Then she glances over to my dog’s bed where Poochie — my adorable googly-eyed Shih Tzu with a crooked underbite — is fast asleep. She’s twitching and smiling and probably dreaming about bully sticks, her favorite treat. Whoever decided dried bull dick might be a good dog snack is a certified psycho, but Poochie is obsessed with it so I guess I’ll have to keep buying it.
Finally, Mom realizes I’m sitting on my white leather chaise by the window, like always. My laptop is on my lap, like always.
And I’m not doing my homework, like always. Mom has on a silky nightgown and robe. That must mean it’s Ambien time.
“You almost ready for bed?” Her eyes are glassy and she’s a bit wobbly — both sure signs the medicine is already taking effect.
“Yeah! Don’t you like my pajamas?” I gesture at my crop top and miniskirt. I hide my high heels under a throw so she’s less likely to realize the outfit screams “going out” and not “going nighty-night.”
Mom ignores my clothing and stares straight at my forehead, where a subtle, stubborn swath of acne has been camped out since sixth grade. If Jem had my skin issues, she’d never go out again. Luckily there’s such a thing as cover-up or neither would I. “Did you remember to put on your prescription face lotion?”
Figures that even when she can barely focus, all she can see is my flaws. I don’t reply. She won’t remember my answer in the morning or that she ever asked anyhow.
Mom mumbles goodnight and shuffles down the long hall of our penthouse apartment. It takes her forever to get there.
As a little kid, I used to hate the yawning distance between us. Instead of staying tucked in, I’d make a break for it every night, jumping as far from the mattress as possible and sprinting away to be with her and my dad. Warm and safe between them was the only place I could ever get a decent night’s sleep. After all, Ursula the Sea Witch didn’t live under THEIR bed.
So good thing I’m not a little kid who’s scared of an evil fictional octopus anymore (mostly), since that kind of comfort isn’t even an option now that my parents are divorced, Dad went to live out his save-the-world dreams in Africa, and Mom decided she prefers being in a medicated coma to snuggling.
Even better is that I actually like how far away they are from me these days. Especially at night. Because you do the math: divorced dad living in another country + mom’s room being down an endless hall + her having an anxiety disorder that requires daily doses of Klonopin x Ambien = me being able to do whatever and whoever I want to, whenever I want to.
Which, tonight, is none other than James Franco.
Teen socialite Lizzie Finklestein has all the qualities of a trainwreck in the making. With a physically absent father, an emotionally absent mother, and an addiction to shopping and hard partying she can’t seem to shake, Lizzie is on a certain path to destruction. Rock bottom finally comes when one of her public drunken escapades gets caught on camera and shared with gossip sites.
Lizzie’s parents decide it’s time for a change of scenery. They have her whisked away from her Manhattan penthouse apartment in the middle of the night and dropped at Camp Smiley, a gritty wilderness survival program for troubled teens deep in the Rocky Mountains. Surrounded by a motley crew of campers all facing their own demons, she’s convinced she has nothing in common with these misfits.
Lizzie must learn to survive in the harsh conditions of the outdoors, including how to dig her own toilet and build a fire by rubbing two sticks together. Lizzie feels that she’s only left with two options: get with the program, or get out of there.
Trish Cook is the author of four YA novels, her personal essays have appeared in Graze Literary Magazine and Spittoon, and she is currently completing her memoir, tentatively titled Bret Michaels at the Symphony. When she’s not writing, Trish is a runner, rower, music and pop culture fanatic.