Q&A with Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, authors of Over You

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For the past couple of days, I’ve been reading an adorable book called Over You by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, who are the authors of The Nanny Diaries. Over You is a young adult novel about a fiercely smart New York City teenager named Max Scott who, after a bad breakup, starts an agency devoted to helping over girls get over their bad breakups. (But when the ex who broke her heart comes back into the picture…what will she do?!) It’s a really fun, snappy read.

1) What made you decide to switch from women’s fiction to YA?

Nicola: We had a couple of ideas that seemed uniquely adolescent in their intensity. One was the idea of a break-up coach. While we’ve already heard from women in their sixties and seventies that they wished they had someone like Max Scott in their lives when they were going through their divorces, we feel like that first heartbreak, the one where you really don’t know if you’re going to live through it, is the worst. That’s where we wanted to meet Max.

Emma: Teenage characters can be braver than adults because the reader doesn’t expect them to have reality tested their ideas yet. What can seem desperate/pathetic when entertained by a twenty-something reads as outside-of-the-box thinking for a teen. We’re really excited by the imaginative premises coming out of the genre right now.

2) What are the YA novels that made the biggest impact on you when you were younger?

Nicola: Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. It was the first book I read that respectfully acknowledged adolescent pain and loss. I loved Sweet Valley High, but it didn’t reflect what my classmates and I were already going through. I read another book that I shamefully can’t remember the name of, but maybe one of your readers will know. It was told in the first person by a teenage boy named Pax. His parents were fugitives for having been politically radical in the 60s. He falls in love with this mysterious girl from an affluent family. At the end he notices she has a tiny butterfly tattoo hidden between her thumb and palm. She tells him that’s where she’s hidden her true self until she gets to a place later in life that it’s safe to share. I don’t know why, but that really resonated with me.

Emma: Well, Judy Blume, of course. She’s the gold standard. We connected with her on Twitter recently and I had to restrain myself from getting a tattoo of her tweet. I also totally devoured Sweet Valley High, which as a suburban girl, was probably easier for me to conjure than for Nicki. (That being said, upstate New York is a far cry from southern California. Our pools were most definitely above ground.) My all time favorite was the novel Marjorie Morningstar, written in the mid-sixties, about a girl who wants desperately to become an actress. It was a pretty dark story in retrospect but reading in the shade of the barn I was preoccupied with the glamour of the era. Slapping at mosquitoes and putting off mowing the lawn, I wanted nothing more than to hold a martini and feel my silk skirt swish.

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3) Did you find it difficult putting yourself in the mindset of a 17-year-old girl?

Nicola: With all our characters our biggest challenge, like any parent, is to let them make mistakes. If they don’t make mistakes the story doesn’t move forward and they don’t learn anything. And 17 year-olds make a lot of mistakes. But Max is also wise beyond her years at the same time. So we strived to strike a balance.

Emma: And the unfortunate nature of heartbreak is that every time feels like the first. There’s always a moment, lasting from a few seconds to a few months, where you seriously question if you’ll get to the other side of the pain. As we get older we realize that it can happen anywhere you’ve opened yourself up and invested—with family, best friends, jobs. We just had to keep reminding ourselves how enormous and disorienting it can be, so much so that you might as well be sixteen again.

4) Would you ever look at each other and say, “A 17 year old in 2012 would never do that!” or did the prevalence of teens in pop culture help you out?

Nicola: There were a couple of times we had to text the kids we nannied for to double-check some stuff. They would say, “No, it’s still called hooking-up,” or “No one would ever say duh now.”

Emma: It’s also fascinating how the distinction in the dating customs of teens and adults is less clear than it has been in the past. Technology has equipped teens with a new level of sophistication while enabling adults to connect with unprecedented casualness. We have a good friend whose recently divorced mother is in her sixties. The mother is sending texts to her boyfriend that sound almost identical to her granddaughter’s.

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Jennifer Aniston's fragrance

5) Writing partners are common in Hollywood but less so with novels. I’ve heard it said that the key to a successful writing partnership is each writer feeling like the other one is better. Is that true of you two?

Nicola: I love that! It’s funny because I can tell you the sections that Emma wrote in every book, because I enjoy them like any fan. Like in Between You and Me she wrote a character named Travis that made me laugh out loud every time. So I don’t know if I think Emma is better across the board, but I definitely know what Emma is better at and I defer to her on those things. Big picture plot calibration and pacing. Oh, and cover design.

Emma: I don’t know how we could have sustained our partnership over thirteen years if we weren’t each other’s biggest fans. You have to be a little in awe of your spouse to keep any marriage thriving, even a professional one. Nicki brings an eye for detail that would rival Mindy Kaling’s, an astounding mastery of grammar, and an enviable passion for lyricism. In each of our novel’s she creates at least one character who she simply knows. The person doesn’t exist in real life yet Nicki puts her fingers to the keyboard with a 360 degree understanding of exactly who she is writing. Nicki had a sense of Mrs. X to the point where she can tell you exactly what the women would put on her plate at a cruise ship buffet. (And, as Nicki will tell you, that’s a trick—Mrs. X wouldn’t be caught dead on a cruise ship.) I love that she knows that!

6) What’s your writing process like?

Nicola: We outline together so we know we’re working from the same template. Then we each write every other chapter of the first draft. From there we face months of read-through, re-writes and Oreos. And writing Over You we had to pause at least once a day to call each other and re-hash some breakup that’s we’d gotten annoyed about afresh.

Emma: Yes, it led to Facebooking and Yearbook digging out. Truth be told, we enabled each other down a road that Max would have been appalled by.

7) And, since this is primarily a beauty blog, I would be remiss in not asking: what beauty products are each of you currently obsessing over and why?
Nicola: Speaking personally I had slipped into a sad state of affairs post-baby before Estée Lauder brought us in for makeovers a year ago so we could get a feel for Max’s Over You Look. And, hand-to-God, I use it all every day. Why? Because I can give myself smoky eyes at 7am and they are still smoky at 7pm. Priceless. I also just discovered Jennifer Aniston’s new fragrance. It smells like Coppertone to me, which is the essence of happy summer. I keep the roller stick in my purse and swipe it on when I need a lift.

Emma: Yes, the Estée Lauder Double Wear foundation and concealer have become utterly essential as my toddler is going through a phase of waking at four am and asking to “go look at trucks, please”. Two dabs of Tarte cheek stain, a swipe of YSL Glossy Stain (day-long staying power is the answer to a mom’s prayers), and a few brushes of Fiberwig Mascara—which no amount of yawn-tears can undo—and I look like the well-rested girl that I am most definitely not.

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Read more about Over You at Emma and Nicola’s website.

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