A former colleague of mine recently self-published an “emerging adult novel” * that has gone on to become a New York Times Bestseller, is currently being published in multiple languages, and has landed her a three-book deal with Harper-Collins. It just hit the shelves in every Target bookstore in the country. Damn, I thought to myself, I want to be that girl. I read it last night, partly to support a friend, partly (and utterly and obnoxiously selfishly) because being able to post facebook updates with your book cover in Hungarian is way cooler than that thing I was gonna write about how my neighbor’s dog took a dump on our sidewalk, and because I have all kinds of secret fantasies about how awesome I’d look on a book jacket.
Okay, I thought, I’ll approach this like research. I could learn a lot from this. A brief précis: The heroine (virginal college senior with a name that sounds like a perfume line or a Gossip Girl character) falls for her college acting professor (washboard abs, scruff, British, drives a motorcycle), and despite a series of comic setbacks (she’s his student, she’s a virgin and it’s totally weird, there’s a long chapter in which they both get mono and it all sounds a lot like the end of that novel ‘Christy’ where the heroine realizes in a fever-induced quasi-coma that she’s been in love with the gruff, haunted country doctor ALL ALONG) they wind up together and move to Philly after graduation to live in the gayborhood and star in a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
This sounds like I’m belittling this. I’m not. I’m impressed. This girl managed to brilliantly encapsulate and successfully sell the thing that I think most people in America actually want but are ashamed to indulge: pure, unadulterated fantasy.
Here’s the thing: most of the motorcycle riding, Shakespeare quoting hotties with a steady job and an MFA don’t … you know. Exist. Or even if they do,** I would imagine that at some point a grown man would think, I’m sure it’s in my contract somewhere that this kind of thing falls in the definite ‘no-no’ category, or, While it’s cool that you’re a virgin and all, I kind of stopped with that whole ‘let’s just make out on the couch and order a pizza for fun’ thing when I was like, seventeen, so – I’m just gonna go to the bar or sign up for OkCupid or something.
But that’s the brilliance of this. He doesn’t. He sticks around, willing to risk losing his job that probably has terrific health and dental benefits, for the absolute adoration of this girl he can’t help but love from the moment they meet. (The girl, for the record, does the following nutbag things throughout the course of the novel: abandons him naked in her apartment at four a.m. Shows up sobbing at his doorstep unannounced wanting to talk about her feelings. Adopts a cat from an animal shelter for the sole purpose of trying to prove that she’s not a liar when she lied about having a cat.) Spoiler alert: she loses her virginity with all the fireworks, moaning, and breathy whispered I love yous that every woman*** remembers fondly from her first time.
Ok, then: this should be easy, right? The author wrote this in three weeks; I can totally do this! Her novel follows the plot structure of basically every sexual fantasy I had at twenty-two. I have had equally bonkers thoughts where I imagined doing all kinds of crazy shit to get a dude’s attention. Wanna know what I’ve never done? Acted on ‘em. Wanna know why? Because they’re insane. And yet – this woman just created a character that thousands of young women across America are going to adore, for the same reasons that we still cheer poor quirky sleepless Meg Ryan when she gets on that plane to try and meet Tom Hanks in his Seattle houseboat even though that’s totally nutballs too and we know it which is why we can’t stop watching that movie whenever we happen to catch it on TNT late at night. Fantasy is awesome. Period.
And right around the moment where I start trying to come up with my own bestselling sexy teenager book idea is when I come to terms with the fact that I will never, ever, ever be able to write a bestselling sexy teenager-y book: because somehow my own ability to fantasize seems to have become uncomfortably mired in the grimness of reality. I sat down with my laptop, played some whimsical indie pop, envisioning that when it came down to write the movie adaptation, my sound designers/future BFF’s Zach Braff and Lena Dunham would advise me all the way. I could totally do this. Unfortunately, the following is my best attempt at the craziest, most fantastically departed from reality, bring-it-on-sexytimes young adult novels I got:
UNPLANNED PARENTHOOD: A quirky but loveable girl falls for her handsome, single, type-A boss. A few weeks after the office Christmas party, she walks in shame towards the local clinic, where her roommate, a wry hipster/Planned Parenthood clinician who volunteers for various social causes in her spare time, mixes up the tests and tells her that she has chlamydia. A hilarious dinner date ensues in which her boss, uncomfortable at being seen in public with his subordinate, wordlessly pays the check and leaves after she blurts out that she has an STD. Work is uncomfortable for a long time after that. After the mixup is discovered, she finally gets a new job and tells him to go to hell in front of the office as she leaves, pumping her fist on her exit as “Don’t You Forget About Me” plays and her cubicle-mates applaud.
TWILIGHT FOR UNICORNS: A quirky but loveable girl who writes fantasy fan-fiction falls for a guy she meets at a Comi-Con while they’re both wearing costumes and masks, and has elaborate fantasies for weeks that all involve Ren-Faire dresses and capes. She finally finds his facebook page, realizes that he’s kind of way too into kinky unicorn sex shit in real life, plus has scarring acne that renders him sort of gross. She blocks him from her profile and moves on.
MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING BUT NOT THE ONE WITH JULIA ROBERTS: A quirky but loveable girl is dumped by her douchey boyfriend on the night she thinks he is planning to propose, and cries all the way to her college reunion. There, after a night of binge-drinking, she is comforted by her dorky male best friend whom she’s always thought of as ‘just a friend.’ They have loud sex in the dorm room where they almost hooked up once years ago, and wake up in love. It inevitably falls apart when he invents the next social media platform and ditches her for a hot younger actress-y type; she makes a super passive-aggressive toast at their wedding. They remain on awkward terms forever and when she eventually does marry some other dude, she rips up his invitation and has a perfectly fine time at her own wedding, even though her new in-laws are the worst.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT AND THEN ONE OTHER TIME AFTER THAT: A quirky but loveable girl sleeps with her best friend, and they mutually agree the next morning that they are better as friends. It’s weird between them for awhile, so they do it again. This time, it’s way weirder and eventually they just sorta drift apart.
Fuck this. I don’t actually want to be the woman who writes the next “Twilight.” I wonder if the writing staff on ‘Girls’ is hiring.
*Did you know that’s a thing now? ME EITHER. It turns out it’s a new genre of fiction somewhere between “young adult” and “actual fiction.” You know. Teen novels but – with twentysomething characters who have sex!
**I’m extremely single.
***No woman, ever, in the history of ever.