Author Interview: E. Lockhart on Fly on the Wall

Fly On The Wall by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2006). From the catalog copy: “At the Manhattan School for Art and Music, where everyone is “different” and everyone is “special,” Gretchen Yee feels ordinary. She’s the kind of girl who sits alone at lunch, drawing pictures of Spider-Man, so she won’t have to talk to anyone; who has a crush on Titus but won’t do anything about it; who has no one to hang out with when her best (and only real) friend Katya is busy. One day, Gretchen wishes that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys’ locker room–just to learn more about guys. What are they really like? What do they really talk about? Are they really cretins most of the time? Fly on the Wall is the story of how that wish comes true.”

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I was in the shower, trying to think of a fun title, because I have often had trouble titling my work and thought it might be smart to come up with a title first. I thought of that expression, “What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall…”

I liked the title, Fly on the Wall, so I asked myself: Where would a teenage girl want to be a fly on the wall?

The answer was obvious. A boys’ locker room.

Maybe being naked helped me think of the idea, I don’t know. It was my first naked writing experience.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major challenges along the way?

I was contracted to do the sequel for The Boyfriend List (Delacorte, 2005), which is called The Boy Book, and comes out October 2006. I had proposed Fly on the Wall to be the book that would come after that. But Delacorte decided they wanted it right away, and the sequel should come later – so all of a sudden I was writing Fly (coming out March 2006), instead of The Boy Book, which was a bit of a shock.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Fly on the Wall is about a girl (Gretchen) who’s freaked out about the opposite sex. Through a magical fluke, she turns into a fly on the wall of the boys’ locker room in her high school, and spends a week seeing everything that boys do when no girls are looking. It’s about discovering lust, and about homophobia, and about realizing that boys are just people, too – even if they seem like aliens, sometimes.

I have never been in a boys’ locker room. I have never been in the body of a housefly. The challenge here was to imagine a world and an experience that was completely foreign to me – and to make it believable because I understood the emotions behind the experience.

I have no clue yet whether Fly on the Wall will be considered controversial. Delacorte was completely supportive of my representations of sexuality, and of the language in the book. I think of it as a very sex-positive novel, and that’s a message I think is very much needed by teenagers today. And at the same time, it’s just a romp. It’s racy, it’s ridiculous, it’s romantic.

I worked on the slang a lot – as in The Boyfriend List. I made up a universe of slang for Gretchen’s high school that allowed me to discuss in quite considerable detail things that might be unmentionable without the imaginary slang.

One last challenge was writing a wide range of ethnicities and socioeconomic classes into Gretchen’s New York City arts high school. I wanted Gretchen to be of mixed heritage in order to mimic the half-fly/half-human status she has for much of the book – and to echo the split lives of most superheroes (she’s a superhero fan). I gave her a Jewish mother and a Chinese American father, with classmates who are Irish American, Russian American, African American, Latino, Korean American, and so on – the melting pot of a New York City public school. I worked hard to make the relationships, backgrounds and class differences among the students ring true, and to do so subtly and respectfully. I think there is not enough diversity in lighthearted fiction for teenagers. Not yet.

Cynsational Notes

Read yesterday’s cynsations interview with E. Lockhart on The Boyfriend List (Delacorte, 2005).

My favorite comics include “Ultimate Spider-Man,” which is perfect for YAs.

My husband, Greg Leitich Smith, and I strongly agree with E. Lockhart’s statement that “there is not enough diversity in lighthearted fiction for teenagers. Not yet.” See our related article: “Multicultural Humor, Seriously.”

Humor in Multicultural Literature: A Bibliography: prepared by the EMIERT Children’s Services Committee for the June 27, 2005 Chicago ALA Annual Conference

Cynsational News & Links

Josephine “Joi” (pronounced “Joey”) Nobisso writes with news of two books: Show; Don’t Tell! Secrets of Writing (Gingerbread House, 2004), which presents visionary, grammar-based strategies in interactive, elegant comic book style; and The Numbers Dance, A Counting Comedy (Gingerbread House, 2005), which humorously conveys the not-to-be-trifled-with concept that numbers are fun.

Robert’s Snow 2005 began yesterday, Sunday, Nov. 6. Purchase an original piece of art by your favorite children’s book illustrator. Grace Lin writes that not only are these snowflakes exclusive (each one comes with it’s own certificate of authenticity) and beautiful, 100% of snowflakes sales will go to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/The Jimmy Fund. The 200 snowflakes are divided into 5 seven day auctions. The schedule is as follows:
Auction 1: Nov. 6-Nov. 13
Auction 2: Nov. 13-Nov. 20
Auction 3: Nov. 20-Nov. 27
Auction 4: Nov. 27-Dec.4
Auction 5: Dec. 4-Dec. 11