A decade has passed since Candace Bushnell made her first foray into YA with The Carrie Diaries, introducing a teenage Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City fame, which was followed by a sequel, Summer and the City, in 2011. The author now returns to YA terrain with Rules for Being a Girl, co-authored by Katie Cotugno (author of 99 Days and Top Ten). The collaborators introduce Marin, a top student and co-editor of her high-school newspaper, whose dream of attending Brown seems more attainable when Bex, her charismatic, young AP lit teacher and third-generation alum of that university, offers to call the school on her behalf—but subsequently concocts an excuse to invite her to his apartment. After he suddenly kisses her, Marin is catapulted into an emotional maelstrom: was she responsible for leading him on—and should she report his behavior to the principal? In a conversation with PW, Bushnell revealed how this project with Cotugno originated and unfolded, and what she hopes the novel imparts to teens.
What inspired the theme and plot of Rules for Being a Girl?
I think that the #MeToo movement was definitely an inspiration for the novel. That made me think about how many sexist experiences women have endured. I certainly had experiences similar to what Marin goes through, though they happened in college, not high school. The extraordinary thing to me is that every generation of women and men has to relearn feminism—it’s not something that’s a given. It astounds me that so many people think that the goals of feminism have been achieved and that women have made enormous strides. Yet it’s a fact that there are always going to be predators out there, and women and girls cannot let down their guard.
This is your debut collaboration on a novel—how did you come to team up with Katie Cotugno for the book?
Yes, this is a first for me. I wrote two earlier YA novels, The Carrie Diaries and Summer and the City, which did well and were both made into TV shows, and for some time I had been talking with my editor, Alessandra Balzer, about doing another novel for young adults. Apparently, so had Katie, another one of her authors, and Alessandra recommended I read her work. I was very impressed by it, and we all agreed that Katie and I should consider collaborating on a novel. After we began brainstorming ideas, Rules for Being a Girl seemed to come together quite organically.
How did your collaborative process work—and did co-writing a novel present new challenges for you?
We first hashed out an outline for the novel, emailing back and forth and talking on the phone. And when it came to the writing, Katie and I would each write a part and then email it to the other and to Alessandra, who oversaw the whole process, and we’d review each section together. It is a different process than writing a novel on your own, when you’re working with ideas that are entirely yours. But it wasn’t totally new to me, since coauthoring a novel is similar to writing for TV, which is very collaborative. I will say that this collaboration with Katie worked out very well.
What message do you hope readers glean from Marin’s experience?
That it is important for us to talk openly about sexism and predatory behavior, and the fact that, as Marin experienced, girls are given so many conflicting messages. They are told that the opinions of men and boys are valuable, and we must try to please them and not piss them off. Look at Bex, who tells Marin that if she doesn’t tell anyone that he kissed her, he can get her into Brown. Girls see these power exchanges at an early age, but at the same time they know they need to be ambitious, self-promoting, and even—dare I say it—ego-oriented, even if they’re told that those things are okay for men to be, but not necessarily for women. It’s really about the power dynamics of heterosexual relationships, and the more we talk openly about it, the sooner young women will be empowered to speak out, as Marin did.
Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $19.99 Apr. 7 ISBN 978-0-06-280337-5