Margot Wood’s Fresh (Amulet, Aug.), which follows Elliot McHugh through the highs and lows of college life—all-nighters and parties, friends and hookups—was inspired by the author’s time at Emerson College in Boston. “It’s a safe space because it’s a very queer-friendly school,” she says. “I wanted to write a book set in a place where it’s natural for there to be no conflict around someone’s sexual identity. I wanted to explore what happens after you’ve come out; after you have figured out your sexual identity, what’s next?”
PW spoke with Wood, a book marketing veteran who founded HarperCollins’s Epic Reads community for YA readers, about her debut novel, an homage to Jane Austen’s Emma.
Why did you decide to write for older teens?
In YA, typically most of the stories are set in high school, or maybe sometimes in the summer after high school. But you’re the same age when you graduate high school and when you enter college—it’s a major turning point in young people’s lives. All of a sudden, the environment has changed, the responsibilities have changed, the freedom that you experience changes. You’re not suddenly an all-knowing adult making the right choices. I’m interested in that mindset—where you’re mentally still a teenager but have all these new responsibilities.
How did Austen inspire you?
I realized that all these characters that I had, and some of the scenes and the themes that I wanted to explore, all fit wonderfully along the framework of Emma. It coalesced so seamlessly and so perfectly. Discovering who you are as a sexual person—what you like, what you don’t like, how to communicate that, how to have those relationships—is something that isn’t often explored in YA. If Emma were written today, I think that that conversation would be had.
I like characters who are a bit messy. Emma and Elliot are similar in that they are women who mean well, but don’t always do well. Elliot never really wants to be told what to do, just like Emma.
How did you use humor in the book?
Austen is a great comedic writer; I also honored the comedy aspect of Emma. The book is a bit mature in terms of the sex. There are whole chapters dedicated to Elliot hooking up with lots of different people. It’s almost always in service of comedy. It shows that sex can be awkward and funny. Sex isn’t always serious or romantic and perfect. Elliot’s in a college dorm; how sexy can it really be? The book also breaks the fourth wall. It’s very self-deprecating and self-aware.
Why is it important to write about queer joy?
There are no discussions about what it means to be queer and be bisexual in the book; straight people don’t have those discussions about what it means to be straight. Some people might read that and think, “This is a utopic society because there is no queer pain in this.” I like stories that are pushing publishing more into that direction. We don’t always need to focus on all the pain; there are a lot of fun parts about being queer.