In 2004, Lauren Myracle’s ttyl introduced an innovative narrative concept: it was a YA novel written entirely in instant messages. This storytelling device clearly spoke to the IM generation: that novel and subsequent releases in the Internet Girls series, ttfn (2006) and l8r, g8r (2007), have sold more than two million copies worldwide. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of ttyl, Abrams/Amulet will reissue the three novels on February 18 in revised trade paperback editions that reflect the extensive changes in teens’ online and texting communication over the past decade. Rewritten by Myracle, the reissues also feature a fresh cover look, updated cultural references, and a Q&A with the author. A new Internet Girls title, yolo, is due in fall 2014.
The idea of writing a novel using instant messages came to Susan Van Metre, Amulet’s senior v-p and publisher, after she read an article in the New York Times Magazine about teens’ penchant for communicating via that medium. She mentioned the piece to Myracle, whose first novel, Kissing Kate, she’d edited while at Dutton. “I said offhandedly to Lauren, ‘I wonder if someone could write a novel exclusively in instant messages,’ ” recalled Van Metre. “And Lauren, being intrepid Lauren, said, ‘I’ll try!’ ”
Myracle eagerly accepted the challenge. “When you’re a writer just beginning your career, if an editor says, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…’ you definitely jump at the chance and say, ‘Yes, ma’am – I’ll do it,’ she said. “I was a bit naive at the beginning. I love writing dialogue and character, but I hate writing setting, so I thought this would be perfect for me. But I had to have three friends sitting at their computers to tell the story, and realized how boring that could be. And what the girls were IM-ing about couldn’t be in the present, since they were talking about things after they happened. To make that exciting and feel lively was harder than I’d thought it would be.”
But her perseverance paid off. Van Metre noted that ttyl was one of the first books she acquired when she arrived at Abrams in 2002. “I knew how good Lauren is at capturing voices of contemporary teens, so I was sure she could make it work,” she said. “And it was great timing, since Abrams wanted to launch a fiction list at the time – which became Amulet – and the company was willing to take chances and be creative with the format and content. We were able to print the book in two colors, which was quite unusual for the time. I remember that we initially printed 10,000 copies of ttyl and they sold out in a couple of weeks.”
The first Internet Girls book quickly found a teen fan base, but some parents and other adult gatekeepers were less than enthusiastic about the books’ candidness and true-to-life teen speak. Ttyl first appeared on the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom’s top 10 most frequently challenged books in 2007; all three books in the series made the list in 2008 and appeared in the number one slot in both 2009 and 2011. “I finally decided that the reason that these books freaked out so many grownups is that they are written in a kind of code that they couldn’t break,” said Myracle. “They opened the books and saw IM lingo that they didn’t recognize, or they’d see the word ‘sex’ and shriek.”
Though the author observed that the reaction to the new editions of her novels might be somewhat less strident a decade later, she said, “I don’t think our society’s perspectives have changed very much in 10 years. I think another touch point for grownups now may be how reluctant they are to see kids immersed in screen time to the extent they are. This may be a new objection – that the books are encouraging kids to communicate by text instead of through face-to-face interaction.”
Targeting a New Generation
One of the rewards of revamping the Internet Girls novels was that Myracle could, by swapping text messages for instant messages, give the stories an immediacy that was lacking in the original books and allow the characters to report on and react to situations in real time. “At first, I thought that it would be a matter of updating the slang, and references to movies, and music,” she said. “But very early on I texted Susan – yes, we do communicate by text! – saying that I realized I had to rewrite these novels altogether.”
For her input on today’s pop culture and teen jargon, Myracle and Van Metre both expressed gratitude to the editor’s 20-something assistant, Erica Finkel. “It was important to me that readers who pick up these books don’t realize that they came out 10 years ago, and will find them fresh and real rather than an artifact of an earlier time,” said the author. “We have Erica to thank that the novels are up-to-date.”
Amulet has planned an extended marketing campaign that will encompass both the three Internet Girls February reissues and the fall release of yolo (text speak for “you only live once”). Components of the campaign include consumer advertising, social media promotion, and a retail floor display. Myracle will embark on a national tour this spring that will feature appearances at several book festivals.
The author has turned in the first draft of yolo, which follows the three stars of the series to college. Since that setting lends itself to more risqué subject matter than the previous Internet Girls novels, is the author worried that yolo might spark a new firestorm of controversy? “I don’t set out to shock, and I am lucky to have such a brilliant, liberating editor who tells me not to worry about people’s reactions,” she replied. “Yes, the girls do go to frat parties and try out drinking. I didn’t want to do fake college – that would be stupid.”
In reintroducing the Internet Girls characters with yolo, Myracle shows how texting keeps them in touch as they come to grips with their new lives and adjust to being away from home and one another. “One of the cool things I realized while writing yolo is that though the modes of communication have changed, the fabric of these girls’ friendship hasn’t changed a bit,” said Myracle. “I found that reaffirming. I love these characters, and it was super fun to hang out with them again.”
ttyl by Lauren Myracle. Abrams/Amulet, $8.95 paper Feb. ISBN 978-1-4197-1142-8
ttfn by Lauren Myracle. Abrams/Amulet, $8.95 paper Feb. ISBN 978-1-4197-1141-1
l8r, g8r by Lauren Myracle. Abrams/Amulet, $8.95 paper Feb. ISBN 978-1-4197-1143-5