Tackling the sometimes taboo topic of sex and what it means to be in charge of your own sex life, debut YA author Laurie Elizabeth Flynn dives into the YA scene with her debut Firsts.
Mercedes Ayres thinks she’s doing the right thing by letting boys into her bedroom. After all, she’s letting them get out the awkwardness and first time jitters of their first time so that their girlfriends can have the perfect first time – something Mercedes had. But having sex with other girls’ boyfriends isn’t a victimless act, something Mercedes soon learns after her secret gets out.
What was the writing, editing, and querying process like for you?
It has been simultaneously the most exciting, maddening, thrilling, frustrating experience! I wrote two New Adult novels before writing Firsts, both of which I shelved. I queried widely with them and got some interest, but no offers of representation. After writing Firsts, I entered it in a contest called Pitch Wars, then started querying when the contest was over. I found my amazing agent, Kathleen Rushall, a couple months later. While drafting is probably my favorite part of the process—I love the freedom and messiness—I believe it’s true that a lot of writing happens in rewriting. Editing is endlessly difficult, but there’s nothing more rewarding than figuring out your manuscript and knowing your characters inside out.
What’s been the craziest thing about becoming a published YA author?
For me, the craziest thing so far is knowing that the book I wrote is on shelves with authors I have admired and fangirled over for so long. It’s so surreal and so cool!
What would you say to teenage girls that are in positions similar to Mercedes? What about girls who relate more to Angela?
I hope that teen girls in positions similar to Mercedes know how amazing they are, and that the things people say can’t ever take that away. I want them to know that the only labels that matter are the ones you give yourself, and that if you don’t know who you are just yet, that’s totally okay, because you have lots of time to figure that out, and it’s also okay if you keep changing. Trust that your real friends will stand by you regardless.
For girls who relate more to Angela — don’t feel the need to justify your choices to anyone. People may not understand your values, but they don’t have to. You should never be ashamed of your beliefs or think you have to act a different way to fit in, and those who love you will love you for exactly who you are!
I read in one of your interview that you wanted to write a book with “a lot of moral gray area.” Why was writing a novel that wasn’t so black and white so important to you?
That’s a great question. I wanted to write a book where the main character doesn’t always make the best decisions, and show that making mistakes doesn’t mean someone is a bad person and deserves to be labeled. I also wanted to explore how multifaceted mistakes can be. Mercedes sleeps with guys who have girlfriends and gets shamed for it, but why do the guys—who made mistakes as well—avoid getting smacked with the insults heard around the school? As I wrote Firsts, I realized how much I wanted to challenge this double standard through the eyes of a girl people might be tempted to judge harshly.
What do you think the importance of sex in YA novels is?
I think it’s so important to show different kinds of sex in YA. The good kinds, the bad kinds, the awkward, fumbling kinds. Teens need to see it in books and through characters they can relate to. Sex and virginity are big parts of coming of age, and with sex comes choices. Having this represented through different characters is so crucial, because there’s nothing more empowering than seeing yourself reflected between the pages of a book.
There are a lot of double standards when it comes to teenage girls and sex. What do you hope that teenage girls take away from your book? What about other (non teenage girl) readers?
I wrote this book with teen girls in mind—for them. I hope they take away that no matter what decisions or mistakes they make, they don’t deserve to be judged or shamed for them. I want them to know that they’re worth more than that. I hope they take away that life isn’t defined by the regrets they might have.
For others reading it, I hope they realize that everyone is going through something or has been through something, and it’s not always obvious from the face the person shows the world. It’s so important not to judge someone based on rumors or what you think you know.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?
I just wanted to thank everyone who has read Firsts, or wants to read it, or has reached out and shared some love about it. The response from the YA community has been incredible and I’m so grateful for every single reader!