Zibby chats with debut author Breanne Mc Ivor about The God of Good Looks, a riveting, sharp-witted, and transportive summer read about a young Trinidadian woman who has been publicly disgraced and has to work for the only person who will hire her–a brilliant but temperamental makeup artist. Breanne reveals the inspiration behind this story and why the alternating perspectives are so important. She also shares her thoughts on beauty standards, anecdotes from her first career as a makeup artist, news about her next book, and her best advice for aspiring writers.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Breanne. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your novel, The God of Good Looks.

Breanne Mc Ivor: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: Thank you for joining. Can you please tell listeners what your book is about?

Breanne: Bianca Bridge, she has been publicly disgraced after an affair with a married government minister. She’s fired from her job. She takes the only job that will hire her, which is working as an assistant to the brilliant but temperamental makeup artist Obadiah Cortland. Obadiah is legendary in the Trinidadian beauty community. He’s also concealing some secrets about his past. When her former lover, the minister, threatens her new life she’s rebuilding, Bianca has to decide if she’s going to accept it again or if she’s finally ready to fight back.

Zibby: Interesting. Love it. Your book is so clever. You have this first-person diary-ish format that you pick where we are along for the ride with Bianca while she’s to be an author. Yet we’re here reading her book, which is always so fun. It’s like Bridget Jones’s Diary if she wanted to be an author. It’s very cool. We get to really live through her shoes and her modeling days and all the stuff, and even when we meet Obadiah and the way she describes him. There was two pierces in his ear. There was something so cool about him. Whatever it was, it was so perfectly visually described. I was like, okay, I know this guy. I know exactly his air. How he FedEx-es her weight and all that stuff, so funny. You contrast that with another timeline. Tell me about the structure because it’s really interesting and immediately grips the reader.

Breanne: Like you said, the first part of the book is Bianca’s diary entries. I was really drawn to the journal style because I wanted to get in her head in a really intimate way, especially because at the start of the book, Bianca is just this laughingstock in Trinidadian society. She’s been slut-shamed for her affair with the minister. I wanted to contrast the public perception of Bianca with what she’s really like. I’d originally written the whole book from her perspective. Something was just off about it. I had sent the book out to some friends, some early readers. People responded to me. They said, “Love the book, but Obadiah is awful. He’s a villain.” I was shocked by that feedback. I said, “No, he’s not.” I realized that so much of Obadiah’s story, I had written it in my head, but it hadn’t come out on the page because Bianca sees him through her eyes. It’s broken up now in the final version alternating between Bianca and Obadiah. I hope that by switching to his perspective — because he’s pretty awful to her in the beginning — readers can see why he thinks he has to adopt this persona. His whole thing is he is the god of good looks and why he thinks that’s what he needs to succeed in the beauty industry.

Zibby: Interesting. I think that’s what’s so great about fiction. You take what we all do all day long, which is make these quick judgements about people — you take a behavior and extrapolate it to what type of person it is when it could be a behavior of some person that comes from a place of their own hurt or their own baggage or whatever. Until you get the backstory, it’s impossible to be sympathetic.

Breanne: That’s exactly how I feel. Since the book has been out in Trinidad, one of the really gratifying things is talking to readers who know people who come from — that’s where Obadiah’s from — and people admitting that sometimes there will be people from that area who will say things like, “Oh, gosh, the crime is so bad,” or they were robbed, and almost dismissing it being like, “You’re from that area too,” almost assuming that they’re part of the problem. Readers have said, “I’ve read that book, and I’ve really thought, yeah, what about not just stapling on these stereotypes to people from parts of the country that we sometimes think of as being, oh, he’s from this area. I’m going to assume that he’s a criminal”?

Zibby: When did the whole idea of this book even come to you? Why this book? Why these characters? Why the diary? You said why you did the format of the diary, to be in her head. Why any of it? Where did it come from?

Breanne: I was commissioned by the Bocas Lit Fest and the Caribbean Literary Heritage Project to do something called Inspired by the Archives. You go into Caribbean archives, and you just write something inspired by one of the former great writers. I requested a little black notebook belonging to Derek Walcott, Caribbean Nobel Prize winner. I thought, this is going to show me the softer side of him. He’s just incredibly intellectually intimidating in his work. Actually, the notebook was incredibly clever. He conducts this self-interview where he says, “W: Why have you succumbed to this self-interview?” Then he answers, “W: For the money,” and talks to himself. Those became my first lines. I was working at the time as a makeup artist. I didn’t consciously think, okay, I’m going to write about beauty and makeup and fashion. It just gushed onto the page, all of these things that I was experiencing. I had all of these questions about beauty. I could see both the joy in makeup and the way that it can allow you to express yourself, the way that we use makeup in Trinidad, for example, in Carnival, for that big cultural celebration.

I also saw the toxic side of beauty and the very narrow beauty standards. You would go to different clients, and they would ask for the same things. Can you narrow my nose? Can you highlight this specific spot on my cheekbone? Can you take out my wrinkles? I also, on some level, wanted to engage with that. Predominately women, we just hear so many things about how you have to be beautiful. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that. It was a question I had for myself working in the industry. Are you supporting these beauty ideals? Are you just giving clients what they want? It was a way for me to engage with those experiences that I was having. The journal style came from Walcott. It was only supposed to be a commission. It was a short story. It was supposed to finish. I just couldn’t let it go. I wanted to find out what happened to the characters. I wanted to get in their head, and so I just kept writing and writing. Then it became a book.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. Tell me about how you got to the point where you got the commission to begin with. Where did your career begin? When did you discover your love of reading, writing, all of that?

Breanne: I have loved reading and writing my whole life. One thing Bianca and I have in common is, Bianca talks about following her mother around before she could even read and reading to her.

Zibby: Yes. You did that with the stories and everything?

Breanne: I did that. I can’t even remember doing it, but my mom tells me I would have a book open, and I would be just making stuff up. When I got older, I would write little stories for my younger brother and have these terrible illustrations to go along with it. In my school yearbook, when they said, “What do you want to be?” I actually said poet/novelist. My poetry’s terrible, but fifty percent.

Zibby: You didn’t say good poet. You just said poet.

Breanne: Just a poet. I had no idea, how do you actually become a writer? I’m based in Trinidad. It sometimes seemed like this crazy thing that people do. Maybe you have to leave to become a writer. I would just write short stories, submit them to competitions or to journals. Eventually, one of my friends said, “Why don’t you put those stories together in a collection?” It sounds really silly now, but I had never thought of that. I was like, wow, yes. I published a collection of stories with Peepal Tree Press. That was my first foray into publishing. Before the experience, a lot of writers had warned me, they had said, “You think this book is going to change your life. It’s not. It’s just going to be the same.” Just having a book in the world, knowing that it was out there, that was such a magical experience for me. That book actually came out while I was writing this, something completely different. I said, okay, let me try to get an agent, see if I can be published. That was how I got onto this path.

Zibby: I love it. Tell me about the makeup career. What are some funny stories? I always feel like people are at their most vulnerable. The few times I’ve had my makeup done, which I don’t love because then I end up not looking like me, which means I’ve probably had bad people do my makeup — I don’t even know. I’m very particular. They’re right up in your face. You’re so close together, and yet you’re strangers. They’re doing something so nice for you and working on your face like a canvas. It’s this really intimate experience.

Breanne: Honestly, working in beauty was something that I sort of tripped and fell into it. I used to be very involved in the theater. I used to be a teacher. A couple times, we had a makeup artist cancel on us. Once, the day of the show. My parents said, “Look, do you want to learn to do it yourself? We’ll pay for you to do this course in advanced professional makeup artistry.” How hard could it be? I like beauty. When I got to the course, first of all, I was the only person there who wasn’t already working as a makeup artist. I felt intensely self-conscious because everybody had all of these tips and tricks. It far exceeded any expectations I had. We had to write essays. We had to pass exams. We had to do presentations. You assess on your own appearance. One of the things that we were taught was, “Listen, if you’re a woman, the biggest advertisement is your face.” You can’t have an off day. You can’t just run to the mall bare faced in a T-shirt because a potential client could see you and think, oh, she’s a mess. I won’t hire her. The course itself really blew my mind. I’d be writing three essays in a week. My friends would say, “This is for the makeup course? What?” Then when I started working, it was such an eye-opening experience. Exactly like you said, people are so vulnerable. I had somebody once, she wanted me to do her revenge face. She was going to a concert, and her ex-boyfriend was the guitarist. She was like, “I don’t want him back. I just want him to see me and think, damn, she looks good.” It was such a personal thing for her.

Sometimes there are people who — it’s a wedding. It’s such a significant event that you want to get everything right. You do the trial with the bride. You get the pictures of what they want to look like. Then Carnival makeup was something completely different. It was transformation. It was like no other makeup before. It was really exciting. Honestly, there were times when it was really nerve-racking. You make a mistake. You’re cleaning it up. You’re just like, . I loved the part of it that involved seeing what people wanted to look like and working with them on that vision. As it got complicated for me, it was when you would hear people sometimes be so negative about themselves. I remember doing makeup for somebody. She was my friend. We were both in our twenties. She was like, “You need to take the lines out here on the sides of my eyes.” I’m looking at her. I’m like, “You don’t need all of that concealing.” She was like, “Yeah, but Brea, I’m paying you. This is what I want.” somebody whose skin is so smooth, and you conceal it. She felt so much better when I was done. There was part of me that was thinking, why do you think you need to do this? There were times I felt I needed to do it. I look back on myself when I was in that world and how intensely insecure and self-conscious I was. That would probably be the downside to it.

Zibby: Interesting. Actually, now I want to take back what I said because I did really like my makeup at my two weddings. That was good. Just some other random experiences were not as good. I did really like that. That’s interesting. Is there one piece of makeup you can’t live without?

Breanne: Oh, my gosh, I love a good pore minimizer. Sometimes I wear just that. I do my face. I just put it on. I think it really, for me anyway, just smooths, gives you this really smooth look. It’s quick. If I’m rushing, I wouldn’t even wear mascara. Sometimes I’ll just be like, pore minimizer and go. Sometimes people say, your skin looks great. I’ll be like, yeah. In my head, I’m like, it’s not always skin care. Sometimes it’s just a blurring effect.

Zibby: I don’t even have a pore minimizer. What have I been doing with all my time? I’m going to go google pore minimizers after this interview. Oh, my gosh. Back to the writing stuff now that I have my beauty tip of the day. Thank you for that. Tell me about your writing process. I’m looking at you at your desk here, I’m assuming is your desk. Looks lovely. Is that where you do your writing? What is your timing? Do you have a process? Favorite snacks while you’re writing? Anything like that?

Breanne: We just moved, so I didn’t write at this desk. At the time, I had a full-time job, so this book was written late into the night into early in the morning. What I would try to do is I would try to get all of that stuff out. If I had any work stuff around, I would literally move it and hide it. I would try to light a candle to kind of get this feeling of, okay, this is writing time. For me, I think that something that really helped me a lot as well was music, getting out of the day and listening to something that helped me to get back into the characters. Then because this book was written and then rewritten — I had written the whole first draft from Bianca’s perspective. When I went back into it and I was trying to decide, which story should Obadiah tell? I tried to pull out the parts where his perspective would be very different from hers because I wanted to build that contrast between what she thinks, and then I wanted, when you get in his head, you realize how different he is to her. I really went through the text. I knew I still wanted her to start. I think if the story was started with him, it wouldn’t be as effective. Then I went through, and I said, this scene, I want him to tell this story. The process of rewriting it while having an existing draft actually felt liberating. It was almost like, oh, I should’ve been doing this all the time. Another big part of my writing process is just reading. When you’re reading good books, that makes you want to write. It just fills me with this sense of, this book is so fantastic, I can’t wait to sit at my desk.

Zibby: That’s excellent. Actually, your book is inspiring me too. I have a daughter who’s almost ten. We have this idea for a book we want to write together called Crush or Crushed or something. It’s about how she has a crush, but then there were things in the mom’s life. I wanted to intersperse those narratives. Now I’m like, I should do journal style like you did. She can just write the journal entries from the girl. I can write the journal entries from the mom. Then you’d have the whole thing.

Breanne: That would be amazing. I’m getting excited for it. I know it doesn’t even exist. I love this thought of the daughter’s perspective and then the mom’s perspective because it would be so different, but there would be some overlap. I just think that’s so fascinating.

Zibby: The form is now being inspired by you. Now I feel like we could each do it on our own without even having to sit here and do it together. I mean, I want to do it with her. Anyway, point is, I love it. I love the journal form. I actually have a whole cabinet of all of my journals from my whole life. Do you have journals? Did you keep your own?

Breanne: I kept journals when I was a girl and a teenager. I don’t think that now I keep a journal in the same way. I don’t have something that I write in every day. A friend and I send each other incredibly long voice notes, sometimes fifteen minutes long, just stream of consciousness. We actually joked that that is like our life journal. I’ll be like, let me give you an update since the last time. It’ll just be fifteen minutes of talking. We said if you ever were to listen to the words back — this has been going on for years, just all our struggles, our evolution as people. It’s a kind of note journal.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. I feel like my Instagram account is my journal these days because I write in it every day. Not always my most personal thoughts, but sometimes. Now I’m like, I need to find a way to get all of it off of there and put it into some sort of document and print. Otherwise, all those thoughts of mine are not going to be saved. Not like anyone needs to read them, but I might want to read them in twenty years, God willing I’m still around.

Breanne: That would be a great book, somebody’s Instagram translated into a book.

Zibby: We could call it Posted.

Breanne: Yes.

Zibby: Look at this. Now I have two book ideas from you. I got to get going. That would be great. Speaking of new book ideas, are you working on a new book?

Breanne: I am. Actually, how it started was very similar to The God of Good Looks. I wrote something that was meant to be a short story. It was about nine thousand words, which is long for a short story.

Zibby: A long story.

Breanne: I said, I’ve got to cut this long story down. Instead of cutting it down, I wanted to continue. I have a little notebook with three ideas. It’s literally written, “Next book,” at the top and bullet points with each one. I just kept writing this. Now I’m forty thousand words in.

Zibby: There you go.

Breanne: This is going to be the next book, barring an agent or an editor saying, absolutely not. It has been a very similar process. My starting point is often character. I have two characters here that just snuck their teeth into me. Now I want to find out what happens.

Zibby: Do you wonder what happens to Bianca and all of them now, Obadiah?

Breanne: I do. I can see both what I want to happen — there’s part of me that feels like I know the characters. I want them to live in this perfect world where they never have any problems. There’s a part of me that says, yes, everything will be perfect. Obadiah’s business will flourish. Then there’s the writer side of me that said, no, these are the problems that they would still be having. I don’t want to give away the end.

Zibby: Don’t.

Breanne: There is a part of me that knows that there would be, definitely, some challenges along their new journey.

Zibby: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Breanne: The first piece of advice I would have is just read, read, read. When I love a book, I read it first just as a reader to know what happens, turning the pages. I would advise to go back to that book when you’re done as a writer and think, what did I love? Actually make notes about the craft. Look at the things in the craft that maybe you can learn from. If a scene is particularly powerful, analyze it. Break it down. I would say do the same thing if you really hate something. Go back and think, why do I hate this? What can I learn so that I don’t do this? The other thing is that — I’ve talked to so many aspiring writers. What I hear a lot is that they’ve started something, but they’re so disappointed with it that the world of the book in their head is just completely different from what’s down on the page. Sometimes they compare their pages, like a first draft, to a finished book they love and say, it’s no “insert your favorite book here.” I would say that, yes, there are times when something is going nowhere, and you have to give up on it. Most times, books that you see that are finished are the product of many, many, many drafts and redrafts. If you feel this deep disappointment with your work, I would say take a break. Have a cup of tea. Sometimes take a break from it for the rest of the day or several days. Don’t judge your work against something that’s out there and published. I heard — it’s been really a great comfort to me when I was writing this book. I would listen to podcasts. I would look at Instagram Live with authors I love. Anytime somebody said, “I had a terrible first draft. This book took me seven years to write,” I would say, you see, but look at what they came up with in the end.

Zibby: Very interesting. I like what you said about not comparing yourself to a finished book because that’s never the way people start. That’s not what’s in people’s computers when they hand it in. It’s gone through so much by the time it hits the shelves.

Breanne: To go back to that Inspired by the Archives project I was doing, one of the things I saw was the first drafts of great works. Sometimes the endings were completely different. Even at the sentence level, you could see that this was a first draft. I thought, wow, even the very literary icons have these messy first drafts.

Zibby: Very inspiring. Amazing. Breanne, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thank you for The God of Good Looks. Thank you for the pore minimizer suggestion. Do you have a brand that you like? Where should I buy it?

Breanne: I use the Maybelline Baby Skin. First of all, drugstore. Second of all, it’s great on its own, under makeup. I have it on right now.

Zibby: I’m not even kidding. I’m going to go buy some. I’m going to go buy some today.

Breanne: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: You could sell it as a little package. You should call Maybelline. Get some affiliate revenue deal going on.

Breanne: Maybelline, let’s do a beauty book box.

Zibby: Totally. You should do it. Stranger things have happened. Give them a call. Have a great day. Buh-bye.

Breanne: Bye.

THE GOD OF GOOD LOOKS by Breanne Mc Ivor

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