Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE

Former model and YA writer Laurie Elizabeth Flynn talks with Zibby about her debut adult novel, The Girls Are All So Nice Here, and her process of writing it. From cringing at the memory of high school emotions to buying a pillow to remind herself not to overthink, Laurie explains how she found her inspiration for her book and why she doesn’t plot out her stories before writing.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Laurie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Girls Are All So Nice Here: A Novel.

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn: Thank you so much for having me on here. I’m thrilled to be able to come on and talk to everyone.

Zibby: Awesome. For those who aren’t familiar with the plot of this book, what is this book about?

Laurie: It’s been pitched as a darker, more disturbing Mean Girls with a touch of I Know What You Did Last Summer. I think that’s the best elevator pitch for the book. I think it holds up pretty well. It’s a dual-timeline story. It revolves around a college reunion. The main character, Ambrosia Wellington, receives an invitation to her ten-year college reunion. She immediately doesn’t want to go because she’s hiding an incident that happened in her past when she was in freshman year. However, she receives a note along with the invitation that says, “We need to talk about what we did that night.” She feels that she has no choice but to go because she believes she knows who the note is from. She’s more afraid of what will happen if she doesn’t go. However, when she gets to the reunion, she realizes that the note is not from the person she thought. It turns out she’s being circled by somebody else who knows what happened that night and who wants revenge.

Zibby: That’s a great pitch. Well done. How did you come up with this? I was reading this and I was like, I wonder if she came up with this because she got an email about her reunion and was like, what if, what if, what if? Is that what happened, or did I just make that up?

Laurie: No, I’ve actually never been to a reunion. I knew I wanted to set a story on a college campus. That was what I went into this story with. I didn’t have anything plotted because I don’t usually plot ahead of time. I just kind of write. I had this idea for a reunion as the perfect framework, and having the two timelines, each set at the same campus and with largely the same cast of characters but with different outcomes and having those secrets from the past fuel what’s happening in the present and have these reveals peel back. Really, the only thing I knew when I started writing is that I wanted to explore that college setting. Especially, I just think it’s so rife for exploration. For a lot of people, it’s their first time living away from home. There’s a lot of intense pressure to rebrand yourself and align yourself with the right friends. I thought there was so much to explore there that would also make for a really interesting framework for a psychological thriller.

Zibby: It’s so true. How do you pronounce Amb? Ambrosia, you call her Amb, A-M-B.

Laurie: Yep.

Zibby: One of the scenes I liked the most was when she was in the cafeteria getting to know the different girls when she first got to school and was trying so hard. You captured that moment so well. This girl who was even more unsavory than she viewed herself as comes and sits next to them. She’s like, okay, good. We’ve got that girl, but I want to be friends with that girl. Now she’s looped me in with this other girl because we’re both from New Jersey. You could just feel her being pulled. Why is the cooler girl essentially not talking to me? Then of course, the roommate who was like this Draper James-clad type, Southern belle-ish, but just that feeling like, oh, no, my moment is passing and if you group me with the wrong person, then that’s it for me forever. Tell me just a little more about those moments in those very fraught friendship — it’s almost like the social intelligence games. It’s like a video game of what women do all the time with their networks. It’s like a Pac-Man or something.

Laurie: I think that was just something as I started writing that I knew the story was going to be a big focus, is these relationships between women and things that some people might not even pick up on when you’re not in that dynamic. Most women, I think we can all relate to that feeling where you’re wanting to be portrayed a certain way, especially when you’ve started college. It’s a fresh start from high school. If you feel like you were uncool in high school or you want to get out of that stereotype everybody had you in in high school, you feel like you only have that one first shot. That scene that you’re talking about, I remember writing it and feeling flashbacks, almost, to this awkward feeling. Oh, my god, did I blow my opportunity to make an impression on these cooler people and be seen as one of them? I think that insecurity and that vulnerability is so real that we have all felt at one stage in our life but is especially fitting when you are starting at a new job or a new school or any sort of new environment. There’s so much pressure, both internal and external, to come across a certain way. In Ambrosia’s case, she is coming off of a high school experience where she was blindsided by a cheating ex-boyfriend. She feels kind of expendable. She wants to be seen. She wants attention. She wants validation for herself. When she sees these cool girls, she’s both intimidated by them and fascinated by them. She knows immediately that she doesn’t want to be one of the uncool people. However, having them around is a source of comfort for her because she feels like she doesn’t have to impress them. Whereas the cool girls, especially Sloane Sullivan, she feels like she has to always be increasingly escalating in her behavior to stay within their orbit. I think that’s something that a lot of young women can relate to as well, and having that pressure to keep appearances and to keep up with the group.

Zibby: Also, her entry into college where she realizes the things that made her cool at Central or wherever she went to high school were actually totally different criteria than what would make her cool in college, she was wearing these skintight dresses and had to look a certain way and saved up all her money to buy the Louis Vuitton purse. Then in college, she’s like, oh, no, no, no, this is totally not right, to the point where she leaves the Louis Vuitton purse on the floor at a party. I was like, there is no way she would’ve done that. I have to scamper into this novel and snatch that up and resell this purse. Come on. Really? It’s so true. It’s also, when you think about the advice that you get in high school and all these awkward times of personal development, if you will, like to be yourself or whatever that means, this constantly changing goalpost are just a reinforcement of that. What’s cool one place isn’t cool the other place. You might as well just do what you think is cool deep down, right? But it’s impossible at that time. Was that your experience?

Laurie: It’s so true. You can get familiar and feel like you’re totally on top of the code at wherever you came from. It’s like you finally figured it out. You finally figured out how to dress cool and how to act, how to talk, and to assimilate with these cool girls. Then you get to a new campus or a new setting, and it’s a whole new ballpark. You realize that what was counted as really cool back home might not be the same. I really wanted to lean into that because I think it’s also something that’s really relatable and that made Amb really relatable. She’s abiding by the code of cool from the place she came from. That’s flaunting your designer labels if you can. Like you said, she saved all her money to buy the it-bag, the monogrammed bag so that everyone would know that she had a Louis Vuitton bag. Then she gets to Wesleyan. The girls are so much more understated with their labels. They’re not having to flaunt anything. They’re not wearing these skintight jeans and sky-high heels to show off all the time. She realizes that she’s not going to be immediately cool. She has to figure out how to stand out. Obviously, as the book goes on, she stands out in some pretty bad ways.

Zibby: Yes. You also have this interesting thing about Instagram influencers. Her friend Billie is an influencer. You said she has an online persona blog called GurlMom that became an Instagram account. She has thirty thousand followers and #2under2 and moms who wear their babies like clingy purses over skintight yoga pants. Then you write, this is Amb talking, Ambrosia, “I don’t have Instagram for that reason, because I don’t want to cultivate a #NoFilter life, a pastiche of fake smiles. I learned at Wesleyan that people don’t envy the girls who are the smartest and prettiest. They envy the ones who are smart and pretty without trying. Unlike Billie’s, my attempt at effortlessness played out live. There was no delete button, no way to undo.” That was great. Loved that.

Laurie: Thank you. I think there’s a lot of the pressure there to — it’s one thing to be envious of somebody, but I think the real envy comes from that carelessness when you look at someone who seems to have it effortlessly together. That’s sort of what I was going for there.

Zibby: I feel like no one has it effortlessly together. Is that even a thing? Does that happen?

Laurie: I definitely don’t. I think it’s so easy to portray online that you do by showing this highlight reel. I think so many people have bought into it. It’s easy to fall into that Instagram scrolling and see all these other people’s lives and compare yourself to them and wonder why you’re not as together or polished. I think everyone’s life is not what it appears on Instagram. Obviously, when Ambrosia is growing up, there is no Instagram. She still finds herself envious of these girls who everything seems to come easy to. Sully can eat whatever she wants and doesn’t gain weight and all these things like that. Amb realizes that nobody wants to see the work put into something. Everyone just wants to see how that effortlessness will play out.

Zibby: I’ve spent so much time thinking about that whole concept of being able to eat whatever you want and not gain weight. I feel like I’ve changed that in my head so many times because I’ve always had this battle with pounds and whatever else. When I was deep into Weight Watcher-land, I was like, oh, I can eat whatever I want and not gain weight because I want different things. It’s the middle word. What you want has to change. Then you can eat anything. Now I’m like, I can eat whatever I want and not gain weight because I weigh so much more that now, basically, I can maintain, but look where I am. I don’t know. I’ve spent a lot of time with that phrase in my head. Tell me about your process of writing this book.

Laurie: My process is that I don’t plot ahead of time. I just started with this campus idea and let things unspool. I wrote the past tense timeline first, the freshman year. I tried to write one chapter and then one chapter in the present. It just wasn’t working. It felt really disjointed, so I just quit that and wrote the entire freshman year timeline first. Then I went back in and wrote the reunion timeline and printed out both timelines and spliced them together. It was an interesting process. The first draft of this book was 130,000 words. It was huge. There’s a lot of stuff that obviously ended up never making it into the book for good reason. That’s sort of my process. My first drafts tend to be kind of bulky, but I think it’s just because I’m getting to know these characters. Some of the scenes, even as I’m writing them, I know they’re not going to make it into the book. It’s just allowing me to get into their headspace. Once I was able to figure out what needed to be deleted and what wasn’t important to the plot or advancing things, I cut that out. I remember physically having piles of papers all over the floor, and multiple piles, one for each chapter, and trying to put them together in an order that made sense and then going back in and finessing it from there. That was the process. It certainly wasn’t glamorous. It was a lot of finessing and trying to figure out what scenes needed to go where and what reveals from the past would inform the present. The timing had to be right. Luckily, once it came together, I felt good about it. It was funny, even though I wrote the timeline separately, it was like my subconscious was at work the whole time and allowed me to put them together in a way that flowed nicely, which was good.

Zibby: You have this pillow behind you on the couch — sorry to snoop into the background of your Zoom — called “Don’t Overthink.” Is that something you had to remind myself with the book, or is this more in your personal life?

Laurie: Oh, that’s my writing life, absolutely, a hundred percent. I saw that pillow at the store. I was like, I need to take that home with me because I find that if I get too much in my head when I’m working, I don’t get anything accomplished. My inner editor will take over. It’s just so frustrating because I get in these moments where everything I put on paper I feel like isn’t good enough immediately. Instead of thinking that way and trying to have perfection the first time around, I give myself permission especially with these first drafts to just make a mess a little bit and then know that it’ll all be cleaned up later and revised but that the canvas needs to exist first.

Zibby: I was trying to write something this morning. Every time I started, I was doing that same thing. I was editing myself so much I couldn’t even really get into it. Finally, at the top, I just put “draft one of three” so that I would trick myself that it’s okay because you’re going to do two more of these after. Let’s just do the first one and then get to it. Then once I started, it was easier. Anyway, that’s how I tricked myself today.

Laurie: That’s good. I like that.

Zibby: How did you end up being a novelist? How did this happen in your whole life? It says you were a former model. Tell me about how you went from modeling to writing.

Laurie: It seems like two totally separate careers. Really, it is. Interestingly enough, modeling was something I did in my early twenties and some of my teens as well, but mostly my early twenties. I feel like it, in a lot of ways, prepared me for the world of writing because modeling’s a lot of rejection as well. It’s interesting. When I started out writing, I kind of had the thick skin built up already from being in an industry where rejection is rampant and where you have to not take things personally. When I decided I wanted to write and I finally wrote a book and started querying it and got all the rejections, I remember it’s hard at first not to take it personally, but I got into that mindset where I took feedback as constructive. I didn’t take any of those rejections personally. I just applied everything to working on the next thing. I also went to journalism school. I thought that’s what I was going to do with my writing. I think part of it was I didn’t think writing fiction was an actual lifestyle, a career. I talked myself out of it because I just thought it was too farfetched. I was trying to be more practical.

Journalism really didn’t give me that fulfillment. I’m really glad I went into journalism because I think it did help my writing a lot. I’m grateful for that experience. It made me realize more than anything that I needed to tell my own stories and that I had these fiction ideas. It was time to see what happened with them even if nothing happened. I think a lot of it was the fear of failure and the fear of the unknown. I was a secret writer for a lot of years where barely anyone knew what I was doing just because I was so afraid of putting it out there and then having people ask so many questions about, when’s your book coming out? and then feeling that feeling of failure from both other people and myself. I kept it a secret for a while. I wrote two books in secret. They definitely were not good enough. They were my starter books. I’m grateful for them for teaching me a lot. Then I published three young adult books before The Girls Are All So Nice Here came out. That’s my trajectory.

Zibby: When you were modeling, what type of modeling did you do? I don’t talk to that many models.

Laurie: I did runway work and magazines as well. It seems like a different lifestyle now, like a totally different life. It was fun. I will say it did inspire some of the themes in my work because anytime you put all these young women together, you’re going to get compared. You’re going to get competition. Even though these are your friends and people that you know, it’s still that judgement and that being analyzed and that thing of where women are sort of pitted against each other, almost, which are themes that factor in my work a lot.

Zibby: What’s coming next for you? You have another book in the works?

Laurie: I do. I’m working on my second adult novel right now which is sort of a Bridesmaids meets Gillian Flynn, is how I’ve pitched it. It goes into the stereotypes and the expectations the wedding industry place on women, which I think there’s so much to say about. That’s what I’ve been working on. I’m excited about it. I’m excited to share more when I can.

Zibby: This is great. You start with college. Now you’re going to the wedding. Eventually, maybe you’ll get to motherhood. You’re going to go through all these life stages. It’s perfect. I love it. Excellent. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Laurie: I think just to write anything. Try not to edit yourself and critique yourself too much because that’s where I got hung up in those early days. I’d have an idea in my head. I’d try to get it on paper. It wouldn’t come out how I expected. I’d get frustrated. I would just give up for a few days or a few weeks, even, or just feel like I wasn’t good enough or I wasn’t telling the story I wanted to tell. It wasn’t until I gave myself permission to not tell exactly what was in my head and to let things have a life of their own and to not be so hard on myself that I actually started to get in a groove with writing and actually make progress with my book. You can sit there and look at a blank Word document and be frustrated with yourself. It’s so easy to do that. Just giving yourself permission to write even if you know you’re going to delete it later or even if you know it’s not great or if you feel like every word’s terrible — I still have days like that. I don’t think it ever goes away. Just writing through it and trusting your subconscious and trusting your instincts and believing that nobody can tell the story except for you and just believing in those parts of yourself, which is easier said than done, I think that’s my top piece of advice. Then also, just to read widely. Read all the time. Read different genres. Figure out what makes a book great. If you’ve read a book and loved it and you think, you know what, I want to write something like this, I think it’s just a matter of looking at it critically and figuring out, what worked from that book? What made it so great? Looking at the books that I love critically I feel like is always a good exercise if I’m feeling stuck. It’s looking at what worked for that story and then trying to figure out what works for your story.

Zibby: Perfect. Awesome. Thank you, Laurie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Girls Are All So Nice Here. I love it. Love the lipstick. I hope you’re doing some clever thing with this lipstick promotion. You should be sending out lipsticks or something, especially with your amazing lipstick on your lips.

Laurie: My Canadian team at Simon & Schuster actually had a lipstick designed called Ambrosia. It’s beautiful. I was like, that is the coolest thing to ever happen to me as an author because I love lipstick so much. I’m totally obsessed with it. That was pretty neat.

Zibby: Wow. You should sell that on your website. I would totally buy some. I’m serious. Think about it. Anyway, thank you so much. It was lovely chatting today.

Laurie: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.

Laurie: Bye.

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE

The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

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