As a screenwriter, Paul
Rudnick has some big hit movies under his belt and now he's put his cinematic savvy to good use in
his first young adult novel that we picked as a Best Teen book of May, Gorgeous. In Gorgeous, Rudnick skewers Hollywood and our beauty-obsessed
world with an over-the-top (in a good way) twist on the Cinderella story. In Rudnick's version, Cinderella-"“or Becky, in this case--is an
unremarkable girl living with her obese mother in a Missouri trailer park who
is offered the promise of irresistible beauty by the most famous fashion
designer of them all (you'll recognize the real-life inspiration). What's a girl to do? Say yes, of course"¦
Gorgeous is great
satire but it also asks the ultimate question--who are we when we take a hard
look in the mirror? Do we see ourselves
as others see us, for better or worse? And
maybe living in the limelight doesn't look so pretty to those under its glare...
I was curious about
Rudnick's choice to go from writing movies to writing for teens and asked him
to share the story behind his story in the exclusive guest post below.
My mom struggled with her weight
all her life. She tried every possible diet and stuck with the Weight Watchers
program for years. She learned to weigh everything she ate on a little metal
scale, but she hated the prepackaged dinners, which she said looked like frozen
diapers. She finally lost many pounds and bought a skinny new wardrobe, but she
eventually gained all the weight back. A few weeks before she died, I watched
while she went through a box of photos of herself as a teenager and a young
woman. She looked up and said, "You know, back then, I thought I was so ugly.
But I looked great!"
It broke my heart, but then my mom
laughed, because in my family, humor was essential. This was the inspiration
for Gorgeous, my first YA novel.
Women in particular are constantly bombarded with images of glamour and
perfection, in magazines, at the movies, on TV and online. I'm also mesmerized
by the dangerous glory of fashion, and about how designers can become
modern-day wizards, promising impossible transformations. So I came up with
Becky Randle, an eighteen-year-old from a Missouri trailer park, who receives a
tempting and scary offer. Tom Kelly, a legendary and reclusive designer, will
make Becky three dresses "” one red, one white, and one black. And if Becky
wears these dresses, she will become the most beautiful woman in the world.
At first I wasn't sure where this
idea might lead me: Should it become a book or a play or maybe a movie? I've
written in all of these forms: I wrote the movies In&Out and Addams Family
Values, and the novel I'll Take It,
which was based on the annual New England car trips I'd take with my mom and
her sisters. We'd claim that we were going to watch the leaves change, but we
were really hitting every outlet store between New Jersey and Maine.
After several false starts, Gorgeous came fully alive only when I
began to write in the first person, in Becky's own voice. That's also when I
realized Becky's story was a YA novel. I'd been reading a great deal of YA,
because the books are addictive and wonderfully entertaining. I've loved
everyone from J. K. Rowling to David Levithan, Veronica Roth and John Green,
all of whom have devoted and often global followings. There's a good reason for
that: Their books grab the reader and won't let go.
I like a challenge, so I plunged
right in. I wanted to see if I could write a YA novel that would both do Becky
justice and reflect my own sense of humor. I showed the manuscript to a fifteen-year-old,
and she approved, which was a huge relief. Teenagers, I know, are tough-minded,
vocal, and passionate readers, and they have no trouble saying exactly what
they think. Becky's take-no-prisoners best friend is the always loyal and
always outspoken Rocher, who sometimes wears a T-shirt that says, "I Hate You
The best way to write a YA novel,
I've found, is not to worry about any specific notion of what a YA book should
be. I've tried to make Gorgeous as
accurate, heartfelt, and as much fun as possible. I hope that readers will
understand Becky and cheer for her, and swoon every few pages. And as for me,
well, I've already started my next book, and it's YA. --Paul Rudnick