Raincoast Books suggested I interview Ontario author Laurie Elizabeth Flynn about Firsts, about 17-year-old Mercedes Ayres who has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time – the kind Mercedes never had herself.
In keeping with the love theme for February, Firsts is the perfect book as Mercedes learns a thing or two about all kinds of love.
Congratulations on your first book. Have you been happy with the response?
Thank you so much, Lisa! I have been absolutely thrilled and humbled by the response Firsts has received. Hearing from readers who resonated with the story and loved the characters is pretty much the best feeling ever as an author!
1. Firsts is such a different, unique concept. I read in another interview that you were writing a new adult (what is this by the way?) book when you took a break to write First, but how did you come up with the idea? Did you have a goal in writing it?
I was working on a New Adult contemporary book when the idea for Firsts popped into my head. (New Adult is intended for a slightly older audience and tends to feature college-age characters.) I really don’t know where I came up with the idea — all of a sudden I started thinking, what if there was a book wherein a girl wanted to give guys the perfect first time? What would that look like? What would her story be? Along with that hook, the name “Mercedes” came to me, and I knew I had explore her story. I also knew I wanted the book to be Young Adult and set in high school. I didn’t have a goal per se when I started writing, but early on, I knew the topics I wanted to explore—the unfair double standards when it comes to sex, female sexuality, and slut-shaming. I get angry every time I hear about a girl who is belittled or made to feel like less than she is because she makes the choice to have sex. That girl deserves better. I wanted to tell her story.
2. I read on your website that you were at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference in Toronto in January (sorry I missed you), where you met Courtney Summers, author of All the Rage, one of your writing idols. It never occurred to me, until I read another interview, that there are similar themes to All the Rage and Firsts – double standards and slut shaming. You are right, it takes two to have sex, but it was was Mercedes who took the blame, Mercedes who was the slut and the whore. So how do we stop that? What do we teach our boys? And what do we teach our girls?
That’s a great question, and I wish there was an easy answer. Through writing Firsts and telling Mercedes’ story, I hope to show girls that no matter what choices they make, they are worthy and deserve everything they want, and there is no “perfect” first time.
Nobody else has the right to comment on what you decide to do with your body. Girls shouldn’t feel ashamed about enjoying sex or worry that they’re going to be judged and branded with a reputation because their sexual encounters are different than someone else’s. I think the same applies to boys. Something I explore in Firsts is that from a young age, boys feel a certain pressure to be ready for sex.
I’d tell them the same thing I would tell girls — to not do anything before they are ready, and to make their own decisions, both physical and emotional. Society seems to put these “timelines” on people regarding when certain things should happen in life — including losing one’s virginity — and those timelines are more like tripwires. They’re damaging. There is no one standard that’s right for everyone.
3. How do we also teach our girls – and our boys – to understand what love is, to understand that demand of sex to prove that love is wrong?
There are so many kinds of love. Friend love, family love, romantic love, self-love. But despite the differences in all these kinds of love, there is one common denominator. You should never feel pressured to be a person you’re not or do something you’re not comfortable with to prove anything to anyone. If someone tries to make you feel like you aren’t enough exactly as you are, that’s not love. That’s control and emotional manipulation. You should never have to change to fit someone’s expectation of you. You’re worthy and loveable and deserve so much more than that.
4. What do you hope people learn from reading Firsts?
I hope people learn that while it might be easy to be inclined to judge someone based on something you’ve heard, it’s never that simple. You never know what someone went through in the past, or is going through now. The persona someone wears in public might be concealing a lot under the surface. It’s not that people are lying—more like they’re protecting themselves, like Mercedes does so many times in the book, from being vulnerable and getting hurt.
5. What is the difference between writing adult and young adult? Do you like one over the other? Will you write more young adult? Do you have other stories waiting to get out?
I haven’t written any Adult fiction, so I can’t really comment on the process, but I absolutely love writing Young Adult, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Being a teen is such a challenging, exciting, terrifying time, and so many of the experiences you go through shape the person you become. I vividly remember that time in my life. I was a mess of contradictions: confident but insecure, bold and shy, brave and scared. I found companionship in the pages of books when I felt like nobody else understood me, and being able to do the same for teen readers is the greatest privilege.
6. How do you come up with ideas? What is your writing process?
To be honest, I’m not really sure how I come up with my ideas! They just kind of wander into my head (or in the case of Firsts, rocket into my brain like a meteor). I’m inspired by lots of different things—snippets of conversation, things I read, pictures I see. Whenever I get an idea, I write it down, because otherwise I’m doomed to forget it. When I start working on a new project, I don’t have an outline—I generally just have the hook and the main character’s name, and I let the story unfold from there. As a writer, I love listening to my characters and letting the story pull me in the directions it wants to go, rather than the other way around.
7. Anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to say a huge, resounding thank you to all of the readers who have taken the time to read Firsts and reach out to me. Hearing that people enjoyed the book or saw themselves in a character or thought differently about something after reading is the greatest thing I could hope to hear as an author. And to all the teen readers out there—thank you for always inspiring me with your honesty, bravery, and hope.
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
St. Martin’s Griffin, www.stmartins.com
Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres, who has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time – the kind Mercedes never had herself. Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy – so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn – or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed. When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.
Editor’s Note: I found the book slow to start, and extremely sad – Mercedes ‘mother’ particularly. But the book picked up, and it was a great. The last seven pages were my absolute favourite part. I loved how much Mercedes learned about herself and how she grew.
Other book reviews about love.
Before I Leave
Roaring Brook Press, mackids.com
How do you say goodbye to your best friend? When a little hedgehog’s family tells her they’re moving far away, she and her anteater best friend decide to play one last time, like nothing is changing. And though it’s hard, they discover that while some things have to change, the most important things find a way of working out.
Editor’s Note: What a beautiful book full of beautiful illustrations (and funny ones, too). I found it sad, although I suspect the end is suppose to make most people feel better.
Anvil Press, http://www.anvilpress.com/Books/breakneck
Rose Dubois and Julie O’Brien find themselves on the roof of a Montreal apartment building on a scorching summer’s day, and from that moment on their fates are intertwined. Worldwide climate change and dramatic shifts in weather patterns foreshadow their predestined suffering. As is soon revealed, the two women share a submissive love for the same man, Charles. Their mutual desire creates an arms race of artificial beauty and debasement; they have a common obsession for plastic surgery and strive to be avatars of the perfect female. As they compete for the love and attention of Charles, both women come to realize that to accept being nothing more than an object, to kneel and grovel before your persecutor, you ultimately become his executioner. In the end, Charles’ own obsessions and desires, which he loathes, are ultimately his undoing and downfall.
Editor’s Note: I couldn’t read it. I really disliked both main female characters – Rose and Julie, and I didn’t care for Charles either. And while I found the writing good, and challenging, I couldn’t get past the fact I found all three main characters unappealing.
Duck, Dunk, Dinosaur
Duck, Duck, Dinosaur stars three unlikely siblings who all hatch out of the same nest and must overcome some unusual sibling rivalry.
Editor’s Note: Yugh. Sibling rivalry. It erks me. Thank goodness for brothers. I skimmed past the ridiculousness of competition to get to the good part at the end. The illustrations are cute.
Mare Barrow’s blood is red — the color of common folk — but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince — the friend — who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.
Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?
Editor’s Note: I really enjoyed Red Queen, the first book in this series, and Glass Sword didn’t disappoint either. While a few details are shady – I read Red Queen about year ago and I can’t even begin to count how many books later – it didn’t matter, I was pulled right back into the story within a few pages. I know Aveyard is writing another book, but I figured I would read this one and that would be enough for me. I was wrong. It’s not enough. I want more.
Read my Red Queen review here .
I’d Know You Anywhere My Love
Feiwel and Friends, mackids.com
(board book) $8.99
Every child is special and unique, but every child also loves to dream of being something different. In I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love, bestselling author and artist Nancy Tillman has created another heartfelt masterpiece celebrating the joys of imagination, and the comfort of always knowing that “you are loved.”
Editor’s Note: I think Nancy Tillman’s books are absolutely beautiful, both the illustrations, which always feature gloriously drawn animals and children, to the message inside. This is no different. So despite it being a board book, I plan to keep it and read it often.
I Love You Already
Jory John and Benji Davies
Bear can’t wait to spend a pleasant day by himself. His persistent next-door neighbor, Duck, wants to take a morning stroll . . . with Bear. He just wants Bear to like him already. . .
Editor’s Note: Poor bear. You have to give him credit for his patience and kindness. And sometimes you just shouldn’t answer your door.
I Love You! Around the World
Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar
Chronicle Books, chroniclebooks.com
Featuring dozens of languages and vibrant colour illustrations depicting cultures from all over the world, this extended love note is the perfect I-love-you for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, or any day when love is in the air.
Editor’s Note: Each language from Polish and Mandarin (China) to cat (purr) and Martian (Mars) has it’s own page with I love you in its language and picture. My son loved this book and has requested it several times already. He reads the French and English ones (there are many, including California’s Valley Girl (check) talk and I attempt to read the rest. Except for Greek, Hindi and others that are pictures that I acknowledge I can’t decipher.
I Want a Monster
Winnie wants a monster! Some monsters smell like pirate feet and some might read your diary, but they are so darn cute! All Winnie’s friends have one. But how much do Oogly-Wumps eat? Don’t they ever sleep? Can monsters get lonely?
Editor’s Note: I guess after reading about rats (The Rat), spiders (The Spice) and lice (Head Lice), it shouldn’t come as a surprise author Elise Gravel has a soft spot for monsters. And unlike rats, spiders and lice, after reading Gravel’s book, a monster seems like a pretty good pet to have. Much like a cat or a dog, you have to make sure you feed him and walk him and pick up monster poo. My seven and I like this book as much as we like all of Gravel’s books we have read so far, which is to say a lot. We like the ideas on how to create your own monster that you find at the back of the book.
Love Is All Around Canada
Sourcebooks, jabberwocky, jabbberworckykids.com
Love is all around, if only we stop to look. It’s the voices of the children playing in the park. It’s the cheer of the crowd and animals playing at the zoo. It’s the way a mother holds her newborn child. Love is found on every corner of the neighborhood, and the greatest love of all is found in the place we call home!
Editor’s Note: I felt this book was a series and the author likely stuck in some Canadianisms and locations to make it local. When looking it up, this is exactly what happened. The book is fine, but I have read better series books.
Love: The Psychology of Attraction
Love: The Psychology of Attraction is an easy-to-navigate, step-by-step guide to modern love that’s grounded in scientific study, psychological expertise and practical insights about romance in the age of social media. Crack the code of compatibility and find the path to true love with this unique guide to finding the perfect mate in the modern world. Love: The Psychology of Attraction offers answers to your burning questions: How should I present myself online? What are red flags in a first phone call? Is it time to meet family members? And, it answers some unexpected questions, too: Is chemistry predictable? Do I have a “lifestyle type”? With every quiz, assessment, and inviting infographic, Love: The Psychology of Attraction guides you toward deeper, more satisfying relationships that can lead to long-term fulfillment.
Editor’s Note: What an interesting book. When it first came across my desk, I was unsure, but I should not have doubted a DK Book (apologies). There is lots of information, but with info graphs, pull out numbers and charts, the book is easy to read and perfect for all people – whether they are in a relationship or not. Saying that, the dating section made my head spin – so much work and it still feels like a game. I found the scent part really interesting. The chapter talked about whether humans, like their animal counterparts, release pheromones, or an aphrodiasic to attract their mate. Lavender, according to the chart, makes us feel relaxed “and oddly, worse at math.”
Chronicle Books, chroniclekids.com
This colourful and reassuring picture book follows Babysaurus on an adventure as he enlists his prehistoric friends to seek his Mamasaurus. Is his Mamasaurus the fastest in the jungle? No. Is she the loudest? No. Is she the best flyer? No! Of course, Mamasaurus has been right there all along. And when Babysaurus needs a little help, she is ready with a big hug and a sweet, leafy snack. For Babysaurus, his Mamasaurus is the best mamasaurus in the world!
Editor’s Note: I thought the story sweet. And I loved the illustrations. My son didn’t think it was a keeper; Mamasaurus was likely too little for my seven year old, but will be perfect for little ones.
Mommy, Pick Me Up
Farrar Straus Giroux, mackids
A little boy calls for help from his mom whenever he needs anything―help finding his pajamas, assistance on the potty, or just a snuggle. Then he finally calls for his dad. Whatever could he want? This is sure to inspire giggles from both parents and kids, as they recognize parts of their own daily routines on these pages.
Editor’s Note: My seven year old and I thought the end was particularly funny, which is likely why he asked me to read it to him again.
Silly Wonderful You
Sherri Duskey RInker
Before YOU came along, so many things were different! But now there’s a giggly baby, a house full of adventures and toys, a million little surprises…. And so much love
Editor’s Note: Seven years of bliss. Yes, I know exactly what the author means.
Anvil Press, http://www.anvilpress.com/Books/10-women
Ten Women is a new collection of short fiction from one of Canada’s preeminent writers. Each of these stories offers us a portrait of a woman with whom the author may or may not have had either an intimate and/or a meaningful relationship. You can’t really tell for sure. Depending on your proclivities, some of them might even seem pretty hot – like the lurid fantasies that illustrate the covers of pulp fiction novels, the ethereal intellectual beauties that emanate from poetic fields of asphodels or the petit bourgeois housewives that litter Alice Munro stories, these 10 characters remind us that for every fetish there’s a partner.
Editor’s Note: I read the first story about a woman the narrator didn’t know, yet felt a connection too. The woman was dead and he found her obituary. I didn’t get it and I haven’t felt the need to move on to another story, or another woman.
The Things We Keep
St. Martin’s Press, us.macmillan.com/smp
Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there’s just one another resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.
Editor’s Note: On the back cover of the advance readers’ copy of The Things We Keep, Jennifer Enderlin, St. Martin’s senior vice-president and publisher, said she loved this book so much that she wanted to shout the news from the rooftops. She also said it is a perfect book for those who loved Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I loved Still Alice. It was a fantastic book about a disease, up until that point, I had never heard about. While this book was great, an easy read worth reading, a love story with great characters, it was not Still Alice and it bugs me that people compare. The Things We Keep would have sold on its own without a comparison to another book. Unlike Still Alice, this one had elements of creepy, which I could have gone without. I liked Anna and Luke’s stories, but also like Eve’s. I liked the secondary characters as much as I liked the main ones. I found the timeline a little confusing, but the book was a great read.
Worm Loves Worm
J. J. Austrian
You are cordially invited to celebrate the wedding of a worm . . . and a worm.
When a worm meets a special worm and they fall in love, you know what happens next: They get married! But their friends want to know – who will wear the dress? And who will wear the tux? The answer is: It doesn’t matter. Because worm loves worm.
Editor’s Note: Worm Loves Worm is pretty fantastic. There is a great moral in this story – who cares about the details, love is love – but it is cleverly wrapped into a book about two worms who don’t care about the rings or the clothing, but just want to get married.
Other Love books
Finders Reapers (due out in March, Book 2)
Lena’s not ready for any more supernatural surprises. Her new boyfriend, Marcus, is a cupid. She’s a soul collector (reaper” just sound so harsh). And they just got their powers un-swapped. But things aren’t as back to “normal” as they seem. On his next assignment, Marcus’s “love boost” is a little too powerful. (Baby talk is so annoying.) And Lena’s soul sort of…escapes. The cause? Lena and Marcus’s powers are still intertwined! Their emotions are affecting each other’s power. So, basically the fate of the world depends on them getting along in their brand new romance. (OK, just love and death, but still.)
I’ll See You in Paris A Novel
St. Martin’s Press, us.macmillan.com/smp
I’ll See You in Paris winds together the lives of three women born generations apart, but who face similar struggles of love and heartbreak.
After losing her fiancé in the Vietnam War, nineteen-year-old Laurel Haley takes a job in England, hoping the distance will mend her shattered heart. Laurel expects the pain might lessen but does not foresee the beguiling man she meets or that they’ll go to Paris, where the city’s magic will take over and alter everything Laurel believes about love.
Thirty years later, Laurel’s daughter Annie is newly engaged and an old question resurfaces: who is Annie’s father and what happened to him? Laurel has always been vague about the details and Annie’s told herself it doesn’t matter. But with her impending marriage, Annie has to know everything. Why won’t Laurel tell her the truth?
The key to unlocking Laurel’s secrets starts with a mysterious book about an infamous woman known as the Duchess of Marlborough. Annie’s quest to understand the Duchess, and therefore her own history, takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a decaying estate kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris where answers will be found at last.
This article was originally published at insidetoronto.com