MMM: Libba Bray




From bestselling, Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, the story of a plane of beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a desert island. Teen beauty queens. A "Lost"-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count. Published on May 24, 2011.

Interview with Libba Bray, author of Beauty Queens

What's the inspiration behind Beauty Queens? Where did the idea of the novel come from?

The idea came from David Levithan, actually. We had lunch a few years ago and he said, “I have this idea for a book and you have to write it.” (He’d offered me food. How could I say no?) Anyway, the minute he said, “A plane load
of teen beauty queens crashes on an island,” I knew I was in. It was just one line but I had to see where it would go. I had felt for some time that I’d really wanted to explore our assumptions and societal expectations around gender. And, apparently, I’d also longed to write a faux James Bond novel featuring girls who also knew how to stage Bollywood dance numbers about plane crashes.

What would be the first thing you'd do if your plane crashed on a desert island?

Freak out.

Are you a fan of the LOST television show? What other TV shows do you like?

I only watched the first three episodes of LOST. This was back before I had that miraculous invention, the DVR, and the show came on during my son’s bedtime routine. So I had to give up on LOST. I think I would’ve been absolutely addicted to the show, though. Maybe I’ll get the episodes on DVD at some point and go through all of them until I’m disoriented and babbling.

Believe it or not, I don’t actually watch much TV, which is hilarious considering how much TV I watched as a child and teen. Right now, my can’t-miss TV shows are “Dr. Who,” “Game of Thrones,” and when it comes back, “Sherlock.” I do also love to catch the occasional “House Hunters International” so I can live vicariously in all those places. Favorite TV show of all time?
“Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

At some point all writers will have their doubt days. How do you overcome these and what motivates you to keep on writing?

I can’t imagine not writing. When I wake up every morning (and I’ve had a sufficient amount of coffee to make me resemble a human), I start thinking about how to tackle whatever it is I’m working on. Writing helps me make sense of myself and the world and the human condition. It keeps me connected. That said, I have moments of doubt every day, and some days, it’s a real slog to get ten words on the page that don’t feel like a postcard from Suckville. I hate to say it, but the only cure I’ve really found for getting past those tough spots is just to keep writing through them. It reminds me of when I was a cross-country runner. My coach would talk about the difficulty of “the middle mile.” At the start of the race, you have all that energy and adrenaline to go on; at the end, you can see the finish line and know you’re close to the end. But in the middle, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other and keep moving, keep breathing. It’s a mental game.

Honestly, I’m waiting for some other writer to tell me how they get through those days. I rely on chocolate, complaining, and a stubborn streak.

On your bio I read that you love to be scared. What are the scariest books and/or movies that you've ever read or seen?

It’s true—I was a morbid kid with a love of the creepy. I cut my teeth on TV shows like “Dark Shadows,” “Night Gallery,” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” followed by Hammer Horror films, horror comics, Grimm’s fairy tales, and the wonderful ghost stories my great-grandmother Kutz told me. I know you’re shocked to hear that I was a creepy kid.

Okay. This will be a partial list, based on what comes to mind right this second.

Of books, I’d include
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi, Salem’s Lot and the short story, “The Raft,” by
Stephen King,
The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson, which turned out to be a hoax but which terrified me at age twelve, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Ghost Story by Peter Straub, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

Movies: Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, The Haunting (original), The Omen (original), Suspiria, Alien, The Stepford Wives, The Ring, The Exorcist, Candyman, The Orphanage, Don’t Look Now, Psycho. And Showgirls, of course.

I’d probably have to include “Trilogy of Terror” starring Karen Black (based on the story by Richard Matheson—no slouch himself at horror), which is probably a silly movie but when I was nine, it scarred me for life. Also, there is a doll in it. Dolls are evil. Period. Don’t turn your back on them. Ever.

I always feel that the best horror is not a mindless thrill-a-minute slash-‘em-up but is psychological and has at its core some sense of the repressed—anger or sexuality or deep loss. There’s usually a subtext of tremendous sadness. Some horror is almost elegiac.

What's the most outrageous or fearless thing you've ever done?

Get married and have a baby.

Have a fact about yourself that not too many people know?

I have a fear of small elevators, especially in apartment buildings. I have been known to walk up twelve flights of stairs rather than take a questionable elevator. My brain thinks I am a wuss. But my butt is grateful for the toning.

Thank you very much for the interview, Libba!

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