Lauren Myracle Talks To 'Little White Lies' Co-Authors About Race, Power, & Their New YA Book
Lauren Myracle made a name for herself way back in 2004, when her epistolary novel told in instant messages, TTYL, spawned a bestselling series. Now dated in format, but still oh-so-relatable, TTYL has a spiritual successor of sorts in Little White Lies . I've got all the info on this new YA novel, plus an interview with the authors — conducted by Myracle herself — coming up below.
Co-authored by Brianna Baker and F. Bowman Hastie III, Little White Lies centers on Coretta, an honor student whose titular Tumblr account goes viral. Everything's coming up roses for the 17-year-old cultural commentator, but she hasn't been entirely honest with her followers, or with the producers who want to give her a movie deal.
The truth is, Coretta doesn't write the posts on Little White Lies. She's hired a 41-year-old man named Karl to keep her Tumblr current while she focuses on school. Burdened with guilt, Coretta comes clean, and quickly loses everything, while Karl finds himself caught in the headlights. After he, too, suffers a public disgrace, he and Coretta team up to find out who conspired to ruin their lives.
Baker and Hastie's novel focuses largely on power dynamics. Coretta is a young black woman, while Karl is a middle-aged white man, and readers watch them navigate their disparate worlds and experiences as they collaborate. It's a premise that's earned the book accolades from Killer Mike — "This book is funny, smart and entertains the brain like few books do today. I highly recommend!" — and Nerding Out host Dorian Warren:
Check out the conversation between Myracle, Baker, and Hastie below.
Lauren Myracle: Brianna! Bowman! Omigosh, y'all are brilliant, and Little White Lies is brilliant-the sort of brilliant that makes me jealous, in a good way. I read the flap copy and thought, "Oh, why didn't I come up with this genius concept?" Although even if I had, I couldn't have pulled it off as well as y'all did. For one thing, I'm neither a 17-year-old black girl or a 41-year-old white dude. Which brings me to my first question: Brianna, I know you're not 17, and Bowman, your bio says your "forty-ish," though not specifically 41. Neither bio specifies your race, however (not that they should!). And yet race, and the questions of what it means to be black and what it means to be white, are HUGE topics in the novel. Brianna, are you black? Bowman, are you white? Does it matter in the context of writing from the perspective of white characters and black characters? If so, how much?
Bowman Hastie: Lauren! First of all, let me applaud you on your excellent taste in literature. I agree with you: Little White Lies is brilliant! With respect to my race, I am indeed white. I was born in 1969, a few years before the character in question, Karl Ristoff. I think that in writing from the perspective of fictional characters the author's race and/or cultural identity can be factors to varying degrees — from very little to quite a lot. With a book like Little White Lies, which deals explicitly and implicitly with racial identity, I think knowing the race/s of the authors is relevant to the reader. There are photos of us on the book flap, along with our bios. While my bio does not indicate my race, I think it's pretty clear in my photo.
Brianna Baker: My father is African American and my mother is Caucasian. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that in America this usually means that one is considered black. I do think it makes a difference when an author shares the same race as a character they are bringing to life. There are certain feelings, situations, and life experiences that one feels when living in America as a non-white person. While fictional writing is imagining a world that isn’t real, I enjoy writing from a base of truths that I have come to know during my time in this world.
LM: How much input did y'all have in each other's sections — or did you both write Coretta's parts and did you both write Karl's parts together?
BH: Basically, I wrote Karl's chapters and Brianna wrote Coretta's chapters. Within these respective chapters, dialogue between the characters was written by whoever was writing the chapter. So, because the first phone call between Karl and Coretta appears in a Karl chapter, I wrote both sides of that conversation. I was sort of hoping that Brianna would be writing the blog entries authored by Karl — mainly because I'm lazy, and partly because I was a bit daunted by writing in the voice of a 17-year-old black girl — but I wasn't able to get out of writing those. Our writing was most interactive while we were composing the Gchat sections, which we basically wrote via Gchat "live" and "in character". For me, that was the most fun I had during the actual writing of the book.
BB: I second Bowman’s explanation. I enjoyed the process of writing my chapter, sending it to Bowman, reading Bowman’s chapter, and then us both turning them in to our editor. I couldn’t control what Karl would say to Coretta. He couldn’t control what Coretta would say to or about Karl. Ces't la vie.
LM: Were there any issues about which you, the authors, had different opinions from Coretta and Karl?
BH: Hmmmmm. I'm trying to recall what opinions Karl expressed in this book. I think most of Karl's opinions represented in the book are basically consistent with my own. But there are plenty of differences between Karl and myself. Some parts of his life are based on my experience, and some are purely invented. For one thing, I suck at Twitter.
BB: There believe is a line where Coretta expresses that she thinks black people can be racist. I disagree with that! I do not think that black people can be racist. A subjugated group can be prejudiced, but not racist. This is something Coretta likely hasn't learned yet, or at least retained. College will be fruitful!
LM: Coretta and Karl both do some big and wonderful things in this novel, but they both act like dumbasses at times. Karl! I mean Bowman! Well, Bowman and Brianna, both of you: Without spoiling anything for readers, there's a point in the book in which Coretta very VERY clearly tells Bowman that he needs to run every blog post, every tweet, every everything by her before posting it on the web. The very next day, Karl posts a bitingly satirical post that he knows will piss Coretta off, and he does it completely behind Coretta's back. What's up with that?
BH: Yes, I agree that both characters do some stupid things in the book. I'd say that the biggest f-ups are, respectively, Karl's decision to write that satirical bully post, and Coretta's decision to confess Karl's involvement in her blog without first checking with him or Alex, or (at least!) listening to her voicemail. I think that Karl conveys his reasoning behind posting that post fairly well within the book: He doesn't think that who he perceives as the "changed" Coretta would approve the post, which he believes represents the "true" Coretta to whom he was initially drawn. He's also butt-sore that Coretta didn't tell him about her TV deal.
BB: If I’ve learned anything from my teenage years, it’s that very smart young people can do very, very, very dumb things. I think every decision made by a person of a relatively sound mind and body is a confluence of everything they know up until that point in their life. The things one learns from experience, mistakes, and successes. When you are a teen, you have situations coming at you that are more adult, but you only have a handful of times where you felt you had a truly big decision. When it comes to life decisions, I always say, “All you can know is what you know.”
When it comes to life decisions, I always say, “All you can know is what you know.”
LM: Near the end of the novel, y'all offer a lovely perspective on the difference between systems and individuals, and on the ways in which individuals can take on systems to affect change.
"Systems are flawed just like people are," you say, and then you go on to explain that both are capable of change, though it isn't easy. Then you stress that although authority figures can be — and should be — challenged, they must be respected. "But they must be respected above all," you suggest, "...even when they are wrong, even if they have not earned or do not deserve your respect." Hmm. This is a tricky one. The deliciously evil Skool twins are authority figures in Little White Lies. Do Brianna and Bowman treat them with respect? Hitler was an authority figure. Slave owners could be argued to be authority figures. Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, Abu Bakr alBaghdadi... You see what I'm struggling with here? Do we/should we respect these authority figures? At what point (if at all) do we/should we decide that respectful interaction and dialogue isn't going to produce change — and what do we do then?
BH: Yes, this is some tricky stuff. First of all, these views do not necessarily represent the views of the authors, editors, or publisher of Little White Lies. The passage you quote was written by me, but the words are those of Douglas Cornelius, a (fictional) black billionaire venture capitalist who has a teenage son living in New York City. The authority figures he speaks of — "whether they're teachers, police officers or security guards, even parents"—are the type his son may encounter on a one-to-one basis through the course of his daily life. He advocates showing respect "above all for the sake of peace and order... and self-preservation." It's more the authority or power (however transitory it may be) these people hold over a person that should be respected, and not necessarily the people themselves.
I think Mr. Cornelius would argue that those who exist outside the authority of these figures are not necessarily bound to respect them — so you and I are not required to respect Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, Hitler, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the leader of ISIS, in case you the reader were about to google that name as I just did), or a slave owner. But if we were citizens of Russia, North Korea, or ye olde Nazi Germany, members of ISIS, or slaves, then respecting the authority of these figures (if not the men themselves) might be necessary for us to go on living in relative peace and good health. That is, respecting them through our outward actions during the course of our daily lives. Plotting a revolution is a whole different deal! I feel that as authors we have treated all of our book's characters with respect, even the evil Skool twins.
BB: I am staunchly against social injustice of any kind. From a young age, I knew that this would be one of the things that made my heart beat the loudest, and often what would make the path of least resistance very undesirable to me. As an adolescent, I was the one go against the authority figure if I felt that a true injustice was taking place. In my adult life, the same is true. I respect a person in a position of authority, but if someone in that position abuses that power, I feel they should be dismantled.
I respect a person in a position of authority, but if someone in that position abuses that power, I feel they should be dismantled.
LM: Last question: Are y'all going to write another novel together, perhaps featuring a white teenage boy and a middle-aged black woman? Please do! That would be so fun and awesome. Or, considering the perks of two writers co-authoring a book, what other fun ideas are bouncing around in y'all's heads?
BH: Brianna and I have talked about working on another book together, but there's nothing in the works yet. I love the idea of a book about a middle-aged black woman and a white teenage boy would be great fun. Brianna?
BB: Thank you for giving us this idea! I hope to work with Bowman again. Beyond being a wonderful writing partner, he’s a very chill dude, and a great conversationalist. The book idea we have is another YA book. That's all I am going to say!
Little White Lies is available now from your favorite retailer.
Images: Courtesy of Soho Press, Molly Hawkey/Molly Hawkey Photos; Charles Thompson