Bustle Book Club

To Write Her New Novel, Rufi Thorpe Dove Deep Into OnlyFans

Margo’s Got Money Troubles follows a new mom who earns a living through virtual sex work.

An illustration of a hand holding the cover of 'Margo's Got Money Troubles' by Rufi Thorpe.

Rufi Thorpe’s interest in virtual sex work started innocently enough: She had time to kill during the pandemic, and she’d seen a few comedians on Twitter advertising their OnlyFans pages. “There was something wonderfully forbidden about overseeing Zoom kindergarten, and then on my laptop, I’m on OnlyFans,” Thorpe tells Bustle. But as the quarantine waged on, Thorpe — a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist who’d eventually write a novel, Margo’s Got Money Troubles, about the site — found herself going deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

In the name of research, she sent creators $50 tips and asked if they’d be willing to share their insights. It was hit and miss. “People who would write back saying ‘Thank you for the tip,’ and then it would just be a picture of their vagina. And I’d be like, ‘I don’t think they read [my message],’” Thorpe recalls.

But as more people responded earnestly to Thorpe’s inquiries, her novel’s protagonist began to take shape: 20-year-old Margo, a cash-strapped new mother who becomes an OnlyFans star. One of her defining characteristics is a refreshing lack of sexual hang-ups, inspired by those Thorpe corresponded with. While there are moments where Margo is judged for her work — and she even comes close to losing custody of her son because of it — she never experiences any self-judgment or regret. “That’s the gist of this moment of feminism,” Thorpe says. “You can actually write a character [who understands] that having sex is OK and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.”

As it turns out, when you remove the shame from sexuality, there’s a lot of space left for fun. Margo rates dick pics by comparing them to various Pokémon characters and takes on a sexy alien persona in her videos. (The latter idea was inspired by The Fifth Element, which Thorpe says she imprinted on as a “baby bisexual.”) “I knew that I would want her to be playful, but also kind of vicious and dangerous,” Thorpe says. “There was something about that otherworldly [feeling of] ‘I’m a lethal weapon, and I’m hot’ that I just love for her.”

Below, Thorpe reflects on a famous Icelandic novel, Little League umpires, and collaging.

On a new novel with an unorthodox structure:

I’m a big fan of Melissa Mogollon and her debut, Oye. The whole book is made up of overheard or dictated phone calls. So she set herself this real challenge for how she’s going to keep the plot moving — but she does it! So I was delighted by that one.

On the arts & crafts that inspire her work:

At the beginning of writing a book, I like to collage. I rip pictures out of magazines that remind me of a given character. It’s really just a way of allowing myself to fantasize about the characters without it having to turn into words. [For Margo], there was a big male figure in a dark suit and hat [on the collage]. It was before I even invented [her wrestler father] Jinx! But he dominated the image.

On accepting there might be “horrible flaws”:

[When writing Margo, I read] Halldór Laxness’ famous Icelandic novel, Independent People. It’s so weird — you have to get through a lot of sheep with worms and deworming the sheep — but then there are these transcendent, truly bizarre, and haunting moments where I was like, “Well, I’m going to remember this book until the day I die just on the basis of this one scene.” It’s always reassuring to me that so many great books have horrible flaws. It just has to be a couple of passages that rise to a certain level of transcendence for you to remember it for the rest of your life.

On her dog’s role in the writing process:

When writing, I like to be prone — preferably on the couch or in my bed — and then my dog likes to lay herself across my chest or stomach. Then I put the laptop on top of her body. I want to kind of lose consciousness, especially with first drafting, so you’re also just trying to find a position [in which] you’re not going to have to move very much over the course of five hours.

On the sports subculture that fascinates her:

I’ve recently gotten obsessed with Little League umpires. I really love going to their forums where they complain to each other about the sh*tty kids and what they did that weekend. There’s a very specific personality type that you have to have in order to enjoy being as conflict-ready as you have to be to be an umpire. Then I got into umpire TikTok, and they’re sharing tips with each other about how to start a fight. Little subculture events are maybe my favorite — they just crack me up.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.