You might know Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan as the dynamic duo behind GoFugYourself.com. (If not, you should go there now and treat yourself to getting to know their gentle brand of snark.) When they aren’t working to convince celebrities not to wear “denim marionette” pants, asking tough questions like, “Chloe Sevigny What Even Is This?” and documenting every style move of England’s royal family, they’re collaborating on writing projects beyond their website—including three totally charming novels.

Inspired by my flat-out jealousy of the effective creative partnership between these best friends, I asked if they’d kick off this series of interviews with contemporary novelists about what they do and how they do it, and I am so excited that they said yes.

Leona Laurie: Let me start by thanking you for crushing my dreams by stating on the record in another interview that becoming novelists did not make you rich overnight.

Heather Cocks: No. I think there are very few published novelists who are actually rolling in cash.

Jessica Morgan: Danielle Steele is the dream, but not the reality.

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LL: I don’t know. I look at Nora Roberts, and I’m like, “Wait, so I could open a B&B, and then write a novel about it, and the two would generate cash for each other? Amazing!”

JM: I mean first of all, her books sell like crazy, but she’s also super productive. She has a crazy number of books out every year.

Have you ever read about this thing where certain people legitimately only need four hours of sleep a night, and they’re fine?

LL: I know one of those people, and I look at him, and I’m like: “This isn’t real. There will be a point at which you just die.”

JM: I think Nora Roberts has to be one of them. You find out who they are, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” Martha Stewart is a super sleeper, and you’re like, “Yeah, okay, that explains a lot.” Bill Clinton only needs four hours of sleep a night, and you’re like, “Okay, yeah, you were the president, that works out.” For me, I need nine hours of sleep, so these people have five extra hours in their day.

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LL: Although you deflated my balloon about the money part of writing novels, in that same interview you confirmed my belief that sitting down as long as it takes to be a writer is super hard. When you were talking about needing compression socks by the end of writing The Royal We, I was like: “This one I believe. This makes sense.”

JM: I think Martha, probably, with her extra hours is out in the garden, so she’s getting exercise. She’s walking around and making wreaths out of tree branches that she harvested from her own home. I have no concerns about Martha Stewart’s health. My health is, I think, a little bit more precarious than hers.

HC: It’s hard. It’s a funny thing to complain about, because we’re so lucky to get to work from home, and it has made my life so much easier in a lot of ways, even though it can sometimes be difficult. On the one hand, I’ve been able to be around for my kids a lot. We do have childcare help, because we can’t afford for my husband and I not to be both working, but I’m here, and I’m present, and I can pop out and help with homework, and I can take them to doctors appointments and stop for a cuddle break or whatever. I’m still in the house.

The flip side of that, that I’m dealing with right now, is that one of my sons just came up to me the other day, and was like, “Hey. Do you remember that time a really long time ago when you had time to play with me?”

LL: Oh no!

HC: I’m like, “Oh god, I wanna die!” I worked on Easter Sunday on something Jessica and I have that is due, and I work a lot during the day, but I take those morning hours I need to do anything that can only be done during business hours, or volunteer at their school or whatever. I can do that, because I can work in the afternoon, and I can work after they go to bed, and they don’t see a lot of the work I’m doing.

But yeah, the sitting all the time. They do say it’s the new smoking, and I’m kind of like, “I hope not,” because I’m going to get a** cancer. And when your break from writing is turning around in your seat one full revolution, and then writing something else, it feels like you’re spending all your time scratching a similar creative itch. The trick, I think, is finding ways to keep each different thing that you work on feel fresh and different, and getting excited about the different aspects of it.

JM: I don’t personally know any published novelists, who that is their 100% day job. Well, no, that’s not true. I know one. Pretty much everybody we know who are writers still have their day jobs, or they work part-time, or they do freelance writing of articles on the side. Go Fug Yourself is our day job, and we do the novels kind of concurrently, but not as regularly.

LL: That’s not a terrible day job. Or a bad side-gig, honestly.

JM: I think it’s worked out very well for us. We’ve been super fortunate, and I think some of that, honestly, is, not to take away from our own hard work, good timing. We started the website really early, in 2004, and I think if I were to be starting now, it’s really hard out there right now for independent websites, financially speaking, in terms of ad sales and stuff. It’s such a saturated market.

HC:  (Go Fug Yourself is) a giant writing sample on the internet that anyone can see at any time. Very rarely is anybody, as far as I know, surprised by what they get from us if we’re doing a freelance assignment or something, because you know our voices, and you kind of know who we are, and at this point, I think a lot of times, if people think of us for an assignment, it’s because they know what our voices are, and what our approach is likely to be.

That was sort of how it was when we got into publishing. I think we were looking at doing a book based on the blog, because an agent had approached us with that idea, and Jess and I thought, “That sounds fun,” as you would. We were like, “Sure, that sounds like an interesting dipping a toe into the publishing world that we’ve never been part of before, because it’s doing a book based on something we know.”

JM: Plus, everybody was doing blog books in 2006. Everyone who had a blog was writing a book.

HC: And so, as our agent was shopping that around, there were some editors who were like, “Well, we don’t really do blog books, but if they were ever to write fiction, we would want to read it, because we’ve read some of the fake dialogue.” They would’ve read some of the imagined dialogues we put on the site, and they were like, “Okay, so we know they can assume a character, we know they can write dialogue, their skillset is analogous,” so we were very lucky to have sort of done some of those things without thinking about it that ended up triggering an idea in somebody, and then came back to us.

I’ve always loved reading, and loved writing, and for some reason it never occurred to me to write a book. Being an author always seemed like something somebody else did, and finally we had this opportunity, and somebody was like, “Well, if you wrote some fiction, we’d read it,” and Jessica and I were like, “Why on Earth wouldn’t we try that? Let’s do that. When is that opportunity ever going to come our way ever again?” So I think, yes, having GFY has been sort of the linchpin of all of this.

Heather Cocks Jessica Morgan

Image courtesy Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

LL: Do you have any formal training in writing outside of the internet—like creative writing classes?

JM: I took creative writing classes in high school, but not in college. As a kid, I was a person who always wrote stories. I never finished any of my little novels that I started, but I wrote a lot, all the time. I wrote a lot of fiction that has never seen the light of day, for extremely good reason.

HC: I never did either. I would write for school, but I never wrote stuff on my own. It’s funny, I’ve always thought of my sisters as being more creative than I was. My middle sister in particular, if she was babysitting me or whatever, we would do a puzzle, and while we were doing it, she would invent a story based on whatever the picture of the puzzle was. Sometimes it was a picture of a room, sometimes it was a Peanuts puzzle. I’ll never forget, there was a Peanuts go to the beach, and somehow she turned it into a shark attack story. And then there was Peanuts standing out in the rain with their umbrellas, and that was acid rain. Schroeder always died in all of these puzzles.

LL: These are very dark.

HC: I know, and she’s so not a dark person. I think it made me laugh, and so she would keep doing it. So I’ve always, obviously, been drawn to that. My dad was a really creative person. My mom is an English major. For whatever reason, I wrote newspaper stuff.

What I really brought to writing fiction, and Jessica brought this too, obviously, having worked in reality (TV before going full time with Go Fug Yourself), we taught ourselves, and we learned a three-act structure, or a multiple-act structure. For Spoiled, it was more of a three-act structure. We think of it as Spoiledwas like the half-hour reality show, and The Royal We was the hour-long. Where we would really try and use those skills of like, okay, what are we doing in act one, what’s our act out? Then in act two, we want to build something in the middle, and push to a new dramatic act out. Then in act three, you sort of have to pay that off and wrap it up.

That’s very simplistic, but I think that helped us feel like, “Okay, we could approach fiction, because we have built episodes of TV, that even though they are based in things that happen, you have to manipulate the footage.” I don’t mean that in an underhanded way, but I mean they shoot 24 hours a day. You can only use 23 minutes of it in a half-hour reality show, so you have to pick and choose. So I think we were able to use some of those skills, and then just cross our fingers.

We did write our first proposal, I think we wrote 50 pages, and maybe an outline or something for our agent to read. He basically was like, “This is great. Now we’re going to throw it out.” Jessica made this analogy, and I think it’s apt. I’m going to throw you off the dock, and you didn’t drown, but you don’t know how to do freestyle, so let’s teach you that. I think he just had a couple notes for how to rein in some of our wilder and more campy impulses.

I think through Spoiled and Messy is where we really learned the value of pacing all of that, and that sometimes the campy, funny parody stuff is better in smaller does, and you have to make sure you balance it with a lot of heart and feeling, because otherwise it’s just this non-stop onslaught of parody, and there’s nothing to connect to. Honestly, we learned by doing.

LL: I heard that The Royal We had been optioned by Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman. Is this true?

JM: It is true. However, I don’t know that it necessarily means anything. Things get auctioned all the time, and nothing ever comes of it. It’s still in development. I think Lauren and Mae, I don’t believe that they are currently attached to it as it stands right now. Things are always changing hands. I will say that they are both lovely, and were dreamboats to work with, although we were not really involved in the nuts and bolts of whatever’s going on with it. But it is still in development with CBS Films. I have no idea what’s happening with it.

LL: You both have a background in TV. Do you think about writing specifically for TV, or trying to do something that doesn’t begin its life as a novel?

HC: I don’t know. A lot of people think that must be the goal, especially if you live in LA already, and I’m not sure it ever really has been. I love TV, and I think it sounds fun in theory, but I think I like the written word a lot. I get a lot more satisfaction from that, and I don’t know if writing a screenplay would have that same fulfillment for me.

LL: I looked at Lifetime’s reimagining of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? and wondered if the two of you were like, “What can we pick up from 1991, and repackage and give to Lifetime and see them cast the rest of the 90210 players?”

JM: We just really need to be the pipeline for Tori Spelling‘s continued employment. I think that is something that I feel responsible for in many ways.

I don’t think Heather and I ever want to say we’re never going to do something, but we’re not secretly working on a screenplay or anything like that.

I would like Lifetime to send me a screener of the Harry and Meghan movie, because I’ve gathered from Twitter today that certain people do have it, and I feel personally victimized that they did not send one to us. Maybe it’s because I wrote a post where I said I could barely stand to look at it, and I wanted to die thinking about it, but come on, you guys.

LL: It’s probably that.

JM: I mean, maybe.

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LL: Are you working on more novels? Do you have more in the pipeline?

JM: We hope we do.

HC: My roadblock is always the idea, rather than the execution. It’s funny, because there’re a lot of writers who really sweat the word count that they have to write every day, and I sweat the first part. I need to know what we’re doing, and I need the killer idea, and that’s harder for me to come by, but once we have it, it feels like things roll a bit easier.

We’re definitely talking about a Royal We sequel, because there seems to be interest in that, but boy, talk about being spoiled for choice, because there’s so many different things we could do with that. It’s almost like to satisfy both of our personalities we have to see one idea through to completion of an outline in order to know whether we think it works, and then sometimes you get halfway through and you’re like, “Well, what if we did something else?” We just sort of need to figure out whose story it is. But we are working on some shorter form stuff that is in the Royal W euniverse that we hope we will have ready by the wedding.

LL: This isn’t a clean segue, but have you struggled at all with choosing to stay the course with relatively light content in the Trump era? Have you felt conflicted at all about being fashion bloggers when the news cycle is so intense? Is it still OK to just have fun if you have a platform like yours?

HC: Yes. People need an escape, for sure. I think there just needs to be some corners of the internet where you can go and give yourself a brain rinse, you know? I’m not saying that means our content is stupid, I just mean it’s theoretically not stressful. Everybody needs that, and we felt that way even before Trump.

We would get the occasional email from someone who was basically in the Army, or a neurosurgeon, and be like, “I had a really lousy day at work, and your website really cheered me up.” And you’re like, oh my god. People can bag on what we do all they want, but it’s actually, in a weird way, helpful to people who actually have really important jobs, and that is the sort of material that they need, and I’m happy to give that to them.

You can’t help what you’re good at, and if what I’m good at is writing stuff that helps other people decompress after their day, then that’s not such a bad thing.

JM: I also think that if you closely read Go Fug Yourself, Heather and I write stuff all the time where we’re kind of like, “These pants are so cute, I feel so much better. Everything’s a garbage fire!” We’re not pretending everything is amazing right now. I do think you do have a moment where you’re like, “Oh my god, we’re all going to die. I need to look at some pictures of Chris Evans for 20 minutes.”

HC: No, I can be very concerned that we’re going to all die in a global garbage fire while also focusing on a couple other things. I can take multitudes, and my brain has more than one space.

 

Thanks to y’all, we have collected — and are still collecting! — AMAZING pics from Fug Nationals all across the U.S. at the #marchforourlives events. They’re in an Instastory now, and we are archiving them together in our profile as #march4ourlives (character limits, dontcha know) so that they will live there for as long as we need a reminder of the power of so many generations gathering and striving to be heard. The last 18 months have been quite the civics lesson, and something tells me the kids who’ve been activated will not fade quietly into the ether. It’s stunning to see them take control and take to the streets. Thanks to those kids, and the families and communities that have raised them into formidable forces. #FugNationStrong

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LL: That you’ve noticed, have world events had any direct effect on what you do?

HC: One thing that happened was Brexit.

JM: Oh yeah. 

HC: Oh my god. Before Brexit, it was the Scottish referendum. We were like, “Oh my god, what if the whole composition of the United Kingdom is totally different? What does this mean?” Then now it’s Brexit, so now we can basically say we’ve created this alternate timeline. It’s a timeline where Brexit didn’t happen, we don’t have to worry about it.

LL: Finally, are you looking for interns? Specifically, do you want me to be your intern?

JM: I kind of wish we had an intern, but to be honest with you, we don’t really have anything for an intern to do that would be useful for them, or educational. People are often like, “You need an intern.” No, because they couldn’t really do anything that was useful for them as a person. Like I need someone to take my stuff to the mailbox sometimes, but if you have an intern, you want them to learn and grow.

LL: I don’t think I’d make the drive for the mail, but I would be at least as good an intern as Intern George.

HC: He’s a terrible intern. I’m sure you’d be a much better intern than George. He’s never here.

Read GoFugYourself.com now, and click on all the ads to help it stay financially viable forever. (Click on ours, too, since you’re here.) Then get copies of The Royal We, Spoiled and Messy. Make sure to review the books on Amazon and Goodreads. When you’re done, email Heather and Jessica and let them know you took these supportive actions because you read this interview and you think I’d make a stellar intern.

 

Leona Laurie