Young adult readers who want a twisty tale that keeps them guessing won’t want to miss E. Lockhart’s Genuine Fraud. The novel starts with its protagonist on the run and slowly moves backwards to reveal an antihero who is always a step ahead of everyone around her. To celebrate the book’s publication, we chatted with Lockhart about the book’s narrative structure, the difference between villains and antiheroes, and action movies.
Bookish: Genuine Fraud moves backwards in time, slowly revealing Jule’s past and motivations. How did this format affect your writing and plotting process?
E. Lockhart: I love to write challenging structures. Many of my books play with narrative devices of one kind of another. We Were Liars has the two intersecting timelines with fairytale interstitials. For Genuine Fraud, I wrote the plot out forward in distinct beats, then reversed it. Then I rewrote it to make sense going backwards, which was quite a lot of rewriting. Then I wrote the story going forward and revised it going backwards.
Bookish: One of the common themes in the book is that Jule is underestimated. She’s seen as being harmless, “just” a teenage girl, when in fact she’s strong, intelligent, and generally always two steps ahead of everyone around her. What inspired this theme?
EL: I always felt underestimated, both as a kid and as an adult. It’s a complicated and angry feeling that’s hard to act on. I think a lot of women feel this way.
Bookish: There’s an ongoing question in the book about whether a person is as bad as their worst actions. Jule could be easily viewed as an irredeemable character because of her actions. What do you think of her? Is she as bad as what she’s done?
EL: I love her because she represents what I might be capable of, laid bare. To me, she’s humanity. That’s why we love antiheroes—it’s not that we love to hate them; we love to hate villains. With antiheroes, it’s that we love the release of seeing them act out what’s inside us all.
Bookish: Friendship seems like the wrong word for what Imogen and Jule have; rather they seem inescapably drawn to each other. What elements were important to you when shaping their dynamic?
EL: They look enough alike to share a passport, but that’s not their only connection. They’re both wrenching themselves away from their families of origin in dramatic ways. They want to make new lives. They’re searching for new ways to define themselves in relation to men, to their bodies, to education, and to the world, generally.
Bookish: Jule views herself as an action hero, and she invents an origin story to fit her narrative. When her true origins are revealed, we learn that the reality she’s pulled herself out of is quite impressive. But for her it wasn’t enough. Why not?
EL: I often write about the desire to live a Big Life. To make a mark. Superhero stories and action movies tap into that desire, and that’s why I love them. So many stories about women in those action and superhero genres are written by men. Jule wants not only to live a big life, but to be the author of her own narrative.
Bookish: Jule references Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, a sociology book that says people behave differently based on who they are around or the situation they are in. What were the challenges of writing a character who was constantly aware of her behavior and intentionally seeking to change it based on her situation?
EL: I think that mindset is something of a norm for anyone who isn’t a member of the dominant culture, and in the USA that includes anyone who isn’t a cisgendered white hetero Christian male. Jule is an exaggeration and dramatization of that experience for someone of her background.
Bookish: In your dedication, you write “Here is my heart with all its ugly tangles and splendid fury.” Those are powerful words. Can you share what this book means to you?
EL: It’s a very honest book, even though nothing in it ever actually happened. I took dark parts of myself and tried to share them in an entertaining way.
Bookish: Jule believes that there are powers that live in our bodies that never leave us. What are your powers?
EL: Jule is referencing things like playing the piano or martial arts—training to a point of mastery gives you access to a power that can stay with you your whole life. Me, I touch-type about 90 words a minute. Not a very sexy power, but I use it every day and it makes my life infinitely easier.
E. Lockhart wrote the New York Times bestseller We Were Liars and the upcoming Genuine Fraud, a psychological thriller. Her other books include Fly on the Wall, Dramarama, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the Ruby Oliver Quartet, which includes The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends. She also wrote How to Be Bad with Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle. Visit her online at emilylockhart.com, and follow her on Twitter at @elockhart.