Fame and celebrity are fascinating and fickle. Authors Helena Hunting and Sarah Skilton grapple with these subjects in their novels Meet Cute and Fame Adjacent, respectively. Both novels take on celebrity, whether in the form of a literal meet-cute with a heartthrob at the start of law school or a child-star character. To celebrate the release of their books, Hunting and Skilton sat down to talk and they let us in on their conversation! Here, Hunting and Skilton chat about their novels, the TV shows they’d bring back, and their internet addictions.
On the inspiration behind the fictional TV shows in their novels:
Sarah Skilton: In 1989, when I was in sixth grade, one of my best friends (to whom Fame Adjacent is co-dedicated) and I were obsessed with the All-New Mickey Mouse Club. We talked on the phone about it every night for at least an hour, dissecting every aspect of it. But by the time Britney, Justin, Christina, Ryan, etc. joined the show several years later, I’d outgrown it. When the later-season cast became famous, I was shocked. Why hadn’t “my” Mouseketeers from the earlier years gone on to bigger and better things? That question stuck with me, and writing Fame Adjacent was my way of reconciling what had occurred, which is that fame can be arbitrary, dependent upon luck and timing as much as talent. Also, I love books that take readers behind the scenes.
Helena Hunting: I’ve always been interested in what happens to those child actors who don’t go on to be blockbuster movie stars, and I wanted to focus on someone who had gone on to shed the fame (as best as one can actually do that) and become… normal. I loved the idea of having a totally put-together heroine who just loses her ever-loving mind when she quite literally runs into her teenage crush and fangirls all over him.
SS: Something I adored about Meet Cute was that Dax made a choice to leave showbiz behind. He stood out strongly to me because of that; I was instantly intrigued and wanted to get to know him. The only person I can think of IRL who voluntarily said, “You know what? This isn’t for me,” is Jack Gleeson, the actor who played Joffrey on Game of Thrones.
HH: I can’t imagine what it would be like to be the actor who played Joffrey. The hate mail would have been intolerable, which I suppose speaks to his talent.
Holly in Fame Adjacent is such an intriguing heroine. She’s quite literally stuck in this limbo, still connected to the people from her past, unable to let go of them and chaining herself to the past through the internet. It’s no wonder she struggles so much to define herself outside of a show in which she never truly felt seen in the first place.
On the shows they wish they could bring back:
SS: I don’t think I’d bring something back, because I think our most beloved shows belong to the era in which they aired. Our nostalgia for them is tied up in our nostalgia for the people we were when we watched them. With something like My So-Called Life, I think it remains perfect in our memories because it didn’t have the chance to get “bad” the way so many shows that overstay their welcome do. Instead, I’d choose to cut off shows before they jumped any proverbial sharks! Veronica Mars season one is perfection, as are Alias seasons one and two. I do wish the teen soap opera Swans Crossing had gone on longer than it did, however. It starred a young Sarah Michelle Gellar and ended its 65-episode run on a cliffhanger of epic proportions. I still wonder where the plot was going, and which romantic pairings I missed out on!
HH: I have to agree, sometimes it’s better to leave those shows in the past where they belong. As a teenager I remember being fully obsessed with Beverly Hills, 90210 and then later I fell in love with The OC and then, post Twilight, I fell in love with The Vampire Diaries, having totally missed out on Buffy the Vampire Slayer era. Currently the almost-teen girls in my neighborhood are in love with Friends. My newest show obsession is Stranger Things, which ironically is set to look like it’s taking place in the 80s and has all of the cheese, bad hair, and weird clothes which allows me to revel in the nostalgia.
SS: My son’s babysitter went through a huge Friends phase, too. Stranger Things is great, and really speaks to the nostalgia a lot of us feel for the analog era. I definitely recommend giving Buffy a look sometime, Helena!
HH: I am irrationally excited for the next season of Stranger Things. I fully agree that part of its appeal is the nostalgia associated with the simplicity of the analog era. It makes me wonder which “old school” TV shows will be popular 20 years from now.
On their internet addictions:
HH: Can we talk a little about how fascinating the premise is for Fame Adjacent? I am so utterly enthralled by internet rehab and as I was reading about Holly’s spiral into the internet abyss, I couldn’t help but think that for all the good the internet does, it has an equally negative effect on us as a social human beings. It’s a bit parasitic, really.
SS: I would sign up for internet rehab in a heartbeat! That part of the book is wish-fulfillment of mine.
HH: Instagram is my current fascination, specifically @Mayapolarbear and @theebrunobartlett. Maya is a dog with over a million followers, and is the cutest dog I have ever seen in my life and Bruno is a polydactyl (has extra toes) cat on a weight loss journey who stands on his hind legs. He recently gained an adopted brother Carlo. I check on them almost every day to see if they’ve posted something new. In a sea of filtered selfies, a picture of an adorable kitty begging for food scraps by standing on his hind legs restores my faith in humanity. Or at least pet owners.
SS: I completely agree that Instagram is fascinating. I’m sad to say I’m a Twitter fiend (not so much posting on it as reading it) and I can’t seem to quit it, though I’ve occasionally tried. News, humor, gossip, I want it all.
HH: Back when Twitter was new, I used to have conversations with people on it all the time. I don’t know what happened to change that. Maybe Facebook groups were an easier way to connect? But I can imagine how the short, snappy little bursts of information could be so enticing, like little appetizer portions of information.
On being IRL fangirls:
SS: When I first moved to LA in 1999, I worked as an executive assistant. Our building was located on Sunset Boulevard, and it was a hub of production companies, agents, and managers. I’ve stood in the elevator next to Joshua Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio among others, and I saw Michelle Pfeiffer once at a wrap party. I’ve been out here long enough that I definitely play it cool, but that doesn’t mean I don’t alert my friends and squee about it afterward.
HH: I think I would probably break out in hives if I was ever in the same elevator as Leonardo Dicaprio, or any of the people cited above, but I’m from Canada, so I don’t generally run into famous people. I did however get to meet Eric Johnson (Jack from the Fifty Shades movies) and he was incredibly lovely (and Canadian) and wonderfully relatable.
On female characters who made an impression:
HH: I’ve read a number of really amazing books so far this year and I will say that the heroine in The Last Letter by Rebecca Yarros is an amazingly strong woman. Despite it being fictional, I feel like I am a better person for having read that amazing story.
SS: I raced through Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and the titular heroine absolutely leapt off the page, complex and compelling. Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage was my favorite read of 2018, and filled me with an incredible array of emotions, largely due to Celestial’s character arc as she struggles to find a life for herself when her husband is wrongly incarcerated. And in Meet Cute, I love that Kailyn is so relatable! She felt so well-rounded and real to me.
HH: Kailyn doesn’t put up with BS and she’s a take-charge kind of woman, which is something I respect, but she’s also soft when she needs to be.
In Fame Adjacent, I really love the way Holly comes in to rescue people in need. She takes care of her sister, of her former castmates, and even Thom, and I’m not sure she’s aware of how much of a caregiver she really is. At least not when she first goes to internet rehab where she’s forced to really look at herself and discover who she is.
HH: I admire Holly’s ability to find the humor, even if it’s dark humor, in any situation. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, and she tends to roll with the punches.
On the message of their novels:
HH: People are not defined by an event or a job or one single facet of their life. As individuals they are layered and complex, they take risks and make choices, some of which may not have the best impact on others around them, or even themselves. But it’s not the individual choices that define a person, it’s what they learn from them and how move forward that shapes who they are and determines their future path.
SS: Life is what you make of it, not so much what happens to you. Everyone struggles, especially in regards to the things we can’t control, so the way you behave in the areas you can control are what determine your happiness and sense of self-worth. Secondary message: Go offline.
HH: I love the message in Fame Adjacent and the journey you take the characters on. It’s such a fabulously poignant and highly relevant story. I’m so excited for other people to read it!
Helena Hunting, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author behind Meet Cute, lives outside of Toronto with her amazing family and her two awesome cats. She writes all things romance—contemporary, romantic comedy, sports and angsty new adult. Helena loves to bake cupcakes, has been known to listen to a song on repeat 1,512 times while writing a book, and if she has to be away from her family, prefers to be in warm weather with her friends. For more on Helena and her books, visit HelenaHunting.com.
Sarah Skilton, the author of Fame Adjacent, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, where she and her older sister loved recording their own radio shows onto cassette. They wrote and performed serialized dramas, comedies, soap operas about cats, talk shows, and of course advertisements. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sarah graduated with a TV/Radio degree from Ithaca College in upstate New York before moving to sunny Los Angeles, where she’s worked as a production assistant, a TV extra, a film reviewer, a blogger for a Japanese marketing company, and a script analyst. She currently blogs for Barnes & Noble and lives north of L.A. with her husband and 7-year-old son. When Sarah was eleven, she auditioned for The Mickey Mouse Club despite not having any discernible talent for singing or dancing. Visit SarahSkilton.com for more information.