Jennifer Mathieu’s latest novel started receiving a lot of attention well before publication when it was optioned by Amy Poehler. Since then Moxie has only gotten bigger and rightfully so. Moxie follows Vivian, a girl growing up in small town Texas, who is sick of the sexism and harassment at her high school. Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines, Viv decides to start one of her own to fight back and start her own feminist revolution. If you haven’t heard of this book yet, get ready for it later this month because this book is a winner and possibly my favorite book of the year. Today Jennifer is here on the blog to talk a little more about this fantastic novel.
Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Jennifer Mathieu (JM): Well, I’ve always been a writer. As a little girl I wrote books and poems for fun. In 5th grade I won my first writing contest at my school with my book Mystery at Grandma’s. In high school I edited my school paper and I majored in journalism in college because I thought being a reporter would be one way to be able to write for a living. It turns out that reporting wasn’t for me, but being an English teacher definitely was. I made the career switch to teaching in my late 20s and I started to read the young adult novels my own students were reading. I thought I might be good at writing such stories myself. My first two young adult novels were good enough to get me an agent but they never sold. My third novel, The Truth About Alice, was my first book to sell, and it was published in 2014. I’ve been really fortunate to be with my publisher Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press since then, and Moxie is my fourth book.
MP: What was the inspiration for Moxie?
JM: I was hunting around for my next idea. I like to and have written about my interests and even my obsessions – small towns, cults, high school gossip, etc. – and I was contemplating other interests of mine that I hadn’t tackled yet. Feminism and Riot Grrrl came to mind. At first I thought about writing a Riot Grrrl novel actually set in the 90s, but I wanted to write a book set in contemporary life, and I wanted to revisit the Riot Grrrl movement through a modern lens. I was sitting on my couch in my den texting with my friend, book blogger Kate Sowa, and the basic plot for Moxie just came to me in a rush. I texted it to her and she was so excited I knew I had something!
MP: Vivian picks the name for her zine after the term “moxie” comes up in a conversation with her grandmother. Which begs the question: What does moxie mean to you?
JM: Moxie to me means guts, gumption, strength and spunk. The word bossy gets thrown around all the time for strong girls, but I’d love to replace it with the word moxie. Plus it has a retro appeal which I love!
MP: Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? Who do you think you most resemble (or wish you resembled)? Anyone you’re especially excited for readers to meet?
JM: Oh, it’s impossible to choose! I love all the girls. I think maybe I have a soft spot for Lucy Hernandez, the new girl in town. She is brave and also vulnerable. I was probably most like Vivian in high school, scared to make waves and really wanting to fit in, but with a sense in my gut that all was not well in my sexist high school. I’m just eager for readers to meet all of the characters.
MP: What is your favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?
JM: I can’t give too much away, but the big climactic scene at the end of the book was my favorite scene to write and actually the scene I wrote first! I can’t wait for readers to discover it, and I’ve had a few early readers tell me they teared up reading it. I love the Valentines Day scene between two characters at school and the surprise Vivian receives on Valentines Day. That scene was so fun and romantic to write.
MP: During Moxie Vivian initially plans a few signs of solidarity and a protest to fight the school’s unequal dress code in the zine. From there the movement gains a life of its own as other girls take the lead. Can you talk a bit about your vision for the Moxie movement in this novel and how you went about making it inclusive while staying focused on the core plot?
JM: To me, it was very important that the movement was leaderless so that all girls could claim the Moxie title for themselves. The Riot Grrrls tried to be leaderless in a lot of ways, but it was hard because the mainstream media wanted to name leaders and highlight certain women or bands. By making Moxie truly anonymous, anyone could take it on, and it also allowed for girls from different backgrounds, including different races, to take on Moxie as their own. I’m a white author and Riot Grrrl was a predominantly white movement, and I wanted Moxie to feel like it could belong to every girl. As for staying on the core plot, well, I know it’s corny, but I let the characters talk to me and tell me what they wanted to do. It really does happen! Somehow it all came together.
MP: Speaking of the zine and protests, what was your favorite Moxie moment to write in this book?
JM: I’m repeating myself, but definitely my favorite scene, the climactic scene at the end of the novel. As I mentioned, I wrote this scene first which is unusual for me. I typically write in a linear fashion. But this scene just wouldn’t get out of my head, so I wrote it first as I was pitching the book to my editor. I wrote it in a coffee shop down the street from my house and I felt like perhaps like this was something special! I hope I’m right!
MP: One of the things I love about Moxie is the sense of solidarity that the zine fosters both for the characters in the novel and for readers. Some of that support has been obvious in the book’s hashtag (#moxiegirlsfightback) after Kirkus published their review of this title. Can you talk a bit about what the pre-publication support/reception has been like for Moxie?
JM: I have been completely overwhelmed in the best way possible by how many early readers or just people who are excited for the book have had my back and have expressed support for Vivian and her friends. It all started to snowball when Amy Poehler’s production company optioned the book for film and the book wasn’t even out yet! That was mind-blowing. And the UK edition was picked up for the Zoella Book Club, so it’s actually already out in the UK, and I’ve been getting the kindest, most generous emails from readers there. And I’ve hired a former student to run the Moxie Tumblr (moxiegirlsfightback.com) and that’s been building steam, too. It’s just been this coming together of all these different people eager to support this feminist message. I’ve heard many women and girls say given the current administration and the last presidential election, the book feels especially timely. I’m so grateful for their support and hope I don’t let them down!
MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?
JM: Sure! I am working on my fifth book for Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. It’s in the very early stages and I don’t have a release date for it yet or a title. It’s based on a very eerie, very sad episode of This American Life that has been haunting me since my editor first told me to listen to it. It’s about a teenage brother and sister being raised by their abusive mother on an island off the Texas Gulf Coast. It’s set in the 80s and it’s about lies, love, taking risks, and saying goodbye.
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
JM: I always offer the same three pieces of advice – read widely and never apologize for what you read, write often and don’t expect it to be perfect – just write! – and put your phone away often and observe the world. Writers have to be good spies. Put your phones away and observe the rhythm of life that surrounds you. Overhear conversations. Dream up worlds inside your neighbors’ houses. Build your imagination muscle.
Thanks again to Jennifer for this great interview!