Debbie Rigaud’s debut novel featured a swoon-worthy couple reminiscent of everyone’s favorite royals if they were teens: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, of course. Her latest contemporary YA Simone Breaks All the Rules features one of the funniest protagonists you’re going to meet in 2021, new friends, an end-of-high-school bucket list, and lots of prom goodness. I’m so happy to have Debbie here to answer some questions.
Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Debbie Rigaud: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I remember being a toddler scribbling gibberish on paper to mimic my eldest sister’s neat handwriting. Though I was an early reader, writing was my jam. I kept journals—one of bad poetry—as a tween and wrote sketches and short scripts for my cousins to perform. I continued journaling through high school and beyond, and wrote for the school paper in college. My first job after graduation was an editorial internship at Time Inc. in NYC. I worked at several magazines, and because I’d been staffed at teen magazines like Seventeen and loved for writing for young readers, I was approached to contribute a novella to a YA anthology published by KimaniTru. From there, I got an opportunity to write a Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy. Though this was followed by a gap of years before I published any fiction, it was these earlier works that led to the TRULY MADLY ROYALLY and HOPE series book deals. Thanks to TMR, I was able to pitch SIMONE BREAKS ALL THE RULES, which feels like my debut because this is my first work of non-assigned fiction. It’s my conception and it’s a story I’ve wanted to write for at least a decade.
Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Simone Breaks All the Rules?
Debbie: Like Simone, I am a child of Haitian immigrants who grew up in a strict but loving household, and I longed to read joyful and humorous stories about this experience. Yes, tossed in there are bitter feelings about all the many rules I grew up with, I was careful not to vilify strict parents or paint them with flat, broad brushstrokes. This was an opportunity to highlight the nuances, the complications, the backstories and, yes, the hilarity of growing up with overprotective immigrant parents. When I thought of the relatives who had had their proms arranged irl, I had my angle to writing such a story.
Miss Print: The story really gets started as Simone connects with Amita and Kira when the girls make their senior playlist of all the things they want to do before high school ends. Their list includes things like traveling to New York City, going dancing, and Simone’s number one item: choosing her own prom date. What kind of things would have made it onto your own senior year bucket list?
Debbie: Going to the college of my choice—I was obsessed with NYU. I got in but could not attend because the tuition was too steep for my family. My second choice, which I was also very passionate about, was FIT. Yes, once upon a time, I fancied myself an aspiring fashion designer. I have zero talent in that area, so it seems wild that I could even consider a career in fashion. But I had the sketch book with wonky illustrations as evidence of that time. Also, like Simone, I really wanted to go away for college, but—deep sigh—alas, I commuted instead.
Miss Print: Without getting into spoilers, a lot of Simone Breaks All the Rules is focused on Simone’s plans for prom (especially compared to her mother’s plans for prom). So, of course, I have to ask: Can you tell readers anything about your own prom experience?
Debbie: I went to two proms—when I was a junior I was a senior boy’s prom date. And that boy then accompanied me to my senior prom the following year. Yes, this was a sort-of boyfriend. But by my senior year, he was not my boyfriend, but kept his promise to accompany me. Let’s just say, I could’ve done without him accompanying me to my prom. I remember hanging more with my friends than with him that night. Womp, womp.
Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would Simone and your other characters be handling the pandemic?
Debbie: Being house-bound is Simone’s area of expertise. She and her crew of late bloomer friends are called HomeGirls for a reason. You’d be surprised how industrious you can be when confined to your home and its environs. For this reason, I am great at lots of parlor games and curbside activities, like Double Dutch, dancing, creative arts, chatting on the phone. Everything but cooking and baking, it seems. I think Simone would handle the lockdown with relative ease. And her mom, who is a worrywart would be pleased that her kids are some place safe where she can keep an eye on them. As we’ve all been coming out of lockdown, it feels like we’re all breaking out of our protective cocoons and being social butterflies, a la Simone!
Miss Print: Simone is such a fun character and, in a lot of ways, it feels like her story is just getting started. Will readers be seeing more from you about Simone–or her cousin Gabby–in the future?
Debbie: You know, that’s not a bad idea. I’d have to plead—er, talk with my editor and agent. If the book continues to perform well, I’d have a case for this. So, here’s where I make an appeal to readers to please pick up Simone, request it at your library and ask a friend to do the same! :)
Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
Debbie: I feel like I kicked my career off way behind the starting line because I didn’t have the full reading lives that most authors seem to have. I had reams and reams of journals, and even some bad fashion sketches, but I can’t ramble off a long list of influential classic books from childhood. Every author podcast interview I’ve listened to, there’s a lot of early voracious reading memories shared. At first, this made me feel mad inadequate during panel discussions. So what I say to aspiring authors is to start where they are. You can start here and now. Read what interests you, read what authors and readers you trust rave about, read in and out your genre. You can’t change the past, but appreciate all the influences that touched your journey and developed your writing. For me that was magazines, hip hop lyrics, TV, yes, books—though not many I recall by name—and, most especially, my family’s oral storytelling. Bottom line: so long as you make it count, it all counts and it all matters!
Thank you again to Debbie for these great answers! You can find out more about all of Debbie’s books on her website.
You can also read my review of Simone Breaks All the Rules here on the blog.