Many authors from around the world attended the fourth annual NoVa Teen Book Festival on March 11, 2017. M-E Girard took a detour and came here in an effort to promote her debut novel Girl Mans Up. The novel is about a teenager named Pen who has to decide if she will pick a girl over her buddy, or if she will start acting like a real girl for her parents. Girard is a pediatric nurse during the day, and a thriving YA LGBTQ book writer by night. She used her free time over the past 6 to produce a book
What inspired you to start writing?
“Ergh, getting older? And wanting to do something creative on the side. I really wanted to be in a band, but that requires other people and writing i can do on my own. I just think that I had stories that I wanted to tell. I found some really great books when I was in my twenties that made me think ‘Man, I want to do that, too. I want to tell some stories’. I had that moment and now I suddenly have a book out, I don’t know what happened between then.”
What was your writing process of Girl Mans Up like?
I tried writing a song once and The book thing, I actually like the creation process and it worked better for me. Everybody’s writing process, I’m finding out, is quite different. For me for this book went quite well because I didn’t have trouble finding time to write. I was also always excited to work on that because I was working on other things at the same time and I was bouncing from one thing to the other. And then when it’s time for the book to be published by a publisher then things get real. Then you’ve got deadlines and you’re trying to work on things. But overall, the whole process of Girl Mans Up becoming a book was really good. I really got along with my editor, we just worked back and forth, I just like the whole process of getting feedback, getting asked questions and then going and fixing it. For me, it was freaking awesome. Can you print that? I came up with the idea for it in the end of 2009 . I entered a contest and that’s when I first came up with the idea, this character and what might happen and then the book came out in September so I guess 6 years between thinking of the story and it becoming a book, mind you, there’s a whole two years of just the publisher being like ‘yes’ we want to buy this book,’ to the book actually coming out. As far as I am concerned, that is pretty fast. I got really lucky, the timing was good.”
Are there any aspects that are autobiographical?
“No, I have nothing in common with any of the cast of characters, but Pen and the whole essence of the main character was inspired by my girlfriend who is very much like Pen in the sense that she is a girl, who looks and acts like a ‘boy’, who plays video games. The video game knowledge is mine and my girl friends, we are both really big gamers so I wanted to put that in there, save myself some research and use something I know. What I am working on next has a lot more ‘me’ in it, things that I relate to more. This book actually taught me that if you get close enough to the people you are trying to write about, i feel like i can handle them because their minds are my mind’s in a sense.”
What was your goal in writing this book/what do you hope a reader will take away from reading the book?
I hope that people will start questioning things, that’s what I really want readers to do. Question what respect really means for them. And to question toxic relationships like ‘why am i friends with this person’ or ‘why do i put so much time into this relationship, is it worth it”. I think that teens, adults, anybody can have toxic relationships and you can hold on to them just purely because you’ve known somebody for so long”. I want readers to look at things that happen in the book and ask themselves ‘why it’s uncomfortable’, there are things in the book that even me as the author don’t know as the right or wrong way is to feel about the situation i just know that this one weird, there are questions to be asked. I want people to think ‘wait a minute, why is this there, why is it not there, why do I feel weird about this’. I want people to do some thinking.
If you could sum up the novel in a phrase, what would it be?
Very awkwardly, I don’t know how to explain what my novel is about. Oh, I have a tweet!! “Pen has to decide if she will pick a girl over her buddy, or if she will start acting like a real girl for her parents”. That’s how i would describe it, otherwise, I would be rambling for four hours and I still wouldn’t get to the point. It is so layered, there is too many things to talk about it.
Do you picture anyone as the characters?
Bex Taylor-Klaus is actually who I pictured as Pen, except Pen is a little bit stockier. Johnny like Ronnie from jersey shore, shorter, thick muscles, a nice face, and a little bit rough. Jensen Ackles as Colby, he is that good looking and handsome, except he is a skinnier, younger, douchier version.
Do you see yourself writing more books in the future?
“Yeah, I am totally, of course, that was always the plan. I am working on other contemporary realistic YA stories and they all take place in the same town as Girl Mans Up, Castlehill. I like the whole idea of easter eggs, which happen in video games a lot, where things are dropped into the story for ‘fans’ to pick up on, people will just ignore it unless they really know that little special thing.”
Why are events like the NoVa Teen Book Festival important?
There were no real events like that when I was a teenager. There wasn’t much of a library when I was a teenager, really. I remember when they used to set up the book sale table at my school and that feeling of like there are all these books’ and ‘oh my god they are so pretty and I can touch them’ i can even imagine that there would be an event where you can go and meet authors and talk about stories. When I got older and started writing to authors after I finished their book and they would write back I would be like. Events like these are inexplicable, there is not enough I can say about them. To just foster the love of reading in people and to expose teens to a variety of books, there was so many narrow mays i could read (?15:57) as a teen because there was no one to say ‘hey what do you like to read’ ‘try this book’ ‘come to this book fair and meet the authors’ there was nothing like that, It took me way into my twenties before i could finally decided to take an interest on my own and I could look for things that I liked. This thing should happen more often. It is a lot of work putting on these kinds of event but it is totally worth it.”