The Champagne of Propane. The dinosaur. Der Wunder Wiener. The white Volkswagen Beetle perched atop an auto body shop.
Fans of Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series will recognize these landmarks as stops on Marcus Flutie’s Five Wonders of Pineville tour.
This Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the release of Sloppy Firsts, and we’re going to celebrate with a pictorial of the inspiration for the Wonders AND an interview with Megan McCafferty.
I recently made a pilgrimage (or at least drove 15 miles) to Bayville, NJ–fictionalized as Pineville in the novels–in an attempt to track down the landmarks. With the exception of the playground, the Wonders do exist and are located on a busy stretch of highway. Though McCafferty may have taken a bit of artistic license with some of the wonders’ descriptions, they are easily recognizable and gave me a thrill each time I spotted one.
Natalie of Book, Line, and Sinker: Tell me about the inspiration behind the five Wonders. When you were in school, did a boyfriend give you a grand tour similar to the one Marcus gave Jessica?
Megan McCafferty: No boyfriend ever took me on such a tour. Though the 5 Wonders are all based on real landmarks, everything else about that scene is totally made up. In college and post-college, I’d tell stories about my hometown of Bayville, NJ and all these quirky landmarks–the Rt. 9 Dinosaur, The Champagne of Propane, etc.–that I’d grown up with. My friends always laughed at these stories, so I decided to incorporate them into Sloppy Firsts.
Natalie at Book, Line, and Sinker: Sloppy Firsts was published in 2001 and social media wasn’t quite the marketing and publicity juggernaut that it is today. How did you and your publisher promote your debut novel?
Megan McCafferty: In the year leading up to publication, I wrote a fictional serial from Hope’s point of view for Twist magazine’s website. When Sloppy Firsts came out I had thousands of readers who already invested in Hope and Jessica’s story and eager to learn more about this character they’d only heard about from Hope’s perspective. This was all my idea, and I was fortunate to have friends who were editors at Twist who made it possible.
I also worked and written for several teen and women’s magazines, so I got reviews in about a half dozen different print publications. Ten years later, most of those magazines don’t exist (YM, CosmoGirl!, Teen People) or have drastically reduced the coverage of books (Glamour). I doubt I’ll ever get that many reviews again!
Natalie at Book, Line, and Sinker: As an educator, I frequently recommend this series to some of my students and it’s a perennial favorite because so many of them can relate to Jessica. What was some of your early reader feedback like, and when did you realize Jessica Darling had so much of an impact on readers?
Megan McCafferty: Thank you! The early feedback wasn’t much different from an email I received today. Readers have related to Jessica Darling because her experiences–not getting along with her parents, hating her friends, crushing on unavailable or inappropriate boys, etc.–are universal. What makes her unique is the entertaining–and enlightening–way she shares her opinions on these rites of passage. Readers have thanked me for expressing thoughts they weren’t able to articulate themselves. And even though it’s been ten years, it’s still surreal to me that so many readers from all over the world (I got email for Serbia earlier this week) see themselves in this character.
Natalie at Book, Line, and Sinker: I always wondered about how you discovered that Jessica Darling shared a similar name with an adult film star. You seamlessly parlayed the information into a comedic scene at S.P.E.C.I.A.L. in Second Helpings, but can you offer a bit more on how you felt?
Megan McCafferty: I searched for “Jessica Darling” and got a LOT of NSFW (not safe for work) links! My first thought was, “Hm. Maybe I should have searched this BEFORE I named my character.” My second thought was, “Oh, this is going to be hilarious when my Jessica Darling finds out!”
Natalie at Book, Line, and Sinker: Marcus Flutie was my first literary crush–at 27, I was a bit late to the game! Do you have any literary crushes of your own?
Megan McCafferty: Hmm…Not so much literary as cinematic. I still think Jake Ryan is hot, seventeen years later.
Natalie at Book, Line, and Sinker: Over the last ten years, what stands out as one of the top memorable moments in your career as an author?
Megan McCafferty: I love meeting my readers and I’ve had so many unforgettable events over the years, especially at colleges like UCLA, Wellesley, Rutgers, and Princeton. But I think my favorite moment as an author was performing Barry-oke at the Columbus Circle Borders for the launch of Perfect Fifths in 2009. The crowd clapped and cheered me on as I did this ridiculous version of Copacabana. I had wanted all those readings to be a special celebration of the whole series, and that night truly was.
What? You missed the live performance? Well, check out Megan’s performance right here!
I’d like to thank Megan McCafferty for taking the time to speak with me about Sloppy Firsts, and though I’m a poor substitute for Marcus A. Flutie, I hope you managed to enjoy my photographic tour of the Wonders of Pineville.