Jessica Koosed Etting and Alyssa Embree Schwartz are co-authors of the Georgetown Academy series which follows four sophomore girls at an elite prep school in Washington D.C. Brinley, Ellie, Evan, and Taryn must navigate the normally treacherous waters of high school–dating, parties, and English essays– all with the added challenge of trying to avoid national political scandal!
Jessica and Alyssa were nice enough to stop by Figment and chat about Capitol Hill, writing from multiple perspectives, and the books that influence them to write. Read their Q-and-A below, and when you’re done reading, be sure to check out the Georgetown Academy contest for a chance to be published in the next Georgetown Academy book!
BONUS: Join Jessica, Alyssa and Coliloquy’s CEO Lisa Rutherford for a chat about what they’re looking for in a contest entry on Tuesday, June 30 at 7 p.m. EST / 4 p.m. PST!
What inspired you to mix D.C. politics with teen drama? Are you secretly suggesting that politicians are like overgrown teenagers?
We were first inspired to delve into the world of D.C. teens during the 2008 election while talking to a few of our friends who actually went to schools like Georgetown Academy and knew some of the political children first-hand. Their stories about what it’s like to be a teen living in such a powerful bubble were so unbelievable and unique (and way more thrilling than our high school experiences). It struck us as the perfect, natural setting for a YA series—and we immediately began coming up with characters and storylines. And yes, with all the drama, in-fighting, scandal and rumor-spreading, Capitol Hill definitely reminds us of high school at times. We’d argue that the Georgetown Academy students may even be a little more mature than the politicians.
The Georgetown Academy books follow four characters: Ellie, Evan, Taryn, and Brinley. What are the pros and cons of writing from multiple perspectives?
D.C. is an interesting, multi-faceted city, so, we really wanted to tell the story of Georgetown Academy from multiple, extremely different perspectives.
Ellie, our central character, has a mother who is a prominent Senator, and through her, we get to experience what it’s like to have such a public figure for a mom, for better or for worse. Brinley represents the old guard of D.C., those that live a completely different stratosphere of wealth and power than the rest of us. Conversely, Taryn represents the new school of D.C. Her father is an up-and-coming politician with a lot of heat and who is rumored to become the country’s first Hispanic president and who is living in D.C. for the first time after moving there from Los Angeles. And finally, we have Evan, whose parents are NOT involved in politics and who is at Georgetown Academy on scholarship. Because of that, she often has a radically different perspective on the drama at G.A. than the rest of the characters.
So, for us, the best part about writing from multiple perspectives is having the ability to showcase such different points-of-view firsthand. We also love when readers see something happen in Ellie’s chapter, for example, and form an opinion, only to change that opinion once they’ve read Brinley’s chapter and understand more where she was coming from.
The tricky part of writing multiple perspectives is ensuring that the storyline comes through smoothly – when you’re in so many people’s heads it’s super important to keep the plotting clean and clear.
As co-authors, how do you two divide the work? What are the challenges of writing that way—and what are the upsides?
Whether it’s for a book, television show or movie, we do all our brainstorming and outlining together. Well, not physically together, because we live across the country from each other. But we do it all on Skype which is even better than in person because we never have to get out of our P.J.’s.
After we create a really detailed outline, we split up the actual writing. We email each other our work, then edit and revise until our perfectionist selves are satisfied. After writing together for so long, we’re definitely a well-oiled machine so we don’t run into too many challenges with the process. The truth is, after thirteen years of friendship, we basically share a brain so whatever project we’re working on ends up feeling cohesive even though we’ve split up the writing. And the major upside is, we can work twice as fast!
What do you each do when you’re not writing about Georgetown Academy?
We started our career off as screenwriters for both television and film, so when we’re not writing Georgetown Academy, we’re often working on one of our other projects. But besides that, we are pop culture fanatics, reading junkies and obsessed with all things fashion.
What were your favorite books when you were teens?
Not surprisingly we had the same taste in books growing up! We both read our first Mary Higgins Clark book in our teens and became obsessed with mystery novels. We read practically everything she wrote in the ‘90’s! It was also the first time we really started enjoying the books we were assigned in school especially when we were introduced to Jane Austen and F. Scott Fitzgerald. And we devoured Bridget Jones’s Diary and loved the chick lit revolution that resulted from it!
How do you get yourself ready to write?
What’s the best writing advice anyone’s ever given you?
No matter how obvious it is, the advice of “write what you know” has carried us through a lot of projects. Whenever we stay authentic to our voice, we’re happier with the end result and the actual writing experience is a lot more pleasant!