Charlie: So your book is based on the 2016 election. Can you tell us a bit about the characters? Are they supposed to represent candidates that ran, or simply inspired by?
Gordon: The characters were inspired by the major candidates in the 2016 election. Stacey, the workaholic who struggles to relate to people, is my Hillary Clinton. Julia, my outsider candidate with the radical ideas, is my Bernie Sanders. And Tony, the wealthy, clueless candidate who’s only running to promote his personal brand is, well, I think you can guess that one.
But while the characters were inspired by real people, they are different from them too. Part of what I wanted to explore in Your Own Worst Enemy is how elections try to simplify people into reliable voting blocks. People are more complicated than the categories we use to define them. Stacey may be a workaholic, but she’s terrified of turning into her ambitious mother. Her best friend Brian is in love with Julia but has fond memories of kissing a boy. Julia may or may not be Latinx. Even Tony has a backstory that makes him more sympathetic than he appears at first glance. These complications made the characters unique and relatable and fun to follow.
Charlie: What do you hope young adults and adults reading will get out of this?
Gordon: First off, I hope they laugh. So much of our politics is kind of depressing, so I’m hoping that by pointing out the absurdities of our election behavior, people will be both entertained and encouraged to change our current approach. This is why I love shows like Last Week Tonight and The Daily Show. John Oliver and Trevor Noah make me laugh and they make me angry. I want teens to be inspired to make a positive change in the world without having to degrade themselves to get elected to political office. There are many ways to make your voice heard and I want the book to remind readers that the strength of our democracy lies with those who fight passionately to make their community a better place.
Charlie: What can we expect in this novel?
Gordon: You mean besides laughter, tears, drama and thought-provoking inquiries into our democratic process? Well, there’s a scene where a group of girls dressed up in quinceanera gowns beats up a space cow. So, really, there’s something for everyone.
Charlie: The hardest part of writing this type of story? The easiest?
Gordon: This is my first book that’s told from multiple perspectives and that was a challenge. As a cisgendered, straight, white male, I wanted to portray the lives of my diverse characters as accurately as possible. Even though the book is a comedy, I took that responsibility very, very seriously, and showed drafts to many readers to make sure I was getting it right. I went through multiple drafts refining the voices and experiences of my characters in the novel and feel happy with the result. When I got the starred review from Kirkus with the line, “Sharply observed- but so sharp it may be missed by less woke readers – this is satire at its best” I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The easiest scenes for me to write were the cafeteria scenes where Tony slowly ascends to power with the help of Kyle. Tony was my stand-in for Donald Trump and I wanted him to tap into the same anger that Trump did when he was campaigning in 2016. So I thought, who are the angriest people in high school? It’s the freshmen guys. Imagine, you’re top dog in your middle school and then within the time span of a few months, you’re back on the bottom rung of the social ladder. These guys are pissed and eat lunch together every day in the cafeteria. So, that’s where Tony starts campaigning and within a few days, he’s turned the place into a Lord of the Flies hellscape. That part of the book is probably the closest version of a dystopian novel I’ll ever create.
Charlie: Your favorite quote from the book?
Gordon: If I were helping a student write an essay on this book for an English class, I would tell her to use the line Brian says to Stacey towards the end of the novel, “Elections demand that we simplify things, even simplify people, but sometimes that’s impossible.” So much of our politics today try to pigeonhole people into very narrow categories – by race, gender, income level, geography, etc., when we’re so much more complex than these labels. All the characters in the book live in the middle of a spectrum, which makes getting their vote so much more challenging. Stacey realizes this at one point walking through the hallways of her diverse school and it overwhelms her. “How did she create a menu to please both the carnivores and the vegetarians? She needed to find the item that pleased both. French fries, she thought. She needed to run on a platform of French fries.” That’s two quotes, which I hope is OK.
Charlie Smith would like to thank Gordon Jack and his beautiful team who helped in the process of this interview. Please take note of Gordon Jack’s social media below for more info on his books.