I'm really excited today to be here with Georgia Clark. Georgia is the author of The Bucket List. She's a novelist, screenwriter, and performer. A young adult author of She's with the Band and Parched, as well as an adult novelist of The Regulars, Georgia writes about “feisty, flawed, funny women.” She is the also the host of storytelling night Generation Women, in which she invites six generations of women to tell story on a theme. The Regulars is currently being turned into a TV show for E! Georgia has written numerous screenplays including winning a national film and TV pitching competition in Australia with her show Starts at Sunset. A native Australian and a graduate of the University of Technology in Sydney, Georgia currently lives in Brooklyn with her girlfriend who has a blog called Fifty Coffees.
Georgia Clark: Thank you so much.
Zibby: Thanks for coming in.
Georgia: My pleasure.
Zibby: Your novel The Bucket List was fantastic and really dealt with a topic that I haven't seen dealt with so much in fiction before. Tell readers more about how you came up with the idea of The Bucket List and what it’s about.
Georgia: The Bucket List is about a twenty-five-year-old woman named Lacey Whitman who lives here in New York City. She is diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene mutation, which is the breast cancer gene. That forces a decision, either ongoing surveillance as she waits for the high likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer, or the more radical step of a preventative double mastectomy. To help her make this very difficult decision, she and her close girlfriends create a boob bucket list, all the things she wants to do with and for her beautiful boobies before possibly saying ta-ta to the ta-ta’s for good.
Zibby: When I first read what this book was about, I was like, “She must have the gene herself. That must be where this has come from.” In the acknowledgments you say that actually you don't have the gene. How did this book come about?
Georgia: This book came about from a cancer scare of my own. I was in Sydney on press tour for The Regulars. During my routine pap smear, my doctor found a lump in my breast. I was scheduled to have an ultrasound on my press day, which was six AM live television, interviews, a presentation to Simon & Schuster, my book launch event, and the afterparty. In between all of that I had to, without telling anyone, slip off and go and get an ultrasound. It was the first time I had anything like that happen to me. Of course I was terrified and spiraled into the what-ifs. What would I do? How would I cope? Where would I live? How could I afford this? Would I survive? Ultimately, the lump was benign. It didn't just disappear. It all stayed with me. When I came to New York, I started to think more about what would happen. I'd had the idea of a bucket list floating around in my head. A bucket list in and of itself does not have the gravitas to hold a novel. It doesn't have enough weight to it. To put those two things together in a somewhat unlikely marriage, it started to come alive for me. That was really the genesis of the book.
Zibby: So interesting. What did you put on Lacey’s bucket list? What is on your personal boob bucket list if you have one?
Georgia: When Lacey is diagnosed and realizes that she really might have to think about having a preventative mastectomy at twenty-five or soon thereafter, she realizes that she has not given her boobs their heyday. She's from a small town. While she's jettisoned herself to New York and has a career in trend forecasting, which is sort of like a career in fashion in a way, and she presents as being quite accomplished and mature, and she has her life together, she is not very sexually mature. She has not experienced her body as something that she feels in complete control of. Her bucket list ends up being a lot of sexual exploitations. It’s in some ways a sexual coming of age. Some of the things on her list are more innocent like sunbathing topless. She hasn’t really done a lot of things that are in any way considered risqué. Then some of them are far more risqué, sex in public, having a threesome, a lot of classic sexual exploitations.
One of the things that ended up on my own bucket list as a result of writing the book was, she has something on her list called wearing a boobs-on-parade dress which she describes as being the dress that the women on The Bachelor wear, a very revealing boobie dress. I don't really dress like that myself. I did find doing the events for this book, I was drawn to buying and wearing dresses that showed off more cleavage than I would usually show off.
Zibby: Georgia is wearing overalls and a turtleneck right now.
Georgia: I'm dressed like a nun, a fun nun, but a nun nonetheless.
Zibby: I'm trying to imagine these risqué dresses. [laughs]
Georgia: Obviously in the scheme of the world, The Bachelor, these dresses were grandma dresses. Still, I went out of my comfort zone a little bit.
Zibby: I was telling my kids about your book this morning and the concept of the boob bucket list, which to my pre-adolescent eleven-year-old twins, they were like, “What? What is she going to do with her boobs?” I was like, “All right. Let's not even talk about this.”
Georgia: Oh, my gosh. I was telling my girlfriend’s father about it. He was driving us back from the airport and we nearly got in a car accident. He was just zooming. Linds was like, “Dad!” We pulled up short. It’s a sexy and scintillating concept.
Zibby: When I was reading the book, I was in the playroom. I often read when the kids are around because they're always generally around. I was reading on the couch. There were two particularly graphic three-way sex scenes. I'm sitting there and my kids are jumping up next to me. Then my babysitter starts walking over. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. Don't read these words. Don't let her see.” I'm blushing. You go into it. How do you feel about doing that? Do you get embarrassed writing about it?
Georgia: No. I really like writing love and sex scenes. I really enjoy seeing what a character does once they tumble into bed together. I find it frustrating in some books where you spend so much time connecting emotionally with characters as they are falling for each other, like in a rom-com, and then they finally get into bed together and there's this fade to black. We start again the next morning. I've just invested so much time with you. I want to know what's going on. For me, I'm not so prudish. It’s fun to think and talk and write about sex. It’s fun for me as a writer. Especially as someone who's in a monogamous relationship, in a way, it’s a way for my imagination to have a day out and go for a walk and try something different without leaving the confines of my relationship. In some ways, that's what you offer readers as well. It’s a way to keep your sexual imagination alive in the form of entertainment and also really getting to know a character. What we do in bed says so much about us. It’s also a great way for humor. There's so many ways that you can play out funny situations in bed as well.
Zibby: I loved when one of the characters took a phone call. [laughs] You have these sexual types scenes and really fun moments in the book. You also have these very poignant moments where Lacey is struggling with this diagnosis and the feeling of being so alone in it. First of all, she wasn’t telling people, but more how would she cope? Who should she trust? Who should she talk to? You said, this is Lacey talking now, “I've never had real depression. That's my sister’s territory. But once I've stepped out of my tool and motorcycle boots and washed my face of makeup, I can't fight the wave of emotion chasing me. Tucked into bed feeling small and vulnerable, I let it drown me, sinking into all the things I've been trying to avoid. No man will find me sexy if I go through with it, but I might die if I don't. I don't want to lose my breasts. I don't want implants inside me. I am scared. I am so, so scared,” which is so beautiful the way you have her be so open. Did you make this a device for her to be able to share? Did you find that people you talked to who were confronting the same things felt the same way, or was it more from your scare that you just mentioned?
Georgia: A little of both. From the research that I did -- I obviously did a lot of research for this book -- the moments leading up to the surgery, whether that was a matter of weeks, months, years, are extremely fraught. There's a lot of very hard decisions that have to be made if that's something that you've decided to do. More so, I had that in common with Lacey. I think a lot of readers can relate to the difficulty in asking for help when the proverbial hits the fan. It’s easy to ask for help when it’s a fun favor or a very simple favor. To ask for help when you really need it because your life is at stake or whether you're going through an illness or a tragedy or anything like that, it’s very difficult for some people, myself included, to really reach out and ask for help. One of the reasons why -- again, this is something I have in common with Lacey -- is like Lacey, I jettisoned myself from Sydney, Australia -- I'm Australian, spoiler alert -- to New York and really built up my life here. I didn't have friends or a place to live or a relationship or a job. I really didn't have anything.
This book takes place when Lacey is pretty new to New York. I'm not as new to New York. At that time when I was, it’s a very vulnerable place to be. You don't have a solid support system. You're not really able to fall because there's nothing to catch you. You don't really have the option of falling apart. That's the position that Lacey believes that she's in. Whether that's true or not is up for debate. I wanted to explore what it would be like for a young woman very much carving her life and on the way up to go through this. There's no good time to go through this. It doesn't matter if you're in your sixties or your twenties. It’s not any easier at any age. The specific challenges facing someone in their twenties I thought would be interesting. It is interesting to me. Also, I can still relate to that time in my life. I went through it.
Zibby: Not too long ago. What were some of the things that you were surprised to find out from all the research you did? How did you do your research? Did you talk to people in person, interviews, emails, surveys? How did you do it?
Georgia: I really like to talk to people. I'm not afraid to jump into a community I don't know about. I connected with a couple of advocacy groups, FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered and Bright Pink. Through those communities, met people whether it was through message boards or just [indiscernible] people, people who had written about it, whether that be one article online or a book. I did a lot of reading. Then I would find contacts in the way that a journalist finds contacts. Some people were happy just to do one interview with you and that's it. Some people really become invested in the whole process because books take years. I had a few contacts who I was able to go back to again and again. Eventually, they were reading sections and giving notes and things like that. I went to events. I researched not just even in BRCA, but in the trend forecasting community. I made contacts in that as well and went to conferences. I really enjoy research. Also, it’s not writing so it’s a lot easier. That was how the book came to life. Not just women who had the gene mutation, but also healthcare professionals such as genetic counselors, plastic surgeons, PCPs, everyone that Lacey came into contact with, I wanted to come into contact with.
To your second question, what really surprised me, I'm continually impressed and struck by the resilience and strength of women. I am already a huge fan of women I suppose, but I'd never really thought about what it would take to elect to have a preventative surgery for something like your breasts, which are such a marker of the female identity. They're how we breastfeed children. They're so much a part of our sexual identity. They're such a physical marker of our bodies. The strength that it takes to decide to remove them to remove a risk of cancer, I was so amazed by that.
When I started first thinking and talking about it with my friends, “I'm thinking about writing a book about someone who has a preventative mastectomy,” some of my friends really found that very confronting and physically recoiled from the topic. That just made me more interested in writing about it. I'm really interested in writing about the things that still have a lot of taboos around them but that are just a reality of our lives, whether that's menopause or menstruation, all of these things that we experience that it’s hard to talk about. I think that fiction, and particularly fiction that has a light or a warm touch to it, is a really interesting way into that conversation.
Zibby: I’ll have to send you the essay I wrote about my hysterectomy.
Georgia: Definitely. Oh, my gosh.
Zibby: One of the things that you do really well is make everyone who’s faced anything like this feel understood. That's part of what makes fiction so great, or any kind of writing really. You unite everyone. Who hasn’t had a moment where they're worried about some sort of test result or had to debate something?
Georgia: In so many ways, fiction is a practice of a radical empathy on both the writers’ and the readers’ behalf. I haven't experienced this myself, but through putting myself into the headspace of someone that has and doing the research to make it authentic, it’s a way in which I can tell a story about something that then gives other people the chance to experience that story and hopefully -- I'm not the sole person writing about this -- to join a larger conversation about women’s health and women's lives and choices that we make. I really take that very seriously. I really enjoy the experience of getting into other people's heads and lives. Through fiction, you can travel the world. You can meet everyone you've ever wanted to meet. You can travel back in time. You can go into the future. It’s such a wonderful, wonderful thing.
Zibby: I love what you just said, writing is a practice of radical empathy. If this was an article, that would be my pull quote in big and bold. I’ll have to put it in Instagram or something. I also really liked in the book how you contrasted Lacey with her sister Mara, who did have a child and was reluctant at first to get the BRCA1 gene mutation test to see if she had. That must be common, especially with all these advances in genetics. Should you know? Do you want to know? What about if someone in your family doesn't want to know? I particularly liked Mara’s comment about Moana and how she wished that Disney had never invented Moana. There was something really funny in there. I should've written it down for you. Did you speak to families or do you have friends who went through this where someone in the family had a different outlook and it drove a wedge between them?
Georgia: Yes. I’ve definitely experienced, not even in just this context, but in family dynamics in general, the difference of opinions when it comes to the important questions. The character of Mara really was a way to activate having someone push back against Lacey. Lacey’s friends, they go through their own experience with wanting to help her. There's a lot of very well-intentioned characters in the book. You can't just have everyone support this person going through this journey otherwise, A, it becomes a little didactic and a little one-sided, and B, to create some tension.
I felt like I needed a character who was saying unequivocally to Lacey, “You shouldn't do this. I think this is a mistake,” and for that person not to be someone who could be easily dismissed. There's a sprinkle of sexist doctors and so on and so forth. They're not someone that you would be holding on the pages being like, “We should really think about what this sexist doctor has to say.” If it’s your sister saying it, then she really does think about it and have to grapple with how is she going to take this advice and where is she going to push back against this advice? I wanted someone to say the classic pushbacks. What if they invent a cure? What if they invented a cure for breast cancer and then you've had your breasts removed? What would you do then? Do you think you're old enough to make this decision on your own? You're only twenty-five. If you get this testing done, then this will run your life. You won't be making decisions, the test results will. Things that have a lot of truth to them that Lacey has to really think through and decide where she comes to the table on it, what is her take on it?
Zibby: I love that. What was your process like with this novel? You said you came up with the idea and explained the genesis of that. How did this differ from your other ones? This is your fourth novel.
Georgia: Yes, that's right. I researched more for this novel, probably more than any other book. Although, I did do a lot of research for my second book which was a sci-fi/action adventure/thriller set in the future, so I read a lot about robots for a couple of years. I've also got a couple of books which weren’t published. Every author has a couple of books in the bottom manuscript. The process does get somewhat streamlined. I researched for two or three months full time. Then I wrote for maybe a year to get to a first draft. Then it goes through a series of revisions. I work with a really good freelance editor. Her name is Sarah Cypher. If anyone is a fiction writer looking for a great freelance editor to hire, I would definitely recommend her. I work with her before it goes in-house. Then it goes through another series of revisions and copy edits and all that kind of thing once it goes in-house. It was maybe a year and a half from idea to first draft.
Zibby: How did you start writing to begin with? It sounds like you do all different types of writing, not just novels, but screenwriting. You sold that script to the talent contest. You've done all these different things. When did you first know you were a writer? How did your career get kickstarted?
Georgia: When you look back on it, it’s kind of like trying to remember a dream. How did it all happen? I went to school for screenwriting and filmmaking. I wanted to be a director when I was at university, aka college. After that, I worked in magazines. I was an editor of a magazine for a while. I did a lot of freelance writing. I was really trying to break into screenwriting, which was difficult in Australia. The industry’s very small. I didn't really know how to do it. I was making a lot of guesses as to how to do something like that. I would say if you were trying to do anything, get informed about the actual practice of the industry rather than making a lot of guesses and assumptions about it. I wouldn't do that the same way again. I made a couple of short films. Nothing was really taking off for me in that way.
I came to New York on a vacation with my roommate when I was twenty-seven and fell in love with the city and had this aha moment. This is where I'm meant to be. I moved to New York when I was twenty-nine and was going to write a screenplay when I got here, write a feature film. Within a couple of weeks of moving here I realized that everyone in America is writing a screenplay. I've already had a young adult novel published in Australia. It was a small, short book published. I was one step closer in that industry. I had the door cracked in that industry, whereas I didn't have the door open at all in screenwriting. I realized that novel writing would scratch the same itch as screenwriting. What I liked about screenwriting was bringing a large world in my head out onto paper and being able to dream full time.
I realized that with novel writing, I don't need a cast and crew. I don't need to raise money from people. There's so much about filmmaking that is practically very difficult. Novel writing, it’s not. It’s just you and a computer. That's how I ended up going down that path. You mentioned The Regulars being optioned by E! We’re optioned to write a pilot. We just handed in the first draft of the pilot to E! We’re waiting for notes. We've been getting notes on the outline and the parts moving forward. There's a lot more people involved. That's the thing about screenwriting. There's a lot more people involved. With fiction, it’s just you, your editor, your agent. It’s just really those three people for years. With screenwriting, there's a producer, producer’s assistant, the studio, all of the people associated with the studio -- we have two studios working on this -- then there's the network and everyone at the network, then your cowriter. There's all of these people invested in it, which is different. I like it. Everyone has good ideas. You take the ideas that work and all that kind of stuff. It’s been funny how I've sort of come full circle over my career now from trying to get into screenwriting in my twenties, taking a left and becoming a novelist, and now maybe I'm getting back into it. I hope so. I hope we get on the air. Cross your fingers for me.
Zibby: When do you find that out?
Georgia: When you get a deal, there's different ways you can get a deal done. They just optioned the pilot. They pay us to write the pilot. Then there's more decisions that have to be made to get it green-lit to shoot the pilot and then to actually get a series order, so two larger hurdles before it actually gets on the air. We’re in development right now. Most shows in development don't make it on air. Fingers crossed. It’s still been a really fun experience writing the pilot. I definitely feel like with that project, I'm winning.
Zibby: Is this your first time having a cowriter on anything?
Georgia: It is actually, in a significant way like this. I've really enjoyed the process. I got lucky. I feel like a lot of people in the industry, their first question is, “Do you like your cowriter?” In some ways, you're just matched. There's not a huge selection process with thousands of people applying and endless meetings and coffees or anything like that. A woman based in LA called [indiscernible], she's a really good collaborator. We have complimentary strengths. It’s funny that people assume that whether it’s your editor or your cowriter, that you're in conflict with these people and that they're trying to wrestle your vision away from you. That's really not the case. Everyone who is in any way paid or desires to be part of your project, everyone has the same end game which is to make this thing good and to then hopefully get it published or get it on the air or wherever it has to go. It really is a collaboration. If you don't like someone's idea, there's generally a hierarchy of whose idea to take. There's not a lot of conflict. There's conflict in other parts of it. I'm absolutely a newbie. Maybe there are people working in a writers’ room like, “Well, get ready. I was like that. Just you wait.” Right now, my experience is everyone's trying to be on the same team.
Zibby: That's great. What about The Bucket List? Are you hoping to make that into a movie or a show?
Georgia: That would be great. I would love that. I am in some early talks with some people which I can't really say anything about now because I don't want to jinx anything. Hopefully, yeah. We might. We’ll see how it goes.
Zibby: Awesome. That's so exciting. I feel like there’s such a big audience for this. There isn't a real movie or show that I can think of about someone in this age group with this exact thing. Is there? I haven't done the research, I have to say.
Georgia: There's storylines on television. There was a storyline on a television show that I watched called The Bold Type about a character who was diagnosed with BRCA, I think it was 1, not sure if it was 1 or 2. They delve into that a little bit. This is yet to really reach the mainstream in the way that other health issues have. The strength of something like this is, like you said, it’s warm and funny and sexy and witty, but also is very serious and is able to do both of things at once.
Zibby: Well done. [laughs]
Georgia: Thank you so much. I tried really hard.
Zibby: Do you have any advice both to aspiring authors and also to anybody out there now who has this gene mutation and isn't quite what to do or who to turn to?
Georgia: For authors, a regular writing practice is number one. It’s really hard to write when “the inspiration strikes,” or whenever you find a spare minute because you'll never find that minute. Writing is work. It’s not always fun. If you are able to find a time and carve out that time in your calendar, whether it’s Saturday mornings or Thursday nights or Friday afternoon, whatever you have available, and really making that a regular practice, there’ll be a certain muscle memory that kicks in after a month. When you sit down to write, it’ll become easier and easier because your brain and body will commit to that time and realize, “Oh, it’s Friday afternoon. Now, I'm switching off my phone and turning off the internet and shutting the door and doing a deep dive.” You have to remove all of your distractions. I use an app called Freedom, which turns off the internet, and physically switch the phone off. That's a great way into it. I also really recommend work with a freelance editor like I mentioned or finding a community.
That's my advice as well for anyone who is struggling with any kind of health dilemma. It’s really helpful to find a community. It’s something that Lacey actually really pushes back against. She's not someone who really sees herself as joining a cancer club. She is a bit of an eye-roller about that. When she eventually does do that, she meets people that really change her attitude and that support her in a very meaningful way. It’s invaluable to connect with others, even if they’re people that you would never usually connect with in your life, to realize that you're not alone in whatever you're going through and to be able to talk about it however you can. Sometimes those people are great because they're sort of like a therapist. They play a very specific part of your life.
Get the information that you need. I would never advocate that everyone gets tested. It’s a personal choice to make. I would advocate gathering the knowledge you need to make that choice. Find out if you have a family history. If you do, then think about whether getting genetically tested feels right for you. It could be a big piece of information to find about. The other side of that is if you don't have that information, you might get a shock or a fright by actually developing cancer. If you know about it in advance, it can empower you with more information. Community and empowering yourself with information are both wonderful things to do.
Zibby: I forgot to ask earlier. I want to know more about your Generation Women. Tell me about that. What's that about?
Georgia: Thanks. I host a multigenerational storytelling night here in New York City. We’re on once a month at Caveat in the Lower East Side, which is a fantastic new, downtown theater. We invite a woman in her twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies to tell an original story on a theme. I started the night after conversations with my own mother Jayne about the experience of disappearing as an older woman, the feeling that when she was walking down the street, that people were looking right through her. The more I started to think about ageism, especially for women, the angrier I got and the more I wanted to do something about it. I started this night as a platform for all women's stories but particularly older women because we don't hear enough from older women. It’s a very valuable experience to literally sit around the matriarchal campfire and hear these stories passed down. Some of them are really funny. Some are really moving. You'll laugh, you'll cry at one of our nights. We've built a really strong community around this event. If you're in New York City, please come and check us out. We’re online at GenerationWomen.us. You can buy tickets through Caveat. We generally sell out a week or so before a show. Get in early. We'd love to see you there. Come and say hi to me.
Zibby: I'm coming. I'm going to come. I think you should have my grandmother on. She's ninety-five. She's the best storyteller.
Georgia: We've actually never had a team nineties. I'm really excited to book team nineties. We should talk.
Zibby: We’ll turn off the microphone and make some plans. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.” I really, really appreciate it. I really loved chatting with you.
Georgia: Thank you, Zibby. Thanks for having me.
Zibby: Thanks, Georgia.