When I sat down to write FIRSTS, I had a name—Mercedes—and the concept of
a girl trying to give guys the perfect first time. I didn’t know my real
reason for writing that particular story, not at the time, other than I
knew I had to. Mercedes was in my head, imploring me to write. And she’s
very persistent, so I did. And as I did, I realized I had a huge reason
why I had to tell Mercedes’s story.
I didn’t censor the thoughts that entered my head: the dark shadows, the
secrets, the broken parts. There is sex in this book—it’s not the whole
story, but it plays a central role. I wasn’t stepping around that or
letting it all fade to black, because real life doesn’t fade to black.
Real life is messy and complicated, sometimes painful, and sometimes
painfully awkward. As I wrote, I knew Mercedes was never going to win a
prize for the most sweet and loveable heroine. I pushed back the doubts
that crept into my mind that she would be written off as “unlikeable” and
would turn off agents or editors. I wrote for me, which is something I
never fully understood until FIRSTS. I focused on the qualities I loved
about Mercedes. She’s smart and sarcastic and bold and also vulnerable,
and she is a teenage girl who has sex and owns her sexuality.
As I wrote, I also got kind of angry. I started to think about teen girls
in general, the rules that govern their lives. The code they have to abide
by to get through high school without a reputation. I thought about the
names they’re called, the labels that are stuck to them, the titles
they’re branded with. Slut. Skank. Whore. The rumors that trail behind
them wherever they go. The slut-shaming, the words written on locker doors
in Sharpies. The whispers, the constant observation and speculation about
A big theme in FIRSTS is the idea of a perfect first time—if that even
exists. But there’s so much pressure on girls to have that be a certain
way, a stigma that a perfect first time should involve a long-term
relationship and a lot of thought beforehand. There are unwritten rules.
You can’t let him get that far until at least the third date. You have to
make sure he’s serious about you. It seems like so often, it’s only
considered okay for girls to enjoy sex if it’s under these circumstances.
And if he’s not the right guy and breaks up with her two weeks later?
Well, somehow that’s her fault, too. Society tells her she should have
used better judgment. Maybe she’s on her way to being known as that girl.
Or even worse, maybe that’s all she thinks of herself.
When I was a teenager, I remember hating TV show depictions of the
so-called perfect first time, the kind every girl should want. It usually
took place after prom and starred the good girl, the one who blushed when
the word “sex” came up. The other girls, the ones who slept with more than
one person because they enjoyed sex, were cast as bitches, depicted as
“bad girls” and villains.
I guess by those standards, Mercedes is a “bad girl.” And maybe not
everyone will like her, but I do. FIRSTS wasn’t inspired by my real-life
experiences, but it was inspired by and written for every teenage girl who
has been judged or shamed for having sex, every girl who has been stuck
with a “bad girl” label and reduced to a reputation.
It was important to me that FIRSTS was a sex-positive book wherein girls
aren’t punished for having or wanting sex. It was important that I explore
the things Mercedes, as a teenage girl who is far from a virgin, wants
from sex. Pleasure. Companionship. Control. Order. Normalcy. And although
she’s far from perfect, I hope Mercedes helps to tear into the fabric of
slut-shaming and rip the notion of that girl to shreds.
Because I think it’s about time we made confetti out of those labels
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her debut, FIRSTS, will be published by Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press in 2016. Laurie went to school for Journalism, where the most important thing she learned was that she would rather write made-up stories than report the news. She also worked as a model, a job that took her overseas to Tokyo, Athens, and Paris.
Laurie now lives in London, Ontario with her husband Steve, who is very understanding when she would rather spend time with the people in her head. Laurie can mostly be found writing happily at her desk, with the world’s most spoiled Chihuahua on her lap. Laurie drinks way too much coffee, snorts when she laughs, and times herself when she does crossword puzzles.