Some Girls Do author Jennifer Dugan on queer romance and bad liars

Some Girls Do by Jennifer Dugan. Image courtesy Penguin Random House
Some Girls Do by Jennifer Dugan. Image courtesy Penguin Random House /

Author Jennifer Dugan’s third novel Some Girls Do may be her best yet. The story follows Ruby, a beauty pageant queen whose true passion is working on cars, and Morgan, a track star who was forced to leave her former school due to homophobic policies.

The two meet when Morgan transfers to Ruby’s school, setting off slow-burn frenemies to lovers romance as Ruby has to figure out what the feelings she’s long-repressed really mean and Morgan has to reconcile her fight for freedom with a chance at happiness.

Dugan writes swoony romance with well-crafted multidimensional characters rarely seen in young adult literature, making for a fast-paced read you won’t want to put down. Some Girls Do is also a thoughtful exploration of coming out and safety, a necessary conversation for those within the queer community.

Culturess sat down with Dugan to discuss music as inspiration, the highs and lows of writing romance, and the importance of coming out stories in young adult fiction. Some Girls Do is now available wherever books are sold.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Culturess:  Ruby is a very unique character–a beauty pageant queen whose true passion is working on cars. How did you come up with the conceit of her character?

Jennifer Dugan:  I love writing complicated people full of contradictions, so when I was developing Ruby, I was cognizant of giving her interests that appeared at odds on the surface but naturally blended with her personality.

I loved the juxtaposition of her being forced into something traditionally viewed as feminine while her heart belongs elsewhere. But despite having lost interest in competing, I wanted to make sure there were some elements of the pageants that she did enjoy—doing her makeup, styling her hair, and other things that let her show her personality.

While she rejects the pageants and prefers working on cars, she doesn’t reject her femininity. She is the epitome of some girls doing it all.

Culturess:  Morgan is very idealistic, almost to a fault. What made you want to focus so much of the book on activism?

Dugan:  I think her character is especially timely given the state of the world. Many of us can relate to her desire to make the world a better, fairer, safer place. However, as you mentioned, Morgan carries this almost to a fault. It’s not totally altruistic.

While she’s trying to channel her pain into something good, we soon see her tie her sense of self-worth to the notion of whether or not she is “doing enough.” She at times uses it as a distraction or a way to hide from her own problems, as we see during a scene where she is supposed to be counseling another teen but ends up making it all about herself.

From that, she starts to realize that in order to truly make a difference, she needs to separate herself from the work a bit. Healing herself and making the world a better place should be two separate but equally important goals, which sounds simple enough but is actually quite hard.

As far as why I wanted to include an activism plotline at all, a lot of teens I talk to today at events are very activist-minded and have such great and inspiring young role models. I am always striving to do and be better myself, so it felt very natural that someone like Morgan would also feel drawn to activism.

Culturess:  Ruby and Morgan have very different families and living situations at home. What led you to the specific portrayals of each character?

Dugan:  I really wanted to make them opposite in every way and show the impact that a teen’s home life can have on how they perceive the world and relate to their various identities.

When someone is out in a big way like Morgan is, it’s often because they have a solid support system that makes them feel accepted and safe, either through close friends or family. Found family tends to be a big theme in my books because so many of us don’t get that support at home.

Morgan, however, is lucky enough to have both! She finds a thriving queer community at her new school, and also comes from a very supportive and liberal home.

Ruby, on the other hand, has been taught by her mother that love isn’t always unconditional, nor is it safe. Even with her best friend, who truly is her safe space, she often feels like she has to keep her guard up. When you combine that with a conservative upbringing, it’s clear why Ruby hides so much of herself.

The book also touches on their income disparity, but it was important to me to avoid the inaccurate stereotype of depicting wealthy people as “good” and lower-income people as “ignorant” or “bad.”

Within the broader cast, we meet some terrible people who are privileged in many ways, as well as wonderful people who are not. I wanted to further demonstrate how Morgan’s privilege had led her to take so much for granted that Ruby simply cannot or will not.

Culturess:  What is your favorite part about writing romance? What is the most challenging or surprising part?

Dugan:  I love the swoons of course! I also love figuring out how to make two people fall in love who don’t have a clear path from A to B. Ruby and Morgan’s meet-cute, if you want to call it that, involves Ruby almost hitting Morgan with her car… and then it gets worse for them from there.

It was definitely a challenge to get them to their happily ever after. In fact, the most challenging thing about writing romance for me is creating an ending that honors their individual journeys, and that goes double for dual point of view books like this one!

It has to feel earned to your readers, and there’s such a fine line to walk in terms of pulling that off successfully without wrapping it in too neat of a bow. Sometimes I just want to be like “now kiss!”

Culturess:  There has been a lot of discourse amongst queer authors in the YA community over the last year about what queer stories should look like and whether coming out stories are over and done.

Considering so much of Some Girls Do focuses on the tension between safety and openness, where do you feel it fits in that conversation?

Dugan:  I don’t think coming out stories will ever be “done” simply because coming out is never “done.” It’s a continual process for all of us, in a hundred different ways. Every time you meet someone new, you have to decide whether or not to do it all over again.

I also think a lot of people haven’t seen their coming out stories reflected in fiction. If you aren’t a middle or upper-class white queer suburban boy, there is truly a dearth of books where you get to see yourself.

The queer community is not a monolith, and what one person considers incredible representation, the next may not relate to at all. It’s also incredibly frustrating how often some circles declare something “done” before BIPOC authors have had much of a chance to add to the conversation.

It’s gatekeeping at its absolute worst. So my position on coming out books is that I would love to see shelves full of them. Do we also need to move past this narrative and also tell queer adventure, romance, horror, fantasy, etc. not centered on coming out? Absolutely! But this is not an either/or scenario. I want them all!

Some Girls Do shows us two different paths to coming out, so it’s a two-for-one special in that regard. We have two girls who know they are queer from the start but have completely opposite approaches to navigating that in their personal lives.

Morgan finds strength and pride in being out as a lesbian at her new school in a way that wasn’t possible for her previously. Then we have Ruby, who hasn’t fully settled on a label, but knows she has feelings for multiple genders.

She isn’t coming to terms with the fact that she is attracted to more than just boys; she is already well aware of it. Instead, she’s coming to terms with what her queerness is going to look like for her.

She embraces it in much quieter ways than Morgan, but that doesn’t make it any less important or valid, and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve an incredible romance with a boisterous gay track star!

Culturess:  Your writing is heavily inspired by music. The title of the book is woven very cleverly throughout the book, but was also explicitly inspired by a song, correct? Can you speak to how music influences your writing process?

Dugan:  Music is a huge influence on my writing process. I generally don’t get any ideas until I have an “aha” moment when I hear a song, which generally causes me to dream up an entire plot very quickly.

I also need to know my characters’ favorite songs to really dive into them, and generally have to have a playlist in place before I can even think of starting to draft. You can tell a lot about someone by what they listen to!

In this case, the song that inspired Some Girls Do was actually “Bad Liar” by Selena Gomez. It came on one day while I was on a walk and I was like ‘oh this could be very fun and very gay.’ The song “Some Girls Do” by Sawyer Brown, which I believe is what you’re referring to, came to my attention only recently.

I don’t generally listen to country, but I can definitely see how it fits well with the themes of this book! It’s one of those wonderful coincidences in the universe where you realize that your inspiration or muse or whatever you want to call it doesn’t belong just to you.

Culturess:  This is your third novel. What has changed for you as an author and writer since the release of Hot Dog Girl? How has your process evolved?

Dugan:  My process has definitely had to become more efficient. When I was writing Hot Dog Girl, I was on my own timeline. Now, I’m typically juggling multiple deadlines between my prose novels and graphic novels, along with the thousand other things that make up the life of an author.

Before, I had the luxury of meandering my way around the story until I figured out what it was about and how it ended.  While I’m still not a full plotter, my brain just doesn’t work like that, I do have a very general idea of where I’m going and what needs to happen in each chapter.

I map it out ahead of time as much as I can while still leaving myself wiggle room so it doesn’t start to feel like a boring paint by number. But matter how much plotting I try to do, I still find myself frequently surprised by my characters.

Culturess:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dugan:  Thank you so much! These questions were AMAZING!

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Some Girls Do is available now wherever books are sold. Let us know if you add it to your TBR pile.