I’m so so excited about this one!
Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry
Quinn keeps lists of everything – from the days she’s ugly cried, to “Things That I Would Never Admit Out Loud,” to all the boys she’d like to kiss. Her lists keep her sane. By writing her fears (as well as embarrassing and cringeworthy truths) on paper, she never has to face them in real life. That is, until her journal goes missing . . .
An anonymous account posts one of her lists on Instagram for the whole school to see and blackmails her into facing seven of her greatest fears, or else her entire journal will go public. Quinn doesn’t know who to trust. Desperate, she teams up with Carter Bennett – the last known person to have her journal and who Quinn loathes – in a race against time to track down the blackmailer.
Together, they journey through everything Quinn’s been too afraid to face, and along the way, Quinn finds the courage to be honest, to live in the moment, and to fall in love.
Confessions of An Alleged Good Girl
Monique lives a perfect life – a preacher’s daughter and the girlfriend of the town’s golden boy. But it’s not that simple. She’s torn between her parents who want the pure virginal daughter, and her boyfriend, Dom, who wants to explore the more intimate side of their relationship.
Tired of waiting, her boyfriend breaks up with her, spurring Monique to discover she has a medical condition that makes her far from perfect and she concocts a plan to fix her body and win him back.
With the help of her frenemy, Sasha, the overly zealous church girl Monique’s mum pushes her to hang out with, and Reggie, the town’s bad boy, Monique must go on trips to unknown and uncomfortable places to find the treatment that will help her. But in doing so, she must face some home truths: maybe she shouldn’t be fixing her body to please a boy, maybe Sasha is the friend she needed all along and maybe Reggie isn’t so bad at all.
Now you should all know that both books stole my heart and changed my life.
I spoke about the importance of representation in an old blog post:
And I can’t emphasise how incredibly important it is. THIS IS WHAT I MEAN.
Books like this. Books that focus on the joy. That’s not always about racism. That show how multi-faceted Black people and families are.
Joya gets it so right. Every single time.
So firstly, thank you Joya. Thank you for taking the time out to speak to me. I knew from the moment I read Confessions that I’d, without a doubt, want to speak to you.
I’m so incredibly thankful for your time and words. This is definitely my most personal and open interview to date.
This interview is a little long so I’ve split it into sections!
Writing and Inspiration
What inspired you to become a writer? Or have you always known that you wanted to write a book?
Joya: I have always loved writing and I’ve always wanted to publish a book. But it was never something that I thought would become my career.
Especially, during college. I didn’t major in English or anything like that…I was a Psychology major! In college I didn’t have enough time to read or write for fun! But once I graduated I got right back into reading and writing…and I loved it!
So I thought: “You know what, I’m gonna publish a book. I’m going to try and do this.”
I’m curious as to what a typical writing day looks like for you? Is it more structured or does it change everyday depending on how you feel?
Joya: So I’m 3 books in now… and I still don’t know what I’m doing.
I mean it changes. Maybe I’ll write all day one day and then the next day I won’t. Just to see if that works for me.
But without having a 9-5… I’m lost. I’m making my own schedules and I don’t really know what works for me. I’m trying different things right now.
At one point, I was trying to write for 2 hours a day. And then all day on the weekends as that’s what I used to do when I had a job.
But I don’t know. I write when I want to write and it’s been working…
Me: I mean I guess it sounds like it might be something that comes with time. Perhaps with the more books you write, you might find yourself slipping into some kind of structure?
This might sound pretty weird but it sounds kinda cool that each day differs.
Joya: It is cool. It’s like if I need to do something one day, I can do that. If I need to go somewhere in the morning, I can write later if I want to.
I think I just struggle with the fact that writing books is where I get my money from now. So if I’m not doing it everyday, then what am I doing?
Would you say you’re more of a plotter, pantser or both?
Joya: A plotter or a pantser?
Funny story, I used to be a pantser (someone who writes without planning/plotting and just lets the story flow where it needs to go).
I would just write and write. Then I’d get to a certain point and think ‘this isn’t working’ so I’d start over. And it would get better and better. I loved doing that.
But that process takes so long.
And when you’re under deadline, that’s just not going to work.
After the 3rd book and the third book was the biggest challenge ever. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t…
So after that one, I learned how to plan properly and now I have several books in the works. I think it’ll help me now that I know what I have to do before I can sit down and write.
Would you say your writing process differed depending on each book? But I guess you’ve kind of answered that already.
Joya: But every book does require something different.
With Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry, it was structured with all of these lists and a whole journal. I had to plan out what was in this journal and figure out Quinn… figure out her personality through these lists and journal.
Whereas with Confessions of An Alleged Good Girl, it was much more straightforward.
My Week with Him is structured by days of the week and for some reason, it killed me.
The Publishing Industry
What was your publishing experience like? Did it take you a while to find an agent etc?
Joya: My publishing experience was an anomaly.
I had this book that I started writing right out of college. And it was trash. It didn’t have a plot. I realised it didn’t have a plot when I was trying to write my query letter and I was like…“I don’t know what this book is about”.
So I quickly stopped writing it. I killed it.
That’s when I started writing Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry. It went through a lot of beta readers and critique partners to try and get it as perfect as possible.
And then, once I started querying it, I got a response from the second agent I queried. Same day.
Me: OH WOW.
Joya: Yup, I cried. Several times.
She asked for the full manuscript and it took her a few weeks to get through it because I think she was sick or something. I was freaking out the whole time, of course.
But she did offer me and we signed within a month. We did some editing for a couple months before going on submission. And we got a deal later that month.
So it was really quick. I was really lucky.
Me: WOW. Honestly, I feel to say congratulations because that is incredible.
Joya: I know that it doesn’t happen a lot. Some people query for years. I got so lucky to have queried Bri when I did.
Me: But I guess it’s also a testament to how amazing Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry is.
Joya: No-one else contacted me though so I don’t know! Laughs*
I feel like there’s definitely been more of a push towards Black experiences and stories, what do you feel the industry can do more of to further better this experience for young Black authors like yourself? If you could pick one thing…
Joya: I guess it would be great if Black Joy and Black Romance was a higher priority.
Rather than Black trauma.
Those stories are great and important. But stories where we’re having fun and falling in love. That stuff needs to be championed more.
What advice can you give to any aspiring YA romance writers out there who want to be traditionally published?
Joya: I have two pieces of advice that I always give:
- To read. Read in your genre. Read the books that you really love and figure out what is it about these books that works for you. Emulate that in your writing. And then the books that you hate or think are trash…what is it about them that’s trash? Figure that out and avoid doing it with your own writing. Analyse books. It really helps.
- To find critique partners and beta read other aspiring author’s works. When you’re able to critique and edit other people’s works, it really helps you to do the same with your own writing.
I did that a lot whenever I was trying to get other people to read my work. I was reading other people’s work and editing their stuff. It really helps me with my own writing.
Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry
What inspired you to write Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry?
Joya: I had so many inspirations. At the time, that book I was talking about before, the one I wrote that didn’t have a plot, it was a really dark book. Ugly Cry was my chance to write something bright and fun. I had so much fun with it. However, it was inspired by things I experienced in high school. I used to write one list every year of things I wanted to accomplish. Usually it was silly stuff such as:
- Go a day without talking
- Go a day only singing
- Hug a random boy etc
In my senior year, I made a list that I took a little more seriously as I wanted to accomplish like…social challenges. I have social anxiety and so, I didn’t do a whole lot of that kinda stuff. I wanted to have my first kiss, find new friends and all those things.
And there was this guy at the time who I considered my enemy. I hated him. I hated him so much.
But also, he was super similar to me in that we’re both smart black kids in this small town, where people would call us “oreos” and stuff like that. So I knew he would understand where I was coming from.
And I went to him with my list because I trusted him. Even though I hated him – it was a weird love/hate relationship I guess!
Yeah, so we went through my list and eventually started dating and….
We’re still together now!
I guess it inspired Ugly Cry because I figured it would be a great story.
Quinn’s need/love to create lists was the foundation of the book, and you said it was reminiscent to your own love for lists. Did you ever have a favourite list growing up or one you wish you hadn’t written?
Joya: I wasn’t as big of a list writer like Quinn. I didn’t have a whole journal full of lists. But I was emo kid. Literally a sad girl. And I wrote this dark list of insulting words to describe myself.
Gosh, I was so mean to myself back then. I wish I hadn’t written that.
Me: I completely empathise with you on that. When I read back through my diary entries from when I was younger, I’m just so shocked at how I used to talk about myself. I was my own biggest worst enemy.
Quinn’s story felt deeply personal and I think that’s why it perhaps resonated with so many young Black girls. Was there a point in the story that felt difficult to write and why?
Joya: I think how she dealt with the whole incident with Destiny and Gia. The whole racism situation.
I went back and forth on that so many times. On how to conclude it. The whole confrontation with her and Livvy going to Destiny’s house. That was a new addition. That was the newest scene I wrote in my last revisions.
I’m really happy with it. I’m really happy that I had her stand up for herself. And Livvy was GREAT back-up. But I think that whole dynamic was really hard for me to write.
We can’t not talk about Carter and Quinn because HELLO? That chemistry was electric. What was your favourite scene to write between those two?
Joya: Definitely the scene when they have their late night phone call! That was such a great scene to write and re-read! I love it. It’s where all the pretences are dropped and they’re just openly flirting with each other!
Speaking of scenes, were there any scenes that you had in your head before you even sat down to write the book?
Joya: So I did have a scene in my head that didn’t make it into the last version. It was just this whole idea of Quinn losing her journal and I imagined her running around, freaking out and screaming ‘AHH’. Literally going into every classroom and completely losing it!
I could really picture EMWIUC as a Romcom (Hello Netflix, what do I need to do to make it happen?) but if you could choose your dream cast for EMWIUC who would be on it?
Joya: Big SIGH. So I get this question a lot and I never have a clear answer. I don’t know…I’m really open to it. I just want it done!
But whenever I was writing it, I imagined Livvy as Zoë Kravitz. For Quinn, I would love to see Marsai Martin! And for Carter, I don’t know. People have said Niles Fitch and he does look like a good Carter!
And your top 2 songs for the soundtrack? (aside from How You Gonna Act Like That – of course!)
Joya: Haha – I have no idea! Just a bunch of 90s RnB!
What’s the one message you hope everybody takes away from EMWIUC?
Joya: The biggest message is really about facing your fears. And there’s some things that you don’t even know you’re scared of. That’s what Quinn’s list is all about. It’s all these things that she’s been avoiding and could change her life completely.
I think we should all know what’s on our list of things that we’re so afraid of doing and could completely change the trajectory of our lives. And possibly face it! Maybe one day!
I think that when I wrote this book, I wanted to inspire people to make that list. On my list was to quit my job and I eventually did that. Now I’m here trying to write books and hopefully that sustains me for a while.
Me: It will! I’ll keep speaking it into existence!
Confessions of An Alleged Good Girl
If EMWIUC felt personal, this felt gut-wrenching. You already know how much I connected with this story. But how important, to you, are stories like these that touch on topics that are rarely talked about?
Joya: Super important. As in books that talk about women’s health?
Me: Yeah exactly. For instance, I spoke about your book during my first therapy session and my therapist emphasised that women’s health isn’t really talked about enough.
Joya: Yeah that’s literally why I wrote it. It took me so long to stumble across this word and it was 3 years ago, I met this girl who struggled with it for like a month. And it’s not fair that it took her just a month to figure it out.
I was slightly embarrassed – I know I shouldn’t have been – that it took me so long. I decided that I want to put this word out there for other girls who may not know what it is.
Like you said in your email, you thought it was a me problem. You didn’t realise this was a condition other people went through. You thought it was all in your head…that you was doing this on purpose.
It didn’t occur to you to go to a doctor.
Joya: That’s why it’s super important to get this word out there to other girls. So maybe they can talk to their friends about it and someone will let them know.
I’ll insert a definition of Vaginismus below for anyone that’s unaware of what it is. But what advice do you want to give to all the Mo’s out there, who may not be aware or in denial about a condition they could truly have?
Vaginismus – is the body’s automatic reaction to the fear of some or all types of vaginal penetration. Whenever penetration is attempted, your vaginal muscles tighten up on their own. You have no control over it.
Joya: I was actually talking about this with my boyfriend the other day. We were talking about the three negative emotions: Fear, Shame and Guilt.
I think that if anyone is struggling with this condition. You have to ask yourself why you’re afraid and when were the seeds planted in you to feel shame and guilt. What are your beliefs surrounding sex and are they your beliefs or someone else’s?
What do you believe in? You’ve really got to deconstruct that.
I think journalling helps too. You gotta remove the shame from it.
How difficult was it to write Mo’s story as so much changes around her, whilst she’s dealing with this condition “by herself”? Were there any parts that were more difficult to write than others?
Joya: This book wasn’t super difficult to write for me. I was really excited and determined to get this story out… to help someone.
It helped me too. When I was writing it I realised that, yes I might have overcome the physical aspect of this condition but I never took a look at the mental aspect. And why it happened to me. And I’m still suffering from…you know, I’ll have these knee-jerk reactions to sexual advances and I need to work on that.
Yes, I can have sex but there’s still a disconnect between wanting to and being afraid of it. But writing the book itself wasn’t difficult, I was super excited.
What was your favourite part of this book to write?
Joya: My favourite parts to write was every little adventure with Sasha and Reggie. Every conversation with Reggie was fun. He’s just a fun character to write.
I think my favourite scene to write was the one where Monique takes that erotica book outside to read while Reggie and her Dad are working on the deck. Urgh! That was so funny!! I loved it!
To be honest, this question relates to both your books because I love how nuclear and loving your Black families are. Is it deliberate to portray your families like this in your book?
Joya: It’s very deliberate.
Having family members that my characters can have these deep relationships with is a tool and is so healing to read about. Which is so interesting because my next book is about a broken family and generational trauma. So it’s very purposefully written that way.
Otherwise if it’s not about that, then I don’t want to introduce a broken family for no reason. Let’s show Black families that are working together to have healthy relationships.
Friendships are clearly powerful sentiments for both books with Olivia and Sasha, but I noticed (especially with Quinn’s story) how it seems to be more than friendship and on the verge of sisterhood. How important is to have these themes of sisterhood and friendship running through your novels alongside the romances?
Joya: It’s important to have these relationships/sisterhoods as they’re just as important as romantic relationships.
It’s important for teens to see that you shouldn’t just prioritise romance and a relationship. Having a friend is so important and valuable. I know I wish I had that as a teen.
Even now, these relationships I write about are a fantasy. I want that.
But I think it’s important to show these kind of relationships not just prioritising romance. If that makes sense.
Me: No it does! It’s to show that life has many different paths or fractures and you can explore them all at the same time without prioritising one more than the other.
Let’s talk about Reggie and Mo, Reggie is the complete opposite to Mo in every sense but it felt vital to the story – was it difficult to write Reggie’s story alongside Mo and still keep the essence of who he is e.g. “the joker’?
Joya: Yeah I guess it does take effort. But you don’t want him to just be this one-dimensional character that’s always making jokes.
It’s important to show that he’s coming from this other school, people are judging him, he’s new in this town and joking around is just his coping mechanism. To show a holistic person. To show that you know who he is and he’s not just “the joker”.
It takes a lot of re-writing and effort to make characters aren’t flat. But that’s just what it is. Making sure character’s aren’t flat.
This isn’t so much a question and more of a compliment. But I loved how Christianity was portrayed, in regards to Mo’s Dad. I was so sceptical that he would be shown as a stereotypical Christian man who simply wouldn’t understand. But he grew so understanding and loving – exactly how I’ve always known Christianity to be.
Joya: Yeah exactly! That’s why I did it. Christian people aren’t one-dimensional and all the same way. There’s different interpretations of everything in religion.
It’s important to show that he’s trying to understand his daughter. Just by what he believes. He’s her father, he loves her and wants the best for her.
Lastly, what do you hope young people are taking away from this book?
Joya: Even if a person’s not experiencing Vaginismus or has never heard of it, it’s important to show that something like this can happen. Especially with the way sexual education is.
In my country and in my state (Texas), the education is basically non-existent.
And so, there is damage done when teens aren’t taught about their bodies and sex. We’re avoiding these topics and make sex seem like this dirty, shameful, secretive thing and that just makes it a lot more dangerous and harmful for them.
More books and other bits/surprises 🙂
I heard through Twitter that we COULD be getting a Carter story…is it true?
Joya: Okay, I said this in an interview the other day and I told them that I had planned out Carter’s sequel. And they really took it and ran with it. Like there’s not a deal for it, we don’t know if it’s actually going to happen.
BUT I’ve planned it and I’m writing it!
And maybe one day it will come out. I just wouldn’t get too excited just yet!
Me: That’s fine. I’ll keep speaking it into existence! WE NEED CARTER’S STORY.
Joya: I’m excited for it because everyone else is! Hopefully, one day!
Are there any genres that you would love to write?
Joya: Yes! When I started getting super organised with planning books I made this whole spreadsheet of book ideas, separated into genres! So I do have a thriller, fantasy horror, a new adult romance and a whole bunch of YA books of course!
I’m excited to branch out!
Me: That’s so exciting! I’m guessing not all of these have deals yet?
Joya: Right. I’m just working on it and getting these ideas out. And once I’ve gotten them all written, I can start submitting them for deals.
Obviously, we’re all very excited about My Week With Him! Would you be able to please give us an elevator pitch? Just a quick summary of the book?
Joya: So basically Nikki is our main character who lives in a neglectful household. She runs away from home and she decides that she’s going to move to California to make it as a famous singer.
However before she runs off, she stops at her best friends, Malachi’s house. He becomes privy to her plan and he tries to stop her. It also happens to be their spring break so he’s like “hey, why don’t you just stay at my house this week. I’ll show you all the reasons why you should stay in Texas and graduate.”
So she stays with him for a week and they go on all these adventures. He tries to convince her to stay in Texas whilst she’s really eager to get to California.
It’s best friends to lovers.
We already spoke about My Week With Him and how you had to write it differently to your other books. It’s coming out July 11th this year in the US. Is there anything else you want to say about it?
Joya: It’s a super personal book! It was really hard to write because I was still dealing with the issues regarding my own family and the relationship with my own mother.
I’m still dealing with it now.
I think that’s why it was so difficult for me to write it. But hopefully, people like it! I don’t know! I’m really iffy about this one but everything will be fine!
Me: I honestly feel like it’s going to be up there. I say it all the time that I’m always cautious about the second book authors write because it’s normally hard to live up to the success of the first book. However, Confessions was SO GOOD! So now I know I will preorder whatever Joya writes!
Joya: Thank you so much!
And lastly, do you have any book recommendations for us?
Joya: Let’s see! Recently, I read ‘Concrete Rose’ by Angie Thomas. I loved it! But I do love all of her books.
I also read Tiffany Jackson’s newest book: ‘The Weight of Blood’. Usually don’t love retellings but I like the direction she took it in.
And then right now, I’m reading ‘Love Times Infinity‘ by Lane Clarke. I’m loving it so far! I haven’t finished it yet but it’s really just like a nice ‘lovey-dovey’ book with some dark themes.
And that’s the end of this amazing interview with the amazingly talented, Joya Goffney. I’m so so thankful that she took the time out of her day to do this.
As you can see there was so much to discuss and both of her Young Adult books: Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry and Confessions of An Alleged Good Girl were hugely popular books and both so well-deserved for their praise.
Both books are exactly the type of stories that I’m glad are out there for everyone to read.