January 13, 2020

Megan Angelo

Cursive, privacy and other things worth saving
Interview by

Journalist Megan Angelo has written extensively about pop culture, motherhood, womanhood, TV and film for the New York Times, Glamour, Elle and more. Her debut novel, Followers, is a perfect intersection of her passions that delivers a curious tale of three influencers and their followers, from 2015 to 2051.

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Journalist Megan Angelo has written extensively about pop culture, motherhood, womanhood, TV and film for the New York Times, Glamour, Elle and more. Her debut novel, Followers, is a perfect intersection of her passions that delivers a curious tale of three influencers and their followers, from 2015 to 2051.

How would you describe your relationship with social media, and how did it influence your storyline for Followers?
It seems funny now to say that I didn’t think that much about it as I worked on the book. I was convinced that I was fully in the world of these characters and driven only by the way they used technology. But now, when I look back, it’s so clear to me that my relationship with social media really was there in my head, subconsciously setting that skeptical tone.

And the nature of that relationship is . . . exactly what makes sense for a 35-year-old, I think. It’s ambivalent, like really precisely ambivalent, because I lived about half my life without technology and half with it. There’s a lot I love about it, but I can remember how I was before it, too, and sometimes I wish things had never changed. Sharing doesn’t come naturally to me, and I don’t take selfies. I just don’t. I never developed that muscle.

Orla and Floss meet as roommates in New York in 2015 and plot their way to stardom as reality TV stars. Their entire relationship is based on fake substance and a simple goal to become massively popular. That being said, it’s hard not to take sides. Are you Team Floss or Team Orla?
I feel like I should have phone cases printed up! Should I do it? This might seem insane to anyone who’s read the book, but if I had to be on one of these teams, I’d pick Team Floss. As bizarre and ruthless as she is, she also has zero pretense. What annoys me about Orla is that she really wants the same thing as Floss, in many ways, but she can be a real snob. She thinks the version of fame she wants—literary fame—is inherently better and more sophisticated, but I don’t see it that way.

“She thinks the version of fame she wants—literary fame—is inherently better and more sophisticated, but I don’t see it that way.”

One of the best parts of the novel is discovering through Marlow how the world has changed in 2051. What made you decide that 2051 was far enough in the future for this story to work?
Oh, that’s such a good question, and something I haven’t thought about in a long time. I’ve said this often about the book: The kernel that started it all was cursive and thinking about someone discovering something in cursive and genuinely not being able to read it. So I worked out how far in the future, reasonably speaking, that could happen, while someone older would still be writing in it. 2051 felt right to me, and I filled in everything around that small detail.

What inspired the extremely futuristic community of Constellation in California, where government-appointed reality stars are filmed 24/7 for the rest of the country to watch?
The vision was an Instagram filter come to life—I wanted the town to have saturated colors and totally managed fake trees and flowers, and I wanted it to be filled with people who were just walking brands, whose every sneaker and braid and coffee and whatever would be designed to appeal to their audience. All the time, always, like an Instagram picture where nothing’s ever off-frame. Everything’s just like this, composed and pretty and targeted.

There’s a lot about privacy in the book, and to me, this is another layer. I mean, I always assume that influencers have one beautiful, clean corner of a room where they shoot their books and smoothies next to like, a big frond in a mason jar, and that the rest of their house is a mess, like us. But in Constellation, almost every square inch and every waking second is on camera, so there’s no room for clothes on the floor or an off-day outfit, the old Uggs and the stained sweatshirt. It’s rigorous, mandatory, constant perfection.

A lot has changed from 2015 to 2051, including how babies are designed in labs. However, Orla, Floss and Marlow all struggle with their choices around motherhood and the limitations and opportunities those choices impose. Is this to say that some things will always be the same?
If anything’s always going to be the same, I think, it’s probably that. I also just felt like I hadn’t read a ton of stories about the future that go deep into motherhood, and the ones that I have read—like Red Clocks by Leni Zumas or Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich—really affected me. This book spans 35 years, and if time is passing in big chunks like that, you’re obviously going to have some women somewhere making choices about whether or not to procreate. Technology doesn’t necessarily make those choices easier. I liked the idea of taking something kind of sci-fi—the way babies are composed, gene-by-gene, in the book—and boiling it down to the human implications of like, the family brawl it could cause if you decided, hmm, maybe not Aunt Cindy’s genes for my baby.

How challenging was it to keep race, religion and politics from taking over the story?
There were early drafts of the book that went really deep into all of those things, so I wouldn’t say I met that challenge, originally. I mean, there were drafts that were just out of control, with big sprawling cross-country trips and other characters dealing with the fallout of how those things were dealt with in the future. And like—I think the book you have in your hands now definitely has enough stuff in it. So it’s good that those things fell out. But it was almost like I had to get those ideas out of my system so I knew what the country looked like, even if I couldn’t pass along every detail.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Followers.

On that note, I couldn’t help but wonder what you think the rest of the world looks like in 2051. Has the entire human race given up on the internet as we know it today?
My brain just isn’t big enough to take on the whole world, but I pictured a really fragmented America, when it came to the internet and everything else. The new internet I describe in the book, to me, never reaches the all-powerful status our current internet does. Some people remain kind of permanently disenchanted with technology. I don’t want to spoil things for people who haven’t read the book, but obviously we see some communities in 2051 that are founded on sharing a specific belief, and in my mind, those are everywhere across America in 2051. Separate communities for liberals and conservatives and religious people and atheists and people who love guns and people who don’t like drinking, and even people who have more sinister, damaging beliefs. Bubbles that are openly marketed this way, that sort of replace varied towns or call the naturally unvaried ones what they are.

While I can’t wait for self-driving cars and robot butlers to be a common reality, I do get nostalgic about things that we are losing to technical advancements. Which three things (beside cursive writing, of course) do you wish we carry forth as humans in this increasingly tech-savvy world?
It’s obviously very cheap of me to say books and independent bookstores, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

I don’t think I’m going to win this one, and it’s really sentimental, but I can’t fully let go of linear TV. I like streaming and all that stuff, but I still love event television. I miss the feeling of certain shows being for a certain night, like when “Community” and “The Office” and “Parks and Rec” and “30 Rock” were all stacked on a Thursday—heaven. I still like some immediacy with certain TV. I will not watch a debate or an awards show on buffer, and don’t even get me started on sports. People who can record a basketball game and watch it two days later, when everyone knows what happened and the players have already like, showered and moved on with their lives—this is deeply strange to me. So, yeah. I hope we bring a little event TV.

And here’s another one I’m not going to win! I’d like to officially make the case for reviving landlines. It never bothered me not to have one until I had kids, but now there are so many reasons I want one back. You can’t teach kids to dial 911 on your phone without also giving them to code to your phone, and I . . . don’t want to do that. Also, since there’s no “home phone,” my cell phone—and email—just becomes a little tech extension of my emotional labor as a parent. Now I’m the keeper of all the info. You know? So, yeah, you heard it here first: The landline deserves a comeback. First I convince my husband, then the world!


Author photo by Alison Conklin

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Graydon House
ISBN 9781525836268

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