In my first novel, The Babysitters Coven, my narrator, Esme Pearl, and her best friend Janis Jackson, are uber-fangirls. Deeply entrenched in music, movies, fashion and art, they drop references to everything from 19th-century French poets to 1970s horror flicks and Vogue editors. These loves are somewhat reflective of my own, but more reflective of the fact that I’m a fangirl myself. I’m a sponge when it comes to pop culture, and love dissecting and learning about everything from comic books to haute couture. And while pop culture is often dismissed as silly and superficial, I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that our tastes help us define ourselves and build our tribes—I met my best friend when we bonded over books and now, more than 20 years later, it’s still one of our favorite things to talk about. So, in that spirit of earnest importance, here’s a list of 10 things that will turn Esme, Janis and me into serious fangirls.
Winona Ryder: When she’s putting together outfits, Esme often looks to Winona Ryder for inspiration. Winona is the star of several of my favorite movies—Heathers, Beetlejuice, Reality Bites—and she was the ultimate cool girl. Her gamine look and taste for tailored menswear made her a ‘90s fashion favorite and style icon. Of course, she might have loved fashion too much, and got caught shoplifting from a Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly HIlls in 2001. Her illegal haul included a pair of $80 cashmere DKNY cashmere socks, but in my mind, this just makes Winona cooler. After all, everyone does weird things and makes mistakes, and thank god. If we didn’t, the world would be pretty boring (and there’d be nothing to write about).
Lisa Bonet: Lisa is to Janis what Winona is to Esme. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, actress Lisa Bonet played eldest daughter Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show and its spin-off, A Different World. Lisa’s style was the epitome of Brooklyn boho, and she’d often mix hippy patterns with lace, velvet and top hats. She’s also Zoe Kravitz’s mom, Jason Momoa’s wife, legally changed her name to Lilakoi Moon in 1995, and lives in a canyon with a pet donkey. What’s not to love?
Halloween and Jamie Lee Curtis: Esme loves horror movies. I do not. However, I have a lot of respect and appreciation for anything genre, so I definitely see the appeal of horror movies, even though I can’t even handle suspenseful music without running to hide in the bathroom. Halloween set the blueprint for suspenseful music, and the still popular torture-the-babysitter trope. And yes, I have seen it, even the scary scene. Er, most of the scary scenes…
Jenny Holzer: One of the reasons Janis babysits is because she got fired from a previous job for writing the Jenny Holzer quote “Men Don’t Protect You Anymore” on a cookie cake. Holzer is a contemporary artist whose medium is words, and I am consistently awed by the power and beauty of her pieces. One of my favorites is “Expiring for love is beautiful but stupid,” which I think has particular resonance for anyone who’s a fan of YA.
The Office, or watching the same show over and over again: Esme and Janis watch The Office, and when it’s over, they watch it again. The Office isn’t my favorite show, but I do have their viewing habits. Watching a new TV show is work—you’ve got to follow along to get the story, get to know all these new characters, remember what happened in past episodes—but watching a show you’ve seen over and over feels like plopping down on the couch with your best friend.
Stevie Nicks: I’m not sure what came first—my love for witches, or my love for Stevie Nicks, but both run deep. I even have a tattoo of Stevie lyrics, so I am taking this love to my grave. Stevie didn’t actually make it into the book, but I feel like both Esme and Cassandra’s moms would definitely start dancing if “Gypsy” came on.
Thrifting: I didn’t learn how to thrift until I was in my ‘20s, when I had a roommate who showed me how to do it. Her strategy was very similar to Janis and Esme’s, and now I love it! Thrifting is a treasure hunt and a voyage of discovery, and I think powering up with an iced coffee then hitting the racks at the Goodwill is a perfect way to spend a Sunday.
The Baby-Sitters’ Club: My early teen years were filled with The Baby-Sitters’ Club and Sweet Valley High books. I read them at the rate of about one per day, and while I couldn’t recall a specific plot now to save my life, I have fond memories of how cozy it felt to come home from school and drop into these familiar other worlds. And, unlike so many other mediums in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, YA books put young women front and center. Hell yes.
Clarissa Explains It All: Clarissa Darling still tops my list for best dressed character to have ever appeared on TV, and she was a big inspo for how Esme dresses. Clarissa 100 percent had her own sense of style, and it was raging: She’d mix prints, plaids and patterns with accessories like scrunchies, wide headbands, and colored tights under jean shorts. Her leggings and bike short game was super strong, and no one rocked a vest (with buttons) like she did. Plus, her bedroom was epic, and she inspired me to paint on my own walls. I could never get my parents to agree to a pet alligator, though. How sad.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: This is an obvious one, because everything comes back to Buffy. In 2019, the word ‘badass’ has been tossed around so much that it’s pretty much lost its meaning, but look the word up in Merriam-Webster and you will find Buffy’s pic. In my world, she was the original butt-kicking babe, and the fact that she had a penchant for puns was just icing on the cake. Er, I mean, dirt on the grave?