Elizabeth Foscue is the author of Pest. Pest follows a high school senior Hallie Mayhew, who spends her days traipsing from one lavish Montecito estate to the next…spraying ant poison. The novel is a funny, heartfelt coming-of-age story. YEM was able to speak with Elizabeth about her writing process, inspirations she took from her real life, and what she has planned next.
Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first know you wanted to become an author?
Elizabeth Foscue: When I was eight, a friend of my mother’s moved from San Francisco to our small Florida town to finish a romance novel she was working on. Gail was tall and glamourous and one of her irises was two colors. She had a pasta machine and a six-foot-tall Gumby doll and a computer the size of a Fiat. I loved everything about this, and writing fit nicely with my other goals, so I decided I would be a scuba-diving dermatologist author who married Han Solo. And, hey, two out of four isn’t bad.
YEM: Pest is your debut novel, what can you tell us about the book?
Elizabeth: Pest has all my very favorite things: humor, mystery, misadventure, romance, and a plucky (if hapless) girl detective. And, of course, an amazing Santa Barbara setting. It isn’t the first book I’ve written but it’s the one I knew I had to see published because I loved it even while I was editing it.
YEM: What was the process of writing Pest like?
Elizabeth: SLOW. When I started Pest, my kids were very young and free time was scarcer than sleep. It took me a couple of years to finish. I also had to do a fair bit of research on pest control and insects, which didn’t hasten the process.
YEM: What was your favorite part of the writing process?
Elizabeth: There were times my husband would take the kids on an outing so I could write in peace and instead I would nap. Those were excellent naps.
YEM: Why did you decide to write Pest?
Elizabeth: A friend, Patrick Weaver, wrote a poem—a salty, hilarious parody of Robert W. Service’s “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” filled with references to an extremely mature and sophisticated discussion we’d had about guano mining in the South Pacific. I adored it and wanted the whole world to read it, but the in-jokes were several layers thick, and he’d substituted “the lady they call Foscue” for Service’s “lady who’s known as Lou.” I thought I might be able to get it published if I wrote a story around it for context. I floated the idea by Patrick, who probably didn’t believe I’d do it, but he gave me the go-ahead, so I did it.
YEM: Is anything in your book inspired by your real life?
Elizabeth: In one scene, Spencer is attacked by fleas as he and Hal search a vacant cottage. That was inspired by an incident from years ago. My husband was checking on a rental property we owned across the street from our house. The previous tenant and her dog had moved out several months before and it was supposed to freeze that night. He puttered around the apartment for a bit and, around the time he noticed the pattern on the carpet seemed to be moving, thousands of tiny, voracious insects attacked his pant legs. I was on the phone with him when this happened and he was yelling things like, “FLEAS! BITING! AARGH!” and “SHOWER! TURN ON THE SHOWER!” I ran downstairs as fast as I could and made it to the front door about half a second before he did. He’s still cranky I locked him out. Like Spencer, he had to rinse off with the garden hose, but that was Maryland, not Southern California, so Bryan’s experience was a little chillier.
YEM: Who is your all time favorite author?
Elizabeth: I’ve loved Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) all my literate life. I spent a lot of my childhood on a sailboat and much of my reading material came from Caribbean book swaps. Those mostly offered adult books, which led to some interesting book reports. (The teacher’s face throughout my presentation on Danielle Steele’s Message From Nam was something to behold.) When I was nine or ten, my mom found a copy of The Mummy Case on a shelf at The Loose Mongoose and suggested I give it a try. I’m sure most of it went over my head and it was several years before I understood Amelia Peabody was not a reliable narrator, but I was hooked. I’ve reread those—and the Vicky Bliss books—countless times and I mourned Ms. Mertz’s passing.
YEM: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become a writer?
Elizabeth: Leave lots of nice reviews for the books you read in case karma is real.
YEM: What do you hope your readers take away from reading Pest?
Elizabeth: My goal is to entertain and create characters everyone can relate to. And, above all, I hope Pest makes readers laugh and root for Hal as hard I do.
YEM: Do you hope to write any more books in your future?
Elizabeth: I originally intended Pest to be the first in a series. It’s written so that it can stand alone, but I have more adventures planned for Hal and I hope I get the chance to write them.
YEM: What has writing Pest taught you about yourself?
Elizabeth: I always thought I didn’t like bugs, but now I’m sure of it.
YEM: Do you have a quote or scene that you wrote that is your personal favorite?
Elizabeth: The scene in which Spencer first appears is my absolute favorite. It’s based on one of my very first Santa Barbara experiences. Just after we moved to town, my husband and I were leaving a city parking lot when the car in front of us stopped and parked, blocking the exit. A shirtless teenager hopped out, looked back at us, and called, “Gotta get some rezzies!” like that was a perfectly reasonable explanation. Then he gave us a shaka and strolled into a restaurant. It was the most California thing I’d ever seen. We laughed until we cried. That kid, whoever he was, was the inspiration for Spencer. I love the way this scene unfolds in the book, particularly the way it makes Hal’s head explode.