Meet Katie Cotugno, the author of your new favorite beach read
The summer before you head off to college is supposed to be a fun time. But for Molly Barlow, the narrator of 99 Days? Not so much. Her summer in Star Lake is full of dirty looks, mean notes, and an egging or two. Molly is Star Lake’s number one enemy after she had some relationship drama that maybe-kinda-sorta involved two brothers. Everyone in town found out because Molly’s writer mom put the whole sordid story in her latest novel, and Molly fled town to attend boarding school for her senior year. But now she’s back, facing a sentence of 99 miserable days in her hometown with a mom she can’t trust, former friends who hate her, and (of course) the guys who got her into so much trouble in the first place.
99 Days is compulsively readable, even when the characters are making mistakes. Molly is a far from perfect character, but it’s hard not to root for her as she tries to figure things out. After all, haven’t we all made some major mistakes, even if our mistakes weren’t publicized in a best-selling novel? I loved the complicated, messy, romantic, and emotional glory of 99 Days so much that I reached out to author Katie Cotugno to ask her a few questions. We talked about high school, characters who aren’t perfect, and writing advice.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about what you were like in high school?
A: I flew under the radar, pretty much, with the occasional moment of sass. I was a brain and a theater kid, and wanted to run for student council but didn’t because I was afraid no one would vote for me. I wrote stories in math class and had a job at the library. I stayed up all night laughing with my girlfriends on the weekends. I was very dramatic. I had a chunky knit duster from Abercrombie that was my favorite article of clothing. I wanted a boyfriend more intensely than I have ever wanted anything before or since.
Q: One of the things I really admired about 99 Days was how willing you were to let Molly make some bad decisions. She doesn’t always think, say, or do the right thing. Was it hard to write a character who messes up in big ways?
A: It was totally scary! Because you always—or at least, I always—want to write a character that people are going to love and root for, and Molly doesn’t always make that easy. Reena, the main character in my first book, would probably hate Molly. But I love her. I’m not interested in perfect girls. I don’t know any perfect girls. And I want that to be okay, in fiction and in life.
Q: One of my favorite things about 99 Days (besides, you know, everything) was the setting. Star Lake felt like such a dreamy, insular place. How did you create such a realistic, compelling setting?
A: Thank you so much! In a lot of ways, 99 Days is a tribute to two of my favorite summer movies—Dirty Dancing and Mystic Pizza. I feel like place is so important in both of those films—Kellerman’s, for example, really does feel like another character. I wanted Star Lake to have the same kind of intense personality, especially because Molly spends so much of the book being kind of hazed by the people who live there. I wanted it to feel like the kind of place that when you’re in it, you could conceivably forget that the rest of the world exists.
Q: As a writer, would you ever do what Molly’s mom did—expose someone else’s secrets in your books?
A: I mean, the short answer is no! That’s effed up! But the long answer is, probably in some accidental, roundabout ways I already have? My real life and the real lives of people close to me (and the fake lives of people I see on the TV) leaches into my writing all the time, whether I mean for it to or not.
Q: What advice would you give to HelloGiggles readers who want to be (or already are) writers?
A: Read everything. Write everything. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad for watching a lot of television. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad for loving the things you love.
Q: What can we look forward to reading from you next?
A: My third book is a doomed romance set against the backdrop of the teen pop factory in 1997 Orlando. I feel like I have been waiting to type that sentence for my entire life.
Q: And now for the most important question I ask everyone: if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A: How does anyone ever answer this question with anything besides “cheese”?