When writers Jessica Koosed Etting and Alyssa Embree Schwartz met the first day of school at USC during their very first class of the day, neither one liked each other at first glance.
Schwartz, who hails from Virginia, was feeling homesick and Etting thought she looked too depressing to be friends with. Meanwhile, Schwartz dismissed Etting as a typical Los Angeles girl after she entered the class a few minutes late in five-inch platforms.
But one day, a few weeks into the school year, they ended up walking back to the dorms together after class and only then realized how much they had in common. They became fast friends and went on to take almost all of their classes together.
Since graduating, Etting and Schwartz have gone on to collaborate on writing projects, working on everything from television episodes to feature-length scripts together. No longer on the same campus, Etting, who lives in Los Angeles and Schwartz, who lives in Washington D.C. ,have had to get creative with their collaborations. Their latest endeavor, Georgetown Academy, which focuses on the lives of politicians’ children in Washington, D.C., was written mostly through Skype. Riding the wave of the presidential inauguration, the third book in the series is now out in stores.
Etting and Schwartz decided to write the series because they were intrigued by the dramatic world of the D.C. elite. The series, centered on the scandalous goings-on at prep schools for the teenagers, certainly doesn’t lack drama.Students are free to do whatever they please, such as exploiting their parents’ diplomatic immunity by throwing parties that the cops can’t legally break up. Still, like in any high-stakes political culture, the press holds the power to destroy their parents. For this reason, the students of Georgetown Academy abide by one rule in the novel: “Whatever you do, don’t get caught.”
Georgetown Academy will delight lovers of Gossip Girl and Aaron Sorkin alike for its insight into the glamorous and fierce world of politics. The everyday choices young adults make — from what to wear to whom to date — are chosen with careful consideration of a national, rather than personal, image. Students dress not just to impress but to distract from the secrets they’re covering up — and disobeying the unspoken dress code will surely elicit unwanted attention.
Etting and Schwartz liked the idea of writing a political drama for young adults because they felt the book’s dramatic environment might spark an interest in politics for younger readers who would otherwise be turned off by what they have seen on TV.
“The 24/7 news cycle has become somewhat of a joke in the past few years with the excessive coverage and conjecture,” Schwartz said. “It does a disservice to the younger generations who can understandably get jaded by it and tune out completely.”
Etting and Schwartz think that because of President Barack Obama’s campaign, social media’s emergence as a means of involvement and the importance of the issues our nation is currently facing, the upcoming generation is becoming more passionate about politics. Georgetown Academy characters’ close proximity to the most powerful people in the world, who are privy to political secrets that the public will never discover, might also prove interesting for those with an emerging interest in politics.
“Political families and children have always had a certain level of mystique with the American public … it’s our version of a royal family. Our book series puts a spotlight on what life is really like for these children of powerful politicians, particularly the ones who still have parents in office like the Obama girls,” Etting said.
Etting and Schwartz’s characters were inspired by political children, including Jenna Bush, Chelsea Clinton, Meghan McCain, Abby Huntsman and Bristol Palin, most of whom are now public figures in their own right.
Though they found inspiration through these and other stories of children who were raised in a political environment, many of the personality traits and settings in the series were inspired by Etting and Schwartz’s experiences during their time at USC.
“Our years at USC were even more formative than our high school years, so we got to re-live it all over again through our characters,” Schwartz said.
The two authors began their writing process by fleshing out their characters together first, then working on different characters individually. This process might appear difficult, especially because the two writers now live on opposite sides of the country, but with the help of Skype and their similar writing styles, they were able to make it work.
“We write together so easily because we always go to similar places creatively,” Schwartz said. “Half the time we’re on Skype, we barely need to talk because we know what the other one is thinking.”
Etting and Schwartz are currently writing the next addition to the Georgetown Academy series, and they are also discussing the possibility of adapting the series for film or television. Though they have many exciting things on the horizon, they still are mindful of where it all began for them.
“We never dreamed that our friendship, which began on the first day of classes freshman year at USC and entailed lots of gossip-filled meals at the Commons, would eventually lead to such a fruitful career together,” Etting said.