Mean Girls meets Cheer in Hayley Krischer's 'The Falling Girls'

On the podcast: In Hayley Krischer's "The Falling Girls," a mysterious death, friendship, betrayal, and social media mix to create a "thrilleresque" and compulsively readable young adult novel.

In Hayley Krischer's "The Falling Girls," a mysterious death, friendship, betrayal, and social media mix to create a "thrilleresque" and compulsively readable young adult novel with inspiration from Mean Girls, Heathers, and Netflix's Cheer. Hayley talks about her books, rage writing during the pandemic, and her MFA experience. Our Emily Earle, our associate director of social media and resident YA reader, interviews Hayley.

About our guest

​​Hayley Krischer ’09 is the author of two young adult novels,  Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf and The Falling Girls, both out now from Razorbill/Penguin Teen. She is an award-winning journalist who has written for The New York TimesThe New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Marie Claire, Elle, and more. 

The Falling Girls book cover

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  • Transcript

    Georgia Sparling

    This is Why We Write a podcast of Lesley University. Every episode, we bring you conversations with authors from the community to talk about books, writing, and the writing life.

    Emily Earle 

    Hello, everyone, and welcome to why we write my name is Emily Earle. And I'm the Assistant Director for social media here at Lesley. And I'm here today with Hayley Krischer, a 2009, graduate of our MFA in creative writing program. She's a regular contributor to The New York Times and the author of two young adult novels, "Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf", and "The Falling Girls," the latter of which we'll be discussing today. Haley, thanks for being here.

    Hayley Krischer 

    Hi, thanks for having me.

    Emily Earle 

    Let's get right into it. Um, the following girls is your latest novel that came out in October of 2021. And it centers around these complicated female friendships in and around the intense world of high school cheerleading, with some big twists. Um, could you start by describing where the inspiration for this novel came from?

    Hayley Krischer 

    Yeah, sure. So The Falling Girls is about these two best friends, Shade, and Jadis and they basically do everything together, including where each other's clothes, share toothbrushes, give each other stick and poke tattoos. And they are- they have this very intense sort of codependent relationship. And I really wanted to put a spotlight on that, because I think, you know, I know when I was a teenage girl, my friendships were everything to me, and I really couldn't see past them. Everything else came after those friendships. And so I sort of started with that idea. And also because I had read this crazy- this article about a young girl who was killed by three of her best- two of her best friends. Her name was Skylar Neese, and she was 16 years old. And I wondered about the intensity of the friendship between the three of them, and really what had gone wrong, and what their friendship was, like leading up to it. So I started with these teenage girls, like I said, Shade and Jadis. And again, they their whole life was so insular with each other, until one day Shade decides that she wants to join the cheerleading team which throws Janis for a loop. And she, she feels really betrayed, like, how could you- How could you do this? But for Shade, there's really this whole feeling of wanting to identify not just as Jadis's best friend, she really wants to, like, sort of, you know, delve into who she is as an individual. And meanwhile, she joins the team. And she starts becoming completely intoxicated by a group of Mean Girls. Well, they're not all completely mean, but a group of girls who go by the name of Three Chloes. And, you know, that, of course, was like a direct inspiration from Heather's because it came out in 1989 when I graduated high school, and I'm still obsessed to this day. So I um, I was really playing around with those tropes, you know, like, I wanted to have the mean girls, but I also wanted to delve into who they were, and what made them mean. And you know, I always love the villain backstories. So, as I started delving into these friendships, and realizing why Shade was so intoxicated by these girls, other things began happening, that I didn't really anticipate, and one girl ends up getting killed, I won't say who. And she dies at the homecoming dance, which is sort of a shock to everyone. And then Shade spends the rest of the book trying to sort of figure out what happened and was it her best friend to kill this girl? Was it somebody else who killed this girl? And it just leads to a lot of questions about friendship and loyalty and betrayal and codependency, all themes that I just love exploring. So it's a very long-winded response.

    Emily Earle 

    That's okay. That's okay. It really touched on a lot of the questions I have. So we will kind of maybe revisit all of that. Um, yeah. So what I kind of noticed is, you know, the title itself really drives the main character Shade, who is a flyer on the cheerleading team, is that right? Flyer, top girl, yeah, okay. And she understandably has this fear of falling and if anybody out there seeing the Netflix cheer documentary, you understand why because there is this huge potential for catastrophic injury. So of course, she's afraid of falling, she's flying up there, but um, she loves to fly. And there's this kind of push-pull of like, flying versus falling, I feel, throughout the book, and I was wondering if you can kind of talk a little bit about that theme.

    Hayley Krischer 

    Yeah, I think, you know, in a lot of ways Shade joining the cheerleading team, it was really her way of letting go of Jadis. And she's sort of in a freefall, just starting from there. Because she's so used- everything in her life is built around Jadis. And so leaving her, that that life is kind of like a freefall. And so she's taking an enormous chance by doing that, and so, there are a lot of risks involved with friendships when you go in a different direction. And, so there's metaphorically, yes, there, there are huge parallels between her falling into this other world and her also potentially falling to her death. Because, you know, like you said, these girls, they, they'll be thrown up, sometimes 30 feet up in the air. You have to have so much trust and practice and be so diligent and be so strong when you're a cheerleader. And I, I don't- I was a cheerleader in high school, but I was like a horrible just sideline cheerleader, like not even a good sideline, cheerleader. And so I, I found the athleticism as I was researching this book and watching cheer on Netflix, and I found the athleticism to just be so intriguing, and I was just mesmerized by it. So I wanted to, you know, play with those themes a lot, as well.

    Emily Earle 

    Yeah, yeah, that definitely comes through for sure. Um, and you touched on this a little bit before, but we have, you know, we've seen these trios of women like Heather's, Mean Girls, you know, and how toxic and even deadly they can be. And so the Three Chloes really encapsulate those vibes for sure, but they- they feel very now. Like, they're kind of like the Gen Z iteration of, you know, these women who came before them. And I was wondering what it was about that concept and those characters that interested you?

    Hayley 

    Well, thank you. Because, you know, like, it's kind of, it's fun to write trophy people like that. And so I didn't want to not give- I didn't want to not do that, right. Like, I wanted that to have something of a trope like the Three Chloes and, you know, walking in the high school, and I think that there is a lot of that performance that still goes on, that doesn't, that's, that hasn't gone away. But at the same time, I also, I know that Shade is like a really strong character. And I know that she had to, like she's- this is, for me, this is really an identity story. She's like, you know, she's a young girl, she's learning about herself, and who she is out of the shadow of her best friend and her mother. And, and so she had to tolerate this behavior. And she's not gonna, like, just tolerate any, like, really shitty behavior from these girls. So, you know, I could watch any of these old movies sort of from, you know, the 2000s about, you know, Mean Girls and that kind of thing. But it's like, okay, well, who every time I wrote a Shade and Chloe scene, I would think to myself, well, who is Shade? And how would she really react in this scene? Would she- and I think you have to ask yourself constantly those questions about your character. No matter what you come to your book with, and ideas that you have for your book, you have to listen to your book, and you have to listen to what the characters are telling you. So I would have a scene written, where Shade would watch all this utter bullshit from these girls, and they would torment some other girls and I had so much fun writing those scenes, they were like, great to just torment characters. It's not real life, and we all have our darkness. And then I would take a look and say, shade would say, why are you doing that? What's wrong with you? Don't act like that. You know, so I had to then incorporate some of that stuff within the- within the story. And that's how I- so I guess that's, you know, how I made them- you know, made her especially, a different kind of character. And the other Chloes as well, I had to- I had to- they had to have personalities they had to- like why would you hang around with people who are so awful? You wouldn't. I don't think- I wouldn't- my characters wouldn't.

    Emily Earle 

    Yeah, of course. And it was interesting to me to reading it, you know, you can obviously tell like, they're very much their own person. They all have the same name, but you know, you can immediately you know, based on whatever- it's almost like you don't even need In the last name sometimes to designate who you're talking to, or who Shade is talking to, and you know where they are in the scene, because it's like, oh, well, you know that that's Chloe Clark, or you know that that's Chloe Schmidt. And it's, that's, you know, a testament to your characters, which is- it was really cool to see. I was like, Ooh, Three Chloes, I don't know. And then I got into it. And I was like, Oh, very defined.

    Hayley Krischer 

    Oh, thank you. Well, you know, I read I did get a lot of influence also from Monoa Awad's, Bunny. I don't know if you read that. But-

    Emily Earle 

    No, I don't know that one. It's- so it's about. It's not YA. But this young, this woman, she's in grad school. And she goes to grad school and she's got this English- I mean, creative writing.- Of course, it's perfect for anybody who's listening to this podcast is from the Lesley MFA program, because it's a complete assault on MFA programs. It's, it's hilarious, absolutely hilarious. And like, shows you directly like how workshops can be so like, violent. And so she, this girl goes into this. She's in this workshop with all these women who call each other by the same name, "Bunny." So everyone's saying, "Oh, Bunny, that's so good. I love that sentence." "Oh, Bunny, you're so amazing." And so she, she gets kind of entangled with these women. And I won't say anymore because the book is just brilliant, but I loved the idea of like the Three Chloes being like a monster, you know, like, with like, three heads, like a Hydra.

    Hayley Krischer 

    And being like the same person. And so I really wanted to play with that in the beginning. But then again, like I said, ultimately, they have to- it had to- you can only take that so far,

    Emily Earle 

    Mh hum, yeah, make sense. Um, and so as the social media director here at Lesley, I'm always particularly intrigued as to how authors use social in their work. And these are high school students and you know, 2021, so social media comes up. Um, so how did you kind of factor that into all of this? And how did it play a role in your writing?

    Hayley Krischer 

    Well, I knew it had to be somewhere because as- as I was writing this book, it was really during the pandemic and Tik Tok was just so huge. And I do have a teenage daughter. And so she was sort of showing me kind of, you know- we were looking at Tik Tok, but she was showing me all this true crime stuff that was happening on Tik Tok. And I was just completely fascinated, because of course, they would use it to try to out each other, or solve a murder, and then somebody else would grab on to it and say, "What happened to this girl?" And, and so I, I think I, you know, I- you know, there's, there's an element, I think, when you're writing, in YA, and in adult, if you're writing in present time, I think it's really impossible not to include social media to some form, because adults use it to just as viciously or, you know, positively whatever. As, as teenagers do. And so, you know, people love to use it against each other. So I just, I just kind of played with all the worst possible scenario.

    Emily Earle 

    Yeah, no, totally. And that's kind of where I saw it going too. And I mean, obviously, like, I see this every, you know, every day on Socials just, globally. And, you know, like you said, without getting too spoilery and their teen angst has a body count, to quote Heather's and there is this unexpected death in the book, and then social media does play into this narrative that really kind of tends to fit the need of certain characters, like they, you know, use it to almost weaponize, you know, the narrative and, you know, make sure that they're putting blame on the people that they want to blame on, that takes it away from themselves. So, you know, kind of view I guess you touched on this, but that did does seem like pretty based in reality in terms of like, you can use social to, you know, just kind of forge this path of truth, even if it might not be the truth.

    Hayley Krischer 

    That's right.

    Emily Earle 

    So yeah, no, I mean, I absolutely love this book. And I kind of want to get into some more questions about your background as a writer and how you made it to Lesley and things like that, but I just- everybody go read this book, The Falling Girls, it's so good. You know, I'm waiting for it to be you know, a series on Freeform. Like, I feel like that's the place for it, you know, I like read all- I knew I like all the source material like Cheer, and Bring it on, and Heather's and so I was like, this is perfect. So yeah, everybody go read it. It's awesome. Um, so actually, one more question about the book, in particular, and you wrote you wrote it during the pandemic- deep in the pandemic, you said in your about the author. So, well what was that like?

    Hayley Krischer 

    I think I put a lot of rage into this book. I had people- I had fight scenes with the girls that my editor was like, "uh, let's take some of those out. Let's like, just tone it, just pull it back a little." And, my editor is like, she, she's like, "wow, they're, they're really hurting each other," like, I didn't know this book was gonna be about that. But I think I had, I had so much rage during the pandemic, you know, and as everybody did. And so much darkness. So I was trying to, you know, kind of compete with that and be like, "Okay, what would that what would happen with the girls? And what would actually what was happening for me as the as the writer," and so you have to, you have to sort of be able to channel some of that because I think anger in teenage girls is something that people shy away from a lot unless you're like writing for fantasy YA- Fantasy YA or thrillers, specifically, like hardcore Thriller YA you can be very angry. But in a book like mine, that's thrilleresque. You know, there's a big toss up about like, "wow, whoa, this, is this adult, or is this YA? And are these- You know, what's going on? Why- why are these people- why are these kids so angry?" And so I was really trying to, you know, get into my own touch into my own stuff, but also make it realistic for the characters because of the pandemic just brought so much of that up. So it was hard writing during the pandemic. Yeah, freeing, but also hard.

     

     

    Mmmhm. Yeah, that totally makes sense. Um, so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your path to writing and journalism, and kind of how you got to where you are today?

    Hayley Krischer 

    Well, let's see, I was a, I was a Journalism major at Northeastern. And then I started- I was, you know, actually working at the Boston Globe as part of in part of their Co-Op program. And that was an incredible experience. But then I realized I wanted to start studying the Classics. And so I transferred to NYU and graduated in my undergrad as a English major. And- but I had always been writing short stories and working at newspapers and as a journalist, as an editor. And, you know, I was sending out short stories back in the day when you actually got like, rejection letters, like you had to actually physically wait for the letters. So I would collect all the letters from all the rejections. I wish I'd saved them all.

    I was gonna say, do you still have them now?

    Hayley 

    I don't. I wish I did. Because it would be just great to ha ve, but no. But I- yeah, that was that was cool, not at the time, it wasn't cool. But now thinking about it, it's like, that's cool, because you don't think about what your life is going to how your life is going to turn out. You're in the moment when you're a young writer, or when you're starting out as a writer, you don't do a young writer, you could just starting out as a writer, or anytime being writer, you're always going to face rejection, constantly, even when you have a publishing deal. You're going to be facing rejection, even when you're working with an editor very closely, like I worked with one specific editor at The New York Times for five years. And, you know, there were plenty of stories that I pitched to her that she was like, 'Eh, that sounds terrible. We're not doing that." And so, you know, I think you, you always have to kind of get that hardened skin and try to tell you're- either say to yourself, it's, it's my, it's the idea that needs to be like played with. Or maybe I'm not working with the right person. Right? Because it's not always your fault. You don't always have to change your own stuff. But it's very good to be open. It's really good to be open. I think workshops definitely help teach you that. Because there are people obviously in workshops in your, you know, in your MFA, if you're listening and you're in a in an MFA program. You know, there are people in your workshop that you're like, "I don't like your writing. And I don't care what you say about my stuff." Right?

    Emily Earle 

    Yeah, yeah.

    Hayley 

    I mean, because it's really true. Like, actually, "your opinion means nothing to me," you know, but there are going to be people in your workshop that you're= you think that they're, they're fantastic. You love their work. And they might have the same opinion as the person  that you, you don't trust. So I think you-

    Emily Earle 

    Interesting.

    Hayley 

    You have to always, as a writer, be just sort of open to feedback and open to expanding yourself and who you are. And my path is sort of been all over the place. I don't know if that's something I recommend. But I've been writing books I, you know, I started writing my first book when I was in college. And it started out as a short story. And then I just kept writing it, I couldn't let go of it. And then I just kept writing it and writing it. And it just became a book. And it was one of those things in any kind of writing group I was in, people were always like, what happens? They wanted to know, and I wanted to know, and it was also very personal. And so I just kept working on it. And I, I guess I finally finished it at a certain point. And then I decided that I was going to submit it to a couple of agents. And I got, I had one agent that somebody had recommended that, you know, that was a friend, which was- well actually both agents that I had submitted to were recommended, which if you can get a recommendation to an agent, that's the best way to do it. No matter you know, how sort of, how you get that recommendation, it's always good to just at least have a name. Obviously, not everybody has that. But I had- So I had a couple of recommendations of people who owed nothing to me, they didn't have to, you know, take my book, obviously. But they just they did read it. And one person was sort of more starting out, she was at  a very small agency, she had just started her own agency. And another person was like a very, very big deal agent. And I ended up going to the person who was smaller, because I just connected with her. And I just loved her. And I can't explain to you all the reasons why I chose her. But I, I did. And I think you have to really go with your gut. And with any decision in life, and so I went with my gut. Five years later, she sold the book.

    Emily Earle 

    Oh, wow.

    Hayley 

     You know, it was like one of those right time, right places. Once it got- once an editor was interested, it sold in like, four days.

    Emily Earle 

    Wow.

    Hayley 

    You know, so waiting, waiting, waiting, and then happen, just like in the snap of fingers. So, in the meantime, I had been, you know, writing a lot for the New York Times, I was writing for a lot of other places, I was doing some ghost writing work. I was doing a lot of on the side editing, I was doing a lot of unglamorous jobs, as well as doing some dream stuff. So you know, just to pay the bills. And so yeah, so then I got this two book deal. And it was, you know, one of the best moments of my entire life and a dream come true. And, yeah, right now, like, a couple of things are in the works right now that I can't really talk about and hopefully, they'll all come together.

    Emily Earle 

    Okay. We'll have to stay tuned.

    Hayley 

    Yeah, I think that's just sort of like what a writer's life is about?

    Emily Earle 

    Yeah.

    Hayley 

    Not really sure what the next- what's going to be around the next corner. You just have to keep writing for yourself. I really believe that because I would be writing without a book deal or not. I would be writing because I, I don't- I can't do anything else. I can't breathe without writing. I would be writing no matter what. So.

    Emily Earle 

    Oh, that's so beautiful.

    Hayley 

    Don't Give up.

    Emily Earle 

    I love that. Can you talk about your Lesley experience a little bit, just specifically in the program and how that went for you. Oh, man, I had just the most incredible mentors. I worked with Laurie Foos. I worked with Hester twice. I worked with Hester's mom. And I worked with Michael as well. And it- they were all there for me at the exact times I needed them. I still have a relationship with Hester now and she just asked me to recently do something, as I had mentioned to you, um, she asked me to help judge a writing contest for a program that she runs and you know, you don't say no to Hester Kaplan. Of course. I said yes. And they just, they're- the amount of support that I got at Lesley, that I got from my MFA, I don't think I would have been able to become the writer am today without that. And I think it was really, really hard. And it's not cheap. And it's an enormous commitment. But for me personally, it just, it took my writing to the next level that I needed to like, look at my, especially my creative writing, because my journalism, that's work had always been doing, but I think that work that I did at Lesley helped my journalism career as well. So, for me, it was a complete win-win everything about it was incredible. There really was, That's great. Where did that-

    Hayley Krischer 

    Yeah at that's, you know, but yeah,

    Emily Earle 

    Sorry, go ahead.

    Hayley Krischer 

    That's okay.

    Emily Earle 

    No, I was just gonna, where did that fall kind of in, you know, your writing, like book deal? You know, where was the where was the residency? Kind of in your trajectory?

    Hayley Krischer 

    Well, I got the book deal, not until 2018.

    Emily Earle 

    Oh, okay.

    Hayley Krischer    

    So, maybe 2019. It was exactly the time that Brett Kavanaugh was on trial. And so my first book was about sexual assault. And so it just came like, explosion. And, so yeah, I had been doing a lot of writing and I had a, I had a son, who was now 18. And he was like two or three, when I was at Lesley. So that was a really big commitment to get childcare. So I was single mom at that point, too. And then towards the end of my Lesley experience, I got married and had another baby. And so I did have to take some time off. Which Michael was great about sort of helping me figure out how to do that. And I had to talk with him about that. And that was- they were, they were just really- they wanted what was best for me. So, so yeah, I had been doing a ton of writing, but it wasn't exciting writing. You know, I'd always been an editor. But it was an exciting writing. And so I think that's why I wanted to get my MFA if I remember correctly, why I wanted to get it. I wanted to, I wanted to take my writing to the next step, and really be serious about writing as a craft and understand what I was doing. Not just like, getting it down on paper, because journalism also, you know, it's like, get it down on paper as quickly as possible. You know, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And so everything just felt very fast. And I wanted to slow it down and understand why I was, why I was writing, why I was writing the sentences I was writing, why the words I was choosing I you know, I really, you know, yeah. Yeah, it was very methodical. So

    That's great, um.

    Hayley Krischer    

    You don't need to have an MFA to be a published writer. There's plenty of published writers who don't have MFAs. It just happened to really work for me.

    Emily Earle 

    No, I mean, yeah, everybody kind of, you know, goes their own way and it's good that this one worked out for you. So any advice for aspiring novelists or journalists or cheerleaders? [laughing]

    Hayley Krischer    

    [laughing] For cheerleaders, watch your back, no I'm kidding. Cheerleaders, go get them, you're amazing. And writers and journalists- journalists, I don't know what to say to journalists. I mentor actually a few journalists right now. And their trajectories are breaking my heart and their options are breaking my heart and it's very, very different from when I started out, it doesn't mean that there's not a future in journalism, but the future is very narrow, okay.  And writing, I think, you know- and literature is forever. And you can be Alice Munro, and get, you know, get awarded for your writing when you're 80 years old. So I think one of the professors in writing- at Lesley actually said this and I don't remember which one it was but someone said to me writing is one of the only careers that you actually- there's no ageism, you actually get better as you get older. And it's you know, I- that doesn't mean that you obviously you can be incredible writer when you're very young, and there are plenty of writers who have done that, but for me that wasn't- I've gotten better as I've gotten older. And the success has come as I've gotten older. So I feel very fortunate. So just don't you know- writing can happen- you know, a book deal doesn't have to be the end all but if that's what you're want, you know, just keep going. Keep writing. Don't start writing.

    Emily Earle 

    Well, thank you so much, Hayley. This was great. Where can people find you on socials, on the internet, just in the world?

    Hayley Krischer 

    You could find me, I'm on Instagram a lot. And every- all my handles are Hayley Krischer. So you just have to just look to how to spell my name. But I met also at Hayley Krischer.net, that's my website. And I actually I'm on Tik Tok. Right now.

    Emily Earle 

    What? you'll have to keep posting.

    Hayley Krischer 

    So you can find me there too.

    Emily Earle 

    That's awesome. I love that. Cool. All right. Well, thank you again, look, Hayley up. The Falling Girls was the book we talked about today, but we'll have more in the show notes and just you know, highly recommend. So thank you so much.

    Hayley Krischer 

    Thank you for having me.

    Georgia Sparling

    You can find a transcript of this episode as well as links to Hayley’s books and website, our MFA program and more, in our show notes. We would also love it if you would give us a nice review on the podcast platform of your choice and if you have a suggestion for an episode, we’re all ears. Email news@Lesley.edu.

    Thanks for listening and we’ll be back in your feed in a few weeks.