'Gossip Girl, Psycho Killer': Cecily von Ziegesar sounds off
When editors approached author Cecily von Ziegesar to write a genre mash-up of her popular first Gossip Girl book, she immediately came up with some ground rules: “No zombies, no vampires.” Instead, she kept the characters human, but took the original text of Gossip Girl and added some murderous elements. Just as in the original novel, Serena comes back to the Upper East Side after spending time away at boarding school — only in this reboot, she has murder on the mind. The Serena we know would exact vengeance on her enemies by sleeping with their boyfriends or getting them in trouble at school. Psycho killer Serena just kills them in the bloodiest possible fashion. While there’s more in this week’s issue of EW, see below for von Ziegesar’s thoughts on Gossip Girl‘s strange new twist. Spoilers ahead!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Describe how the Upper East Side of Gossip Girl, Psycho Killer differs from the Upper East Side of Gossip Girl.
CECILY VON ZIEGESAR: Well, I’ve sort of created this alternate universe where people are dying, and the adults are kind of brushing it under the rug the way they used to brush under the rug, you know, partying and sex and all that.
So killing people is just another vice.
Yeah! It’s kind of like an exaggerated version – a very exaggerated version – of what happens in the original. People are dying!
It seems like the kids get away with a whole lot, even considering that this is the Gossip Girl universe. I mean, a boy’s eyes fall out of his head after smoking poisoned weed, and the parents are just like …
Dinner time! [Laughs] As the book progresses, there is a sort of sense that the Upper East Side is getting more and more dangerous. Every single thing about this makes me laugh. I just love this so much. I mean, vultures are circling over head — so instead of pigeons, we have vultures. [Laughs] But instead of it just being total farce, I really wanted to keep with the [original] book. I took the original text of the first book and whenever I saw an opportunity, I layered in this story of Serena coming back from boarding school as this coldblooded psychopath, which, to me makes total sense. She’s sort of like the Ryan Gosling of Gossip Girl world. She has that deadpan style, doesn’t seem to have much personality and she’s really gorgeous, but then underneath she has this kind of scary ability to kill people. So she’s murdered people up at boarding school. She’s always had this dark side and everyone is a little bit scared of her.
But it’s kind of contagious, right? She comes back as a psycho killer and then Blair copies her. Serena’s always a trendsetter.
Yeah. Blair starts killing people to match her. She’s not going to let Serena be the only psycho killer at school. And Jenny obviously thinks that Serena is the coolest person she’s ever met, so that’s in keeping with the first book, too. She completely idolizes Serena, but now she idolizes her because she’s like this gorgeous killer. But nobody else kills anyone, it’s just Blair and Serena, but I’ve had to also invent a lot of new characters just for the purpose of dying.
Yeah, you need fodder. It’s hard to kill off the main cast.
There are definitely some surprises — I don’t want to spoil it — but one of the main characters does die in the very end, and there’s also sort of a semi-false alarm in the last third of the book. I feel like you just have to keep going because it just gets better and better and better. I think probably in the beginning I was like, “I have to stick with the first book because it’s a mash-up and I wanna maintain the original text,” but as I go on, and add people in to die — and there are some people that you remember that do die, they’re just not kind of the core cast — the more I had to invent, the more I had to create totally new chapters and new scenarios because so many people had died and the plot had changed so much by then.
Sorry if this is a heavy question – but is murder symbolic here? Like, social death, etc., but now in literal form? Did that cross your mind?
Well, I was sort of thinking about that while I was writing it. Like, what are people going to read into this? I actually think it’s more fun to have the cool girls killing everybody than to have a Heathers scenario, you know, where Winona Ryder is sort of like an outcast and then she and Christian Slater kill all the cool girls. But in a way, I’m sort of set free, because they’re not killing anyone because they’re losers, they’re killing everyone because they’re psychos.
Is any part of this book informed by the CW TV show?
Parts of it, yes. You’ll see stuff with Chuck Bass that’s very much influenced by his character in the show. Of course, in the books he’s kind of a bad guy – and in this, no one’s falling in love with him. [Laughs] Definitely not Blair.
What if the show incorporated any of the Psycho Killer stuff?
It would be so awesome if this was ever put to screen. The only problem is, the show doesn’t follow the story of the books, so there’d be a lot of contradictions. But obviously, it’s such a great visual. [Laughs] I don’t know. Well, we’ll see.
How did you come up with the death scenes?
I’m just a crazy person. [Laughs] I mean, I really didn’t have any trouble coming up with weird ways for people to die. I think I’m just very twisted! And I also wanted to avoid guns, and I wanted to just have people die in almost like artistic ways, in ways that are interesting to read about. I don’t think anyone will look at the Arms & Armor department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the same way after reading this book. That’s one of the best scenes.
So the violence in this book is really just kind of goofy and funny.
It’s not just like gratuitous violence or whatever. You’re actually enjoying reading this scene [laughs] of somebody dying. And it’s also always funny. I mean, I hope. You know, it’s funny, my mother just read the book, and she said, at first, “I just don’t know how comfortable I am with all these people dying.” But then she finished it and said, “This really isn’t a kid’s book. It’s a work of art!” I was like, “Thank you!” [Laughs]