By Seija Rankin
April 20, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
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Michael Smiy; Random House

Janelle Brown is the author of three (soon to be four) novels, has written for Vogue and The New York Times, and made the best-seller list of the same newspaper. But her latest tome, Pretty Things, is set to be her biggest yet. In a perfectly 2020 plot, it follows an influencer and a con artist in what Brown has dubbed the scam of a lifetime. Oh, and it was optioned by Amazon Studios before it even hit shelves, with Nicole Kidman set to star in the upcoming series.

But before Brown was the Oscar-winning actress' latest muse, she was an elementary school student crafting homemade books, dreaming about a career as a novelist. Here, Brown takes EW's author questionnaire, telling us about her literary inspirations and how exactly she gets it all done (hint: chocolate).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?

JANELLE BROWN: When I was in first grade I took a book-making class. We wrote, illustrated, and bound our own books using wallpaper scraps and yarn. The protagonist of my first story was my beloved basset hound, Pogo, though I can’t recall plot arc (if there even was one?). When I showed my teacher the book, she told me I should be a novelist when I grew up. I took her words to heart and here I am, 40 years later.

What is the last book that made you cry?

I’m not really a weeper, I tend to be a stoic reader. But Nothing To See Here, by Kevin Wilson, really got to me. Something about the relationship between Lillian and those spontaneously combusting twins captured the poignant nature of love and what it means to care for a child who has been abandoned. I bawled.

Which book is at the top of your current to-read list?

I’m anxiously awaiting a shipment of books from Bookshop.org that will include Christopher Bollen’s new novel, A Beautiful Crime, and Hidden Valley Road, by Robert Kolker. I also have Ivy Pochoda’s new novel These Women on pre-order, and I’m looking forward to Stephanie Danler’s memoir Stray.

Where do you write?

About eight years ago I co-founded a co-working space for writers. We currently have 24 people working out of an office in a midcentury building with views over Silver Lake [in Los Angeles]. It’s a fantastic, close-knit community, and I love having a place to go where I can really focus. Of course, at this very moment, I am stuck at home due to the lockdown, and feeling very stir-crazy and not very focused, so I miss my office tremendously.

Which book made you a forever reader?

I’ve always been a forever reader. I could never trace it back to the beginning because it was always there.

What is a snack you couldn’t write without?

Dark chocolate. Any form.

If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?

This is a cruel question! There’s so much. I always look back at my books and wince at prose I used, mistakes I made, plot holes I never noticed until it was too late, all those missed opportunities where I could have improved things. But if I don’t mention them specifically here, maybe no one else will notice them.

What is your favorite part of Pretty Things?

I love the relationship between teenage Nina and Benny. That chapter, which comes about 70 pages in, was a joy to write — really trying to capture what it’s like for two social misfits to experience first love. That relationship is the pure heart of the book, from which all the other morally ambiguous action springs.

What was the hardest plot point or character to write?

Vanessa. It would have been very easy to write her as a stereotype — a rich, shallow “influencer” with no self-awareness. But I wanted to go deeper than that and really show her humanity, so that the reader could empathize with her as a human being, not just as a poster child for privilege. It took a lot of revisions to get there.

Write a movie poster tagline for your book.

I already have a great one we used in my book trailer: PRETTY THINGS: You never know who’s following you.

Pick a GIF that you think, in this moment, best describes you:

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