By Seija Rankin
March 11, 2021 at 12:00 PM EST

When Rufi Thorpe released her third book last spring, she captured the nostalgic grunge of youth better than almost anybody. In The Knockout Queen, Michael and Bunny are next-door neighbors in Southern California: Michael is poor and gay, while Bunny is sporty, blond, and rich. They bond over many shared interests, but mostly over a feeling of not quite belonging in their ritzy community. Now Thorpe's coming-of-age tale is out in paperback, and the author joins EW to reminisce about her literary memories — from her earliest writing days to the decisions she made while crafting The Knockout Queen.


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

RUFI THORPE: In fourth grade we were supposed to write a story.  They gave you a cover from a remaindered library book to be your inspiration and to bind your story in, and the cover I got was to the book Chrysanthemum, which had a cute little girl mouse on the cover. So I wrote a story about a girl (not even a mouse-girl) who got sent to a mental institution where it was discovered that she was not crazy, she just had magical powers. Terribly on brand.

What is the last book that made you cry?

I cried at the end of Emily Adrian's new book, The Second Season, and it doesn't have a sad ending exactly, it's just so beautiful and perfect that I cried. It comes out in July, everyone should read it.

Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?

I just picked The Lost Apothecary, by Laura Penner, for my book of the month, and I am excited: Potions, Victorian-era London, women poisoning people, time travel, I mean, it ticks all the boxes of "sounds fun" for me.

Where do you write?

I like to write lying down, on a couch or a bed, with my laptop on my knees until weird parts of my back are numb and my eyes burn from looking at the screen.

Which book made you a forever reader?

I think the Wizard of Oz books made me a forever reader. They were not my favorite books exactly, but I got weirdly addicted to them and there were so many at the library. That was my first experience of reading a series, of getting to enter just this whole world. And after that I was always looking for a new series to get into. But the books that shaped me most in terms of taste were the Robert Cormier books, which I loved to an unhealthy degree.

What is a snack you couldn't write without?

While writing I like to microwave the same cup of coffee over and over again until it has a kind of gummy film on top. Essential to my process. The going to the microwave, standing there while I accidentally make the coffee blastingly hot, then puttering back to my laptop with it, then getting so distracted writing I don't take more than a few sips, and the next time I get stuck I realize the coffee is cold and go do it all again.

Rufi Thorpe, The Knockout Queen
Credit: Nina Subin; Knopf Doubleday

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

I would set them all in the Marvel universe.

What is your favorite part of The Knockout Queen?

There is a scene where Bunny's dad has surprise plastic surgery and they all eat Domino's and laugh so hard his stitches open.

What was the hardest plot point or character to write?

Definitely the courtroom scenes because when I first went to write them I produced only a weak stew of old Law & Order episodes, so I started going to my local courthouse and just watching trials, and it was really amazing. A defense attorney who had been helping me recommended a particularly theatrical and fun judge to watch and it was… like traumatic and funny and depressing and scary. Justice is such a beautiful idea, but once you start inquiring how it actually works, it will turn your stomach. I think everyone should go and observe a courtroom for a few days. It would change the whole world.

Write a movie poster tag line for the book:

We needed to pretend violence was something we could control.

Related content: