Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cheetah Girls Author, Deborah Gregory, gets WILD!

by Brittany Geragotelis

Let me tell you a little about my friend, Deborah Gregory. First off, she’s fierce. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her walking around NYC without a fabulous, bright (most of the time pink and/or animal print) outfit on. She’s prone to “rowr”ing at people when she’s feeling sassy and she’s always the life of any party. But who is she besides utterly incredible and my friend? Well, Deborah’s also the author of the famous teen series The Cheetah Girls and the awesome new series Catwalk! I know…cool, huh?

courtesy of: Deborah Gregory
Beyond the literary fame though, she’s extremely supportive and genuinely wants to help people whenever she can. In fact, she’s someone who’s been super helpful in my own journey to getting an agent (which I’m still looking for—hint, hint). So, I wasn’t surprised at all when Deborah said yes when I asked her to answer a few questions for all of you out there who may be experiencing your own adventures in publishing.

Read on for the inside scoop from the Cheetah Lady herself and then leave a comment below for your chance to win a personal handwritten note, an autographed photo and book from Deborah!

courtesy of: Deborah Gregory
Me: What can you tell us about the Catwalk series?
I was a runway model in Europe for two memorable years, graduated from FIT and one of my friends, Nole Marin (celebrity fashion stylist and former judge on “America’s Next Top Model” and currently a judge on Canada’s “Next Top Model”), went to Fashion Industries High School. So, fashion is in my DNA!

Naturally, the brain cells were percolating as I was watching “Project Runway” and “ANTM.” I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to have a book series in which the characters attend a hyper-stylized and prestigious high school where they could get real hands-on training for careers in the fashion business? The school would sort of jump-start their college education, or for some, give them real entree directly from high school into the fashion arena.” The careers highlighted in the Catwalk novel series are: Print and Runway Modeling, Fashion Illustration, Fashion Marketing, Fashion Merchandising and Buying, Fashion Design, Accessories Design, Jewelry Design, Fashion Photography, etc.

courtesy of: Deborah Gregory
In Catwalk, each year some of the students at this prestigious high school—Fashion International—compete in an important annual fashion show competition. For the Catwalk Competition, the students are given the opportunity to win a fashion trip abroad, modeling contracts, college scholarships and cash prizes. The lead character, Pashmina Purrstein, has dreamed of modeling since childhood. Her best friend from the Boogie Down, Felinez Cartera, is a talented accessories designer. Together they dream of launching a fashion empire.

Me: Sounds like so much fun! Now, Catwalk is your second book series to become a hit among teens. What's the secret to writing a successful book or series?
Alas, the tradition of reading is not what it used to be. Television dominates now. So, frankly, one of the secrets is this: get your book made into a television or film project. Because of the success of The Cheetah Girls franchise I created, three movies were made, along with a slew of other ancillary streams such as nationwide concert tours, albums, a massive amount of merchandise, etc.

photo credit: Delecorte Books
There’s a strange thing that goes on with books, movies, television shows, albums—anything created along those lines. And this is it: you never know what’s going to be huge! All you can really hope for is to write something that you want to write and that it will find an “audience.”

There’s a larger audience for books with white characters than there is for books with ethnic characters—this is a fact in America. Also, books with characters that appeal to both males and females have a better chance (i.e. Harry Potter). So, as you can see, the more you narrow something down to a smaller audience, the smaller the chances are of it selling more copies. In the end, it’s all about the numbers. Book fact: There are 65,000 books published every year. That's what you're up against.

Me: What was your journey to being published like? Did you have to deal with a lot of rejection?
The book, film and television industries are absolutely brutal. There’s so much to deal with and no one tells you how hard it's going to be. Some people get really lucky and have a smoother ride—for example, if you come from a wealthy family or are married and your spouse is footing the bills, it will be easier to deal with all the bumps along the way.

courtesy of: Deborah Gregory
It's a very time-consuming and slow process. You have to write the book, try to get an agent, get it shopped around to publishers and then if there’s a publisher who wants it, they give you a contract (that part of the process—the publisher/author contract—sometimes takes between eight months to a year!). It can all be quite an ordeal.

The important thing to know is that there’s not a lot of money in this picture. You have to make sure you're financially covered, because the check you could be expecting, may not come. Things like this are endless when dealing with books and being a writer.

Me: What's your writing process like?
I'm a night person, so I write better at night. But when you're a writer, there are a lot of things you must deal with. You're really an entrepreneur—you have to make all sorts of things happen for yourself. There’s a lot of marketing involved when you’re a writer. You have to get your product out there so the books will sell, because most book companies don’t really help with that. I'm currently writing the third novel in the Catwalk trilogy—Catwalk: Rip the Runway—and I have to work on it every day and then deal with everything else. That’s my writing process!

Now in terms of shaping a book, this is what I do: I come up with an idea, then take four weeks to create an outline (the outline contains the plot and the characters). Then I do chapter outlines and finally begin writing the actual book.

Me: What book out there do you wish you had written?
I honestly wish I had written my adult novel already. I began it 14years ago! That's my only regret. The book’s about a girl who grows up in foster care and it follows her after she ages out of the system and makes a train wreck of her life—she becomes a call girl, drug dealer, and gets into other criminal enterprises—and how she reinvents herself. That's a hell of a story!

It’s taken a lot of research and a lot of time. And a lot of courage to face her story, which in part is my story. Growing up was horrendously difficult for me. There are so many struggles people deal with everyday—and I've witnessed them and tried to run from it all. I’m ready to stop running. And as I move forward, I’ll share it. Tell our stories. The stories of people I knew who died and are gone forever. Their stories are in my heart, my mind. They were a part of my life. And through it all, I’ll protect their anonymity. I don’t want to hurt anyone, which is why I think I've waited so long to face it all.

But to answer your question: no, there’s not a book that someone else wrote that I wish I'd written. A book is such a personal statement—no way it could be anyone else's but the person who wrote it. But I knew after I read Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra that I was going to have to stop running and write that adult novel. Reading his book (about boys who end up in a juvenile facility) was the first time I admitted it to myself. I loved that book.

Me: If you could have any five people over for a dinner party, who would you invite and why?
What a groovy, salacious, delicious and so malicious idea! I must do it pronto, ASAP, subito! (That means right now in Catwalk code. Forgive moi) I would so want to have Candace Bushnell over—I’d want to see her in action! I would definitely want Vincent D'Onofrio over—I love Inspector Gorum! He could solve my crimes anytime. I hear he's quite intense. And if he couldn't come, then I’d want him to send Benicio Del Toro—as you can see, I like the characters, the thinkers.

courtesy of: Deborah Gregory
Naturally, I’d want George Wolfe over—he’s a genius and the former artistic director of the Public Theater. Meryl Streep, because I hear she's really nice. I’d really want Dame Edna, too, because I'm a big fan of men wearing dresses. They always make such entertaining dinner guests. And I’d want my girlfriend, actress Lynn Whitfield over—she’s quite entertaining and great at dinner parties. (She played the Cheetah Girls’ manager and Galleria's mom in the movie).

photo credit: Jump at the Sun
Me: Catwalk is being developed into a television show for Teen Nick. Where are you with that project right now?
Alas, we have entered another terrain of the business that can make you wanna pull your hair out! It takes absolutely forever to get books or original scripts made into TV or film projects. For example, from the time that The Cheetah Girls book series was optioned to be made into the first movie took five years! That's right—and that was the fast track! The actual contract with the film or television company for the book option takes about eight months (The Cheetah Girls) to 22 months (Catwalk). So, nothing’s really going on yet. But it's my dream to get the sashay shimmy-ready characters in Catwalk, sashaying onto the screen either big or small, before they finish high school!

Me: In the Catwalk book series, the characters have their own Catwalk code and glossary of words they use. One of them is Tasti Dee-Lite. Tell us what that means and whom do you consider a Tasti Dee-Lite?
A Tasti Dee-Lite is a guy who’s as absolutely, deliciously adorable, charming and infectiously charming as a gay guy—but he's straight (yippee!). Therefore, you can indulge your fantasies without feeling guilty (tee hee) or having to run out for Ben & Jerry's, because he's gay and you can't have him.

A public person whom I consider a Tasti Dee-Lite would be Benicio Del Toro. I mean, he's hot. He looks like he's a mess but very, very interesting. I tend towards guys that are kooky characters. And like I said, I think Vincent D'Onofrio is a Tasti Dee-Lite. Maybe you'd have to see Mystic Pizza to get the full strength of his flavor. The other guy that I think is a bonafide Tasti Dee-Lite is married, so I don't want to upset his wife, but let's just say that he’s chocolate flavored and has an Academy Award for Best Actor and has lost some weight recently (tee hee hee).

Courtesy of: Deborah Gregory
Okay that you know a little more about the furr-bulous Deborah, here's your chance to win! The first two people to leave a comment below will win a personal handwritten note, an autographed photo and a book from Deborah! Lots of thanks to Deborah for being such a good sport! Catwalk: Strike a Pose is out in bookstores nationwide now!



Anonymous said...

Love Deborah's free-spirit and determination. An autographed copy of her latest book for my library would be awesome. And Brittany, GREAT interview!

Stephanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephanie said...

Love this blog! Deborah looks so FIERCE!!!! Another great one, Brit! :)