Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Debut Author Interview: Alison Cherry

I am so excited to be able to introduce debut author Alison Cherry! Alison grew up in Evanston, IL, then went to Harvard and got a degree in photography. (Yes, that is possible. Although they like to call the visual arts "Visual and Environmental Studies," for some unknown reason.) Then she spent the next three years as a freelance lighting designer for various theaters throughout the Northeast. Eventually, Alsion got tired of hanging out on ladders and wrestling with faulty electrical equipment for 80 hours a week while getting paid almost nothing. I know—shocking. She spent the next four years working as a photographer for the Metropolitan Opera. Alison represented by the lovely and amazing Holly Root at Waxman Leavell.

Her book RED, which is available now, is about Felicity St. John who has it all—loyal best friends, a hot guy, and artistic talent. And she’s right on track to win the Miss Scarlet pageant. Her perfect life is possible because of just one thing: her long, wavy, coppery red hair.

Having red hair is all that matters in Scarletville. Redheads hold all the power—and everybody knows it. That’s why Felicity is scared down to her roots when she receives an anonymous note:

I know your secret.

Because Felicity is a big fake. Her hair color comes straight out of a bottle. And if anyone discovered the truth, she’d be a social outcast faster than she could say "strawberry blond." Her mother would disown her, her friends would shun her, and her boyfriend would dump her. And forget about winning that pageant crown and the prize money that comes with it—money that would allow her to fulfill her dream of going to art school.

Felicity isn’t about to let someone blackmail her life away. But just how far is she willing to go to protect her red cred?

Sarah: OMG, that is outstanding. First of all, as a redhead, I LOVE the idea of a place where the Ginger's rule the roost! Sign me up! So, where did you come up with the idea for RED?

Alison: In early 2010, I read a very alarmist article that said redheads were likely to go extinct in the next one hundred years. Since I'm a natural redhead, I found this very upsetting, and I wondered if I should archive my DNA for scientific purposes or something. Fortunately, it turned out the article was just a hoax perpetuated by a hair dye company—the genetic mutation that makes red hair happen is safe and sound. But the whole experience got me wondering what would happen if redheads really WERE an endangered species. Would people work to save them from extinction the same way biologists work to protect pandas and snow leopards? That led to the idea of a National Redhead Sanctuary called Scarletville. I essentially have a news ticker of ridiculous ideas scrolling through my head at all times, so I remember emailing my mom and asking, "Is this incredibly stupid, or could it actually turn into a story?" She thought it was funny, so I decided to give it a shot, and RED was born.

Alison: If you take Felicity at face value, she and I are pretty different. Having red hair is the only thing that matters in Scarletville, so Felicity is significantly more popular than I've ever been, in high school or after. And because she knows she'll lose everything if her secret comes out, she's willing to do some pretty reprehensible things to maintain her status. I like to tell myself I'd never sink so low, but it's unfair of me to berate her—Felicity wasn't lucky enough to grow up like I did, with loving, supportive parents and a diverse community where being different wasn't considered bad. Scarletville is all she's ever known, and if I'd been in her shoes, who's to say I wouldn't have acted the same way? If Felicity had gone to my high school and had been allowed to focus on the things she loved, we might actually have been friends. We have very similar interests; we both took dance classes all through our childhoods, and we're both passionate about visual art. I majored in photography in college, just as Felicity wants to do. I can totally picture us working side by side in the darkroom and commenting on each other's portfolios.

Sarah: I think characters who are hiding something are my favorite to read! I totally connect with them. So, let's talk about the process. How long did it take to complete the project starting with the idea and ending when you signed your book deal?

Alison: I started writing RED in April of 2010, and I got my book deal in October of 2011.

Sarah: Okay, now that all the readers and green with envy, what about your agent? How did you find her?

Alison: My agent is Holly Root at Waxman Leavell, and she is ridiculously awesome. I found her through AgentQuery, which is a fantastic resource for anyone looking for an agent. I actually queried her with an entirely different book in early 2010, and when she read it, she contacted me and said, "I really love this story, but I'm positive I won't be able to sell it." She asked me if I was working on anything else, and the first three chapters of RED were in pretty solid shape by that time, so I sent them her way. She told me she was smitten with them and that I should write the rest of the manuscript and send it to her right away, so I spent the next six months furiously drafting and revising. Four days after I finished, she offered to represent me. Moral of the story: when an agent rejects your manuscript but asks you to send her the next thing you write, DO IT. She's not trying to let you down gently—she sees something she likes in your writing, even if that first project wasn't the right fit for her.

Sarah: So, now that you're behind the gate and walking among the published, what surprised you most about the publishing process?

Alison: The WAITING. For some reason, I thought that after I sold a manuscript, things would zoom along and I'd have a finished book on the shelf in no time. NOT SO, my friends. RED's publication date is almost exactly two years after the date I sold it, and that's pretty standard. The word "soon" starts to mean anything from "next week" to "five months from now." This isn't anyone's fault—there's a ton of stuff I don't even understand that goes on behind the scenes in publishing. But it was definitely an adjustment.

Sarah: I've heard that before! So, any more advice for the "not yet published" writers out there?

Alison: In the words of the great Maureen Johnson, don't be afraid to suck. You're not going to write a perfect book on the first try. You probably won't do it on the second or third or fourth try, either, and that is TOTALLY FINE. That's what revisions are for. Even your very favorite books by your very favorite authors started out as totally crappy first drafts, I promise. None of us get it right the first time around.

Sarah: Words to remember! What's next for you? Any new projects coming up? Is there a sequel to RED in our future?

Alison: RED is a stand-alone, so there's no sequel in the works. However, I do have another unrelated contemporary YA coming out in late 2014. It's called FOR REAL, and it's about a pair of sisters who go on reality TV to take revenge on a cheating ex-boyfriend.

Sarah: Every author has that one line in their book that they love. Care to share one with us?

Alison: "All of the furniture was strangely undersized, as if it had been harvested before it was done growing."

Sarah: Love it! It conjures an image of a giant walking up and down the field picking off beds and couches and vanities. Alison, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! I am so excited to read RED,in fact, I'm on my way out the door to pick it up now! Cancel all my plans, followers! I'm heading to Scarletville! And remember, always read what you are PASSIONATE about!

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