Author Deborah Gregory Shares a Look at Catwalk and The Cheetah Girls
Today, we are joined by author Deborah Gregory. She opens up about how she became an author, her experience with The Cheetah Girls phenomenon (Deborah wrote the books), fashion, race issues, her experience as a foster child and more. We hope you enjoy this interview and will check out Catwalk, the new paperback that includes three Catwalk novels, perfect for tween girls.
I don’t think I had a choice in becoming a writer. My first foster mother was illiterate. Pretended she could read, but we (the foster kids) knew she couldn’t. My job was to read her letters and other correspondence and writer her letters and other correspondence. As long as I was reading and writing for her–that was allowed but II was not allowed to read books and had to sneak them when she wasn’t around. I never even realized how much this shaped who I became and didn’t voice it until now. I would probably not have been a writer if it wasn’t for this experience. I was five feet eleven inches, skinny, fashionable and exotic, so more than likely I would have pursued a career in fashion and modeled but the turmoil inside from my childhood is what caused me to get help where the pyschotherapist strongly encouraged me to become a writer. She felt it would be the best vehicle for me.
Q. What has your favorite event experience been so far?
Looking back, I would have to say that the movie premiere for the first Cheetah Girls film was surreal! I had a custom cheetah gown made that swirled to the floor and my dog, Cappuccino had a matching jeweled coat! The carpet was cheetah not red! And so many people came I was deeply moved. It was held in Lincoln Center and there were cheetah cookies and ice cream for the kids and all the stars from the Disney Channel television shows came–it was hysterical watching the girls gagulating over Shia LeBoef for example. I thought it was like being in Cheetah City (akin to Emerald City). Also, the kids reaction to the movie was so gratifying. It was clear how much it meant to them–especially the black kids. There is so little made for them–bookwise and movie-wise because of racism which is endemic in the publishing industry and movie industry but not the music industry that they really are thirsty for stories where they are at the epicenter.
Q. What inspired you to write about the world of modeling?
It’s not so much the world of modeling as it is the world of FASHION that I’m writing about. Fashion is a part of me forever. I started making clothes in my cramped bedroom when I was 11 years old–which is exactly when I made my first cheetah dress. I cut the fabric without a pattern and sewed the dress by hand because I didn’t have a sewing machine. So, fashion is very much a part of who I am. I graduated from FIT and spent two memorable years in Europe as a model. Because I was emotionally crippled from the childhood trauma of growing up in the foster care system, I could not sustain my modeling career and came back to the United States where I immediately went into intensive therapy which resulted in me becoming a writer. I still have some of the friends from modeling–Beverly Johnson, Coco Mitchell, Lisa Garber, Dovanna. We talk about those crazy times in Europe. So naturally I understand the world of fashion and felt it would be fabulous to show it at a teen level, basically taking the college experience of Fashion Institute of Technology and transforming it to the high school level.
Q. Which character speaks the loudest, to you? Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?
The main character Pashmina has the most dominant presence. What’s natural for me is to have a central character who is struggling with racial identity, striving to transcend their origins. Such is the case with Pashmina. Luckily, she has a single mother who cares but she certainly has her own issues and is economically challenged, trying to make ends meet to raise her two teenaged daughters. Pashmina’s pushiness, drive is something I’m familiar with–it shines through. My favorite character is aspiring designer–Noli Canoli who carries his precious Pomeranian, Countess Coco, in his Prada bag. The inspiration for him was derived from my longtime friend, Nole Marin–who is a fashion stylist, model scout and was a former judge on ANTM and MTV’s Made. He has such an eccentric voice so I loved creating his dialogue. And his domineering mother, Claudia Canoli, bossing him around while zooming in her Hoveround chair in the grocery store. Priceless. Of course, Nole Marin’s real mother is a darling. Dorothy Fernandez is an assistant manager at Marina Rinaldi–so I think the inspiration for Pashmina’s Mom, who is an assistant manager at Forgotten Diva boutique, comes from Ms. Dorothy. I love her–she is so stylish and charming!
Q. Do you plan to continue writing for younger readers?
I’ve been working on an adult novel for many years. It is a labor of love. It is about a girl who grows up in the foster care system and descends into the underworld with great determination before she almost perishes then is faced with the daunting challenge of reinventing and redeeming her life. I have tried to avoid writing this novel–and wish it would go away, but it won’t. I feel I must complete it. It sort of reminds me of my life. No one asks to be born into a world that is riddled with racism and has destroyed the dreams and hopes of many. But that is the reality of the world we live in. No one asks to be born a foster child. No one asks to be raped. But if you’re a writer, then these cruel circumstances and “series of unfortunate events” become the things that drive the stories you create. Whether you like it, or not. I’m sure the author of “Bastard Out of Carolina” or “Lovely Bones” would have preferred creating other stories, but they had to write those stories. It’s very clear when you read them that they are resonating from a deep place. Alas, that is the same predicament that I’m in–and have been running from for years. It’s time to face it.
Q. What is the one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?
I like the idea of being an author. Although writing for television is far more lucrative–if you get the work, of course. Being an author–especially a black author–is very challenging. If you’re black and are a celebrity, or come from a famous family, that will give you an edge. If you aren’t, then creating stories with black characters has a more limited audience. So, I say to any aspiring author, please, please, please, write the story that speaks to you the most. That’s the story you start with. Do not create a story because you think it will make money–or is a genre that is more popular. That’s a big mistake. Stick with what you know–even if it means, you will get a smaller audience. Writing a novel is a gamble. 68,000 books are published every year while the audience of book readers is dwindling. People don’t have time to read, are too distracted to read, don’t want to read and would rather not have to think. So remember you’re writing for the smaller percentage of people who do read–probably 20 percent of the population actually picks up a NOVEL to read it so make you are telling a story that you have a burning desire to tell.