Gettin’ Lucky: An Interview with Alison Cherry, Author of RED

Hi, y’all! Julie here! I was lucky enough to read an early copy of Alison Cherry’s super stellar debut, Red. And it was A W E S O M E. Satire with some major heart. Fans of Pleasantville, Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Truman Show, or Tom Perrotta’s Election (or just awesome things in general) will devour this one. Despite me not having red hair, Alison was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, but first here’s a little more about Red:

13265540Felicity St. John 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?

JM: As if launching your debut novel isn’t enough work, tomorrow morning you wake up to find that you’ll be competing in a beauty pageant that same day. What’s your talent?

AC: Unfortunately, I have very little performing arts talent (or ability to walk in heels, which would make me a pretty terrible pageant contestant.) However, I am extremely good at writing funny Shakespearian sonnets about pretty much anything in twenty minutes or less. (Proper rhyme scheme, iambic pentameter, the works.) So I’d go out onstage before the talent portion began and ask for topic suggestions from the audience, then scurry back to the green room, write my sonnet, and dramatically read it aloud when it was my turn. In the past, I’ve written sonnets about how my old coworker might be a robot, ways to procrastinate when you’re studying for finals, how awesome my agent is, and Nyquil, so pretty much anything is fair game.

JM: Ah! I am dying for a sonnet! Felicity is an artist at heart, how did you come to make this decision and who are some of your favorite artists?

AC: Overall, Felicity and I aren’t very much alike, but that was me infusing her with a bit of my teenage self! I started getting really serious about photography when I was about fifteen—that was actually my major in college, and I did it as a career for a while before I became a full-time writer. My art classes in high school and college were always where I felt most free to express myself. Since Felicity spends her whole life trying to cover up who she really is, I wanted to give her one place she could be totally honest.

Some of my favorite photographers are Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, and Mary Ellen Mark, all of whom have (or had) a flare for capturing the dramatic, the absurd, and the unexpected. I’m also a big fan of Impressionist and Expressionist painting, especially Manet, Cezanne, van Gogh, Kirchner, and Munch.

JM: Oh! I love Richard Avedon, too! His In the American West series has always been a favorite of mine. If you could choose any one of your characters to be a living human being to be a part of your daily life, who would you choose?

AC: I’d take Felicity’s best friend Ivy, hands down. She’s my favorite character I’ve ever written in anything, not just in this book. I never had to think about what she’d say or do—she was just there in my brain right from the start being her snarky, funny, 100% individualistic self. I’m incredibly jealous that Felicity gets to hang out with her all the time and I don’t. (I’m also pretty sure I made one of my real-life friends because she reminds me of Ivy…)

JM: I adored Ivy. I often find that the characters who stay with authors are the ones who stick with readers as well. Felicty’s world is so fully developed. I imagine it was hard to get that out of your head and move onto the next project. Can you give us a taste of what you’ve got coming up next?

AC: I don’t think Scarletville will ever really leave my head—sometimes I find myself using words I made up for RED in everyday conversation, and I only realize I’m doing it when people start looking at me funny. My next book, FOR REAL, is another stand-alone contemporary YA. It’s about a pair of sisters who audition for a race-around-the-world reality TV show in order to get revenge on a cheating ex-boyfriend. I can’t tell you too much yet, but I will say that it contains elephants with painted toenails, a Greek man singing Lady Gaga, and a pomegranate-smashing contest.

JM: Ermahgerd! I can’t wait! One last question: as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d love to know two or three books that inspired you as a kid!

AC: I read constantly as a kid, so it’s difficult to pick just three. But I’m going to go with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Matilda by Roald Dahl, and Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. The Phantom Tollbooth taught me that words could do playful, unexpected things and ignited my love for puns and portmanteaus. (I can FEEL my friends reading this and rolling their eyes… don’t even pretend you don’t love it, guys.) Matilda taught me that girls who love books are incredibly awesome and that having a strong brain makes you powerful. And Anne… I mean, come on, is there any better book for a little redheaded, freckled girl who loves to imagine?

JM: I love all of those books so much. I think you might be my spirit animal, Alison. Those are all the questions I have for today. Thank you so much for stopping by OneFour KidLit! And congratulations on your incredible debut!

Author photoUnlike Felicity, Alison Cherry is a natural redhead. (Yes, Cherry is her real last name.) Alison is a professional photographer and worked for many years as a lighting designer for theater, dance, and opera productions. If she could choose a superpower, it would be teleportation, and her favorite dinosaur is the stegosaurus. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. RED is her first book. Visit Alison online at www.alisoncherrybooks.com or on Twitter @alison_cherry.

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Julie Murphy lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cats who tolerate her. When she’s not writing or trying to catch stray animals, Julie can be found on Twitter or in a library smelling old books and manning the reference desk. SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray) is due out in 2014.
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