Welcome to an interview with author Debbie Reed Fischer! Her first book, BRALESS IN WONDERLAND, hit the shelves on April 17 last year. Her second book, SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS, hit shelves the following September.
Thanks for joining us, Debbie! Tell us about BRALESS IN WONDERLAND.
BRALESS IN WONDERLAND (Dutton) is centered on Allee, a feminist-minded, small town-town girl who gets discovered by modeling scouts at her local mall and whisked away to Miami to model. She thinks models are shallow and brainless, but since it’s her only hope at getting the extra money she needs for college, it’s an opportunity she can’t refuse. By the book’s end, many of Allee’s beliefs are turned on their head. Like Alice in Wonderland, BRALESS IN WONDERLAND is a crazy adventure full of transformation and self-discovery, with a lot of glamour and fun along the way.
What was the inspiration behind your idea?
I know it’s hard to believe when you hear these stories about small-town girls who have no idea that they’re beautiful, then suddenly get discovered and voila, they become stunning divas in front of the camera, but it happens all the time. I witnessed many young women walk into the agency lacking confidence, slouching their shoulders and speaking in these barely audible voices. Then, over the course of weeks or a few months, this transformation would happen. It always intrigued me and I knew I wanted to write about it some day. Some of my personal experiences inspired BRALESS as well. Once, when I was still interning and not a full-fledged booker yet, the agency sent me out on a casting for a drink commercial. To my surprise, I booked the job. What I didn’t know was that I would have to dance the Lambada. (Some of you reading this may not remember the Lambada, but it was THE dance at the time and was considered so racy, it was known as The Forbidden Dance. By today’s standards, it’s about as racy as the Hokey Pokey.) After exactly thirty seconds of seeing me “dance” (or what I thought was dancing), the director managed to stop laughing long enough to hire an extra as my replacement. In the end, they only used my hands in the commercial. I’m probably the reason The Lambada was forbidden. Anyway, that incident inspired a scene in the book.
Did you already know so much about the modeling world, or did you research it all?
I didn’t have to research, really. I just fact-checked a few things and checked with a couple of stylists to make sure my on-set scenes were accurate. I was a model booker for years, which gave me lots of material for the book. I worked at two busy agencies, but I was always scribbling down story ideas onto notepads instead of working. Sometimes I’d be interviewing a model, looking at her portfolio, and a detail about her photos would strike me as interesting or funny, so I’d say, “’Excuse me just a sec,” then I’d whip out my notepad and start jotting away while the poor girl had to wait. I also took notes when models made comments I liked, usually something like, “I’m an excellent actress, as long as there’s no dialogue.” Years later, I referred to all those notepads when I sat down to write BRALESS. I guess I only pretended to be a model booker. I spent most of my time scribbling. I should probably give my ex-boss her money back
SPOILER QUESTION: What was going through your mind as you were writing Allee’s choice between Japan and Yale?
That I couldn’t reveal even a clue until the very last page. I knew I had to create suspense and leave the reader guessing until the end, so that’s what I was conscious of when I wrote the last twenty pages. I also wanted to leave the reader with the idea that new experiences don’t present limitations; they present opportunities. Allee comes to see modeling as a way to explore a new side of herself, rather than just a means to make money for Yale.
How did you come up with your title?
I wanted elements of Alice in Wonderland to be woven throughout the story, so the title had to reflect that. Miami Beach is very Wonderland-esque. It’s surreal. Pink sidewalks, lime green buildings, plastic flamingos, art deco hotels shaped like cruise ships. graffiti and wrought iron balconies. It’s dream-like, nonsensical, yet weirdly beautiful. Plus, South Beach has undergone a makeover from the faded, run-down area it was in the early eighties to the dazzling neon Riviera that it is now. It’s the perfect metaphor for a transformation story. The word “Braless” refers to feminism, and also a scene in the book that explains what a model has to go through with her undergarments to make an outfit fit correctly. Two words: chicken cutlets. And I don’t mean Perdue, people. Read the book if you don’t know what I’m talking about . . .
How many drafts did you go through?
Two or three
How many drafts did your editor go through with you?
How long did it take to find your editor?
I met my editor at an SCBWI conference, and he turned out to be the editor that bought my book two years later. Synchronicity is awesome.
How about your agent?
I was fortunate. I met my agent, Steven Chudney, at an SCBWI conference and he read ten pages of my novel SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS, had me send him the rest of the book, and he’s represented me ever since.
How do you get to know your characters?
My books are character-driven, so their personalities take shape in my head before I even sit down to write. Allee is a shout-out to both Lewis Carroll’s Alice as well as my close friend Allee, who is a booker at a modeling agency in Miami.
What was your favorite part of writing this book? Least favorite?
Favorite: Remembering some of the people and things that happened at the agency.
Least favorite: Remembering some of the people and things that happened at the agency. Also revision deadlines suck. Just when I thought I was done, turns out I wasn’t . . . but, hey, that’s the biz . . .
How does it feel to have your books on the shelves?
Validating. Thrilling. Trippy.
How did you get in to writing for kids?
I’ve always loved reading YA, and I’m a major Judy Blume fan. Somehow, the young adult genre/ age level always resonated with me, even as an adult. I also had a lot of contact with teens at the agency, and later as a high school teacher. I’ve always been very close to the teen world, through books and in real life.
What are you working on now?
A novel I’m hoping to finish in the next few weeks. It’s about a girl who wants to be a stand-up comic but no one in her family thinks she’s funny. My husband says it’s an autobiography. :)
Do you work on one project at a time, or multiple?
One at a time, but I cheat on my book with other book ideas. I map out books that blow into my mind while I’m busy writing something else, but I don’t start seriously writing them until I’m finished with the project I’m working on.
Are you a planner, or do you write by the seat of your pants?
I plan my plot points, but all the in-between stuff happens moment to moment when I’m writing. I also don’t always stick to my plot points. Writing is a funny thing because it’s like you’re asleep, yet you’re awake. You can only plan so much. Sometimes the dream just takes you on a ride.
Are you a paper person, or the computer-only-type?
Both. I notebook scenes that come to me spontaneously, but I also sit down at the computer and piece my scribblings together.
What are your favorite reference books? And why?
Don’t have any. Stephen King’s ON WRITING always motivates me to write, although that’s probably not a reference book. It’s one of the few non-fiction books that doesn’t feel like a chore to read. He combines a lot of practical advice, as well as autobiographical information that I find really inspirational.
Thanks again for joining us for this interview! If you'd like to know more of what Debbie Reed Fischer is up to, check out her website at DebbieReedFischer.com. Or, visit her blog. For a chance to win a copy of BRALESS IN WONDERLAND, go here and leave a comment.