If you’re looking for the perfect summertime YA-novel-double-feature, grab a bag of popcorn and some jelly beans, and read Cherry Chevapravatdumrong’s “DupliKate” and “She’s So Money”. The protagonists of both books are super smart, goal-oriented, overachieving high school girls who are facing major personal conflicts. I identified with both characters, so I’m sure you would too. In “DupliKate”, Kate is applying to Yale University and rarely has time to spend with her friends or hot boyfriend, to the point that her computer-generated twin, Rina, comes to life to help her finish her college application and live part of her life.
The story is fun, hilarious, engaging, and there’s a touching surprise ending. In “She’s So Money”, Maya, juggling school, tutoring, and working at her family’s Thai restaurant, finds herself being paid to do homework for the most popular guy in school in order to save her family’s restaurant from being shut down. The plot spirals out of control and eventually, Maya ends up as the popular guy’s girlfriend. Basically, you’ll be left on the edge of your seat while reading this book. Cherry has mastered the teen voice and has a knack for writing witty dialogue. Besides being a YA author, she also writes for “Family Guy”. And, before all that amazingness, she studied Psychology at Yale and received her Juris Doctor degree from New York University Law School. Instead of taking the bar, she moved to Los Angeles against her parents’ wishes to become a writer. Cherry is a bold genius, golden superstar, and she should probably rule the world, so I’m lucky I got to ask her a few questions. In our interview, we discuss high school, YA books, cookies, and the difference between writing books and TV.
ME: What were you like in high school? Were you a nerd? You said in one interview you used to wear men’s XL T-shirts. I think that’s cool, but you can dispute me on that. (I had pimples, glasses, headgear, and braces, so I think I was in a much worse situation).
CHERRY: Oh, yeah, I was totally AP-classed out and whatever. I played the violin, I didn’t do any sports. Yeah, nerdy. I still wear men’s XL shirts! That is the joy of having no dress code at your work.
ME: What were your hobbies in high school, outside of getting straight A’s? (I’m assuming that you got straight A’s because you went to two fancy-pants universities and you are smarter than anyone I know). You can also tell me any of your hobbies now, since that is interesting also.
CHERRY: Oh, shut up. And also I did not get straight As. As for hobbies, I…didn’t have any? I’m trying to think…man, this is gonna sound sad, but outside of school-related stuff, I didn’t really do anything. I wouldn’t call playing the violin a hobby.
ME: What were your friends like in high school? Did you guys have a clique, or did you think cliques were dumb like I do?
CHERRY: I had various groups of friends that sometimes overlapped; I wouldn’t characterize any of them as being cliques because it’s not like it ever stopped us from also being friends with other people.
ME: Did you have any boyfriends in high school like Maya’s or Kate’s or were you too busy for romance? (I myself became less smart when I got a boyfriend. I think my high school boyfriend is the reason why I’m not a pediatrician, but that could be an excuse).
CHERRY: What! Never be too busy for romance, how depressing is that?! But no, Maya’s & Kate’s boys were not particularly similar to mine.
ME: What was your family like growing up? I know you’ve said in previous interviews that Maya’s family structure was similar to yours.
CHERRY: The surface structure was similar but that’s about it…My parents were indeed super-strict though. Like, crazy strict. Like, in early drafts my editor told me to make the parents in the book nicer because it wasn’t believable that they were that strict.
ME: You’ve created two characters that put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed in high school. You’ve said in previous interviews that you were never as hardcore as Kate or Maya, but what inspired you to create them?
CHERRY: Well, I certainly related to that whole thing. I certainly lived it, if not in such an insane way that I went to the desperate measures they did. So it was kind of like writing my high school experience, but just an amped-up version of it.
ME: When you were writing your first book, “She’s So Money”, what was the process like? Had you attempted to write a book beforehand? How was it different from writing for TV?
CHERRY: Oh, lord, SO different. In TV you spend most of your time in a room with other people, pitching stuff out loud and laughing all day, and for a book it’s just you by yourself staring at your computer screen. I’d co-written a Family Guy book with Alex Borstein before (or was writing it at the same time…I can’t really remember the time frame), but writing a novel was really different. I kind of tackled it vaguely like a TV script though…like I had a loose outline of what would happen in each chapter, so there was a roadmap to follow as I was writing it.
ME: I absolutely love the way you created “To Do Lists” for Kate in “DupliKate”. (For example: “Ace finals, Ace AP physics project, Avoid murdering lab partner, Submit Yale application, Resolve possibly evil twin situation”). You also have Kate’s twin, Rina, write diary entries throughout the book. The “To Do Lists” and diary entries break Kate’s POV up and concisely tell the reader what the characters are going through, in a really fun way. How did you come up with those devices?
CHERRY: Thanks, they were totally fun to write! They weren’t in the first draft and then my editor suggested adding some interstitials to break things up; I can’t remember exactly what the process was, but the lists were added first, then the diary entries later, so probably somewhere in there we had a discussion about getting more of Rina’s point of view in.
ME: Was it easier to write “DupliKate” after you had written “She’s So Money”?
CHERRY: Yes, if only because I figured well, if I wrote a 200-something page document before, I can do it again. Before you do it the first time, it seems like a RIDICULOUS amount of pages. It still is, but at least once you do it the first time, you know it’s doable.
ME: You tend to grasp a range of voices really well, from teen characters in your YA books, to all the characters on “Family Guy”. You mentioned in one interview that you even wrote a musical for law school, which is part of the reason you stayed at NYU. Has there ever been a character or form of media that hasn’t come to you so easily in the writing process?
CHERRY: Okay you know what’s kind of a pain in the ass? Writing description in books. In a script you pretty much keep descriptions to a bare minimum, but in a book you have to paint the picture more, since there’s no visual, and I’m still not quite used to that. I’d rather just say somebody is hot and then the reader can imagine what that is, rather than, like, try and get all vivid and detailed about the exact manner in which they are hot. I suck and am lazy, is what I seem to be getting at here.
ME: Do you see yourself writing novels in genres other than YA?
CHERRY: Hmmm. Maybe one day? Who knows!
ME: This might be too personal- but- if you didn’t succeed at writing when you decided to move here on a whim, what would you have done instead? Would it have been law?
CHERRY: Oh, it wasn’t on a whim. I knew what my general plan was when I moved here, it’s just that I didn’t know anybody, or have a job yet, when I showed up. But if I hadn’t eventually landed a writing job…I have NO idea. I guess, most realistically, it would have been law, and I would have been miserable. And then maybe I would’ve figured something else out.
ME: Do you have any upcoming projects in the near future? (I saw in one interview that “DupliKate” at one point was being turned into a movie for Fox 2000).
CHERRY: I have a short story in an anthology that’s being released by Candlewick next year. The option on “DupliKate” ran out before the movie got made, so if there are any movie people out there who wanna make a “DupliKate” movie, I am waving at you excitedly and hopefully! *waves excitedly and hopefully*
ME: I personally feel like you are a strong candidate for running a TV show one day. Do you see that in your future? If so, would it be a comedy, dramady, or Law and Order SVU, SVU?
CHERRY: Aw, thanks! I definitely want to create a TV show one day…that would be awesome. It would be a comedy, or a dramedy, or maybe even a drama, but probably not a procedural drama like SVU.
ME: Outside of writing, what are some of the things about which you’re passionate? Do you do any volunteering or gardening, for example? (I don’t picture you gardening, but I thought I’d ask).
ME: What are your favorite TV shows outside of the dancing ones?
CHERRY: Oh, man, I love TV so incredibly much that I’m sure I’m already forgetting like ten million shows, but off the top of my head: Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Spartacus, Veronica Mars, Party Down, Sherlock, Friday Night Lights. Family Guy of course. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Many things. I’m sure of it.
ME: For the people out there that are confused about their lives and that don’t know whether to follow their passions or be realistic, what do you recommend them doing? There are a lot of confused people out there, so any advice you have will help. I feel like you’re going to say “go with your passions”, but that’s annoying to hear sometimes. Maybe say it anyways since people need to hear it?
CHERRY: Okay, I’ll say something different then, which is: try and do the realistic thing first. Because if you are actually confused and don’t know what to do, then you actually might be able to stomach doing the realistic thing, which, yay for you, because the realistic thing is generally easier. But if you find yourself completely miserable and thinking about the passion thing all the time and you truly can’t do anything else, then by all means pursue the passion!
ME: For the young writers out there that haven’t found their voices yet or that don’t know what media for which they want to write, what do you recommend? (Obviously, you’ll say “write”- but what about workshops or programs they can enroll in, jobs they can do, or books they can read?)
CHERRY: Maybe whichever one you like to consume most is probably the one you should write? Like if reading books is your total favorite and you read way more books than you watch TV, you’re probably more likely to enjoy writing a book than trying to bang out a spec script. I wouldn’t worry about finding your voice, that’ll just happen as you’re going. Workshops and programs are more helpful if you already know specifically what you want to do…like for TV writing, for example, I would recommend applying to all those fellowships the networks have, like the Disney fellowship, and make sure to check out Jane Espenson’s website, which has lots of great advice. janeespenson.com
ME: Now for the very important stuff…What is your favorite cookie of all time?
CHERRY: I love this question! The answer is constantly changing. A year ago, I would’ve told you the chocolate chip cookie from that Max Brenner stand in the mall at Caesars in Vegas. Right now it’s the sea salt chocolate chip cookie from Stella Rossa in Santa Monica.
ME: What is your favorite food (other than cookies) of all time?
CHERRY: Chocolate. In various forms.
ME: What do you think is the cutest animal of all time? (At “Hello Giggles”, we have a Bunny Cam, but you don’t have to like bunnies).
CHERRY: I do like bunnies, but this may have to be a wrestling match between kittens and baby pandas, WHICH I WOULD TOTALLY WATCH.
ME: Did I ask too many questions?
ME: Cool. Thank you, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, for letting me ask you all these Q’s. Your insight is much appreciated, and the books you’ve written are so so fun to read.