Today I'm interviewing Allison Rose and Aerin S. Grey, the authors of the upcoming comedy-fantasy novel Cliché. You can read my review of the novel here. Spoiler alert: it's awesome and hilarious and you should definitely read it when it comes out later this summer.
On to the interview!
What inspired each of you to become a writer? How did you get started?
Allison Rose: Honestly, when I was a kid, I read a story on Scholastic's WriteIt forum about a girl who got to lead this dramatic double life as a famous author and an ordinary schoolgirl…. (I'm actually friends with the author now, who'd like you to know that she's written much better things in the intervening years, though I still think that story's gold.) I think writing sounded like a glamorous, adventurous career to my younger self. So I started writing “chapter books” (the chapters were a page long each, at most), oblivious to copyright laws and the ramifications of publishing fanfiction. My fanfic:original content ratio is still a little cringeworthy, but I'd like to think I've grown a little as a writer in the past few years. Being a part of an online writing community for teen writers definitely helped – Aerin and I were first acquainted through the late-lamented Figment.com.
Aerin S. Grey: I'm hesitant to call myself a writer? I like to think I can write, and fairly decently at that, but I mostly just want to read. Any writing I do is an offshoot of not having the thing I want to read readily accessible. That said, I've been scribbling handwritten and illustrated masterpieces from a very early age, in a large part encouraged by my parents who provided a wealth of reading material and always presented books in a positive light. I also consider myself a great cheerleader once sufficiently invested, which was definitely my primary role in Cliche. Allison did all the work, I just flailed a lot.
Pretend my readers and I are Hollywood producers and pitch Cliche to us. What’s the story premise in a nutshell, and what sets it apart from other works in its genre?
ASG: Cliche is a mash up of all the fun, weird stereotypes you find on Writer Twitter. What happens when you take two procrastinating, broke, coffee-and-fandom obsessed writers and throw the characters whose lives they are actively ruining, (on purpose or thru sheer stupidity), into their everyday life? I'm not sure, but if it makes you think and makes you laugh, we did it right.
AR: As for what sets it apart from other works in the humor/satire genres, I'd like to think it's not quite as vulgar? (“Clean” is such a subjective term that means different things to different families, so I encourage everyone who reads it to form your own conclusions, especially before sharing it with the younger readers in your lives.)
ASG: I think we're just funnier than other people, but maybe that's just me ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What inspired you to write Cliche? To what degree is it based on your own personal experiences as writers?
AR: The guy who played Edward Cullen in the Twilight Saga movies once complained in an interview that, “[The author] is … completely mad and she’s in love with her own fictional creation, [Edward].” This resonated with me for some reason, and served to inspire an unfinished short story, prophetically titled “The Unfinished Tale.” An author can't manage to kill off her melodramatic romance novel's handsome male lead in the end because a) she's a little too emotionally attached to the character, and b) he's literally just climbed out of the manuscript to tell her off for it … and several other creative liberties she'd taken with his portrayal. I never finished it, because I couldn't bring myself to write mere passages of text in the romance genre, even satirically!
ASG: Allison mentioned people climbing out of books as an unfinished premise on Twitter. I thought, “that sounds hysterical, I'd read that” and told her so. I honestly figured she'd take the encouragement, shrug and do other things, but, nah, my DMs got bombarded and she actually wrote it, and I couldn't be happier.
AR: Neither can I! (And now, you can all rest assured that Jen being in love with her own protagonist isn't a strictly personal experience of mine.)
In terms of actual personal experiences, several background elements in Cliche are partly inspired by my observations of writer people, some I've encountered online, and this one girl I see in the mirror sometimes. A writer friend of ours uses a typewriter almost exclusively, for example, like Ryan does; and back in 2016, when I'd just set up my Twitter account, everyone and their self-published sister was talking about this supposedly feels-shattering anime called Yuri On Ice; so it's mentioned that Jen watches it during writing sprints.
What are some of the predominant themes you explore in the book, and what motivated you to select them?
AR: The more the story progressed, the more it became a social commentary about the way women and men are portrayed in literature and other mainstream mediums, past and present. For example:
In the checkout line at my local grocery store, alongside the racks of edible candy are these awful-looking paperbacks in genres my character Jen would probably be writing. I shamelessly judge those books by their covers: the subjects, sometimes male, sometimes female, and sometimes both, are always faceless and depicted in such an uncomfortably objectifying, dare I say dehumanizing light.
Plus, what is it with “strong female characters” these days? Women are either written stereotypically over-emotional, or emotionally repressed as though it's a sign of strength. And why can't heroines like Wonder Woman be protected by as much armor as her male counterparts in the Justice League? Unlike Superman, who's covered from head-to-toe in blue armor even though he's a literal man of steel, Diana runs the risk of losing limbs in that getup!
ASG: What Allison said. I'm super uncomfortable with people being just eye candy, guys or girls.
In Cliche, everyone is one. Xander's the brooding, muscled man some women like to drool over and imagine their lives would be better with. Lyra's a whip-smart, half-dressed fantasy some guys like to create. Ryan's your typical starving artist with big dreams, and Jen's a spoiled baby propping herself up with mama's money. Nobody's like that. There's people under there. That's what makes a story. Finding the people. I wanted Allison to find the people in the cliches and show me them.
I think if I had to pick a theme, I'd say it's people are more than your initial assumptions about them. Your job is to figure out what.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the book written and published, and how did you overcome it?
AR: For me, the biggest challenge I had with writing it was making time. I'm in college, and when I started writing this story, I'd signed up for the maximum amount of classes I could take at once. Back when I had all the time in the world to write, I lacked the motivation and inspiration. But in the evenings after I'd finished all of my homework, creative writing became a therapeutic de-stressor.
ASG: LOL, challenges, what challenges? I just yelled at Allison a lot. Encouragement, plot ideas, nonsense, objections, more encouragement. There was a lot of all caps and Disney GIFs.
AR: Yes, lots of Disney GIFs, usually involving Rapunzel waving her frying pan a little too threateningly if Aerin didn't get her next installment of my rough draft in a timely manner. xD
Tell us about your individual writing processes. How do you develop your ideas, and what’s your balance between outlining and discovery writing?
AR: In the past, I've known both extremes: I've been a “pantser” and then I briefly became a devout “plotter.” The problem with pantsing is it's easy to lose track; with plotting, it can be incredibly stifling to be locked into a predetermined outline. I'm a pants-leaning centrist now. 😛
ASG: Ugh, I'm not enough of a writer to answer that, as I've not finished anything alone. I tend to pants and get lost, plot and get bored.
AR: Much of Cliche's development was “Oh, hey, let's try this!” It's supposed to be a fun, random story, but I'd like to think it was still focused enough that other people will enjoy it. Here's hoping I haven't just released a gigantic inside joke that nobody but ourselves can begin to appreciate!
ASG: If we did, that would be hysterical, actually. I am 100% in favor of confusing everyone.
What’s your system when you collaborate on a story? How do you work out a balance between the two of you as you create?
ASG: Again, Allison did all the hard work, and I respected that. I yelled a lot, but ultimately, her vision was first and foremost. She did the drafting, I suggested different directions the story could take, ideas we could flesh out, characters we could deepen. I had a blast.
AR: She's right, I did most of the writing-writing, while Aerin did a lot of cheerleading and alpha-reading. But on the brainstorming level, we were equal collaborators. That said, I believe I wouldn't have finished writing this book it without Aerin's involvement, which is why she's credited as the person Cliche was authored with.
What's your favorite music to listen to while writing?
AR: At the time, depending on whose POV I was writing from, I listened to a playlists of music that I thought fit those particular characters. Jen's vibe was overly sentimental pop songs, while Ryan, eccentric hipster that he is, seemed more like a quirky oldies sort of guy.
ASG: Unpopular opinion, music is super distracting when writing. I jam more than I write.
Who are your three favorite fiction writers?
ASG: Off the top of my head, Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett, and JRR Tolkien.
AR: Maryrose Wood, Roland Smith, and JRR Tolkien. Thanks for letting me decide between three!
What is your favorite writing-craft resource?
ASG: HECK YEAH, EVERNOTE. Everyone should use it.
AR: Evernote, hands down, was one of the most valuable resources. We used it for posting chapters-in-progress, taking notes, and sharing ideas.
ASG: I'd also like to thank Twitter, without which this book would not exist.
AR: Yeah, definitely Twitter as well! Two particular profiles on Twitter jump out at me as having helped to inspire the writing process: @HaggardHawks, which shares archaic words (including “honeysop”); and @BroodingYAHero, which I feel educated me on how to sensitively and accurately represent brooding male hero characters like our Xander!
ASG: Didn't Ch1Con host the chat in which you first brought up the idea for this story? It was a Twitter chat, idk which one, but they deserve a shout out.
AR: I think you're right! @Ch1Con has these awesome monthly Twitter chats on Thursday evenings. It's highly plausible I first mentioned the idea there, and regardless, they're an excellent resource for young writers to convene, collaborate, and grow, whether you're attending their annual events in Chicago, IL, or enjoying their online activities year-round.
What advice would you give aspiring authors working toward publishing their own books?
ASG: Write a lot, read a lot, repeat. Don't be me and say you're going to write and never do it. Find a cheerleader who loves your work unconditionally and never gives up on it or you. Be your own cheerleader.
AR: Write what makes you happy, not what's trendy. (Although, if trendiness is what makes you happy, go in good health!)
What are your future fiction-writing plans? Any teasers for your next project?
ASG: Write something, anything. I think we have a Cliche sequel in the works, but I'll let Allison decide what she wants to say about that.
AR: I've been forcing myself not to get too invested in writing the sequel just yet, as I've spent the last few months editing the first book. But yes, a sequel is definitely in the works. I say this with just as much confidence as William Goldman about Buttercup's Baby. The sequel would explore the “true love is the solution to all your problems” cliche, poke a little fun at Disney movies, and feature an appearance by Ryan's awesome Grandma Lulu. In fact, a lot of maternal figures are set to make appearances. Take that as you wish….
Thanks for giving us such awesome answers, Allison and Aerin! Readers, don't forget to watch out for Cliché later this summer.