By Sang Kromah
The thing about novelists is that people read their books and make assumptions about the writer, based on the fictional content they’ve consumed. There’s always an air of mystery that leaves readers wanting to know more about the creator and what makes them tick.
I know this because whenever I read a good book, I’m left with questions about the author that normally leads me down the Google rabbit hole, which in turn, takes me to the usually interviews about what was your inspiration or is your main character you? In my mind, those questions lead most to generic answers of being told what you think the reader of lister wants to hear. This isn’t that type of interview.
The goal of #NoteToSelf is to revisit who you were to answer the question, “Have you become the person you needed when you were 15?”
Meet author, Amanda Cherry. A Pensacola, FL-native, Cherry wrote and published her first book at age six. A lifelong nerd, she joined the staff at her favorite Star Wars site, Tosche Station, as a contributing writer in 2016 and discovered that letting other people read what she’d written was actually pretty fun. Thanks to the encouragement of a friend, she was invited to submit to Cobalt City Christmas: Christmas Harder in 2016 while living overseas in Berlin, Germany. When she learned that her story was bought, she cried.
- Describe your 15-year-old self in 50 words or less.
Fifteen-year-old Mandy was a frizzy-haired nerd with braces who had a passion for Star Trek and musical theatre, trying desperately to fit into more worlds than any one person authentically can.
- Where were you at age 15? (Physical Location)
At 15 I was living in the same house I’d always lived in, with both my parents, in Pensacola, FL
- Where are you now?
The opposite corner of the country from where it all began: a suburb of Seattle, WA
- Did you know who or what you wanted to be at 15?
Absolutely. At 15 my goal and ambition was to be a principal performer in a Broadway or international touring musical. I still think that would be a great job to get!
- 15 year-olds tend to hate everything, what was going on in your world that you hated and wanted to change?
Ugh. School. In order to be (what I thought of as) comfortable in high school, there was a level of participation required. I was only occasionally and begrudgingly welcomed into the cliques I aspired to, and that was rough. It was a daily struggle to try and be accepted by the people I wanted to think I was cool. I wasted a lot of energy trying to be someone the popular kids would accept and in doing so, occasionally did the wrong thing by my actual friends. If I could have made the school environment more welcoming and inclusive, I’d have done it in a heartbeat.
- At 15, we always think it’s the worst of times; were they really the worst or were they the best of times?
There were things in my life at 15 that I would definitely classify as the best. I had all of the greatest friends I would ever have in my life at that age, I was loving life in theatre and dance, I had found my first audience for my writing, I was singing with a fantastic band, and I was beginning to discover some of the things that would be my lifelong favorites. But there was a lot that still sucked. There was a lot of brooding, crying, and comparing myself to others. I wasn’t popular with boys (which was a big deal to me at the time). Emotionally, 15 was pretty brutal, even though I can look back and see how it was materially pretty good. It’s probably that way for a lot of girls. I’m glad now for those experiences, but I wouldn’t want to live through them again (except maybe the part about being in a band—that was cool).
- What were the top 5 songs on your playlist at 15?
Here I go admitting my age: Def Leppard, “Two Steps Behind”; Gin Blossoms, “Hey Jealousy”; The Heights, “How Do You Talk To An Angel”; Duran Duran, “Ordinary World”; Expose, “I’ll Never Get Over You”. And this is in addition to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Premiere Collection and the Broadway cast recordings of Les Miserables and The Who’s Tommy. I was kind of a theatre nerd.
- What literary, movie, or TV character did you identify most with at 15?
At 15 I existed precisely at the intersection of D.J. Tanner (‘Full House’) and Suzanne Sugarbaker (‘Designing Women’).
- At 15, what was your idea of a dream job?
Exactly what I was aspiring to. I had no idea what eight shows a week in front of a well-paying, Broadway-sized audience actually meant in terms of stamina and craft, but that was my dream job and nearly everything I did was in furtherance of chasing it.
- What were you reading at 15?
“The Last Command” by Timothy Zahn came out when I was 15, so I’m sure I read that. I’m also sure I read just about every title that came out under the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” brand that year. I also read Bob Fosse’s biography “All That Jazz” at 15 and was still in the habit of re-reading “Gone With The Wind” at least once a year.
- As far as high school stereotypes go, which category did you closely fit into?
I was a drama geek. I was vice president of the drama club at 15 (President the next two years), I performed in community theatre as a constant, and was obsessed with musicals and being on stage.
- Who are you today and what makes you successful?
I’m still the creatively-driven person I was at 15. I think my biggest success has been in finding my tribe and caring less about being part of some sort of imaginary “in crowd”. But the kinds of success that are easily externally measured include having played some wonderful roles on stage, appearing as a principal performer on national television, and becoming a published author.
- What achievement of yours would your 15-year-old self be most proud of?
This one’s hard. It’s either my SAG-AFTRA membership or having my book published.
- Today, are you the person you thought you’d be at 15?
No. I thought I’d be single, childless, and living/working in New York. Instead, I’m happily married with an awesome little son, living and working in Seattle. I thought my primary career would be in the theatre, and instead, I’ve found most of my success in television. I knew I would always be writing for fun, but could never have imagined finding an audience online (I had only first heard of the internet at 15!) and having a book published. I once heard Oscar Hammerstein quoted as saying “your dreams come true, but never the way you dreamed them” and I find this particularly poignant. I’m a full-time actor and author—which is something everyone in my 15year-old self’s life said I would never do. I was bound and determined, and I made it happen (with the support of some amazing people). My life isn’t exactly how I pictured it would be; it’s better.
- If you could say anything to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?
You’re not fat. You’re not ugly—not really. You’re a type. Own it. Don’t fight to try and be someone you’re not, not on stage and not in life. It’s okay to be who and how you are. It’s okay not to be the leading lady, you can and will find success playing parts that you’re right for. Yes, it sucks not to be tall and beautiful, but the shelf-life for a character actress is a lot longer than for a romantic lead. You can make it in this business, but the key to doing that is knowing yourself.
Get that knee looked at now. It’s going to be way worse when you’re 25.
Keep writing. Don’t let anyone bully you into stopping. Keep singing. Never give up. Dare to try new things. Learn the guitar. Practice the piano. Don’t be afraid of making a fool of yourself—it turns out no one really cares. Make your own work. No one is going to cast you as Elphaba (you’ll find out who she is later, Mandy Gonzalez will play her- she needs to be tall and thin) so write a cabaret where you can sing “Defying Gravity” anyway (this is a song you’re going to fall in love within 10 years. Wait for it).
Don’t be jealous. I know it’s hard because you’re waiting your turn and it feels like it’s never going to come— but try. These other girls, these other women, their hard work is valid, too. Even if it seems easy for them, trust that everyone is running her own race and fighting her own fight. Everyone meets with obstacles, even people who seem charmed from a distance. There is room for all our successes. It may not feel like it right now, but I promise you the world is SO MUCH bigger than Pensacola and all of you will find your place in it. Celebrate other women. Encourage other women. Be a team player.
Create. Create. Create.
Amanda Cherry’s forthcoming novel, Rites & Desires (Ruby Killingsworth Book 1) is available for pre-order now and will be released on March 20, 2018.
For more about Amanda, please visit her website www.thegingervillain.com.
(If you’re interested in being interviewed for #NoteToSelf or know someone who should be, please email me at email@example.com.)