The Beatrice Interview

Melissa de la Cruz

"I'm about to become a starving artist, but I'm much happier."

interviewed by Ron Hogan

Buy it from

Cat McAllister is a former child star and fashion model who now lives on the fringes of celebrity society in New York and spends her days buying clothes and trying to get invited to all the best parties. When the money starts to run out, just after yet another twenty-fifth birthday party, Cat decides she needs to marry into a new fortune...but nothing works out quite the way she planned.

Although Cat's Meow is Melissa de la Cruz's first published novel, like most writers she's worked on other stuff for years. "My first book was called STAB," she recalls over beers in the courtyard of a tiny bar near Washington Square Park, "Stuckup Trendy Asian Bitch. Some of my friends still want me to write that, and I'll probably get back to it at some point, but I just didn't want to be an 'Asian writer.' always been a big fan of Terry McMillan, and I wanted to do books like that about Asian women, but I also really admire writers like Gish Jen and Julia Alvarez who aren't always 'about' their ethnicity; it just comes through in their work. Besides, I wrote it when I was 22, and what do you really know when you're 22? I've" Her next book was much darker in tone, and not very funny, and she's put it aside as not her real style.Then she discovered the character of Cat McAllister, who first appeared in a column at the fashion website, accompanied by Kim DeMarco's sassy illustrations (which are also in the book).

RH: How did Cat's Meow start out as an online column?

MdlC: I'd written those two books that hadn't sold, and had been through two agents already. I was twenty-six and I thought it was never going to happen for me, so I started writing about this fashion socialite. I was reading a lot of fashion magazines at that point, and that was pretty much what was inspiring me.

I wrote five chapters, and then I met Lee Carter, the editor at I felt like it would be fun to be part of a startup, and I showed him the five chapters and asked if we could run them as a column. I think I told him I had already written the whole book, but of course after those five chapters I had to start writing new stuff right away.

RH: And how did the book deal come about?

MdlC: I wrote the column for about five months, when a friend of mine who was an editor at Random House suggested that I write a proposal because she thought I could turn it into a novel. I put the proposal together, and her boss rejected it, but I found an agent on the web, emailed her the column and my little proposal, and she called me that day and told me to come down that day and sign immediately. So I went down to her office, and she said we had to put together at least a hundred pages. I had maybe sixty pages by then, so I spent three more months writing the additional pages, and then she sold it in a week.

RH: The chapters in the finished book are expanded from the original columns, then?

MdlC: Definitely. Basically I had to give the book a plot, because the column was mostly little episodes like Cat at the Oscars. Sometimes I'd carry a story through a couple columns, but usually it was one-off jokes about what was happening in fashion that week.

When I first started writing the column, Cat was supposed to be in the A-list, but there was really nothing for her to do, nowhere to go, so for the book, I thought it would be better if she was a wannabe socialite, scrabbling. That made her more likable, too. The romance--I needed a plot, and there it was. I thought, why not? I really couldn't think of anything else. (laughs) I thought it would be kind of fun, but I really downplayed it; it's my least favorite part of the book. My favorite parts are when Cat gets into trouble. But I think the romance works out alright. I don't think it's that cheesy.

RH: Once you got the column at Hint, did you become a fashion insider?

MdlC: It was weird, because we were building ourselves up, and people started believing us. (smiles) Lee was pretty well connected, becuase he'd worked for a couple PR firms and staged some fashion shows, but he was still on the fringe. But we started getting invited to parties, and sometimes we'd still be treated shabbily--we somehow wouldn't actually be on the list, or we'd only get paparazzi clearance, which is where you stand outside and take pictures of celebrities coming in.It's much better now; we get invited to all the big shows and we get seats, even if they aren't always in the front row.

RH: Have you gotten any backlash from the fashion world for your mockery?

MdlC: Cat's Meow really isn't cruel; it's a very affectionate sendup. I love the fashion world...I just see it as absurd fun. You have to just love being in this crazy world. And fashion people seem to like the book's "mean" aspects. I think if it didn't have an edge, then they would dislike it, actually.

We did have to take out a lot of things about celebrities, like there was a column where Cat steals Anna Wintour's purse so she can get into fashion shows that didn't make it into the book. At first I was depressed at how much stuff we were cutting, because I didn't think the book would have any bite to it. But I think it's still pretty strong.

RH: A lot of what you cut was references that had already become outdated.

MdlC: Oh, yeah. We took Darva Conger out because nobody remembers her anymore, and we took out a bunch of Elian jokes, too. I was writing the book while all those things were happening, but my editor said, "You know, it's really going to date this."

RH: Of course, now the book's come out just in time for you to miss out on the opportunity to make Lizzie Grubman jokes.

MdlC: But I love that I was in the issue of New York with her on the cover. That was just so perfect.

RH: Because if Cat drove an SUV...

MdlC: ...that's just the sort of thing she'd do with it, right. (laughs) It'd be funny in a book; maybe not so funny in real life, where people sue you.

RH: What were you doing when you were working on those unsold novels?

MdlC: I graduated in 1993, and I've been working as a computer programmer since then--until I got downsized three months ago. I was recruited for it after college, and I needed the money. My parents are very supportive of me, but they've always told me to be practical. I don't regret my eight years in the computer industry, but I'm never going back.

RH: I bet the money was better than you could make as a struggling writer.

MdlC: It allowed me to have a fantasy life; I could afford to buy the things fabulous people did. I could afford to live in New York in my twenties, go to clubs wearing designer clothes. Now I'm going to be thirty, I'm unemployed, and I'm about to become a starving artist, but I'm much happier. I was depressed for a while when I was a programmer; it just wasn't me. Even though I could do it, and the people were very nice, I just didn't have the heart for it.

RH: Are you working on a new book now?

MdlC: I'm working on a children's fantasy novel, because I'm also a big sci-fi geek. I just saw your interview with George R. R. Martin; I love his books. I like all the classics, really: Frank Herbert, Piers Anthony. Harry Potter, of course, and an English woman named Diana Wynne Jones whose books are really incredible. I guess they're children's books, but I love them, and I think adults who like Harry Potter will like her, too.

My next book is a little bit of fantasy, a little sci-fi, about a poor little rich kid who lives in a penthouse on Fifth Avenue. It's a little like Cat's Meow, and I hope it'll cross over, because there's some adult jokes in it as well...and in a way Cat's Meow is a children's book about an adult topic.

Buy it from

BEATRICE Suggested further reading
Emma Forrest | Complete Interview Index | Molly Jong-Fast

All materials copyright © Ron Hogan