For women who want to make it in the all too male-dominated music industry – and music journalism in particular – writer Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna is an inspiration. Her name has appeared in Billboard, SPIN, RollingStone.com and the Alternative Press, and MTV, VH1, Fuse and E! have all sought her expertise on music and relationships. It’s a good thing for us daring women, then, that Borzillo-Vrenna has written a rock-chick reference, Cherry Bomb: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Better Flirt, a Tougher Chick, and a Hotter Girlfriend, and to Living Life Like a Rock Star.
Cherry Bomb is an A-to-Z menagerie of guidance, whether it be on something as basic as planning an outfit, or as consuming as managing your budget. Borzillo-Vrenna is playfully tongue-in-cheek, but still dishes useful tips on problems like hangovers (hydrate!) and ways to get backstage (note: doesn’t require taking off clothes). She also enlisted some high profile friends – Betsey Johnson, Lisa Loeb, Tori Amos, Anna Sui and more – to embellish her advice with suggestions of their own.
Between planning her next book and her new gig as an advice columnist for Suicide Girls, Borzillo-Vrenna took the time to talk to me about why she likes giving advice, why fashion isn’t superficial, and why everyone should write a book.
TL: So, Cherry Bomb has been out for a while, is there anything about the reaction to it that surprised you or that maybe you didnâ€™t expect?
CBV: Actually, thatâ€™s a very good question, because, yeah. Itâ€™s only been about â€“ well, itâ€™s been out about two months now, not even two months. When I was writing it I wasnâ€™t totally sure who my audience was. I knew who the girl was, I mean, â€˜cause itâ€™s me: youâ€™re edgy, the kind of girl who likes Gwen Stefani more than Jessica Simpson and likes music and is a little tougher and feistier, I knew that. But the one thing I wasnâ€™t totally sure about was the age, the demographic.
Iâ€™d be writing and sometimes I felt like I was really writing for like my little sis, and then other times, Iâ€™d have my friends over, theyâ€™d do little focus groups with me to help with the book, and all my friends are around my age, which is mid to late 30s. So I was getting a little confused, and I actually even asked my editor, â€œWhat age do you think it is?â€ and she said, â€œDonâ€™t worry about it, just write.â€ So I just kind of wrote.
I think in the end, what surprised me the most was all of the feedback I got from the younger demographic. It kind of just solidified that I was thinking it was going to be for someone who Iâ€™m thinking of as my little sis, and I wasnâ€™t totally sure, but I became completely sure once I got all the feedback, â€˜cause I have a lot of–shockingly, some high school students, which it shouldnâ€™t be because it talks about sex and alcohol, so it should be 18 and overâ€”but, lots of those kids just starting college, or, not kids, girls, young ladies, just starting college or in college, e-mailing me, finding me on MySpace or on Facebook, or going to my official website and e-mailing me on my personal account, and asking me for advice and saying, â€œItâ€™s like my big sister.â€ So, that was really cool.
It was slightly surprising that I got more of that, but I was really kind of happy with it, and I kind of was thinking of that when I was writing it, anyway, but it was just nice to really get the feedback and see, yeah, okay, Iâ€™m like big sis and this is for maybe girls in their early 20s.
TL: Was there any particular e-mail or message or anything that kind of stood out to you?
CBV: You know what, Iâ€™m actually going to use some of them in my â€“ I just signed on to do a new advice column for suicidegirls.comâ€”
TL: Oh yeah, I just read about that.
CBV: Yeah, are you familiar with Suicide Girls and that whole thing?
TL: Yeah, absolutely.
CBV: So, Iâ€™m doing an advice column for them now and we ran one a week ago, but all we did was run excerpts from Cherry Bomb, so the first official one where people are writing in questions and Iâ€™m answering is going to run mid-October, I think. In the last two months Iâ€™ve been getting so many questions from girls asking advice, so I asked them permission to use it for my column, so I am going to.
You know, a lot of it isâ€”I have an older sister, so I know what itâ€™s like to want to go to your older sister with everything from boys to girlfriend problems to whatever, and there are only two kids in my family, so I never got to be an older sister myself. The questions these girls write in are stuff that itâ€™s like, â€œOh god, this what it would be like to really be a big sis.â€ So itâ€™s things like having problems with a best friend whoâ€™s two-timing you or talking behind your back–thatâ€™s a problem you have when youâ€™re six years old, 16 years old, 26 and 36 and 46. For some reason female relationships are always tricky, no matter what age you are. Itâ€™s cool to see, there was one girl who was 16 or 17, and another girl whoâ€™s in college, kind of asking the same question about, â€œIâ€™ve got this bitchy friend, what do I do?â€ Thereâ€™s a chapter in my book on bitchy broads and â€œfrienemiesâ€ and stuff, but itâ€™s kind of fun to be able to expand on the advice a little further, one and one with this girls, and now in my column, so Iâ€™m going to be using a lot of that kind of girl stuff, you know.
I just really felt like I was helping. I get the feedback after they get my feedback, and it just feels really good to actually give someone advice and help and really know that youâ€™re giving decent advice to the people who really need it–maybe they canâ€™t ask their mom, maybe they donâ€™t have an older sister, I kind of like that. I hope it goes bigger, I want to do more [laughs].
TL: Well, sort of in that direction, you know, if you were to guess, why do you think there are so many guidebooks for women, what kind of role do you think they play?
CBV: Well, there are a lot of guidebooks because they sell well and publishers always love them [laughs]. But also, girlsâ€”I mean, donâ€™t you like books like that? Any little flashy cover with a sassy title thatâ€™s going to be fun to flip through with your girlfriends, itâ€™s helpful but itâ€™s also entertainment.
I donâ€™t know, women might be a little more complicated in their relationships than men, and thatâ€™s so sexist of me to say, and I donâ€™t care what readers think of that, but itâ€™s true. I look at my husband and his friendships, or any of my guy friends and their friendships, and they donâ€™t have as many little problems [laughs] as we women do. I donâ€™t know, itâ€™s just a thing. Iâ€™ve used books growing up. When I was younger and started dating, I read, of course, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, but then I also read stuff from Maya Angelou, stuff like that, and I always felt it was really helpful. My book is not as serious as those books, of course, itâ€™s meant to be fun, slightly funny, entertaining, but there isnâ€™t a single piece of advice in there that I havenâ€™t done myself or tried. Itâ€™s still good advice. I didnâ€™t want to take it too seriously, I didnâ€™t want to write it too stiff, I wanted to have some fun with it.
I donâ€™t know if there are going to be that many more books like this because I feel like there are really so many out there, but there was never one that spoke to the kind of girl that I am, or that Cherry Bomb is all about. I was really shocked, we did a lot of research, looking to see, â€œAre we sure there isnâ€™t a book like that?â€ And I was just surprised, and every time I did my research, looking at all these other girl books, they all just seemed so generic, these pink covers for the same girl, and weâ€™re not all the same. There should be a guidebook for every single different type of girl. There should be a guidebook for the jock girl, the nerdy girlâ€”actually, there is, my friendâ€™s writing a book called I Heart Geeks and itâ€™s for girls who like geeky boys, itâ€™s really cute. I think there should be a bunch more like that. Iâ€™m just happy that no oneâ€™s really done the rock chick one.
TL: Well, I think that also has to do with maybe the way that you handled it, because in a sense you could argue that the whole rebellious nature, it almost seems contradictory to do a guidebook.
CBV: Oh thatâ€™s very true.
TL: I do think you handled it well, but I do think maybe thatâ€™s whyâ€”itâ€™s kind of tricky.
CBV: You know what, I shouldâ€™ve ended my book with, â€œHey, if youâ€™re really rebellious, donâ€™t listen to a thing I said, do whatever you want!â€ Thatâ€™s how I shouldâ€™ve ended the book, thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ll do for the next one. [laughs]
TL: [laughs] I donâ€™t mean toâ€”Iâ€™m just saying that would be my guess, probably. Itâ€™s kind of a delicate thing to be like, â€œYouâ€™re tough, but hereâ€™s adviceâ€”that you may or may not listen to.â€
CBV: Yeah, exactly. But, hey, tough chicks need advice from other tough chicks, too. We canâ€™t be defiant 24/7, right? We get sensitive and need a little help sometimes. [laughs]
TL: Oh, absolutely. So, you talked a little bit about the inspiration, about there not being a book like this, but was there any particular event or person or anything that sort of cemented in your mind, â€œYes, I have to do this, this is what I want to doâ€?
CBV: A little bit. Through the years, I talked to my friends, weâ€™d be backstage and kind of just amongst ourselves, not making fun of another girl, but just being like, â€œOh god, I canâ€™t believe that person just did that, if only she knew.â€ And then weâ€™d be like, â€œYeah, if only we wrote a book that had the rules of how to behave.â€ So it kind of started with little things like that, just noticing things, and also just being on tour with my husband and having some of the younger fans come up to me and talk and ask questions. Iâ€™d be giving advice, and Iâ€™d be like, â€œI should put that in a book.â€
So, it was over the years, probably more over the last year that little things like that would come up, and Iâ€™d find myself saying, â€œOh, that would be good for a book.â€ Then when it came time for me to be ready to just do another book in my career, I made a long list of all the different types of books I wanted to do and I gave it to my agent. I kind of knew which one I really wanted, which is the one I did, but I wanted to see what the feedback was, too, from my agent, and she totally gravitated to this one, so I knew I was on the right track. Then the book got sold really fast, so it must have been good timing or something.
TL: Yeah, I heard it was doing really well.
CBV: For a week there it was #1 on Amazonâ€™s list for the Top Selling Fashion Books. Even above Rachel Zoeâ€™s bookâ€”which has been out for awhile, though. You know, the bookâ€™s everything from an advice book to fashion to dating to sex to whatever, but I was still kind of surprised that it was #1 on the fashion list. I guess â€˜cause I got pretty good name fashion contributors, Betsey Johnson, Anna Sui, to Karen Oâ€™s clothesâ€”theyâ€™re all fashion people, so thatâ€™s exciting.
Then all the book events I did, I nearly cried. The book party in New York, there was a line out the door. I pull up a half-hour before the event, thinking, â€œOk, Iâ€™ll get there early so I can check in with the party planner,â€ and everything. Thereâ€™s this line out there, and Iâ€™m like, â€œWhatâ€™s this?â€ I was completely dumbfounded, Iâ€™m like, â€œAre we at the right place?â€ Theyâ€™re like, â€œYeah, thatâ€™s the line for your party,â€ and I was like, â€œHoly shit.â€ Iâ€™ve never signed so many autographs in my entire life. It was so amazing and overwhelming. At the events, thatâ€™s what was weird, it was the older crowd, and I was saying a lot of the feedback I get via e-mail from readers is early 20s, but then at the events, there were people older than me there. So, it was kind of surprising but really cool.
It did well press-wise and event-wise, and sales are good, you donâ€™t get rich off a book like this, at least not your first one. Iâ€™m so, so satisfied and thrilled with how everything went. I want to do another one like this, but I donâ€™t know what. I think the next one Iâ€™m doing is, I canâ€™t really talk about it yet, but Iâ€™ve been asked to write an autobiography of a celebrity couple, which is a huge, huge deal and something Iâ€™ve always wanted to do. I think Iâ€™ll probably do that next, because that just came up, and then after that, I just want to do something moreâ€”maybe Iâ€™ll gear it towards the young adult market and really go for the younger girls since I really enjoy interacting with them and writing in that way. Itâ€™s fun.
Everyone should write a book, you know. If youâ€™re a journalist, you can go get an agent and write a book. Iâ€™m telling you, people think itâ€™s some big deal, it isnâ€™t. If you work your ass off and youâ€™re already a writer, youâ€™re really 100 steps ahead of the game there. I wanted to do my first book by the time I was 30, but now I think about it, I probably couldâ€™ve done it even younger, but I never really thought of it. Now I want to do one book a year at least.
TL: Wow, ambitious!
CBV: Well, it only took about four months to do Cherry Bomb, and then two more months in editing. So, one a year could be lazy [laughs].
TL: So you talked about being on the Top Selling Fashion Books, and you do talk quite a bit about fashion and clothing, and thatâ€™s maybe one thing that your book has in common with other womenâ€™s guidebooksâ€”what do you think is so important about fashion and clothing for women, particularly the kind of women youâ€™re addressing?
CBV: I think it just really shows who you are, itâ€™s a great way to show your personality and be an individual. If youâ€™re a shy person, you have a hard time striking up conversations, you can say a million things with what you put on yourself. I just think itâ€™s such a creative expression.
I wish I was able to actually sell and make clothes, I always have so many ideas, I just donâ€™t have the talent to do it. Iâ€™m always so surprised when people say theyâ€™re not into fashion, â€˜cause I just think the world is so much more colorful when you put it on yourselfâ€”youâ€™re a billboard. I think it was Imogen Heap, the singer-songwriter, who said something like that in the book, and it really rang true to me. Youâ€™re a walking billboard for yourself. If youâ€™re looking for a new job, if youâ€™re looking for a new boyfriend, if you moved to a new city and need new friends, whatâ€™s the best way for people to see who you are before they even get to have a conversation with you? Itâ€™s how you present yourself.
I think itâ€™s so much fun. I donâ€™t feel thereâ€™s any pressure in it at all, it just feel like itâ€™s so fun just to go through a closet with your friends and put outfits together, try to do something a little different. Itâ€™s not like Iâ€™m some big unique freak, but I always try to twist it up a tiny bit, do something that just makes me feel like itâ€™s me. So itâ€™s, â€œHey, thatâ€™s a very cherry thing to do.â€ I think everyone should have their very whatever thing to do for themselves. Itâ€™s creativity and expression.
TL: I think a lot of people, too, are probably under the misconception that you have to spend a lot of money, when itâ€™s more about what you do with what you have as opposed to what you have.
CBV: Of course, and thatâ€™s why I got that stylist Cynthia Freund to do her tips, â€˜cause sheâ€™s like, â€œGo to the rummage sales, go to yard sales, go into your parentâ€™s closets.â€ I love mixing upâ€”I love high-end designers, too, Vivienne Westwood is super expensive, Dolce & Gabbana, I love that stuff. I do buy it, but I buy it at consignment shops, I buy it on eBay, I buy it at the sample sales, I buy it for half off. Every once and awhile Iâ€™ll buy something at full price. But I have no problem mixing it up with something I got at H&M or even Forever 21, or I love going to Goodwill and looking. You can find a great pencil skirt at any Goodwill, I swear.
Some people think that fashion is, â€œOh, itâ€™s so superficial, you shouldnâ€™t care about that,â€ but I donâ€™t think itâ€™s superficial at all, I think itâ€™s a way to express whatâ€™s inside of you and itâ€™s not just for the fashion elite who have money. You can pull together an outfit for $20 bucks. I mean, American Apparel is so cool, and look how cheap their stuff is, usually. And all the used clothing stores. I mean, L.A.â€”where do you live, I forget?
TL: Iâ€™m in New York City.
CBV: Well then you get it, too. We get a little spoiled because in New York and L.A. and other big cities there are so many great vintage shops and consignment shops and other kind of used clothing shops. I donâ€™t care how much money you make, this is what I do twice a year, I do a yard sale so I can get rid of some stuff so I can have money to buy more stuff, but I also go and sell my stuff at, we have a store out here, Wasteland, that buys vintage stuff, and then I go through their racks with store credit. You get a new wardrobe every year. If you just get rid of your old stuff, go to one of those stores that gives you store credit, you can buy new clothes every year if you just keep recycling your old ones.
TL: I just did that, I just moved and did that same thing.
CBV: I just went to Crossroads and Wasteland out here in L.A. and got three new pairs of jeans, one was Miss Sixty, which are normally about $180, I got for $27.50, I got a pair of Rock & Republic jeans and I just traded in my old ones, I had some old Sevens that just didnâ€™t fit anymore or whatever. Itâ€™s just genius. There are some bitchy broads out there who would never buy anything used, but Iâ€™m not one of them.
TL: So I know you said that you did most of the things that are in the book, but–
CBV: Well, not everything, I havenâ€™t done all those fetishes, not all of them. [laughs]
TL: Okay. [laughs] But how did you decide what to include and do you have a favorite section or segment?
CBV: First I decided to go A to Z, because I thought it would be fun. I wanted it to be a quick read, something you could flip through, this is not literature, this is a fun book â€“ and Iâ€™m fine with that. So, once I decided it was going to be A to Z, I just sat there with a bottle of wine [laughs] and some friends, or a bottle of absinthe, and we did this on a couple occasions, and just started brainstorming. I love brainstorming sessions. You just write down every single thing that starts with A that could possibly go in there, and then you just edit yourself, and Iâ€™m pretty good at that, so it was really easy. I had a word count I had to keep in mind, too, because I knew what size the book was going to be, anyway.
It was just kind of random. I wanted to make sure it wasnâ€™t just all rock and roll stuff, that there were some normal life things in there, too, like money and jobs. I wanted to make sure we hit the main points, and after that I just kind of had fun with it and had some friends chime in. My editor pretty much just let me do whatever, but she was getting into it too, saying, â€œOh, youâ€™ve got to do this, and youâ€™ve got to do that.â€
I donâ€™t know, what would be the funâ€”you know, I really like writing quizzes, so I had so much fun doing the quizzes, I think that was my favorite. I think I threw three quizzes in there. I donâ€™t know why Iâ€™ve always liked writing quizzes, Iâ€™ve done them as a freelancer before, too. I think that was the most fun.
TL: Theyâ€™re always so much fun to do in magazines, even the kind of cheesy ones, youâ€™re like, â€œYes, a quiz!â€
CBV: I grew up doing the Cosmopolitan magazine quizzes, so. Those are fun. I think that would be my favorite section, any of the quizzes.
TL: Is there anything that didnâ€™t make it in that you wish had?
CBV: Well, I wish I added that last line now that you inspired [laughs], but no. There was something that somebody said that I was like, â€œOh shit, I should have put that in there,â€ I forgot what it was, but I didnâ€™t feel that strongly about it. Iâ€™m pretty happy with how it turned out.
I mean, sure, you can do a million things, the possibilities were endless. I just wanted it to be real, I wanted it to be things that came to me off the top of my head, I didnâ€™t have to do any research. I mean, I did research for certain things like absinthe, I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight, I talked to an absinthe distiller. But for the most part, if I had to do too much research or think too hard about it, then it wasnâ€™t really real advice coming from me. I wanted to make sure it was things I did and knew.
The one that was most outside of my own experience was the fetishes, but I had to do it, it was just fun. That was probably another one of my favorites, the fetishes, because I had to do research on that, and it was fun to do.
TL: So, to kind of wrap things up I thought it would be fun to do kind of an addendum and do the Cherry Bomb tips to writing your book.
CBV: Like itâ€™s someone out there who wants to write a book for the first time? Ok. Hrm. Do they have an agent or a publisher or should I go from the top?
TL: Just go from the top, I guess.
CBV: Most of my friends are writers or musicians, and actually two of my friends signed with my agent and one did a book already, so Iâ€™m constantly giving advice on how to get published, so Iâ€™ll start from the top.
First of all, if youâ€™re already writer, like I was saying to you, youâ€™re already one step ahead of the game, so just go for it. If you already have clips, you know how to write and you have an idea, donâ€™t feel like itâ€™s too far, like youâ€™re not ready yet, just try it, go for it.
Donâ€™t just come up with one idea, come up with a bunch of ideas, you know, maybe come up with a handful of ideas, and take those ideas to an agent. The first book I did, I did not use an agent, and it was the biggest mistake of my life. I didnâ€™t use an agent because â€“ my first book was on Nirvana â€“ I didnâ€™t use an agent because the publisher came to me and just offered me a deal, which never happens, but I got lucky. But, you need an agent to fight your battles and negotiate your contracts.
Write a beautiful cover letter with maybe five ideas that have just one sentence to it. If I was going to do a short pitch on Cherry Bomb, it would be: Cherry Bomb, an A to Z lifestyle guide for girls who like to rock, everything from absinthe to how to roll a joint. Just a really quick little thing, in a beautifully written cover letter, with your resume, writing samples. Send it to agents that have worked on books that are similar to what you want to do, and how you do that is just spend hours in a bookstore, look at books that are somewhat similar to what you might be doing, look in the Thank Yous, they always thank their agent. Go look them up online, or you could buy directories, you could buy the writerâ€™s market book, it comes out every year and it has addresses and names for agents, as well as magazines and stuff. So, get that.
Once you get your agent, your agent will direct you in the direction of which of your ideas will sell the most, then tell you that you have to write a book proposal. The book proposal could take a month, it could take three months, it could be 30 pages, it could be 70 pages, but itâ€™s a very, very, very, big, big project. Your book proposal has everything from an overview of what the book is about, to a whole outline of what your chapters are going to be, writing a sample chapter or two, you have to do marketing analysis and all of this stuff. In that writerâ€™s market book, I think thereâ€™s evenâ€”you can even go online and see how to write a book proposal, but by this point your agent should be directing you. Writing a book proposal is like giving them a sample of the book to come and also giving them a marketing plan, why is it hot in the market right now, why would this sell.
Then, once that gets sold, what I did to kind of focus myself and get organized to write my book was, you know, itâ€™s daunting, all of a sudden you have your book deal and theyâ€™re like, â€œOk, 50,000 words are due in four months.â€ It can be a little overwhelming. I just give myself deadlines where I make sure I accomplish something every day, no matter what, and that includes Saturday and Sundays. It doesnâ€™t mean you have to work around the clock, though you should, and I did, but even if it just means writing your introduction, that has to get done. I divided the 50,000 words up into how many words I had to write a day at one point, once I got through, and made sure I wrote that many words a day.
And I have readers, I have friends who read my shit, I have my husband to read. Nothing gets handed in unless one or two friends read my shit. And thenâ€”did that answer your question or do you need more?
TL: No, I think thatâ€™s great.
CBV: That was one of the other books I wanted to do, is how to get published. Maybe Iâ€™ll write one of those one day.
TL: Yeah, youâ€™ve got time.