Carrie Rosten - Stylist to the Stars
She’s styled hip hop star Nelly’s music video, worked with hotel heiress Paris Hilton, designed dolls for Mattel, and now, Carrie Rosten has even published a book. All while keeping her closet couture in tiptop shape, and managing to buy cute shoes in her spare time. Carrie’s new novel, *Chloe Lieberman (Sometimes Wong)* is not just any piece of teen fiction. With a heroine who is half Chinese, half Jewish (just like Carrie), the author delves into some of the issues facing “hapa” (that’s half white, half Asian) kids, while still interjecting her sense of fashion and flair into the storyline. This is all in line with Carrie’s approach to writing, which she says affords her “infinite opportunity for play. There is no 2+2=4; there are infinite possibilities for language.” Her new book exhibits her playful nature, laced with insight into issues of adolescence and that age-old high school struggle.
ASIANCE: How did you come about writing a book in the first place?
Carrie: I was running a marketing agency boutique called Bungalow. I had a friend who knew the producer of Fight Club. He and I had breakfast one day and he proposed that I write a screenplay based on a line of superhero girl dolls that I created for Mattel: the G-Girls. I wrote him a screenplay. I had never written a screenplay before. I didn’t even know what software you needed. I had this ghetto version of a final draft and I sat down and wrote it. And apparently I did it well. I didn’t know that I had done it well until a man who was a manager wanted to meet me. He was like “I want to read your screenplay when you’re done.” I was like “I’m not a writer, I’m a stylist.” I was getting ready to style a Nelly video with Paris Hilton. That was my last video I did before I said goodbye to that career. My former manager said “I don’t have any notes for you; I will get you across the board representation at ICM.” I got a call the next morning. I changed my screenplay and reformatted it into a book series. I was sitting on pins and needles. So, I was in this vintage store, trying on vintage wrangler jeans, because I was shopping because that’s what I do when I am anxious. Random House told me, “We don’t want to do this superhero series, but we want you to write a book based on your life.” I went back to my apt and was like, “What the hell am I going to write about?” And that’s when Chloe was born.
ASIANCE: Where did you write the book?
Carrie: There was an old fashioned desk built into my closet. I literally wrote my book in my closet. I had this whole cast of characters come popping out of my closet. I wrote that and sent that book to my agent, and I had a book deal the next day. ICM television wanted to turn it into a TV series.
ASIANCE: What happened to that pursuit?
Carrie: I think TV has been having a hard time finding any place for any woman or man of color. It so reinforced all these things about Hollywood that I totally hated.
ASIANCE: Did publishing houses take well to the idea of a “hapa” character? I don’t see those too often.
Carrie: The funny thing, if anything it was a positive thing. Nowadays, it’s cool to be a hybrid anything. People want people, marketing companies, including publishing houses now, want “other” people. If anything that was what got me my book deal.
ASIANCE: So both you and your main character are half-Chinese, half-Jewish, are there any other similarities between you two?
Carrie: I’m also obsessed with fashion. I’ve had a long career in and out of the industry. I’ve always been involved with some fashion brand; that is definitely true. I love the infinite possibilities that fashion affords you. I don’t think there is anything superficial about fashion. I think that is very, very narrow view. There are the costumes and armors that really help a person explore who they are. When you are trying different clothes on, it’s like trying different identities. It’s that exploration - that’s what I think is valuable. Fashion can provide different outlets.
ASIANCE: How did you end up pursing a writing career?
Carrie: I struggled knowing when I very young that I was very creative and just a little different because of it. I didn’t like the idea of being in a box, going to law school. But my parents wanted me to be happy and have a stable life. The life of an artist is a financial and emotional roller coaster.
ASIANCE: Did you every take writing classes?
Carrie: No. It’s just in my disease, it was always, I’ve always written.
ASIANCE: What was your inspiration for the book?
Carrie: Well, me. Chloe is not Carrie. Chloe is as much Carrie as all those other characters are. My inspiration is every person, thing and place that I have experienced through my eyes. There was a lot of reflecting back on feeling like a space alien when you were a teenager. As a writer and as a person, it’s much more challenging to write like this. There’s a comedic thread that runs throughout the whole story. That took far much more care. It’s much easier to publish your journal than to shape the feelings and create something new. I had a hard adolescence. This book allowed me to use it like playdough and make something pretty.
ASIANCE: What is your message to your readers?
Carrie: Oh gosh. They can hate the book. They can think whatever they want. I just want people to keep reading and thinking… thinking about who they really are, not who they think anyone else wants them to be. And I want them to be thinking about taking risks because there are many risks involved in becoming their best authentic selves. That’s the way to become the best at anything.
ASIANCE: Do you have any advice for young writers?
Carrie: Everyone has to find their niche. I think that the most compelling thing is to have a clear point of view. My advice would be: In order to truly cultivate a book that is you, one has to genuinely know themselves. In order for a character to be real or valid, the person writing has to be real to him or herself. I think that when people say write what you know, that means to be an active accountable observer and participant in the world. You can be riding the subway and you can be awake or you can be asleep. The most important thing for a writer is to be on all the time, because that in turn will plant multiple seeds for things you may want to write about.
ASIANCE: Last question… which I’m sure you get often enough. What’s next?
Carrie: Should is a dumb word that should be erased from the English language. I believe in going with the flow. Michelle is a writer and dreamer at heart. By day she is a television news journalist, but has always wanted to pursue print. She is also a contributing writer to the UNESCO Courier. But she is so excited that Asiance has given her an opportunity to write about issues that affect Asian American Women.
Michelle graduated from Stanford in ’04 with a B.A. in Political science and in ’05 she finished her M.A. in Media Studies, also at Stanford. She loves food, memoirs, and all things creative. She currently lives in Los Angeles. Check out her MyAsiance page at my.asiancemagazine.com/michelle