The Tokyo Cover Girls
(The Tokyo Cover Girls , #1)
Publication date: April 28th 2016
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult
New York has Jacobs, Paris has Chanel, Milan has Versace and Tokyo has . . . Hello Kitty toilet plungers? With its cute-obsessed catalogue and magazine market, anyone who is anyone knows that modeling in Japan means being at the bottom of the fashion industry. Blake, Jess, and Hailey are doing their best to survive yet another casting where pigtails and toddler-impressions are a must when they stumble upon the opportunity of a lifetime. The prestigious Satsujin company has selected them to compete for a campaign that will transform the winner from commercial nobody to haute couture superstar faster than you can say Vogue Italia.
Of course, nothing is ever what it seems in the fashion world. Just ask all those dead girls . .
Interview with Author Jackie Amsden:
1) What inspired you to feature Hello Kitty and the Japanese cartoon culture play a large role in your book?
Tokyo is a city of dramatic contrasts. On the one hand there is an overwhelming obsession with all things cute. Danger warnings are delivered by smiling penguins, vacuum cleaners are decorated with wide-eyed faces, and every municipality has their own adorable mascot (link mascot to: https://www.buzzfeed.com/sarahburton/everything-you-need-to-know-about-japans-mascot-craze). However, there is a very dark underbelly to their obsession with cute, specifically around girls and youth. Telephone booths are pasted with images of young school girls advertising their availability while down the street their used panties are available for purchase out of vending machines.
As a model in that world, I was told to be quiet, look child-like and treated as though I couldn’t think for myself around even the simplest of decisions. And though it seemed harmless at the time, what it did was make me into the perfect victim: shiny and pretty but totally helpless. In the book I wanted to explore what would happen if that contrast was taken to the extreme.
2) Do you think the Japanese fashion industry reflects an underlying misogynistic or pedophiliac tendencies in that culture?
At it’s heart, the idea behind kawaii is something that I can relate to and find attractive myself: a desire to return to the care-free, magical space of childhood (link kawaii to : http://www.businessmodelmag.com/analysis/2013/6/23/-kawaii). I know I still like watching My Little Pony just because the characters are so darn bright and cheerful. However, the problem is that living in Ponyville comes with some very negative consequences. When I was in Japan, I let agents manipulate me and humiliate me because I thought it was part of what being the adorable little model they had made me out to be entailed. I gave up all my power and resorted to a state of helplessness. I don’t know if there is an underlying misogynistic or pedophiliac tendency in Japanese culture but I think encouraging women to aspire to cuteness, and ultimately powerlessness encourages and even normalizes it.
3) How much of your personal experience as a model in Asia is incorporated into your story?
As a model, my agency had total authority over my life—they organized my days, they arranged where I lived, and they were constantly judging my appearance and giving very explicit instructions on how to fix it. My friends and family were an ocean away and so the agency was my whole world. Yet they weren’t always working in my favour, and would often lie or deceive me to get what they wanted. As a teenager who’d been lucky enough to have supportive parents, this was not what I had come to expect from the adults in my life. The Tokyo Cover Girls is ultimately about being in that kind of relationship.
4) Have you always been a fan of murder mysteries? If not, what spurred you to write one?
As a teen I read a lot of thriller and horror. In fact, while my friends were shoplifting lipsticks I was stealing Christopher Pike and V.C. Andrews books. Though I strayed from those during my twenties, when I started writing this novel I naturally started including some of the elements from those earlier books into it. After all, there’s nothing like a good dead girl to get the plot moving.
5) Is the competition between the models something like Harry Potter’s competition in Goblet of Fire without the magic?
Absolutely. And of course with more sequins.
6) Do competitions for modeling jobs exist outside of the covers of The Tokyo Cover Girls?
As a model, I spent about 50% of my time attending castings, many of which could involve any number of bizarre tasks depending on the client and the product. I think this must have been what inspired the “challenges” in ANTM. In The Tokyo Cover Girls I took the idea of the castings and ANTM’s “challenges” and tried to make them even more painful for my characters. Poor things. So though I don’t think that an equivalent exists in the modelling industry, the competition is based on every day practices there.
7) How did you get into modeling in Asia?
I was not a particulacy popular girl growing up. My first year of high school I spent nearly a month eating my lunch in the bathroom because I had no one to sit with and was too embarrassed to go to the cafeteria alone. I felt invisible. I’de always adored models—I spent almost every afternoon doing leg lunges to Cindy Crawford’s work out tape and collected my friend’s old Seventeen issues just so I could admire the perfume ads—but never thought I could be one until I read a story about a girl in my hometown who was making it big as a New York catwalk star. She didn’t seem so amazing so I thought if she could do it, why couldn’t I?
I told my mom I wanted to be a model and a few months later she had booked appointments for me to see different agencies in the nearest big city, Vancouver. I was initially turned down because I was too short, had a thin upper lip, and was about 20 lbs over what was accepted in the industry. But I was also very persistent. After shooting up a couple inches over the next year I started what would become a life long eating disorder and went to see one last agent. She accepted me. Though I didn’t have the puffy lips that were so in vogue in New York at the time, I did have the big eyes and heart-shaped face that Asia loved. A few months later I was offered a contract in Japan.
8) What is your favorite book of all time?
I don’t have one favourite, but definitely How I Live Now is in my top five (and not just because it has a sparkly cover).
9) Are you still active in the modeling industry? If so, in what capacity?
Though I retired from the profession a long time ago, I still find myself fascinated by the fashion business—which is why I manage a blog that focuses on the modelling industry’s darker side.
About the author: Jackie Amsden worked as a fashion model in China, Japan, and Taiwan before retiring at the age of eighteen after one too many agent threats, nude photo shoot requests, and self-loathing-induced Pocky binges. If you’d like to learn more about her decent into the darker side of Asia’s candy-coated modeling industry sign up for free installments of her upcoming memoir and get updates about the sequel to The Tokyo Cover Girls at http://www.jackieamsden.com.