In the last ten years, school counselor turned four-time New York Times bestselling author Rachel Van Dyken has written 85 romance novels. No, that is not a typo — 85. She is typically writing two or three stories at one time and publishes an average of 12 books a year. Some are published traditionally and some are self-published. She says that working on various projects at once keeps her from getting writer’s block because when she gets stuck she moves on to another genre or set of characters and her creativity is freed again.
A mutual friend introduced her to the legendary super model Kathy Ireland, who had an idea for a suspense novel based on her real life story in the fashion industry. Rachel jumped at the chance to write a different kind of novel and to work with the icon. The pair co-wrote the novel Fashion Jungle which has been described as "Sex and the City meets the #MeToo movement, with a dash of Valley of the Dolls."
The book is fiction, but many of the stories spring from Kathy’s experiences as a 14-year-old model in a harsh world, long before #MeToo was ever uttered. Girls were taken advantage of, abused and some even disappeared. We spoke with Rachel about working with Kathy and about writing the book. Here’s an excerpt from our interview.
Passionistas: You wrote your new book with supermodel Kathy Ireland. How did that come about and what was it like working with her?
Rachel: We had a mutual friend introduce us and we honestly, I remember talking about, she called me later that week and I was sitting in front of my house and she was like, “Hey, this is my idea. What do you think? I kind of want to call it Fashion Jungle. And there was these four women and I want them each to be in their thirties. This is post them making it in this industry”.
And she had this story, this incredible story that included a lot of situations where she was mistreated or her friends were mistreated. There were suicides, agents getting people addicted to drugs or people who were involved in sex trafficking, and she never saw them again. Fascinating, heart-wrenching stuff that she really wanted to put in a fiction book.
It was hard because we had so much content. So we decided just to start the project and it went really well. I would write stuff and send it to her. And then she would edit or add things. I remember the first time I sat down, I had 15 pages of notes.
The other hard part is a lot of it is based off of real life. It's people that are still living, some people that have died. Celebrities that you can't like name names, you can't name drop it all. And so, in order to protect those people and protect ourselves, we had to change names but also get permission from somebody. So it was really fun. It was a really fun experience. She is fantastic to work with and it just one of the sweetest people in the world.
Passionistas: Talk a little bit more about the celebrities and how you go about getting permission from them or make the decision to change the name rather than get permission.
Rachel: Well, thankfully Kathy is friends with a lot of these people. I don't even think that woman has enemies. She's just the nicest person. So, that was the easier part. The harder part was people that maybe were not the greatest people, that did take advantage, that did have the whole casting couch that, were worse than the worst that you've seen in Hollywood lately, that are no longer with us. How do you deal with that by still respecting the dead, if that makes sense.
What we ended up doing is we wrote a prequel novella for the eBook launch and we partnered with them. The actual novella was about this man that owned the biggest modeling agency in the world that was known to take advantage of all the girls. These girls, when I say girls, I'm talking 14 years old, 13 years old, and they're without their parents. They grew up thinking I trust an adult. You always tell your kids, find an adult, find a teacher, find this person, and then you could trust them. That's what you hope for your kid. And so, her being in the big city, she's thinking, well, they're an adult, why would they take advantage of me? She was just so innocent. Her friends were innocent. They didn't know.
And then also you have this added pressure of, “Well this is just how things are in this industry.” A lot of people are like, “Okay, well it's Hollywood. So I guess this is how things go. And it's New York. Okay. It's the fashion industry. It's normal to be asked to be topless. Like that's okay.” Just crazy situations.
And for her she knew her boundaries going in, but with this person that we ended up writing about, because of the person that he was, she actually didn't want to change his first name. So we kept his first name, changed the last name, just because she was in an altercation with him at one point where he tried to take advantage of her in hotel room saying, ‘there's only one bed. We need to stay the night,” one of those situations. So we definitely wanted to make sure that we put that out there just because people need to know.
Rachel Van Dyken and Kathy Ireland. Photo courtesy of Rachel Van Dyken.
Passionistas: So what do you hope people take away from reading the book?
Rachel: We wrote it that way that people can not only learn about the fashion industry, which was always interesting, but also learn about the people that maybe no longer have their lives anymore — people that we've lost, people that have gone through really hard times, people that have disappeared.
We wanted to make sure that we did have the #MeToo movement in there because this was back in a time when that was not a movement. It hadn't happened yet. It's weird to me that Hollywood has had this whole movement of #MeToo, but yet no one's been talking about the fashion industry. And I think that's really strange because the fashion industry, it was worse. There's in situations where it was all young girls. So that's something that we really want to do include because we haven't had that moment yet and it needs to happen. And I'm hoping that this helps raise awareness for that.
And on top of that we have, we deal a lot with sex trafficking. I know that's something that's close to my heart as is to Kathy's heart as well. And that's something that again, you try to raise awareness, but I feel like we're still yelling and people aren't listening. So it's something that we wanted to include in there because she did have friends that she never saw again, friends that were taken overseas.
She had said one story, which I don't know if we included all of it. When you don't make it, they send you to the other agency over in Europe and they give you drugs and tell you to be nice to the men because they're businessmen. Right? But they're actually sex trafficking. So people would go over there because they couldn't make it in New York and then she would never see them again. It's just heartbreaking stuff that, yes, it's fictionalized. It's still a fun, sexy book. There's still a lot in it. It's a good suspense. But we have all those little kernels of truth and wisdom in there that people can pick up. Ao I'm hoping that this book does help and continue to help raise awareness.
Hear Rachel’s whole episode here.
Read more about Rachel at RachelVanDykenAuthor.com.
To learn more about what you can do in the fight against sex trafficking visit AbolitionistBrand.com.