NEW YORK — Although Erica Kennedy’s debut novel, “Bling,” is populated with egos of epic proportion, from models to moguls to hip-hop stars and their hangers-on, Kennedy herself has trouble striking a diva pose. When the photographer taking her book jacket photo shouted at Kennedy, “Give me diva!” she set him straight.
“I’m like, ‘Honey, I’m a diva at a keyboard, but I can’t give you diva at a photo shoot.’ I’m not that kind of a person,” she says.
This story first appeared in the June 17, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Kennedy may not be that kind of person, but she has a knack for depicting the type. Set amid New York’s hip-hop heavyweights, “Bling” follows the transformation of Marie-Jean Castiglione, a golden-throated Ohioan, into a hip-hop megastar named Mimi. One part “chick lit” with a dash of gossip and a pinch of satire, “Bling” is the granddaughter of “Valley of the Dolls” and the kid sister of “Sex and the City.” It’s no wonder Miramax snapped up the publishing and film rights, handing Kennedy a six-figure advance.
Like many young novelists, Kennedy, 32, a New York native, drew from her own experiences. A longtime friend of Russell and Kimora Lee Simmons, who will be throwing Kennedy a book party tonight at Lotus, she worked briefly at a record label, spent four years in public relations at Tommy Hilfiger and finally became a writer for Vibe, In Style and Essence. (Her first freelance piece was an account of how much she hated Gwyneth Paltrow for the Daily News. “That’s my dark secret. Miramax is going to love this!” Kennedy laughs.) She sees herself as a social observer, especially on the issues of race and gender, though not specifically tied to the music industry. “I’m in the world but not of the world,” she says.
The budding author had the most fun creating the novel’s villains: the homophobic, sexist hip-hop mogul Lamont Jackson and the aging, coke-snorting model Vanessa de la Cruz. “The bitch is always the most interesting character,” Kennedy says, referencing the tyrannical editrix Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada,” by Lauren Weisberger. “I don’t want to know about the editorial assistant’s boring love life! I want to know what happens to Miranda when she gets home.”
For months, Simmons jokingly asked Kennedy, “Is it about me?” and speculation on the real-life counterparts of the characters already has started circulating. Lamont Jackson is part Tommy Mottola, P. Diddy and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who took over at Arista Records when the legendary Clive Davis was axed. Mimi’s story is Mariah Carey’s makeover in reverse. And rumors that de la Cruz is based on Naomi Campbell reportedly sent the supermodel to her lawyers. “We haven’t heard from her,” Kennedy says. “And the character is Venezuelan and married with a child. It’s not her at all. I’m hoping she comes to my party — she was invited.”
But Kennedy is hardly worried about a backlash. “This is my book; I don’t care what P. Diddy thinks,” she says bluntly. “You know, it’s a male-dominated industry. Women don’t have a voice. But I want the girls to come out on top.
“Besides,” she adds, “I think all those people in the industry are going to like it.”
— Christina Saraceno