Jay Manuel has been many things, including an make-up artist and a creative directorand he is probably best known as taking on the latter role for several years on the reality-competition show America's Next Top Model. ( He also hosted Canada's Next Top Model for a few years. )
Now, he's back with the book The Wig, The Bitch and The Meltdowna satirical take on reality TV that was released Aug. 3. The book features a Tyra Banks-esque character named Keisha Kash and a Manuel-type protagonist named Pablo Michaels.
Windy City Times: You said you began writing this book back in 2014. What prompted you to start writing it?
Jay Manuel: When I look at the core themes of the book, I really felt this need to write a story that's inspired by my life and talk about important themes, like what is the cost of fame, why is there such acceptance around abuse of power in the entertainment industry, and how the entertainment industry deals with intersectionality, like Black women's identity.
It's very interesting that these are things being discussed now in 2020, but they're things that have always existed in the industry. I wanted to write something that is truly vulnerable in some ways but using satire to make it funny and take us on a wild journey of self and how we ultimately have to find that validation.
WCT: When it comes to your character-writing process, how much of it was inspired by your personal experience?
JM: You write what you know, so you're using your own experiences. I was using various experiences I had in the entertainment industry, not just my time on [America's Next Top Model]. I sat down with a couple of psychologists and talked about the psychology around the characters and doing that work in 2014 was really fun. I really wanted to see how this story could come together from a psychological stand-point. It was important to tell the story very authentically and thoughtfully while having fun with it in this farcical world I created.
WCT: I was surprised to see that this book had a lot of suspenseful and serious moments but, overall, why did you choose to write this story as a satire?
JM: I just really think telling a story like this through satire and comedy forces us to look at ourselves and it is very unconventional in terms of the literary world, in terms of blurring the lines, and breaking the fourth wall in that meta-fictional break toward the end of the book. I wanted to jolt the reader out of the book and into their own world and have it become meta on meta. It's about how we look at these stories in our own lives. It was incumbent of me to truly help people find these characters in their lives and hopefully have them resonate with their own struggles and journey.
WCT: Do you think this book might change the way that fans see America's Next Top Model?
JM: I think it might prompt people to go back and watch it again. One thing we didn't expect to come out of this pandemic situation was for ANTM to become a big binge-watch show. It certainly put the show under a magnifying glass. Again, you're watching a show that's edited down to 41 minutes and 28 seconds and there is [editing] there and we are now in this time where we're questioning what is real. I've always thought of reality television as the birth mother of social media. On social media, it's like we take a picture of what's not real and put it out in the world. Ultimately, what does that do to the human spirit?
WCT: Did you run into any challenges while writing the book?
JM: I felt that I kind of went into isolation, and I knew it would be isolatingbut I didn't know to what extent. In the beginning, it was uncomfortable for a lot of friends and family around me. I'm very engaged with those I'm close with and I kind of disengaged when I wrote the book. And, ultimately, knowing I wanted to tell an authentic story, I had to go to some vulnerable places, and part of Pablo's backstory is his adoption; that story is my story. A lot of people did not know that.
It was very important for me to include it and to have his name "David" in the book, which was given to him initially. That's one name that actually is the name that was given to me. I felt it was important to honor him and that person who's part of me which I learned was that preverbal energy bubbling up.
WCT: That ending was really suspenseful and it seemed to make way for a possible sequel. Do you hope to write any more books in the future or do you think this is it?
JM: The answer is "absolutely." And I know where the characters go, but is that immediately the next book? I don't know. However, I think this book is hopefully shifting the way people view me within the lifestyle space.
There are so many stories I would like to tell that don't have anything to do with these characters. I want to explore those stories, and I think this book naturally puts me out there as a writer by the nature of the story. I do want to write the follow-up for it. We'll see how the world perceives it, if this is the next book or one of the other stories I want to tell in the next-book, which takes place in somewhat of a dystopian near-future.