When I imagine a typical eight-year-old girl, I look back at my own childhood. I was immersed in a world of fantasy: playing dress-up, hosting tea parties with my most prized dolls, and frolicking with princesses and dragons in the backyard. Nonetheless, while I was off playing make-believe, Carrie Berk had her first book published. Now, at a mere sixteen years old, Carrie is a bestselling author, style empowerment website owner, and anti-bullying activist. In the following interview, Carrie fully discloses her journey to success.
Megan Morgante: It’s clear that you started writing at a very young age, starting with your book series, The Cupcake Club. How did you get the inspiration and drive to accomplish that at such a young age?
Carrie Berk: When I was eight years old, my second-grade teacher taught me about realistic fiction. The idea that I could take significant themes from real life and project them into fictional scenarios fascinated me. One day, I handed my mom a one-paragraph book proposal for The Cupcake Club, about four girls who are outsiders at their school. These friends form a cupcake club that unites the school and combats bullying. My mom submitted the proposal to her agent, and before we knew it, we had a deal for a 12-book series! Each of the books is inspired by my experiences and important issues that I found myself and my peers facing in elementary school. I was a peer mediator and noticed people bullying each other down in the schoolyard, so I knew that this topic was one I wanted to educate people about.
MM: Your book, Peace, Love, and Cupcakes was made into an off-Broadway play that you starred in! How did it feel to see your work come to life first hand and “live” in a world you created?
CB: It was so exciting to see all the characters come to life. I was also so honored to play the role of Kylie Carson; she was the first character I ever created and wrote, and I knew that I could bring authenticity to her emotions. The composer of the musical, Rick Hip-Flores, told me he envisioned me as he wrote Kylie's songs, so I think it was truly meant to be that one day, I would play her.
MM: The latest book series you wrote, Ask Emma, follows a girl that writes the school advice column and has to deal with cyber-bullying. What drew you to discuss cyber-bullying and bullying in general in this book?
CB: In middle school, I was often bullied for my sense of style, both in person and over social media. People would tell me that my glitter sneakers were too loud or my comic strip sweatpants were “out there.” Cyberbullying is rampant, and it can hurt someone just as much as physical bullying in person, which is why I chose to write about it. When someone posted mean comments online about me, it felt like I had been slapped across the face. Like Emma, I chose not to be a victim. Instead, I took a negative experience and channeled it into a positive one. If I can make one reader understand that cyberbullying is NOT okay and they should choose kindness instead, then I've done my job.
MM: What challenges have you faced as a young writer?
CB: People often doubt my abilities as a writer because I am so young. I work extremely hard, writing as much as I can, not just to prove people wrong but to hone my craft. Although I still have much more to learn, I do think I've come a long way since my very first manuscript. I now know how to construct a plot, add color and detail to the scenes, and give depth to the characters. I never think of writing as a chore--for me, it's a creative outlet.
MM: How did you become a teen ambassador for NoBully.org? What does the organization mean to you and what does the organization stand for?
CB: When writing Ask Emma, I wanted to partner with an organization that had similar messaging, and No Bully was the perfect fit. They visit schools worldwide educating children from a young age about bullying, encouraging them to always practice compassion and empathy toward each other. We continue to find new ways to work together; a few months ago, I scripted a public service announcement video for them entitled, Girls Against Bullying.
MM: In your opinion, why do you think people in this culture bully one another so harshly?
CB: Bullying is rarely about the person who is targeted; it's about the bully and his/her personal insecurities, jealousy, or even fear. I have found that when you remind yourself of this, it's a lot easier to cope and not be victimized. There's a great deal of misunderstanding in our culture and a lack of respect and acceptance for people who are different. If we want to stop bullying, we need to practice inclusivity and champion each other's individuality.
MM: What advice would you give to those experiencing bullying in their daily life?
CB: It's unrealistic of me to say, "ignore the bullies," because as someone who experienced the pain and cruelty firsthand, I know that’s very difficult. I do, however, encourage you to surround yourself with people who lift you up instead of tear you down. Building a strong support system will make the bullies seem less important, and over time, their negativity won’t get to you anymore. In general, don't engage or let their words/actions invade your thoughts. Don't give them any of your energy. If they can't touch you, they will move on.
MM: How do you balance work and events, and still maintain the experience of a typical teenage girl?
CB: It’s not easy! I recently attended New York Fashion Week and I had to do my homework in the back of taxis! I try and find time to unwind (I love going to SoulCycle or just staying in and hanging out with a friend), and I’m also really lucky to have made such great friends in the industry that make every moment a blast. I'm also very organized; I keep a digital calendar as well as one for school and one over my desk, and I stay on top of assignments and deadlines. When you prioritize, it's easier to fit everything in.