I was on a debut author’s panel over the weekend at the fabulous Hippocamp to discuss my memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny. If you haven’t heard of Hippocampus Magazine, I suggest you check them out, it is a brilliant pub and the conference they hold each year is wonderfully inspiring. Anyway, the panel I was on was one in which myself and four other authors each described our road to publication.
The audience was eagerly awaiting our answers. They asked great questions and I hope we satisfied them with our responses. However, now that I have a few days distance and more than ten seconds to respond, I’d like to answer two of the questions I was asked a bit more thoroughly.
First, I was asked how I knew I had a book in me. The answer I gave was truthful. I had always written poetry, and when asked to write a short creative nonfiction piece for one of my graduate classes, I fell in love. My poetry has always been so confessional that expanding that same voice out to a longer narrative felt good actually. It was like allowing my memory to stretch its legs. I also liked writing with a dash of humor. I tend to be the person always looking to make a joke in real life, so again, putting that on the page felt natural.
But on a more serious note, I didn’t know I had a book in me for a long time. You see, I was married young and it didn’t go well. I married into comfort because I was fat and ashamed and my self-confidence was in the toilet. I married the boy who accepted me, instead of a boy who loved me. When the marriage finally disintegrated, as we knew it would, I knew I had to do something about my weight or I would fall back into the same bad habits. So, I joined Weight Watchers, lost some weight, and started to feel good about myself and the life I began to shape. That’s it. I never thought that story was anything extraordinary, I mean, this happens to a lot of us right? My friends and I call it the divorce diet. I just started writing about it, and decided to be grossly honest. And that, is where my story sprung from: truth.
Writing a memoir doesn’t always take an extraordinary story. It takes extraordinary honesty. People don’t always read memoir to discover the great feats you’ve accomplished, they read memoir because they’re looking for some part of themselves in your story. They look for that recognition, the universal truth that connects the memoirist and their reader. I didn’t know I had a story in me until I started to read my pieces in front of people, until I met men and women who approached me after readings to say “That happened to me,” or “I’ve struggled with weight my whole life, I can relate.” It wasn’t until I started realizing the universality of my seemingly ordinary story, that I realized its power lay in accessibility. Which brings me to the second question.
I was also asked about feedback I’ve received. I talked a little bit about the feedback I find most rewarding, and that is from young men and women who have shared with me their weight-related stories. But I wanted to share an example with you. This came in late last night, and it brought me to tears when I read it.
From an Amazon reader:
I would recommend this book to anyone who’s struggled with their weight, or an addiction. I think this is a story that so many people can relate to on multiple levels.
I went from anorexia, to bulimia in my life. I would read stories of eating disorders, and instead of marveling at how they recovered, I’d wonder if I could make what they used to get so emaciated, would work for me. This is the first book, having to do with eating disorders, that made me want to work for the weight loss, instead of doing something extreme and dangerous while hoping for immediate results.
I can’t praise this book enough, nor Amye, for laying it all out there for us, allowing the rest of us to have hope.
This review means the world to me. To think that my story, my vulnerabilities, may have helped someone is overwhelming. This is the feedback that keeps me writing, that makes every rejection (and there were A LOT of them), every edit, every revision, and every tear shed, worth it. It’s comments like this that remind me of one simple truth: everyone has a story to be told, because everyone has a life they’ve lived. It doesn’t have to be exciting, it has to be true.
Thank you to those reviewers who let authors know that a book has moved you. And thank you to everyone at Hippocamp, especially Donna Talarico-Beerman, Hippocampus Magazine’s creator. You’ve created a culture of acceptance and inspiration that I’m confident will grow and nurture writers for many years to come.