Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Do Fat Kids Deserve Books?

I've been very lucky this week. Not only did I get to keep all my loved ones, I'm on sort of a roll when it comes to my writing life as well.

The editor's notes on my first short story to be published are turning out to be super easy fixes. I just got an e-mail letting me know that the proposal for another short story I submitted to a different anthology has been accepted. And because my entire college town being decimated gave me a case of life-is-short-itis, I decided to send of a query letter to one of my top choice agents before it had been critiqued by the site I sent it off too.

I expected to wait two weeks and receive a form rejection, but instead she responded an hour later asking me to send the full manuscript! Now the odds are still incredibly small that she'll actually sign me, but just getting the request is super encouraging.

Plus, it really took the sting out of the TERRIBLE review of my query that the critique site gave me. I mean, I expected to be made fun of because the letter was far from perfect and ridicule is kind of his shtick, (It's why there wasn't a very long line.) but it still smarts a little. I don't blame him though. Behind the barbs there were some helpful suggestions that I am grateful for and I'm only bringing it up here because he includes an attitude I'm likely to come up against a lot in his notes.

The bad news is that the only people who'll buy the book are fat high school kids. The good news is, pretty much all high school kids are fat these days.

Putting aside the fact that neither of those statements are accurate, I'm not sure why it would be bad to have a target audience. There are a lot of commercially successful ventures that cater almost exclusively to fat people, and I would count myself extremely fortunate to be the Lee Lee's Valise of publishing.

The only thing he could bet thinking is that I would be embarrassed or something for fat high school kids to want to read my books. But I definitely hold the belief that fat kids are a tragically under-served market, and it is absolutely my intention to put out more material that they can read and relate to.

As a fat teen (and while most teens are not fat, a hell of a lot of them feel fat in a negative way), I basically got shut out of YA reading specifically because there was nothing for me there.

Even though I could usually identify with the main character through universals, there was always so much fat shaming that it made it difficult to get to the end without feeling personally picked on. I couldn't really win. If there was a fat character, they usually hated themselves and either lost weight and became an amazing person or didn't lose weight and remained an object of hate or pity. I suppose there was also the wild card fat character who lost weight as part of a dramatic bitter revenge plot, but that's not someone you really want to be either. So I could chase the carrot, or be ashamed. Mostly, I just ended up feeling erased.

My entire family is supportive but thin, so they didn't really get it. I mean they tried, but they still bought into the notion that thin is just empirically better and would tell me that I could do and be anything while at the same time talking about how they couldn't do this or that until they lose five pounds (which never got easier to listen to) so there wasn't really anyone around to show me. I would have given anything for a Mercedes Jones or a Lauren Zizes* as a teen. Any possible glimpse of the notion that I could just be the person I wanted to be instead of putting life on hold so I could lose "the weight" and then become that person.

And the thing is that at one point I actually did lose a lot of weight and got the opportunity to test out my very own Fantasy of Being Thin, and it is just that. I was still exactly the same person, save for I was slightly less self-conscious in public situations. And it wasn't until I realized how truly boring it is to obsess about everything that goes into your mouth and exercise for four hours a day that I could see what a ridiculous Sisyphean climb it all really is.

I mean, by the time I lost weight I had already lived on three different continents and visited lots of other countries. I spoke three languages and had personally made a difference in a number of peoples' lives. I had already met the love of my life. And somehow I kept telling myself that as long as I was fat, I wasn't living up to my potential and I just never should have felt that way.**

So yeah, if I can have a career where a bunch of fat kids (or fat adults for that matter) read my books and it helps them feel less alone or more powerful or like maybe they can be fat and exactly who they want to be all at the same time, I'll never consider that "the bad news."

* I freely admit Glee often misses the mark on fat issues, but I love them anyway because those characters are awesome and at least they're trying.

** I'm not actually as in love with myself as that makes me sound, but I have had the opportunity to do some cool things and I spent the first twenty-three years of my life not appreciating that at all because I was bummed about my jeans size. I don't want that for anyone else.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Recommended Reading: Accidents of Nature

Another book I got from the same list as Saffy's Angel, is Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson. It's told from the point of view of a girl with cerebral palsy who is attending a camp for kids with special needs for the first time.
It's the summer of 1970. Seventeen-year-old Jean has cerebral palsy, but she's always believed she's just the same as everyone else. She's never really known another disabled person before she arrives at Camp Courage. As Jean joins a community unlike any she has ever imagined, she comes to question her old beliefs and look at the world in a new light. The camp session is only ten days long, but that may be all it takes to change a life forever.

It's a little slow to start, but once you get past the basic character introductions it becomes a fascinating and quick read. I was especially touched by how the author explored societal views on "overcoming" various disabilities and the demeaning nature of a lot of supposedly helpful fund raising events. And I liked how Sarah and Jean navigate what it means to accept yourself as you are, without considering it some sort of failure not to live up to a prescribed arbitrary norm.

As a warning, Jean does express an initial distaste for some of the bodies around her at Camp Courage. She also struggles with her own body image, vividly comparing it to that of a female counselor who she perceives as representing the ideal. This could make some people uncomfortable, but I felt that it was a realistic portrayal of someone who had spent their entire lives being praised for their ability to "fit in" and who is therefore hesitant to identify with anyone other than the "Norms."

Recommended Reading is a recurring feature on this blog. I'm doing this in an effort to build a list of YA books that I believe are both great stories and treat people's bodies in a sensitive manner. I will do my best to point out things about books I suggest that might be triggering even if I feel the book as a whole is worthwhile. If you have suggestions for future recommended books or comments/criticisms of books I write about please feel free to leave them in comments.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ways to help Alabama

I don't live in Tuscaloosa anymore, but I went to school at UA for my undergraduate and graduate degrees so I was there for a number of years. Many of my friends still live there and a lot of my family lives in other affected areas of north Alabama. I have been very lucky this week in that as of today all of my friends and family are accounted for and uninjured. Some are homeless now, but most escaped with only the temporary loss of their electricity. Even their pets are all safe and sound.

It breaks my heart that there are so many people who cannot say the same. I cannot even imagine how it must feel to send your baby off to school, only to have them killed or to lose entire groups of friends or family members all at once. The most recent statement just from Tuscaloosa is that there are 40 confirmed deaths and around 340 are still missing. Tuscaloosa is not that big y'all.

There are a number of ways to help even if you are not local.

1. Text SABAN to 90210 and $5.00 will be donated to the Red Cross from This will not come out of your bill (except of course whatever your text messaging agreement with your provider is), the website is making the donations. I originally found this in the comments on Legislative Barbie, but I've looked around and it seems to be legit.

2. Go to Animals Lost and Found in Alabama Tornadoes and look through the lost and found photos. There have already been reunions due to people from out of state matching up photos from each group. If you live in any of the surrounding states, they are also looking for volunteers to do some portions of driving as they try to find foster homes for all these lost pets.

3. Donate to the United Way of Central Alabama or any of the other local organizations helping out.

The outpouring of support has been amazing, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. I know only a handful of people read here right now, but posting makes me feel a little less helpless.

Roll Tide.