Please welcome multi-published author and returning guest Randy Susan Meyers back to WU! Randy is an internationally bestselling and award-winning author of five novels, most recently Waisted, which releases TODAY in paperback. Randy’s books have been translated into over twenty-five languages and been chosen three times as a Massachusetts Book Award “Must Read.” Besides reading, her obsessions include gardening, painting garden art, and, during the pandemic, bingeing on ER reruns. She lives in Boston, where she teaches at Grub Street Writer’s Center.
Terrified About Writing Your Novel? Excellent!
I played with the first line, “Everyone hates a fat woman,” for a decade (and published four other novels) before writing Waisted. The story of women obsessed with the scale screamed in my head, but I kept the words locked away. Because writing it meant facing myself. Writ honest, the novel would have to include tales of self-loathing, food needs so intense one snatches it back from the garbage, and dressing room terror because, for me, no story is worth writing without emotional honesty at the core.
And I wanted to avoid this particular honesty.
When I was a child, my mother hid everything sweet and delicious in a giant lobster soup pot on top of the tallest cabinet in the kitchen. Thus, my sister and I, at the tender ages of perhaps five and eight, learned to be mountain climbers. (Only recently did I consider that maybe Mom was hiding the cookies from herself.) Living with my thin, beautiful, food-hiding mother, I learned:
- The many places I could stash food, such as the bottom of our hamper.
- I could hide food better than my mother, who never found the buried hamper cookies I’d retrieve and cram in my mouth (running the faucet hide sounds of chewing.)
- Nothing devoured fast and furious (while perched on the edge of the tub) can be savored, but even when they barely register, any cookie can taste almost-delicious.
- When sugar is the drug you need, you don’t need the perfect delivery system. I didn’t need a pretty plate—or even a napkin. (When eating in the bathroom, you have a towel right there.)
All of which led to my novel, Waisted, where weight-obsessed women chosen for a documentary about women and their bodies—an endeavor that promises to heal them—find themselves on lockdown at a hardcore reality show run by punishing, fat-shaming filmmakers.
Before writing Waisted, I didn’t feel ready to hit the personal nadir delving into issues of women and weight could/would ignite. Hiding from the truth was far more inviting. And yet, “Everyone hates a fat woman” wouldn’t let go. So, I began.
Once embroiled in the story, I never wanted to eat again, and I wanted to eat every minute. I never wanted to look at a scale, and I wanted to weigh myself three times a day. Part of me wanted to continue denying the cruelty we face from ourselves and others, but if I wanted to write an authentic story, I had to open myself to every loathsome thought I’d ever had about myself and every bit of self-hatred I (and I imagined other women) held.
Writing Waisted forced me to reckoned with my mother teaching me to hate anything short of perfection. I remembered and confronted the question she’d ask on almost every phone call: “How’s your weight?” as though “my weight” was something separate. Like a roly-poly puppy, I dragged behind me. Or a snarling feral bear.
Inhabiting my weight-obsessed characters forced terrifying introspection. Could I be at peace with my body and choose who I wanted to be? Could my life be other than a reaction to my mother, to self-hatred, to impossible societal standards?
Could I stop denying how my weight—whether up or down—controlled me?
My characters are not my family or me—and yet, of course, they are. The inner lives, traumas, and history of novelists flavors their work. I knew my experiences with body image issues would be baked into Waisted, but I didn’t want this novel to be memoir, just the butter in the story’s cookies. Magic happens when that infusion hits just the right notes. Could I come close to balancing truth and imagination? [Read more…]