Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Q&A with Randy Susan Meyers

Randy Susan Meyers is the author of the new novel Waisted. Her other books include The Widow of Wall Street and The Murderer's Daughter. She lives in Boston.

Q: In our previous interview, you said of Waisted, "It was hard to write." Why was that?

A: I played with the first line of this book for over a decade: “Everyone hates a fat woman,” but I wrote and published four books before using it in Waisted. The story screamed in my head, but I kept it locked away because writing it meant facing myself. Writ honest, the novel would have to include tales of self-loathing, hiding food, and scale-terror. All of which I face daily.

Feeling ready to hit the personal nadir that delving into issues of women and weight could/would ignite took years. 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 wanted to never 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 I also felt the urge 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.

I 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 from me. Like a roly-poly puppy I dragged behind me. Or a snarling feral bear.

Inhabiting my 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, magazines, and impossible societal standards? Could I stop denying how my weight—whether up or down—controlled me?

Q: Can you say more about how you came up with the idea for the novel, and for your characters Alice and Daphne?

A: What’s it like to have the scale be the scariest thing in the house? And why is that more true for women than for men? Those were my initial questions.

I wanted to write (and read) a novel based on “What if a woman’s desire to be thin overrides everything else in her life” — including all ranges of women, in weight, in background, and in class.

My characters are not my family or me—and yet they are. The inner lives, traumas, and history of novelists always flavor their work. I knew my experiences with issues around body image would be baked into Waisted, but I didn’t want this novel to be my autobiography, just the emotional butter in the story’s cookies.

Alice and Daphne —seemingly so different—confront the same issue, though their back story is completely different. Both are so damaged from fat-shaming, they willingly leave their families and jobs for over a month to take part in what they think will provide the magic bullet. When reality hits that they are caught in a cruel experiment, I wanted to explore how far women will go to lose weight—and if they can rescue themselves.

I drew from a multiple of cultures (racial, ethnic, religious, class) because this is the world in which I/we live. Women from every group in America must face fat-shaming, and the pressure to be thin. I looked forward to putting these women together on the page.

Q: What do you think their experiences say about the role that appearance play for women, and also about how weight factors into family dynamics?

A: Alice, Daphne, and the other women of Waisted, represent too many of us in America. We are judged (or ignored, or feted) daily based on the quality of our appearance. Even in the most careful of families, girls are complimented on their appearance while we note boy’s strength and smarts.

When I spoke to women about Waisted, more than a few mentioned that their brothers were given desserts, but not them. One had to do push-ups while her brother ate cake.

Women are often the decorations of the media. Fighting that constant barrage is close to impossible.

When I reached out to women across the country, asking for their essays, poems, and stories about body image, their submissions (which turned into Women Under Scrutiny, a non-fiction companion book for Waisted) filled with pain, rage, and hope, overwhelmed me. Ages 17-76, representing a wide swath of women, family dynamics & weight was an overwhelming truth they put forth.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

A: I hope women take away at the very least these four messages:
* You are not alone.
* Smart is beautiful.
* Be kind to yourself.
* Be kind to others.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My current projects are way out of my comfort zone. I’m trying to reach yet another world I haven’t yet explored. I’m not ready to talk about it for fear of breaking the nascent state I’m building!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I knew this novel would incite strong feelings and reactions, but I still found myself unprepared. Writing this book was a trauma, a blessing, and a ride into my past, and future. Putting out this novel, more than any I’ve written, blew up and revealed all the hidden craziness about my body that I’ve carried all these years.

Writing this novel was a creative and personal experience.

At this moment, I am thinking of how much I will share of this as I set out on book tour.  I’m truly looking forward to talking to women about it when I visit their book clubs in person and via Skype. Whether I am with them or not, I hope Waisted will engender intense honest discussion.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Randy Susan Meyers.

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