Q: What inspired you to write Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, and how did you create your character Charlie?
A: Charlie’s story is inspired by many of the things I’ve experienced in my own life, so it is a deeply personal one. I drew from my high school experience, my journey to fat positivity, and my love story with my now-husband.
I’ve been fat my whole life, and I wanted to give some validation to other fat girls — fat brown girls, especially — who are like me. We so rarely get to see ourselves in media and almost never as the main character. But we deserve to have our stories told, too.
More than anything, I wanted to write a book that featured a fat, brown main character as its heroine, and showed her being desired, falling in love, and realizing she doesn’t need to change herself for anyone.
Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says that "Maldonado melds sunny prose with incisive commentary on society’s fatphobia, complex mother-daughter relationships, and the struggle to fully love oneself." What do you think of that description?
A: I’m honored by that description! I think it captured a lot of what I was hoping to do while writing this book.
Certainly Charlie’s struggle to love herself is at its heart, so we as readers get to take a look at what that means. We see how she copes with the fatphobia from her classmates, from the well-meaning people in her life, from strangers, and watch the ways that it affects how she views herself.
So often, we talk about bodies but we still rarely see what it’s actually like to live as a fat person. Through Charlie, we watch as she tries to go shopping with friends, we see her struggle to find clothes that fit, we see her classmates treat her unkindly.
Yet we also get to see how kind-hearted she is, how she’s incredibly creative and artistic, how she’d do anything for the ones she loves, how she has hopes and dreams for her future. I think that juxtaposition of the struggles and the triumphs is important.
As for Charlie’s relationship with her mother, it certainly is complex, and they go through a rollercoaster of ups and downs together. I think this can be true of any familial relationship, but mother-daughter relationships especially.
Through their dynamic, I wanted to explore what it feels like when all you yearn for is your family’s acceptance, but you never quite get it. What does that feel like? How does that affect how you view yourself? What can we learn about establishing and enforcing boundaries with loved ones?
To me, Charlie's mom is also a stand-in for a lot of the pressures that society applies to fat and plus-size folks. Even if it’s well-meaning, comments on people’s bodies, their appetites, or their health can be incredibly damaging.
The book explores all of these things against the backdrop of fat joy — explored through meaningful friendships, first loves, a passion for art and books, and fashion — which is still too often a radical notion.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: When it come to the title of this novel, I wanted something playful and a little bold.
We’ve all heard the phrase “fat chance,” so the title ended up being a cheeky nod at that, while encapsulating a lot that you’ll encounter if you pick up this book: fat discourse, second chances, and, of course, Charlie Vega herself.
Beyond that, I really wanted the title to include the word “fat” somewhere in it.
Fat is a term that’s often weaponized to make plus-size folks feel bad about themselves, but the fat activist community has reclaimed it and destigmatized it in a very powerful way. I wanted this same thing for Charlie, and for any reader who picked up the book.
When the word “fat” is right there, in big, bold letters across the front of that book, when everyone has to say it or read it, we can’t hide from it. That’s what I want. I’d like us all to take a look at why the word “fat” is such a loaded term, why we fear and demonize fat bodies, and why it’s important for us to challenge our way of thinking.
If we can learn to be kinder and more accepting of fat bodies, I think it would have a ripple effect and create a kinder and more accepting society for all.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I didn’t know exactly how Charlie would end up there, but I knew that Charlie’s story would have a happy ending. That was really meaningful to me. I’ve loved love stories for as long as I can remember, and I really wanted to give fat brown girls one of their own.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now, I’m working on another YA book about a totally different fat Puerto Rican girl, who is obsessed with photography and Instagram.
She takes her obsession to the next level when she steals a friend’s photos, makes a new account using those pics, and starts catfishing. All is well until she starts to have feelings for one of the people she’s catfished—and then it gets messy.
The story examines our fascination with social media, complicated families, and friendships that make us feel whole.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: To anyone who has picked up and read Charlie’s story, thank you. This experience has been an absolute dream come true, and I’m so heartened knowing that this story has helped some readers feel worthy and understood.
That was my greatest hope in writing this. I hope we can continue to make room for stories like Charlie’s, so that everyone feels like their story matters. Because it does.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb