Interview with the Inestimable Frannie Zellman

As you may remember, my friend and mentor, Frannie Zellman, interviewed your favoritest author of all time (ahem, ahem). Now it's time for me to run screaming from the spotlight and turn that sucker directly onto Ms. Zellman. Below is an email interview we conducted and which I'm pasting in its totality, totally including awesome emoticons

If you, like me, find intriguing the concept of a sci-fi book that boldly addresses contemporary social justice issues, I urge you to hop on over and snag her two books: FatLand: A Novel and FatLand II: The Early Days. Then, after becoming hopelessly addicted to her minimalist-lush writing style (I still don't know how she does that), do yourself an enormous favor and check out Fat Poets Speak: Voices of the Fat Poets' Society, the poetry anthology she compiled and that contains several of her stunning poems. 

I hope you relish this glimpse into Frannie Zellman and her literary dexterity. 


No, really -- you will want to live here.
1. How did you come up with the idea of the FatLand Trilogy?

I always think in trilogies :)   So when I thought of creating FatLand, I thought that I just had to write a trilogy. I attribute this to no less than having read LOTR during Social Studies in 9th grade, while hiding it behind my textbook. I have a dream that people (of all ages) will hide FatLand (all volumes) behind their "other" books and read it surreptitiously and subversively.

I came up with FatLand because having a land or state or territory (I wasn't sure at first which it would be) seemed the solution to the discrimination and stigma we endured/still endure as fat people in the USA. 

2. Who is your favorite character (in either or both books)?

Oh, Winston Stark, definitely. He is a great villain. He has a touch of panache about him. I did not make him super handsome; I have not seen any really handsome villains. He is quite intelligent, but almost bereft of moral fiber. He is willing to use anyone for almost any reason, but will never admit it to them or to himself. I think he is a good mascot for the 2010's. He believes fervently in corporatization. The FatLand Board is always trying to stop him from carrying out some destructive maneuver. The irony, of, I won't say it. Don't want to spoil things for readers :)

3. If you were giving a workshop, as you have, for writers of fat-positive  fiction, what advice would you give, briefly?

Have fun with writing and with your characters. Talk to them. Have them engage other characters. Engage with them. Yell at them. Fall in love with them. Hate them. Imagine them in multiple settings. Figure out what they eat for breakfast or lunch. What are their views on things?  Interestingly, by the time you do all this, you will be halfway to writing your story/book. As far as fat-positivity, keep remembering that they are very much the same as other people in most ways. One of the most fat-positive things you can do is have them going about their business,  whatever it is. They just happen to be fat.  And if you are writing any sex/love scenes, make love to them yourself (in your mind) before you write these scenes. Get turned on by them.

4.. How does your political mindset intersect with your Fat Acceptance work and beliefs?
                a. Do you think both FatLand novels are political? If so, what messages do you hope they convey?

   I guess most people who read FatLand novels will know that I am inclined to progressive ideas.  I want people to have very strong, deep safety nets. I want them to be able to work whenever they wish, and more or less how they wish. I don't want anyone to go hungry.  I also want fat people not to face any kind of discrimination or stigma or harassment. Just living without those alone would probably be a radical idea for most people and of course most fat people.  I envision a place in which fat people just go about their business, are paid an adequate salary for their needs at the least, and more when possible, and go home at night with some time to have a good dinner and relax. If there is a political message here, it is that when we put the needs of our "country" or "territory" first, we all invest of ourselves, whether financially, morally or nationally. We don't salt away money offshore. We make it easier for people to build and to live. 

I guess that you could say that the other message I hope to convey is that fat people working together can become a community, even if they don't start out that way. We may or may not have a lot in common going into our effort, but we will find that we have a lot of feelings in common about what we want to see improved in our lives.

5. What kinds of books, fiction and non, do you like to read?

It is a bit embarrassing to say that when I am working on a book or a poem, I only read books I've read before. I feel most easy and content with 19th Century fiction and 19th Century poetry. But when I am not working on a book or poem, I like to read contemporary poetry and anything pertaining to Fat Acceptance. I am weird also in that I will only read contemporary fiction if a friend recommends it. Luckily I have friends who are ready to do so.

6. Summarize FatLand: A Novel briefly.

The first volume of the FatLand Trilogy - FatLand: A Novel actually begins in 2044, thirty years after the beginning of FatLand, which is discussed in FatLand (II): The Early Days.  Much of the novel turns on the fact that Winston Stark,now self-exiled in his fortress in Colorado, on the Other Side, is still looking for a way to break into FatLand commerce. FatLanders simply will not go to his CompleteFitness gyms, so he tries to become partners with Sandor Forman, the creator of the very successful GymNotTrim franchises in FatLand. He also tries to coopt GymNotTrim's message of having fun with food and exercise and tries to imply that GymNotTrim will become more of a weight loss concern. Sandor, of course, is horrified when he finds out and takes measures to reaffirm GymNotTrim's anti-diet message and does so quite successfully - so successfully that Stark indirectly acts to assassinate the beautiful fat dancer, Amiyah, who not only galvanizes people with her dancing and her charm, but also makes the idea of GymNotTrim irresistible to people in FatLand and on the Other Side, as well.

The FatLand Board, through whom much of the story is told, also find out that their own children are indirectly involved in this heinous plot and are forced to understand how their children view FatLand, which turns out to be very different from the way they imagined.

At the end of the book, the Pro-Health and Diet Laws that caused many FatLanders to flee to FatLand from the Other Side/USA are rescinded by the USA. Americans tear down the Re-Education Centers to which fat people were often forced to go.  American citizens all over the USA start to claim their freedom again, with help from FatLand and FatandProud, the group from the USA with whom FatLand has been working in secret. 

7 .Do you believe that an actual FatLand should exist?

Oh, I so wish it did. In other words - yes, yes, yes.  I dream about it sometimes. But -and here is the difficult part- I wonder where it should be. I don't wish to displace anyone or any group already living in any land or place. Very difficult these days to find a place not previously claimed by others. 

But I keep wishing and dreaming.. Of course an ideal solution would be for the entire USA to become FatLand,  a place in which no one has to undergo discrimination or stigmatizing, no matter what size they are.

8. How do you write?: By inspiration, trudging through, making an outline beforehand, etc.?

I do something I now know a lot of writers do:  I get an idea. Then I flesh it out some in my head. I kind of sleep with it or on it for a while, slowly adding things in my mind that I want to include. Usually, around this point, I kind of start to know where I want it to go and how I want it to end, but I'm not quite sure of how it will get there. It is then that I start writing.  I will find out  more of what it wants to be as I'm writing. So I steer, but slowly and not necessarily directly, toward the end I have in mind, but it becomes clearer as I write. I take the scenic route, as it were. The book will tell me. Sometimes the book disagrees with me, and I have to figure out if what I want or what it wants is the best way to go. Usually the book wins. It knows.

Thanks for these wonderful questions. I enjoyed them.


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