Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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 course...no, 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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Interview on Artistic Intersections

What do voracious appetites, doctoral dissertations, pretty poems, and demonic possession have in common? That's right: Me! 

You should totally check out this interview, WHAT?!
In her latest blog post, my friend and mentor, Frannie Zellman, features an interview with your favoritest author ever (I'm speaking of course of the famous and critically acclaimed Elle Hill). In the interview, we discuss my writing history, my childhood in a very Christian family, my poetry and doctoral dissertation, and the bubbling cauldron of politics that congealed into the Hunted Series' universe. 

Here are some excerpts from the interview. Please feel free zip over to the interview, paw through my history, and, while you're at it, take a tour through Frannie's blog for her new, amazing book, FatLand II: The Early Days

Which of my books do I like best?

[Note: Of course, like any parent, I instantly felt the need to cry, "Oh, dear, no! I love all of them the same! Choosing a favorite is like deciding which of the five senses I most enjoy!" But then I realized it would be a lie, so I moved on.]

Hunted Dreams is by far my favorite. I gave myself permission to be a lot darker and more psychological in this one. It deviates from a lot of romance conventions, but I let myself do that. As a result, it feels more organic and personal to me.

About my poetry and how it meshes with my dissertation topic:

I began and ended my dissertation with poems about fatness. The first one discusses the horror and pain of being treated as a monster because of fatness. The poem that ends my dissertation addresses the politics of smiles and how people expect them as their due from fat people. My fat smile, I say, is more a noose around necks than an admission of subordination. Kind of angry, but it's powerful.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

KITTENS! Oh, and an Interview

Dear Faithful Readers:

Only because I adore you so much, I am combining two blog posts. So, imagine your birthday is close to the holidays and your parents save a little bit of money by giving you one gift in the vain hope that somehow, this single, tiny present will satisfy all your greedy, holiday-related cravings for material crap. Yeah, this blog post is kind of like that. 


What kind of monster could resist those punims? Exactly.
If you're anything like me, you see pleas to help animals every single day. Here's the difference between those posts and mine: I'm the one asking. 

An ex-student who lives in Southern California (Rancho Cucamonga area) contacted me after several years of silence and asked if I could help him with six adorable -- ADORABLE!!!!!!!!! -- bicolor kittens who were discarded. He can't keep them and doesn't want to take them to the shelter. If you can adopt or foster a kitten or six, please, please let me know. Thank you all so much!


As if your day couldn't get any better, now you can read more about your favorite author. No need to thank me; your squees of excitement are quite enough. 

To read the interview, please click here. Here's a taste: 

What's next?
I’m 74 thousand words* into my latest novel, The Tithe. Yes, it was the one inspired by Katy Perry’s E.T. song, but don’t hold that against it.

Enjoy your weeks, my friends.


* The novel is currently at 83K words. Yeah!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Inspiring the Temporarily Uninspired

Writing is not only my craft but my passion. I derive enormous pleasure from toying with words, stacking and fitting them into sentences like Tetris blocks, all the while creating an inspiring and colorful geography. When I write, I am a master conductor, leading an orchestra in making auditory the universe of feelings; I am a painter whose colors stroke the eye, capture the moment, and challenge the mind; I am a teeny, tiny little god who uses a keyboard, black lines on a white background, and her imagination to spin two-dimensional worlds into being.

I really, really like writing.

This is not to say writing comes easily to me. My literary muse – let’s call her Shi-Shi, the fat muse of inspired writing – is way-too-often on break, perhaps on her cell phone with Sesha, my academic muse, or maybe playing hide-the-catnip-toys (where do those go, anyway?) with one of my cats. So I’ve grown used to finding inspiration on my own. Oftentimes I just plunk down in front of the computer, forbid myself approximately 813 times the temptation
My cat, Chunka, playing with one of her catnip
toys before Shi-Shi cruelly hides them.
of checking Facebook, and make myself write, sentence by grueling sentence, paragraph by slogging paragraph, until I’ve finished for the day. Other times I drop with a happy plop in my computer chair and listen to the percussive music of my fingers playing keyboard. (Those latter days, rare and beautiful as they are, rock, by the way.) However, most of the time, I coast between these two extremes, approaching my writing with hope and trepidation and slowly, eventually losing myself in my literary landscape.

I do have a few tips for aspiring writers out there who struggle with their version of the Shi-Shi-less blues. When I’m writing a scene, or multiple scenes, I usually get super stoked right about the time the scene’s climax happens. I mean, duh, right? But you know what? I often stop writing for the day during that climax. It’s frustrating, sure, but it also makes coming back tomorrow that much easier and more exciting. It also makes for more seamless writing.

That said, sometimes I just can’t help it and I end my writing session when the scene ends. Of course, this means tomorrow’s writing will take much longer to get into. My rather weak solution is to include a snippet or a reminder at the bottom of my page about what tomorrow’s writing will include. I might also pen the first paragraph or two of the next scene. That way, I’m a bit less lost when I sit down the following day and once again snatch up those writing reins.

So, yes, writing is my great passion, my favorite art, my ultimate medium for expression. Alas, it can also be quite tedious and stymieing.

Sometimes it’s challenging to be a minor god of a made-up universe. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Meet My Sheroes

As I delve deeper into this alien territory of self-promotion, it occurs to me how fun it would be to introduce my fourteen readers to my literary characters. With that in mind, I decided to interview the three sheroes from the two novels and one novella I’ve published: Gray from Hunted, Serena from Hunted Past, and Katana from Hunted Dreams.

I hope you come to love them, or at least find them half as compelling as I do.

Q: Please state your full name and age. 
  • Gray: Gray, Daughter of Leigh. Thirty.
  • Serena. My name is Serena O’Connell, and I’m twenty-nine years old.
  • Katana: Katana, although it took me a heckuva time to figure even that out. I later found out I’m twenty-six. I’ve packed a lot of living in those few years.

Q: What do you do professionally?
  • Gray: I’m a Hunter.
  • Serena: I started off my career as a suicide and grief counselor, although I’ve lately expanded my practice to include Hunters and Psychics, particularly those who suffer from grief and PTSD.
  • Katana: That’s kind of a secret in the book, right? I don’t want to steal your thunder, Elle, so I’ll stay mum.

Q: What’s your favorite pastime?
  • Gray: I’m a Hunter. Job, pastime, passion: It’s who I am.
  • Serena: Between training and my job, who has time for pastimes? I guess when I have a few minutes to breathe, I grab my husband and take a walk or visit my Aunt Mona in Long Beach. Last week we watched a mindless blockbuster on Netflix.
  • Katana: I’ve spent so long trying to survive, I tend to just sink into any space of silence. Not doing anything is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.

Q: What’s your most memorable experience?
  • Gray: I hate to be all gushy, but it was probably when I met my lover, Simon.
  • Serena: After suffering from depression for several years, my mother took her own life when I was seventeen. It changed the whole trajectory of my life. I’m happy with where I am and what I’ve done, but I miss her every day.
  • Katana: I’m sorry, but I’d rather not talk about it. If you’re really interested, you might check the newspapers from sixteen years ago.

Q: What’s your favorite color, and why?
  • Gray: Black. Blood stains any other color.
  • Serena: Gabriel told you to ask this, didn’t he? He knows this question embarrasses
    me. Since he probably told you, it’s yellow because, you know, no one likes yellow. Yellow needs a champion.
  • Katana: Pink, because there’s so much violence and pain in the world. We need to seek out the beauty and gentleness in order to keep ourselves sane.

Q: What one word best describes you?
  • Gray: “Hunter.”
  • Serena: Hard to narrow it down. Maybe “humanitarian”? Wait, that has the word “human” in it, and I’m just as committed to the non-humans. Maybe “catalyst” or “intermediary.”
  • Katana: “Mine.”

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Some Tips on Tipping

To tip or not to tip? No, that’s not the question. It shouldn’t even be posed in question form. In fact, let’s forget I ever asked. 

Okay, so here’s the thing: You should tip. No, really. And not just a measly buck or two -- kick out some substantial cash for your hard-working food servers, homie.

You know those servers who balance all those plates and remember your order and keep your glass of Coke Zero filled and sparkly, all while pretending to smile and care that your mother birthed you X number of years ago? Those stalwart beings have to put up with cranky customers whose orders get messed up, folks who demand substitutions in everything and then complain about their food taking too long, and people who don’t feel waiters and waitresses are worthy of the social graces we usually afford others in social situations. All while remaining on their feet for eight hours straight. 

Let’s show ‘em a little love.

If social propriety doesn’t move you, perhaps economics will. I live in South Dakota, where restaurant owners can get away with paying their servers $2.13 an hour, which, my students tell me, often means their post-tax paychecks can be as small as a few dollars. In other words, these people subsist solely on our generosity. And oh no, South Dakota isn’t the only state that allows restaurants to foist the bill for their employees* onto their paying customers; a large number of states have adopted this practice.

Will someone think of the children?!
In case you’ve not yet heard of this esoteric “tipping” phenomenon, please allow me to lay down the rules. Please note my rant applies especially to servers; while I’m always a generous tipper to every single person whom social convention requires I tip, I’m not as sympathetic to bartenders and tattoo artists as I am underpaid and oft-abused wait staff. So here’s the cardinal tipping rule: If in doubt, tip 20%. If you can’t do this math, do what I do: figure out 10% (super easy – just move the decimal point on your check total one number to the left) and double it. If it’s someone with whom no check gets generated (e.g., bell hop, gaming dealer), I tend to toss out a five-spot, but then again, my spending establishments are usually pretty low-rent. (Unless, of course, you travel with my partner, who likes nicer places than I do and whose luggage can literally fill an entire luggage cart on its own. Then, a little more is in order.)

If sheer economics doesn’t melt your cold, anti-tipping heart, let’s try one last point: People like me will judge you. Oh, I know judging is mean. I know what goes around comes around. I don’t care; I will judge your tiny-but-significant, Scrooge-y act. I will look at you differently, wonder if you’ve ever experienced economic hardship, ponder whether or not you know about the two bucks per hour your server just earned while filling your coffee mug 84 times.

Case in point:

Before settling down with my current, be-luggaged partner, a date and I had dinner at a diner chain. We laughed, we munched fried foods, we bonded over our philosophical overlaps. Then came the check. I’d paid last time and we agreed to go back and forth on dinner bills. All while joking with me, my date paid the bill and left a... wait for it... one dollar tip. A. One. Dollar. Tip.

Moments later, while my date ambled happily out to the car, I excused myself to the bathroom. After using the gender-segregated facilities, I emerged and found our table had been cleared. I hunted for our server, and when I finally tracked her down, I slipped her a five-dollar bill. “I am so sorry for the crappy tip from before,” I said, and then scurried away.

That was our second – and last – date.

So, in short, should you want to date me – naw, just kidding. Should you want to help servers and other tipped employees do fun and frolicsome things like, oh, pay bills and eat, you might consider making the 20% tip an unquestionable convention, kinda like paying tax on your food. In response, if I ever see a tip jar outside your workplace, whether you work as a cashier in a bagelry or a public accountant, I promise to toss some cash in there.

What goes around comes around.

* This is a sweet deal for restaurant owners. I wish I owned a business where I could toss my employees a few bucks a week and allow my customers to pay their wages.