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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

April 2, 2016

B is for Books, of course #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber

Girl Who Reads is participating in its first A to Z Challenge. Chris kicked it off yesterday with a great 'A' post. As you might have guessed our theme is books. I hope you enjoy our collection of literary offerings this month. Today, I'm featuring a few books coming out this month.

As avid readers, even if our bookshelves are sagging, we cannot pass up more books. Will any of these be making its way to your shelves?

The 14th Colony
Shot down over Siberia in what was to be a simple meet-and-greet-mission, ex-Justice Department agent Cotton Malone is forced into a fight for survival against Aleksandr Zorin, whose loyalty to the former Soviet Union has festered for decades into an intense hatred of the United States.

Before escaping, Malone learns that Zorin and another ex-KGB officer, this one a sleeper still imbedded in the West, are headed overseas to Washington D.C. Inauguration Day-noon on January 20th-is only hours away. A flaw in the Constitution, and an even more flawed presidential succession act, have opened the door to political chaos and Zorin intends to exploit both weaknesses to their fullest.

Armed with a weapon leftover from the Cold War, one long thought to be just a myth, Zorin plans to attack. He's aided by a shocking secret hidden in the archives of America's oldest fraternal organization-the Society of Cincinnati-a group that once lent out its military savvy to presidents, including helping to formulate three covert invasion plans of Canada.

Available April 5
Buy The 14th Colony at Amazon

Asteroid Made of Dragons
Official Sword & Laser Selection!

When a lone goblin researcher stumbles across an artifact containing a terrifying message—that the world is in grave and immediate peril—she scrambles to find help. A very unusual asteroid (one constructed as a cage for dragons) is headed straight for the planet, and Xenon is the only person in the world who knows. As she clambers across hill and dale with her quill, journal, and dwindling coin purse to untangle the mystery, she’ll need plenty of luck to find the right clues and the right sort of help.

Meanwhile, our heroes have their own problems. They have a bank to rob, a sea to cross, and a kingdom to infiltrate. Luckily, Rime is a wild mage—the laws of reality quiver when she gives them a stern look—and her guardian, Jonas, wields a reasonably sharp sword. But Rime is slipping ever closer to the abyss of madness, and Jonas is wanted for murder at their final port of call. To make matters worse, the mage-killing Hunt and its commander, Linus, follow the duo like a patient shadow, bent on Rime’s destruction.

When the wise are underfunded, the brave are overbooked, and the cruel are unconcerned, can the world be saved from destruction?

Available April 5
Buy Asteroid Made of Dragons at Amazon

Left Behind
Another moving installment in Laurie Halse Anderson's award-winning Vet Volunteers series!

When Sunita joins Dr. Gabe and another Vet Volunteer on a house call at a local horse farm, she is concerned to discover a lone lamb housed in one of the stalls. She knows that sheep are flock animals, and that without other sheep and lambs around, this little lamb will not thrive. Can she and her fellow Vet Volunteers help educate the owner, and find a new home for it with others of its kind?

Available April 5
Buy Left Behind at Amazon

Island in the Sea
Juliet Lyman is a senior executive at Yesterday Records. Music is her passion and she's very good at her job. That's why her famously philanthropic boss Gideon sends her to Majorca, Spain to work with a very tortured, but talented client. Lionel Harding is one of the best song writers of the 20th century, the multi-Grammy award-winning lyricist of the third most recorded song in history. But now he's 42 and six months overdue on the his latest paid assignment. Juliet is not leaving Majorca without either new lyrics or a very large check.

To Juliet, business comes first. Emotions are secondary, and love isn't even on the menu. But to Lionel, love is everything, and he blames Gideon for his broken heart. He's determined to show Juliet that nothing is more important than love, but Juliet is just as determined to get Lionel to create the music that made him famous. If she can sign up local talent, even better. Her new friend Gabriella has a voice like an angel, but she's not interested in fame. Her grandmother, Lydia, wants the world for Gabriella, and she wants Juliet's help to give it to her.

As her professional and personal lives start to mix for the first time, Juliet is forced to reevaluate her priorities. Gideon hasn't been totally honest, and love may be the only thing that gives them all what they need.

Island in the Sea is Anita Hughes' captivating sixth novel, filled with exotic descriptions of food, fashion, and romance.

Available April 12
Buy Island in the Sea at Amazon

Bridesmaid in Training is the second in the Notebooks of a Middle-School Princess, a funny, heart-warming illustrated Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot.

Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison still finds it hard to believe that she's a princess! Not only does she get to live in an actual palace with her newly discovered family and two fabulous poodles, but she also gets her very own pony!

Of course, not everything is going exactly as she imagined . . . her half-sister, Mia, is very busy learning how to run the country while trying to plan a wedding, and her father is getting remarried himself - to Mia's mother! - and spends most of his time 'renovating' the summer palace, although Grandmère says he is just hiding from the wedding madness. Olivia hardly gets to see either of them.

Fortunately Grandmère has her own plans for Mia's wedding, and needs Olivia's help to pull them off. Just when Olivia starts to think that things are going to work out after all, the palace is invaded by a host of new cousins and other royals who all seem to be angry at Olivia (although Grandmère says they are just jealous).

As the day of the wedding gets closer and closer, Olivia becomes more and more worried. For such a carefully planned event, it seems as if a LOT of things are going wrong . . . Can Olivia keep this royal wedding from becoming a royal disaster?

Olivia chronicles her transformation from ordinary girl to princess in her notebook, with illustrations from author Meg Cabot, who studied Fine Arts as an undergraduate.

Available April 21
Buy Bridesmaid-in-Training at Amazon

The Last Mile
In his #1 New York Times bestseller Memory Man, David Baldacci introduced the extraordinary detective Amos Decker-the man who can forget nothing. Now, Decker returns in a spectacular new thriller . . .


Convicted murderer Melvin Mars is counting down the last hours before his execution--for the violent killing of his parents twenty years earlier--when he's granted an unexpected reprieve. Another man has confessed to the crime.

Amos Decker, newly hired on an FBI special task force, takes an interest in Mars's case after discovering the striking similarities to his own life: Both men were talented football players with promising careers cut short by tragedy. Both men's families were brutally murdered. And in both cases, another suspect came forward, years after the killing, to confess to the crime. A suspect who may or may not have been telling the truth.

The confession has the potential to make Melvin Mars--guilty or not--a free man. Who wants Mars out of prison? And why now?

But when a member of Decker's team disappears, it becomes clear that something much larger--and more sinister--than just one convicted criminal's life hangs in the balance. Decker will need all of his extraordinary brainpower to stop an innocent man from being executed.

Available April 19
Buy The Last Mile at Amazon

Donna Huber: founder & publisher. Donna is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour. She reads most genres (NO horror or erotica), but her favorite books are psychological thrillers and stories that highlight the survival of the human spirit against unbelievable circumstances. 

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April 1, 2016

A is for April Fools, Douglas Adams and Sending the Fool Further #AtoZChallenge

by Chris

If we open with a bit of mental arithmetic, it turns out that you can take the days of April this year, subtract the number of Sundays, and be left with the number of letters in the English language (so far). This is useful, because if we included those Sundays we’d have to invent a couple of extra letters for Girl Who Reads’ April A-Z challenge, and although my fictional language does contain some of those extra letters, then we’d all have to read the articles and reviews something like this:

Ye na lièth theeté Erâtheet.

I actually thought of writing this entire article in this made-up language, which would have been a fantastic April Fools’ joke, expect the joke likely would have been on me since I doubt I’d be writing for Girl Who Reads much longer.

However, I can’t just ignore the fact that the first Friday of April also happens to be the first day of April, which happens to be my day for the month here. Therefore, I’d like to take the opportunity to copy and paste my senior dissertation on compositional techniques and harmonic modalities in heavy metal music throughout the late twentieth century. Enjoy!

The Month of April

Just kidding. I actually wanted to talk about something far more boring: the actual month of April. Other than traditional holding it as the rainy month (April showers bring May flowers), April doesn’t have a whole lot of special events to offer from a calendar perspective other than paying taxes (in the US, at least). Even Easter abandoned April this year. However, there is some interesting history behind the month. (Should such things be of interest to you. If not, skip ahead a few sections where I talk about funny books.)

The Romans came up with April (like most of our calendar), calling it Aprilis. Unlike July, which good old Julius named after himself, it’s a little unclear where this name came from. Wikipedia notes the rather tenuous link that the Romans worshipped Venus on the first of April (being the second month of the Roman calendar), and that the Greek equivalent of Venus was Aphrodite, and that Aprilis might have actually been Aphrilis, which starts with the same four letters as Aphrodite, and so the Romans decided that was somehow more sensible than just naming the month after Venus in the first place. Imagine if the months went January, February, March, Venuary, May? Especially if Mars was in retrograde at the time.

For what it’s worth, Jacob Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm) just made up a god for April. Makes sense.

Anyway, the point is that before it became wet and miserable, April was a month of festivities, especially in relation to fertility (oh, those dirty Romans). Before global warming, we used to have flowers and such bloom in April, which I guess the Romans thought was neat because their word for ‘open’ was aperire, which also sounds like April, so maybe the whole thing was just a word for the opening of the year. I wonder if they had cold winters in ancient Rome.

The Romans celebrated lots of things, of course, but sex and fertility was kind of a big thing back then (actually, I suppose that hasn’t changed much), and it was probably a lot of fun to dedicate an entire month to sensuality and desire. In fact, the name ‘Venus’ can be literally translated as ‘sex’ in Latin. Interestingly, one of the first temples to Venus was supposedly paid for by women who had performed sexual ‘misdemeanors’, which maybe meant having affairs, or maybe just having sex in the first place. I’m guessing they could have built a much bigger temple if the men had been fined.

Where the Fools Began

The first of April was a big deal to the Romans in particular, the Veneralia being honored on that day—something to do with Venus changing the hearts of men and women, and also about manliness and being a man. They would take a statue of Venus from the temple to the mens’ baths, undress it and have (probably naked) women wash it, before (even weirder) asking it questions about who they should sleep with and who they should marry.

Now the origins of the first of April being a day for jokes and pranks date to much later than this, although it seems to me that washing a naked statue and asking it sex advice is some kind of a joke of empirical proportions. Not that the Romans needed an excuse to cavort; just before April they’d celebrate something called Hilaria (sounds good, right?) about winter ending and the days getting longer.

Chaucer wrote a funny story set around the time of April 1—something about a rooster and a fox that trick each other. It’s not clear to me what it was important that this story take place at a specific time of year, though I’m no Chaucer scholar; still, in it a rooster dreams of a fox coming to kill him, just like it did his parents. You’d think this would be enough to give the rooster a reason to stay away from foxes, but he ends up talking to one anyway. The fox says he’d love to see him crow, and of course when he stretches his neck out the fox grabs him. Funnily the rooster doesn’t die at this point, and returns the joke by suggesting the fox tell their pursuers to give up. When he does, the rooster escapes, and rather disappointingly nobody gets eaten.

Now this was back in the fourteenth century. A few hundred years later, the tradition of trickery seemed to be growing strong, with Flemish nobles sending their servants on fool’s errands (literally), and silly British peasants being told they could see lions at the Tower of London (where, I assume, they were locked up or more likely fed to lions).

And so on, until today it’s practically a given that at some point, somebody’s going to prank you on April 1. There are some funny traditions across the world; perhaps my favorite is in Scotland, where it was once called Huntigowk Day, where they would literally hunt gowks, or foolish people. This conjures wonderful images of yearly cultural cleansing, where the most idiotic of Scots would be done away with, possibly by suffocating them with a bagpipe.

In Ireland, you might find yourself given an ‘important’ letter, to be passed on to a friend. That friend would need to pass it on, and so on and so forth, until finally someone would open it only to find the letter says, “Send the fool further.” It makes me wonder who the real fool is—the one who opens it, or the one who passes it on? And how much further should that fool go?

My Favorite Fool

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Of course, this wouldn’t be Girl Who Reads if we didn’t talk about books (other than Canterbury Tales), and so of course I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce my favorite fool, whose name also starts with A, and who was created by an author whose name starts with A, although none of his books do, so the more fool I.

Arthur Dent is the rather reluctant hero of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series of novels, radio plays and movies (each with its own varying levels of success). I personally prefer the books, because although they are self-referential and outright contradict much of the other material, they are also long, and so contain a lot of (again, contradictory) details that are otherwise missed out on in the other mediums in which Arthur Dent appears.

One of the nice things about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is that it starts on a Thursday, which is a perfectly acceptable day for April Fools’ Day, should one choose to interpret it so. Personally I think it would make sense, given all else, that the earth be destroyed on April 1, and on a Thursday (clearly not this year, but perhaps in 2021, which gives you about five years to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, if you haven’t already).

Poor Arthur Dent. Kidnapped from earth moments before it’s destroyed, he ends up being involved in the search for (and actually being) the question to the answer to life, the universe and everything. Throughout the series he is depicted as the most unfortunate of fools, a series of catastrophic and inexplicable events (such as earth blowing up and the spaceship turning into a duck) leading him from one side of the universe to the other, all without a change of clothes or even a fresh towel. The nicest thing one could say about Arthur Dent is that he’s adaptable (to an extent); when asked by a cow which part if it he’d like to eat, he manages to calmly ask for a salad instead (the vegetables are less than thrilled, however). In a way he makes me think of Philip J. Fry from Futurama, who is equally foolish and adaptable to the most bizarre of circumstances.

Douglas Adams does a simply brilliant job throughout the series of portraying what, honestly, the average human being (or British human being, at least) would do faced with unimaginable technology and creatures. One of my favorite bits is where Arthur and Ford get stranded on prehistoric earth, and Arthur is actually better able to cope with the utter lack of technology than his celestially advanced counterpart. I suppose there’s something in that to be said for not keeping technology too close to us—go camping and make a fire, sometimes. It can’t hurt.

Sending the Fool Further

Of course, towards the end it all gets a little depressing; Arthur falls in love and loses her, and then the earth gets destroyed again, only this time he doesn’t escape it, and the Vogons build their super space highway. I heard someone wrote a sixth book, but I’d rather not read it; not that Adams necessarily meant to end the Hitchhiker saga on such a low note (the poor thing died at 49), but I don’t really think it was for anyone else to pick it up.

And so, in this sense, despite the depressing ending, Adams was able to do what all great novelists have done: send his fool further. This is often difficult for us writers to do, because we don’t like to make people angry, or upset, or hurt. (I’m not talking about real people, mind you, but our characters.) It’s very difficult for me to put my characters into a situation where they’re likely to get hurt, or maimed, or die. I don’t feel like a good person when I do that. But of course, it’s necessary. No good story ever came from Jack and Jill going up the hill and coming home with a full bucket. What’s the point? Doesn’t that happen every day? Tell me about something that isn’t everyday. Tell me about worlds being destroyed, and moping androids, and crazy witches in caves. And make it hurt, because when I hurt, I feel better about my own life. So glad I didn’t get kidnapped by Vogons!

Perhaps my favorite bit of all of the Hitchhiker series is when poor Arthur, lovesick and forlorn, goes to a prophet for advice. And after many trials and tribulations, her advice (spectacularly) is to read through every decision she’d ever made in her life, and do the exact opposite: so as not to end up in a smelly old cave like her.

Isn’t that good advice for all of us poor fools out here? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked for advice, and all I really wanted to say was, “Do what I didn’t.” Or, perhaps more realistically, “Don’t do what I did.”

Adams sends his fool past the comfort zone, well out into the stratosphere of unpleasantness, and eventually beyond the point of no return. And I think there’s a lesson for all of us therein—whether as fiction writers, or just people in general. You’ll never experience anything spectacular by playing it safe. And what’s worse, you might find yourself at the end of your life in a smelly old cave, or on a planet destined for destruction, with no recourse and no way back, regretting every decision you didn’t make.

So what am I trying to say? I suppose, if anything, it is this: regrets are destined to happen, and given this fact, it’s better to regret your actions than your inactions. I’d rather feel bad for doing something, than wonder what would have happened for the rest of my life.

I don’t know if this is a particularly healthy outlook, but at the end of the day we all have to make it through life one way or another. So go read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, prank someone today, and worship Roman sex gods.

Or don’t listen to me, and go do whatever you want. Either way, just don’t regret it.

Chris: features writer. Raised between the soaring peaks of the Swiss Alps and the dark industrialism of northern England, beauty and darkness have been twin influences on Chris' creativity since his youth. Throughout his life he has expressed this through music, art and literature, delving deep into the darkest parts of human nature, and finding the elegance therein. These themes are central to his current literary project, The Redemption of Erâth. A dark epic fantasy, it is a tale of the bitter struggle against darkness and despair, and an acknowledgement that there are some things the mind cannot overcome. Written from a depth of personal experience, Chris' words are touching and powerful, the hallmark of someone who has walked alone through the night, and welcomes the final darkness of the soul. However, for now he lives in New Jersey with his wife and eleven-year-old son. You can also find him at

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March 31, 2016

Review: Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas

review by Susan Roberts

Iris and Ruby

"I remember.
And even as I say the words aloud in the silent room and hear the whisper dying away in the shadows of the house, I realize that it's not true.
Because I don't, I can't remember.
I am old, and I am beginning to forget things."

Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas is a novel about memories - both creating them and recalling them. Iris is an 82 year old doctor living in Cairo with two aged servants, in poor health and realizing that she is losing important memories of her younger years.  She is estranged from her daughter who lives in England with her family and has few friends. Then Ruby, her 19 year old grand-daughter shows up at her door to escape her family.   Ruby is adrift in her life, unsure of which direction to go and decided that maybe she would find answers in Cairo.  Ruby quickly understands that her grandmother is trying to recall her past memories and decides to help her  by listening to stories from her past.

The novel moves seamlessly between present day Cairo and the Cairo of WWII when Iris first arrived.  The author's descriptions of the city are fantastic - you can almost see the glittering parties and party dresses of the 40s along with the present day market place teaming with people and items for sale.  Through Iris's stories of her past,  it becomes apparent what formed her into the person she is in the present. There are romances - both in the 40s with Iris and in the present day with Ruby.

There is a lot of family drama between mother and daughter  - Iris with her daughter Lesley and Ruby with her mother. Through it all, Iris and Ruby create a bond that transcends time.

This is a fantastic multi-generational novel and it takes place in an exciting part of the world.  I loved this book and will remember these two characters long after the last page.

Buy Iris and Ruby at Amazon

Book info:
available formats: ebook & print (432 pages)
published: April 2016 by The Overlook Press
ISBN13: 978-1468302639
genres: women's fiction, historical fiction, coming of age
source: publisher

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: A free book was provided by the publisher for this review. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

March 30, 2016

Laughing Out Loud with Spiced by Gina LaManna

review by Elisa Hordon


Right from the start when unicorns arrive on Lacey's doorstep I just knew I was going to be laughing out loud a lot today.

I really love Meg, Lacey could not have asked for a crazier more lovable best friend. Meg is just amazing but what I love most above all her shenanigans is that she always has Lacey's back. Anthony and Meg are still working out how to share Lacey which makes for more laughs and tears and compromises but they are working on it.

Lacey's enthusiasm for holiday decorating is just priceless but also Lacey's love for life is just infectious and it even seems to be rubbing of on Anthony and cracking his tough guy exterior, he is even opening up more to Lacey which is wonderful and I do love how patient she is with him she just knows to trust him because he is the one for her and no matter what his secrets he will tell he when he is ready.

Lacey and Anthony's relationship is growing with them and its been a joy to read each book they have both grown, changed and adapted to new layers of themselves and each other as a couple, I just love reading about them.

Oh new relationships are so much fun Meg and Clay are still trying to find their feet together it makes for such great laughs, Meg not wanting to label or define what she and Clay have, but you can tell she secretly wants more than what she grew up with. Behind Meg's happy go lucky exterior is a small, vulnerable little girl who just wants to be loved, Clay seems to be the one to get that without making a big deal about it, which is perfect because Meg hates it when she is personally in the spotlight, I mean she loves attention but not if it's focused to closely on her, if everyone looked to close they might see the cracks behind her smile.

When Lacey's young cousins Marissa and Clarissa go missing Lacey's grandfather turns to her to find the girls have they really run away as most young girls do at some point or have they been kidnapped, Lacey will figure it out.

As usual Lacey seems to have bitten off more than she can handle, besides looking for her cousins, Lacey is still working out nuances in her relationship with Anthony are they really living together? and because actually asking Anthony is just too easy lol Lacey is trying to figure things out her own way. Lacey also has a surprise in the works for Anthony's birthday can she pull it off or will it all end in another Lacey 'moment'.

I'm not sure who I laughed at more Meg, Nora, Lacey or poor Anthony lol. Every Lacey book has been laugh out loud hilarious but Spice was a step up from the rest these guys just rock as characters.

Lacey is busy trying to find her young cousins and keep her grandmother distracted at the same time, somehow in all of this Lacey, Nora and Meg end up in a cooking class which had all the hallmarks of disaster but with one shining star Nora, lol I love how she discovered she can cook if only she follows a recipe and her food is really good this was one of the funniest moments for me, I just loved it.

I have loved all of the Lacey Luzzi Mysteries, this is one of my favourite series I get really excited when a new story comes out. I love the whole cast of characters even the bad guys make you laugh. Lacey and her family will worm and squiggle their way into your hearts, they will make you laugh out loud many times at their antics, they will make you cry when you think tragedy has hit them, or when one of them shows a crack in their tough layer and more than anything they will make you feel like family.

Buy Spiced at Amazon

Book info:
available formats: ebook (307 pages)
published: March 2016
genres: cozy mystery

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March 29, 2016

Review: Off Campus by Jeff Westwood and Charles Murphy

review by Claire Rees

Off Campus

The latest attack started without warning in the middle of October, just after eleven. This time, he hit Bellarmine College just outside of Boston.

My Thoughts

Although for me the story started off a little slow and confusing, I soon got into the story and started to enjoy it.

It ultimately follows three girls, Rosa, Lizzie and Helen. They have been kidnapped by a dark wizard and their close friends and boyfriends have been chosen as their ‘champions’ to face a multiple of horrific trials in order to save the girls they love and care for.

They are thrown into another dimension where they battle for their lives. Their savior, a man named Cale, seems to want to help them, but something seems wrong about his methods and actions.

The girls and their personal saviors are tortured in the worst ways and some lose their lives. What they don't know is that the dark wizard is looking for another body to inhabit as the one he is in is old and rotting.

They face nightmare after nightmare as they slowly lose their minds, but they do start to fight back towards the end.

The characters were good in the story and there were more than a few surprises throughout.

I would recommend Off Campus to those who enjoy a dark adventure, with all types of ghosts and ghouls, zombies and lost souls.

Buy Off Campus at Amazon

Start reading...

Book info:
available formats: ebook (301 ppages)
published: September 2015
genres: horror, dark fantasy
source: author

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March 28, 2016

Interview with Mona Awad, Author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl #MondayBlogs

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
The following interview is part of the book club kit for Mona Awad's 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. It's filled with discussion questions, cocktail recipes, a playlist, movies to watch, and so much more. So gather your girlfriends for a great night in.

This book is full of incredible insight into the life of someone dealing with body image issues. What inspired you to explore this subject?

Body image is something I’ve struggled with throughout my life. I was a slim child, but then I got chubby as a prepubescent. I lost weight, then got fat as a teenager and then lost weight again in my early twenties. Throughout my twenties it was something I wanted to explore in my writing and I was always taking notes to that end, even as I wrote fiction and poetry on other subjects. When I was
twenty-two, I wrote a poem called “Zoology” about not being able to find a plain black cardigan in a plus size store, but underneath, it was really about how marginalizing the experience of being fat was. It felt very good to write, but it was more of a rant than a poem, so it was ultimately not very satisfying—there was so much more I wanted to say. A few years later, after I’d lost weight and was working as a journalist, I wrote a feature article about my and my mother’s experiences with dieting trends in the 80s and 90s, but this didn’t feel like enough either. I didn’t want to explore the subject of weight on a cultural level or even on a strictly autobiographical level—I wanted to do it on a far more creative, intimate level. I was much more interested in this level of experience—how body image can affect your relationships to people, clothing, the way you are in the world. For that I needed the freedom to imagine, to draw out social dynamics and fully explore moments of rage, vulnerability and desire I had experienced both as a fat person and as a thin one. I needed characters that were separate from me and had their own stories—I craved the freedom of fiction.

What was the genesis of 13 Ways? And can you describe your writing process?

Most of the stories were inspired by a point of tension that I had observed, experienced or imagined—being in a fitting room with a dress that doesn’t fit, for example. I would take that point of tension and I would sit with it, trying to describe it in as much intimate, immediate and honest detail as possible. I would scrutinize it, draw it out, let myself imagine around it. By exploring a moment of tension like this, it would acquire more layers and consequence, and a story would often emerge. Once I had the contours of story, I could push that tension further still—in some cases, to its limits.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a provocative title. How did you choose it?

The title was inspired by the Wallace Stevens poem, “13 Ways of Looking at a Black Bird,” though really only superficially. What I liked was the idea of using different ways of seeing as a way into the life of one character. In my experience, perception is a huge part of body image. I thought I looked fat before I was fat and, in some ways, that made me get fat. I also continued to see myself as someone who was fat after I got thin. So the idea of looking, for me, is really the most transformative, damaging and powerful driving force in the book. Being fat is also both a highly visible and invisible experience—visible because of the extra flesh and invisible because of the ways that flesh can eclipse you as a person, both in terms of how people see you and how you see yourself—so the title felt connected to that paradox of being both seen and unseen in various ways. It let me organize the overall story around the many ways in which Lizzie might be seen or imagine she is seen by various people in her life: sales women, friends, parents, romantic partners, flings, as well as how she might see herself in these relationships—ways of seeing that she resented, ways of seeing that were simplifications, or generalizations. Take “Your Biggest Fan,” for example. I would take each way of seeing—how Lizzie is seen by the other character, and how she sees him—and then, in the course of the story, try to unsettle and complicate it.

The novel is told in a series of short stories, or vignettes. What made you choose this structure?

So much of Lizzie’s story is bound up in how she views herself and the various ways she imagines others see her. So I wanted to approach telling her story as a series of glimpses--how she changes in relation to that shifting gaze, real or imagined—and I wanted the structure of the book to reflect that. Each way of looking seemed to be its own story that was connected to but also separate from the whole—another piece of a mirror (however warped) into which Lizzie is looking.

The fairy tale promise of dieting and exercise is that your life will change for the better if you lose weight. But contrary to what we’re told by every women’s magazine and on shows like The Biggest Loser, Lizzie seems as unhappy in her new body as she was before—or maybe more so. Why doesn’t her transformation result in a happy ending?

Transformation is a tricky thing. The idea that when we transform our bodies, we start off in one place and end up in another, is part of a notion about weight loss that this book is definitely trying to explore and challenge. My own experience of transformation was messy and complicated. Even after I got thin, I still felt like my weight was highly visible to anyone who bothered to look. In the way I behaved with others. In the way I ordered salad. Not in the fact that I ordered salad, but in the way I did—like it was penance, not a choice. In the way I wore my clothes—I wore them like they had been hard won, and they were. I felt too, that underneath those clothes, the visible evidence of having been fat was there. This is the case for Lizzie, too. She still has to reckon with her flesh, even its ghost, and so does everyone else around her. Her body, changed or unchanged, is still bound up in how she sees herself. That doesn’t necessarily go when the weight does. In Lizzie’s case, she’s still cognizant of her fat and so it’s still informing the way she is in the world, her relationships—and not necessarily for the better. In fact, in some ways it’s more complicated, because the weight is no longer visible, and so it’s harder for others to understand her.

It seems that our society has made fat-shaming the last acceptable form of prejudice, with the underlying belief that being fat is a “choice”—and not the right one. Did you think about this at all while you were writing?

It still seems culturally okay to make fun of fat people. When I was fat, I avoided going into elevators with people because I was afraid they would make fun of me after I left. In the book, I wanted to focus on depicting Lizzie and my other characters as honestly and with as much care as I could. I wanted to humanize and complicate portraits of people that are often seen as objects of ridicule. And, of course, it’s very telling that after Lizzie loses weight, she is at times guilty of seeing fat people this way herself.

Lizzie forges a connection to her best friend as well as her future husband through music—specifically Goth industrial, a genre that we can safely say doesn’t get much air time in literature. Why did you connect Lizzie with this music, and what is its appeal for her?

There’s a lot of music in the book—it’s definitely important to Lizzie throughout her life as a form of self-expression and self-discovery, and as a way to connect with other people. Certainly music provided that for me. Goth is seen as marginal and underground, and Lizzie, in seeing herself the way she does, identifies with that to some extent. But ultimately I think Goth is more of a phase she goes through in part because of her friendship with Mel—this music is an important part of their bond as teens, but their relationship to it and to each other shifts over the years.

Lizzie’s relationships with other women are often quite barbed, especially when it comes to things like eating, exercise, and shopping—all of which come back, of course, to the body. What does 13 Ways have to say about female friendship?

Female friendship is a subject that has always interested me as a writer. I love paying close attention to what goes on subtextually between women—things that we are not fully conscious of, that pass between us quickly. It goes without saying, perhaps, that body image can complicate these relationships and even come between women. After I lost weight, I definitely noticed a shift in the dynamics of some of my friendships. This is not to say that those friendships are any less valuable—I love and cherish all my female friends more than I can say. But I do think that female friendships can be idealized (or oversimplified in the other direction—as a caricature of petty, “mean girl” competition) and I wanted to explore what might else be going on under the surface. Writing this book gave me a chance to amplify and explore tensions and dynamics that fascinated me in my own experiences and in my observations of female relationships. For Lizzie, of course, all of her friendships and encounters with women are complicated by her own issues. But she’s definitely not alone in the creation of that weirdness.

Clothing plays a meaningful role in this book, and Lizzie endures some very fraught situations in fitting rooms. Why did you feel this situation was important to represent in the book?

Fitting rooms can be places of existential dread for people of any size. When you’re locked in an enclosed place with nothing but an item of clothing and a mirror, you have to reckon with yourself in a way that you don’t elsewhere. It can be a de-familiarizing, humiliating, excruciating experience. I guess because there’s also a yearning there, a desire for transformation, possibility, that fitting rooms offer too. When I was fat, I was angry and humiliated that I couldn’t find a decent dress and still I hoped. When I was thin, I was angry and humiliated that I still struggled to find things that fit me and yet I still hoped. I yearned to fit in. It’s that cocktail of hope and necessity that can make the fitting room experience so excruciating and revelatory, whether you’re in there with just an item to clothe your body, or something that symbolizes your dream self. Lizzie revisits the fitting room because, as much as she rages against it, she is very much a victim of that hope.

What do you hope readers will take away from 13 Ways?

Above all, a feeling of connection to the stories and the people in them. Fiction and especially short stories have always been extremely important to me.  The books I love, I take to as one would take to a new friend. They have something very personal and urgent to tell me. They give voice to thoughts and feelings and desires and fears that I didn’t know I had. My favorite stories have always been the ones that feel very intimate, like the writer really gave something vital in themselves to the telling of the story. A little of the soul. I wrote these stories and these characters with as much honesty as I could in the hopes of making this book that kind of offering to the reader. I also wrote it, ultimately, to create a story that I would want to read. I can only hope readers will feel the same.

Are there any books or authors that influenced your writing? What are you reading right now?

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis really made an impression on me, though I can’t say that I was consciously aware of it as an influence when I was working on the book. I think it’s a brilliant, very disturbing and complicated portrait of a monster, who is at the same time a product of his culture and his age. Certainly Lizzie is no Patrick Bateman, but I do think I was interested in exploring a kind of monstrousness, a psychosis that our body image-obsessed culture can bring out in us. Another favorite is The Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Not only is it a wonderful story with an incredibly rich and nuanced first person voice, but I love the way Ishiguro can create a narrator who is so blind to certain truths inside himself, truths that are available to the reader to recognize, but that the narrator cannot access due to his own psychological and emotional blind spots. Mary Gaitskill’s complex characterizations and her interest in tension have always been endless sources of inspiration. I’m also huge fan of humor in fiction, especially with a dark or melancholy edge, so I love writers like Lorrie Moore, Dorothy Parker and Stacey Richter. Right now, I’m writing a novel and preparing to teach creative writing to undergraduates so I’m not reading anything too consistently, despite the tower of books on my bedside table. Though I did just order Where Did You Sleep Last Night by Lynn Crosbie, a great Canadian writer and poet. It’s a novel about a girl who’s in a relationship with the dead spirit of Kurt Cobain, so I’ll probably devour that pretty quickly.

Buy 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl at Amazon

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March 27, 2016

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