Sunday, October 5, 2008

Novel to Screen help and an interview with Val Frankel

First up, please check out Jeff Lyon's terrific Storygeeks blog for an interview with Stephanie Harrison, the author of Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen.

Next, Val Frankel has written a provocative memoir that reads like a great novel (yes, I said it in Dame Magazine). Thin is the New Happy is really about how and why weight should not define you as a person. Val was gracious enough to allow me to pepper her with questions, too.

1. What I loved most about your book is your assertion that being a good person has nothing to do with the numbers on your scale. Can you talk about this a little for us?

For too many years, I equated my personal self worth with how much I weighed at the time. If I were at a low weight, I was a virtuous and accomplished. If I were at a high, I was pathetic, a loser, etc. I think most women feel better about themselves when their weigh is under control. One thing I realized, in the process of purposefully limiting my negative body image thoughts (a process that included counting them over a day, realizing their pervasiveness, and then conscously redirecting the thoughs as they came up), was the self-absorption of a weight obsession. When I was thinking fewer body image thoughts, a vacuum was created, and more productive thought were sucked in. Among them, instead of obsessing about the state of my belly, perhaps I could devote more thought energy to loving my kids and husband, calling back friends, doing charity projects, anything BESIDES worrying that my gut looked fat. And what a relief it has been, to give up the negative, and think about the positive. It made me a better person, for sure.

2. Your book has very rightfully racked up the raves, including stellar reviews from Entertainment Weekly and People magazine. How do you feel about reviewers (actually it was only ONE review that I know of) that missed the point and thought your book was about the urge to be lean and nothing else?

The funniest critical review accused me of "potty mouthed narcicissm." Guilty as charged! Another said that "there was nothing special" about my story. Well, we all think of our lives as unique and special, but one of my goals was to present my experiences with body image (fatphobic mother, teasing boys in junior high, seeking approval via impersonal sex, etc), hoping that other women would relate, to see their stories in mine. In that regard, one woman's story is every woman's. So, yeah, not special in that many of my experiences were typical. Other critics have complained that I had no right to write a memoir about body image because I was never more than 40 pounds overweight. The one time in my life I wasn't fat ENOUGH. Still others, who apparently didn't read the book, think it's a weight loss memoir. Wrong! It's a body image memoir. My goal wasn't to be a size or number on a scale. I had emotional goals. Reaching my emotional goals helped refocus my attitude about dieting and food, which did result in weight loss. A long answer to a short question. Basically, reviews that miss the point are frustrating, but you can't please all the people, ever. If you put yourself out there, you have to expect some people are going to trash it.

3. You've written a lot of wonderful books and some fabulous essays (I remember one on lingerie in the NYT). What drove you to write this book?

The motivation to write a memoir was seeing my two daughters get to the age I was when my body image crisis began. My older daughter Maggie had just turned eleven, and was in the sixth grade. I was that old when my mother put me on my first diet. Looking at Maggie and her friends, I couldn't believe I was that young when my decades of self-loathing began. I decided that the time had come for me to deal with my body image issues NOW, so that I could stop being a bad example to my daughters as they entered the years when the shape of bodies would become factors in their happiness. My kids have eyes, and saw me on various diets. The food monitoring, the truimph/defeat cycles. This was no way to live, and no way to teach my girls about healthy eating and self love. I needed the motivation, to be a bette rmother, to deal with these issues in myself. I decided to write it because I wanted other women to be inspired by my efforts.

4. In this book, you are fiercely honest, even about painful subjects like the tragic, early death of your first husband and about your own family life. Was that difficult to do? And what has been the reaction from your family?

The chapter about my first husband Glenn, and how I was happy about losing weight even while he was dying of cancer, was extremely difficult to write. A lot of crying at the keyboard, for sure. But, in the process, I forced myself to think about his dying, our marriage, how I defined love, how he treated me, how I treated him through our time together—memories and feelings I'd put on a shelf and probably wouldn't have had the courage to look at again if it weren't for this book. I'm so glad I did. The healing has been worth the pain of dealing with difficult emotions. Glenn's family has been very supportive of the book, and happy to see him on the page. My parents, because of the content about my mother's insane fatphobia when I was a child, have decided not to read the book. They want it to be a success, and are glad it's getting good reviews (which they also refuse to read). Their blind eye is a bit strange and sad, but I accept their decision, even if I don't agree with it.

5. Although I really want to promote this insightful, beautifully written book, I have to ask, so what was it like working with Joan Rivers, and ghosting her book?

I just finished co-authoring a book with Joan Rivers called "Men Are Stupid . . . and They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery." Joan herself is exactly what you'd hope she would be. A funny, smart, kind, thoughful generous Jewish grandmother. She also worked her ass off on this book. It was not one of those celeb books, where the co-author does all the work and the celeb just slaps her name on the cover. No, no. Joan put in hours and hours with me, on her own, writing, editing, adding jokes. She has a great instinct for structure. I have said many times that if Joan wanted to give up the comedy thing, she would make a great magazine editor! One thing I did learn doing this book: Plastic surgery is an excellent option for anyone who wants it, but it's not for me. I went to three office consultations with doctors for reporting purposes, and talked about tummy tucks and breast reductions. By the end of that week, I put any surgery fantasies to rest. I'd rather keep my belly—and all it's flaws—than have pain, scars and a depleted saving account. I guess I realized that I must not hate my belly all that much after all.

6. What question didn't I ask that I should have?
Who do I support for president?
Barack Obama, of course!

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