Tomorrow: Another wonderfully fascinating interview, this time with Dr. Deah Schwartz, one of the featured New Voices in Fat Poets Speak: Living and Loving Fatly.
It is so exciting for me to interview the author of Fatropolis. She has created a land in which fat - or "hearty" - people are prized and privileged. Sadly, the residual effect is that the thin or not-hearty are made to feel unworthy and are pushed to gain weight. (Similar pressures haunt thinner people in FatLand, as well. But as Tracey says later, seeing this done to a thin person makes people aware of just how fat people are treated in our own society.)
But I think Tracey will have a lot more to say about Fatropolis in general and perhaps also that very issue in another book..
Q: Tracey, how did you get the idea for Fatropolis?
A. I had a vision into this world in 1999. It just flashed in my mind, I saw the streets of Fatropolis near a movie theater with movie posters starring fat lead characters, and I saw nothing but fat people on the streets. I quickly wrote down everything I was getting in my vision and then didn't do a thing about it until 10 years later. During a period of unemployment that started in October of 2009 I started writing Fatropolis.
Q. What caused you to set it in/make it reachable from New York?
A. I didn't set the story in NY. NY is simply where Jenny lives. I tried to change it, but she was adamant that she lives in NY. The glimpse I got into the world of Fatropolis was in NY too.
Q. Where did you get the idea for the portals?
A. Writing this book was at times a strange experience for me. When I first got the first glimpse of Fatropolis, I wasn't sure whether it was a dream or an actual place. I made some assumptions and started writing but was quickly corrected by the story. A passage just wouldn't feel right until I changed it. One of those changes was that there was a portal to an alternate world. At first I saw the portal in the mop closet of the dress store, then the bathroom, then it ended up in the dressing room. As I recounted in the acknowledgements in the back of my book, a literary agent by the name of Sandy Lu, read the 1st chapter of my book and said that she would recommend moving the portal to a place other than the bathroom. I did, and it worked. I tried to contact her again and she never wrote me back, proving to me that some people come into our lives for specific reasons and then disappear just as quickly.
Q. How did writing Fatropolis link up with your own journey of self-discovery and self-esteem?
A. I was very much like Jenny when I was younger. I thought that all my problems would be solved if I could only lose weight. I thought that everything that seemingly eluded me in my life, was due to my weight. My self discovery and self acceptance took me a lot longer than Jenny. I kept wavering back and forth between diet mentality and self acceptance.
Q. What did friends and associates think? What was their reaction when you showed or read Fatropolis to them?
A. I think they were surprised at how fun and exciting the book was. I remember at one point I was still in the editing process and asked my 22 y/o daughter if I could read it to her and edit as I went along. For an hour or so every evening, I would read to her. As time went on, she became more and more excited to hear the next chapter, and at one point in the story I remember her sitting up and laughing at one of the funny parts. That made me feel very good. I've had some positive feedback from co-workers who have read the book, too.
Q. Who is your favorite character or characters in Fatropolis?
A. My favorite character has to be Trixie. I didn't like her at first, but once we got acquainted, I have loved her ever since. She is so strong, outspoken, and confident; everything I've always wanted to be. I also love Argus; he is so sweet and loving. Of course, Jenny holds a special place in my heart because she and I are/have been so much alike.
Q. When will you write a sequel?
A. I have started a sequel, but it is not ready to come out yet, it's still cooking, so to speak. There is some special research that I need to do that is very important to the story, that I have not allowed myself to do yet. I've learned that everything in life is dependent on timing, and it is not time yet.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a novel about a man who commits suicide, and we get to see what he goes thru on the other side; the lessons he learns. It's pretty intense, but it should be very interesting.
Q. How has being fat influenced your own life?
A. I wouldn't say that being fat has necessarily influenced my life, as I would say that the struggle to accept my body as it is has. A byproduct of that was becoming fat. I yo-yo dieted for years and each time regained all the weight plus some. That struggle has made me more empathetic to women and others in general. It has opened my eyes to how our society puts pressure on women to be thin. And it has influenced my very personality. This struggle, I believe, is what gave me the vision into this world of the hearty folk.
Q. What would you like most for people to take with them from Fatropolis? What thought(s) or lesson(s) or idea(s)?
A. The message that I would like to impart to everyone who reads Fatropolis is that you can be happy in your own skin, no matter what size, shape or weight you are. Happiness with our bodies is within our own control. As far as thoughts, lessons or ideas: there were things I purposely put in the book as triggers for readers so that they can explore how they feel about these things. One of them was the abundance of food and people enjoying the food in Fatropolis. And not just people, fat people enjoying eating. I have had several comments from different readers about the discomfort over "all the food". Jenny's intermittent passivity and the idea of a fat utopia are both bothersome to some readers as well. But I would ask readers to explore why these ideas disturb them. Also, some feel sad that the thin people in Fatropolis are pressured to gain weight. I had to show that Fatropolis is a society that is exactly the opposite of ours, to show what we not only condone but actively participate in; what we do to each other as a society.
Q. Who has been the most influential person in your own life?
A. My mother was a huge influence in my life. I got my values from her; my sense of right and wrong. I got my wit from her. She taught me to sew, cook, knit, and knew me better than anyone. We laughed like idiots together, and I always felt like her home was a refuge for me, offering love, understanding, and good food. Another person who has influenced me vastly is my spiritual teacher Valerie Meyer. She has taught me how to overcome most of the baggage I've had in life, and find the spiritual path that is right for me, which I am very thankful and grateful for.