July 7, 2008 at 7:28 am
I got nine bug bites while reading Stephanie Klein’s book Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp, so I felt fully immersed in her camping experience even though I never attended a fat camp myself. I suppose that’s what I get for reading on a wet bench in the park after a rain storm. But reading outside was the only way I could stop myself from eating after reading the vibrant descriptions of food in some of the earlier chapters. She has a way a with words. In fact, I
stole picked up the phrase “happy weight” from this book which I used in an entry last week.
I was particularly happy to get a copy of Stephanie’s book because she is a blogger, writing regularly at Greek Tragedy. She’ll also be one of the keynote speakers at the BlogHer conference in two weeks, which I’m also speaking at, so hopefully we’ll bump into each other. Until then, the PastaQueen and the former Porno Queen conducted an email interview about her latest book, though you’ll have to actually pick up a copy to learn how she got the latter nickname.
You’re a triple-threat, with skills as a photographer and web designer as well as a writer. I noticed that you got a jacket design credit for the cover. How involved were you in the cover design?
Originally, my publisher came to me with a cover of a scale, with the numbers of the scale reading MOOSE. I didn’t think that sent the right message. “That’s a book about the ‘Biggest Loser’,” I thought as I examined the cover, and while I might have been the ‘biggest loser’ in the late 80s, it really wasn’t the right message. People would have thought Moose was all about weight loss, and they’d have assumed it was a dieting book, a how-to book with tips and tricks. That’s not Moose at all. I wanted to design something that reflected adolescence, that feeling of so desperately wanting to fit in, regardless of weight. It’s why I chose to make one of the O’s in the title pink, with the others green. It’s how we all feel when we’re in our young teens: like we don’t fit in, that we stand out. “Which one of these is not like the others?” was my theme song.
So, how involved was I in designing it? Very. I spent days searching for the right photos, executed several mockups, then played with typography. I chose the photo, positioned her off-center, then played with different fonts. I designed it completely. However, the photo I chose was Photoshop’ed to more closely resemble what I looked like at that age.
Who is the girl on the cover? Knowing how sensitive you were about your weight at that age, do you know what the model’s feelings are, if any, about being the girl on the cover of a fat camp memoir?
I do not know the girl on the cover. I do know, however, that she’s not a redhead. A designer at my publishing house, like I mentioned earlier, used Photoshop. So I don’t know that the actual girl in the picture even realizes it’s her photo being used.
In the acknowledgements you thank Chris DiClerico for helping you “turn out such a fitting title.” Picking a title for my book was a horrible, anxiety-inducing experience I never wish to reproduce. How did you come to chose the title and was it hard for you considering how much pain had been associated with that nickname as a child?
Titles are always hard. Originally, I just called it Fat Camp, but the title was taken (a YA fiction book). My publisher was going to move forward with Fat Camp as the title if we couldn’t think of a good alternative. Chris knew my story, knew the kids at school called me Moose, and knew my father laughed when I finally confided that the kids at school made fun of me, booming Moooooooooose down the hallways at school. It just worked. I also liked that it was a stand alone word that stood for a lot, similar to Judy Blume’s Blubber. Plus, with a title like Fat Camp, people would assume the book was about that, only that, when Moose is much more universal, tying in so many themes outside the realm of fat camp.
Your book is about fat camp, but it also about motherhood, your relationship with your own mother and what you hope for your relationship with your own children to be. What does your mother think of the book? What do you hope your children get from the book?
I first gave a copy of Moose to my mother when I was on book tour in Miami Beach. We were in a hotel room, and as I ironed clothes from my suitcase, she sat on the sofa and read. I watched her face as she read, nervous of how she might take things. “Real nice, Stephanie!” she said, repeating parts aloud.
“A dropout of her local community college, Mom had opted for secretarial school instead…That was as challenging as it got for her, I thought. Secretarial school.”
Then she looked up at me, shaking her head. “Not nice,” she said, and I realized that she was exactly the same now as she was then. She couldn’t see that those were the feelings I had when I was eight-years-old, not today, because, I believe, she still feels ashamed of herself. She doesn’t honor and respect her decisions.
She looked up later on and said, “I was a bad mother, wasn’t I?”
“Well,” I allowed, “you never beat me or anything.”
I told her what I’ll one day tell myself: parents do the best they can. They’re human. They make mistakes. I’ll make mistakes. I know that both my parents did the best they could do given their own pasts, given their limitations.
You note a couple times that your goal was to step on the scale and have the large weight slide to the 100 notch instead of the 150 notch. Were you as bummed as I was when doctors switched to digital scales and this milestone of weight loss progress was lost? The next generation of girls will have no idea what we’re talking about!
Oh, God. My weight cube that slid to the 100 notch is going to become the equivalent of the belt used to keep maxipads in place?!
I know a lot of weigh-in institutions use the digital scales these days, but my doctor’s office still uses the old-fashioned Doctor’s Scale. I actually prefer the digital scale because once you step off, the number goes away.
I liked that you included excerpts from your childhood journals, triple exclamation points, up arrows, eyeballs and all. Will we ever be able to read the full text of those journals or hear readings at something like Sarah Brown’s Cringe sessions?
OMG, I’d love that!!! I’m so psyched + 2 finally B meeting Sarah at the blogher conference in July!!! (I really am)
You mention a lot of songs in your book. I wanted to break out my headphones and listen to the tracks while reading. Is there a Moose soundtrack available to download, such as a playlist on iTunes?
YES! I’m actually working on it now. Oh, how I still love to love Air Supply.
Spoiler alert! Don’t read this question if you don’t want to know details about the ending.
You get kicked out of fat camp for flirting with bulimia and point out that it’s ironic that a camp that is supposed to help with an overeating disorder removed you for another eating disorder. What do you think the appropriate response is for fat camps to take in response to discovering bulimic behavior in campers?
Don’t make the kid feel any more “damaged” for starters. You alert the parents. You take it seriously. You make sure the child gets the right counseling. You don’t kick the kid out, shaming them for it. Telling them to pack their things, no real time for goodbyes. I’m sure a lot of camps come face to face with this reality more often than not. I know many campers who flirted with bulimia and came to say, “Eating disorder? I wish!” It’s the thinking that needs to be addressed. I was treated the same exact way they’d treated kids caught smoking pot in the woods. That’s not how you treat an eating disorder.
As a memoir writer, I am curious to know what your opinion is on how much liberty an author is allowed to take with the past. You tell us in your author’s note that the events in your book all happened, but that you’ve merged them into one summer instead of several. How far do you think an author is allowed to go in making up dialogue, descriptions, and mannerisms to tell a good story? Essentially, what limits or boundaries do you abide by so you don’t end up getting crucified by Oprah on national TV ala James Frey?
First of all, an author’s note is nowadays crucial. Coming of age memoirs—heck, most any memoir—doesn’t usually happen because you’ve been walking around life with a tape recorder. If I were sitting around a Thanksgiving table, and someone else told a story beginning, “remember the time when…” I’m certain no two people at the table remember it exactly the same way. But so long as everyone agrees on the gist of it, you’re okay. It’s the nature of memory, and we all observe different things from the same event. I try my best to reconstruct dialogue. With regard to my first memoir, Straight Up and Dirty—which was an adult memoir about young divorce before I turned thirty, encompassing what went wrong in the marriage, what went wrong with the mother-in-law, and what I learned from all of it about moving on—it was much easier to remember word for word dialogue. I kept very detailed handwritten journals then too. The key is being true to who that person was to you, making sure the descriptions, dialogue, and mannerisms all reflect their impact on your life.
I’ve always been slightly jealous of women who’ve had songs written about them. It seems like you’ve done the writing equivalent by writing about your childhood romance with Adam. What was Adam’s response to the book?
Adam is a moonbeam. He’s just the brightest, most energetic, and loving man I know. He LOVED Moose and even came to New York from Boston for my reading, and appeared with me on the Today Show.
I liked reading all the 80’s and 90’s references in the book to things like banana clips, jelly shoes, Lisa Frank stickers, Strawberry Shortcake, Jordan Knight posters and crimped hair. Did you pull all that imagery from memory or did you use specific sources to jog your memory, like old photos?
It was a combination of both. I saved everything from fight song lyrics to ticket stubs, dried corsages, and even a few stickers. I also cruised some 80s websites looking for slang to jog my memory. I even posted on my own site, asking readers to chime in with their own 80s slang. Every mention of movies or songs used in the book, I made sure was released that first summer at fat camp, so it was accurate.
There are a lot of descriptive passages about food. Did you get hungry writing this book? Because I got so hungry reading it I had to go outside so I wouldn’t start snacking.
I don’t think I got hungry because I was so focused on the craft of it. The rhythm of the words, the syllables, and meter. Some words are meatier than others, and a lot of thought went into which food descriptions to keep, and which to cut for fear of being too over the top or repetitive with them. Besides, I’m sure I was eating while writing, so I doubt I was actively hungry.
I noticed on the back cover that Entertainment Weekly gave your last book an A-. Congratulations! But honestly, does the minus piss you off? Because I think it would piss me off just a little.
Nah, it actually didn’t piss me off. There have been plenty of things that have pissed me off, but an A- wasn’t one of them… not since 8th grade, anyway.