Diana, why did you write Running Lean? Why this specific novel?
- The story actually came out of another novel I was working on, which had a larger cast of characters. It became apparent to me that Stacey’s story was too important to simply be a part of another plot. So I split it out, taking Calvin along with it, and started doing serious research into eating disorders. What I found was heartbreaking, and I knew I had to address it.
Your characters, Calvin and Stacey, are they based on anyone in particular or are they composites of people you’ve known?
- Aside from the eating disorder, Stacey and I have some things in common. Like her, I’m an artist. (I hold a degree from the Atlanta College of Art, now Savannah School of Art and Design.) So those scenes where she’s working on her art were pretty easy for me to write. Also, like Stacey, I had more than my share of problems in middle and high school, being the target of a lot of teasing. So I understand Stacey’s core issues—the triggers that led to her eating disorder—and can relate to the pain and the damage to her self-esteem.
- Calvin, on the other hand, isn’t based on one person I can name. I think he’s the kind of boyfriend I dreamed of having as a teen. However, I grew up with three brothers, and I’ve had a lot of male friends, so I know I drew Calvin’s personality out of various traits of people I’ve known.
I’ve heard a few comments about Zoe and how annoying she is, but the character also strikes me as an “enabling” personality – the kind of person an addict would attract.
- I don’t want to think of any of my characters as completely evil people. They’re just teens with a variety of good attributes and bad. Both attributes come from somewhere in their lives. Zoe is a kind of red-herring antagonist. By that I mean, she’s not the true antagonist in the story; that would be Stacey’s eating disorder, perhaps even Stacey herself, since the two are Calvin’s source of conflict. Zoe is an enabler. She’s an anorexic wannabe, caught up in the distorted idea that anorexia is trendy. She’s mixed up, comes from a rotten home life, and is looking for something she can be a part of.
If you could say anything to someone struggling with a family member that has an eating disorder, what would that be?
- You’re facing a very difficult challenge where you may have to fight your own protective instincts—especially as a parent—in order to do the right things for the person. Forcing them to eat is not the answer! This problem can’t be approached like other typical teen problems, like disciplinary issues and such. Tough love could only make the problem worse. The eating disorder itself is most often symptomatic of deeper psychological or physiological issues that triggered it. Eating disorders are rarely about looking good, although that desire might be a trigger. The mental and emotional causes are deep enough that the disorder will take the person way beyond the point of looking good. It’s about a deep fear of getting fat. It’s about a desperate need to be in control of something in their lives. And it may be a response to some trauma in the person’s life. Current research is even suggesting a genetic component and hormonal causes. So this is a complex matter with no easy solutions. People with eating disorders may overcome them, but many say it is a battle they wage for their entire lives.
- The person suffering with an ED needs compassion and gentle guidance, and professional help. Do plenty of research to understand what the person is going through and the best ways to help. When I first began my research, there wasn’t much information out there for family members and friends. There’s a lot more now. The National Eating Disorders Association’s website contains a lot of resources, including downloadable “toolkits” for parents and educators. It’s a great place to start.
- Here is a link for more information. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
Any last words you want to leave with our readers?
- Since I believe most of your readers are other writers, I have to shift gears here. Writing is a journey with a lot of sharp turns, hills and valleys, and very few smooth, straight paths. But it is ultimately so rewarding if you are open to learning and growing, don’t take short cuts, and don’t allow frustration or weariness to stop you. Follow your passion, perfect your craft, and enjoy the ride. Vroom, vroom, y’all!
Due to space constraints, not all of the interview is posted here. If you would like to see more, including a video interview by Zondervan, go to http://www.tjakers.com/diana-sharples.html.
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I’ve been leery of this novel because I knew it was about eating disorders. I know it’s an important topic, but it’s a depressing one as well so I’ve been hesitant to pick it up. I really like that this book was written for people wanting to help loved ones who suffer from eating disorders and that it offers hope. I’m now really interested to read it.
I’ve read the book and I liked the way Diana handled the topic. She kept realistic without glossing over the seriousness of the problem, or minimizing those that suffer from this.
Was it depressing?
Great interview Tim! ED is such a common problem among teenagers, and I’m glad you decided to do this interview! Good questions! Has Diana published other books? I know she was writing them…
I owe the idea to Beth Stuery. She had suggested a Sarah Dessen novel. I read it, and it wasn’t too bad. So I thought I’d try Running Lean, and since I’m learning about the platform building stuff, asked Diana if she would let me do a review. It was good, and not the least bit depressing. I’m also trying hard to get her books into the hands of former instructors I had at my University. They teach YA and kid lit to education majors. It’s a great venue for getting a book to be well known. It only cost Diana a free book to let me try.
ED are such a sad topic and today’s culture just makes things worse. Kudos, Diana, for trying to help!