Skinny – Diana Spechler’s New Novel

On April 21, I interviewed by phone novelist Diana Spechler about her new book Skinny.

In 2008, I interviewed Diana in Brentwood about her debut – Who By Fire.

Luke: “Give me an overview.”

Diana: “In early 2006, I decided I wanted to write a novel set at a weight-loss camp. I started emailing every weight-loss camp in the country and asking if anyone needed a creative writing teacher. Of course no one did because that’s somewhat useless at a weight-loss camp. I felt that kids could benefit from at least journaling.”

“One camp director agreed. He brought me out there [in 2006]. When I got there, I thought I’d be teaching creative writing. He told me that I would not. That caused me some panic. I don’t know how to do anything else well enough to teach it. I said to him, ‘What will I do?’ He said, ‘You’ll teach water aerobics.’

“And there I was for ten weeks. It wound up as so much fun. To blow off adult life for ten weeks and run around in the sun and eat healthy food was terrific.”

“After ten weeks, I had enough material to write a book closely based on my own experience. The book I wrote mirrors my summer at that camp.”

“As soon as that summer was over, I moved to New York. I had a good year of writer’s block from all the transition.”

Our conversation meanders.

Diana: “The good writing is the honest writing. Writer’s block is fear of being honest. I often think fiction is more honest than non-fiction. Fiction contains emotional truth… The emotions that [characters] experience have to be emotions the author has experienced and if the author is able to tap into them and express them truthfully, that’s the good stuff. If we’re hiding, the reader knows it. I can think of so many occasions when I’ve read a book or an article and I think, you’re holding back. I wonder what you’re holding back? I can feel the holes.

“Do you know what I’m saying? You’re a truthful writer. You’re very candid. I’m sure you can relate. With this book Skinny, it was difficult to get to the point of letting it all go. I was so afraid of writing the truth.

“It’s a novel about a woman with serious body image issues. I kept thinking, what if my reader reads this book and makes the connection that an author who writes a book about body image issues must have serious body image issues of her own? Of course that reader would’ve been correct because I have always had body image issues.

“The thought of readers figuring that out, for a time, felt catastrophic to me. That was giving me writer’s block. I was writing a hundred pages and cutting, writing a hundred pages and cutting. I did that for a couple of years. When I finally let that go, and said who cares? I’m not the only person with body image issues.

“I had to keep reminding myself that there was no need for me to care. Once I opened up and got really into that character, the story came out. I learned a lot from writing this book. Not everybody is going to like what you write. If your intention was not to be mean, then that’s OK. In the end, I was really glad that I had opened a vein for this book. I don’t think it would’ve been fair to write this book without really digging.”

Luke: “I know you a little bit. As I was reading the book, at various times I would say, that’s Diana. I remember you writing a blog post about handing out flyers in the freezing cold to promote something.

“Also, because this is your second book, I know the themes that particularly speak to Diana.”

Diana: “Guilt, for example.”

Luke: “Social cues. If someone is acting inappropriately in one of your book, there’s going to be consequences.”

“I can’t see a character in your book doing something against the law or against social norms and there not be a comeuppance. I’m thinking about the weirdos in your first book. First they were weird. Then they became disturbing. Same with Skinny. There were some characters who were weird and then they became disturbing.”

Diana: “That might have something to do with my own life experience. I love weirdos. I’m often drawn to weirdos. A lot of the people in my life are weirdos. And many of those relationships have proven to be wonderful, but at the same time, I’ve been drawn to a weirdo and he’s turned out to be disturbing and there have been consequences.”

We discuss her jobs.

Diana: “I could do anything and writing. Teaching just happens to be what I fell into. I don’t want to feel attached to any job. I know that I couldn’t feel terribly attached to any job aside from writing. I always hope that whatever I’m doing to make money is all the best for my writing, my real work.”

“If I’m not writing, I can’t be good to the people in my life. When I’m not writing, I feel so off kilter that nothing else is really working.”

Later, Diana says: “I’m worried I’ve strayed off course from your question.”

Luke: “I love straying off course. What I find most interesting in an interview are the things you’re not planning to say.”

Diana: “Like psycho-therapy, right?”

Luke: “I guess. I’m sure there are ten twenty basic questions about your book you’ve been asked many times and you have the answers already thought out.”

Diana: “But I know that when I talk to you, I’m not getting any of those questions.”

Luke: “I remember the editor of Reason magazine, Nick Gillespie, told me he was more worried about giving me an interview than Bill O’Reilly.”

Diana: “You have a worse reputation than you deserve.”

Luke: “Thank you.”

Diana: “Is that a thank you? Was that a compliment or an insult or a little bit of both?”

Luke: “The right response is always to say thank you.”

“What role do looks and sex appeal play in the writing industry?”

Diana: “I’m curious why you asked that. That just triggered several different insecurities for me, I’m curious which one I should land on.”

Luke: “I remember an essay I read 20 or 30 years ago ruminating on the consequences of looks for male versus female writers. For the male writer, they’re a distraction but they add to the allure of the female writer.

“I’ve been able to skate a lot in life on looks and charm and how often I looked at people who I could tell had never skated and envied them for their good character and work ethic.”

“There were various female novelists who were appalled at the acclaim Jonathan Franzen has received and that this was given to him, in part, because he was male, and why isn’t such acclaim as being on the cover of Time magazine given to equally meritorious female writers. Do you have an opinion?”

Diana: “Jennifer Egan just won the Pulitzer, so she beat him in the end?”

Luke: “No. She hasn’t received the acclaim. I think very few people care about a Pulitzer.”

Diana: “That kind of stuff doesn’t interest me. I’d rather just write and not think about the things I’m not getting.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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