Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Purge by Sarah Darer Littman

Janie Ryman hates throwing up. So why does she binge eat and then stick her fingers down her throat several times a day? That’s what the doctors and psychiatrists at Golden Slopes hope to help her discover.But first Janie must survive everyday conflicts between the Barfers and the Starvers, attempts by the head psychiatrist to fish painful memories out of her emotional waters, and shifting friendships and alliances among the kids in the ward. In order to get better, Janie must talk about things she's admitted to no one - not even herself.

Marlene: What was your inspiration for this story?

Sarah: My mother was scanning old photos from her albums and she sent me this one (below) from a family vacation when I was fourteen or fifteen.

Looking at it as a woman in my forties, I thought, "Wow, I had a nice figure back then." But it made me sad, because I still remembered how I felt at the time - how I was convinced that I was fat and ugly.

I've suffered from body image problems my entire life, and struggled with bulimia for many years as an adult. I wanted to write a book for the girl I was then, and for the girls - and guys - out there who feel the same way today.

Marlene: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

Sarah: I wrote the first words in a writing workshop at Kindling Words, in response to a picture of Ellen Wittlinger's niece in a bridesmaid's dress, taken from the back. From that exercise emerged a character who was unhappy at a wedding, felt uncomfortable with herself and the
clothes she was wearing, and was generally angry at the world. None of those words are in the book, but they got me started, and certain elements of that exercise remain in the finished novel.

Marlene:What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Sarah: Although I have suffered from bulimia myself, I did a lot of research about eating disorders. I also had an eating disorder professional read the manuscript for accuracy.

Scholastic was terrific about putting a resources section at the back of the book, and we listed the best of the books I read. One book I particularly recommend is The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg. Brumberg tracks the history of how as a society we've stopped emphasizing the importance of what girls DO and placed more focus on how they LOOK. As the mother of a daughter, this is something I try very hard to fight.

Marlene:What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?

Sarah: I would have to say "The Cucumber Scene". You have to love an emotional breakthrough that revolves around a salad vegetable.

Marlene: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

It was hard for me to write any of the scenes that involved the destructive behaviors, such as purging or cutting. Even though I'd been in recovery for five years at the time I was writing the novel, writing about those behaviors brought me back into some very dark and
painful places, and I had to really look after myself during the periods I was writing those scenes.

Marlene:What's on your nightstand right now?

Sarah: Alive and Well in Prague New York by Daphne Grab

Marlene:Besides writing, do you have any other passions?

Sarah: Chocolate! Don't the two always go together? I also love reading, traveling, watching movies, messing around in the garden & cooking. In my "grown up" life I write a political column, which generates lots of interesting hate mail.

Marlene: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

I wouldn't say I wanted to quit, but I felt extremely discouraged while suffering from an extended period of "second book blues." As idea after idea was turned down for my second book, I wondered if my first book was a fluke and if I would ever be published again. It wasn't until I reconciled myself with the thought that maybe I was just one of those authors who had to write the whole book before she could sell it that I was able to free myself up enough to write the
book I needed to write. Ironically, my agent was then able to sell my third and fourth books on proposal, but in my mind I was convinced that I was an author who might have to write the whole book first.

I can't imagine every wanting to give up writing - it took me so long to finally give myself the permission to do this thing I've wanted to do my whole life, I'm not about to give it up now!

~~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Sarah, please post them now.