Sunday, September 02, 2018

Taking on the Tough Topics by Susan Sands

I took some time to read Kristan Higgins' new book, Good Luck With That, last week. Kristan is one
of my auto-buy authors because she writes with such humor about some pretty tough topics. This book was no exception. It tackled the difficult subject of obesity and her characters' lifelong struggles with weight. Many of us aren't considered obese by the doctor's charts but still fight our metabolisms daily to keep from gaining more than we should. I know I do. I love food and mostly the wrong kinds. I grew up in Louisiana where food was love. I envy those folks who consider food as fuel. But Kristan, through what I imagine was a great deal of research, handled the the story and the agony of how society treats the overweight, and the truly obese. And how those people, because of that lifelong abuse, treat themselves. The obsession with being skinny, the fixation on food, and the utter agony of being hated for their fat. The eating disorders and other psychological issues, not to mention the physical and medical conditions are many and vary widely. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to dive this deeply into such a sensitive subject unless it were part of my own reality. But I think Kristan did an amazing job portraying her characters with an emotional beauty and soul-baring honesty that readers will appreciate and identify with.

As writers, we walk a fine line. We want to accurately portray characters' lives and emotions and perspectives as accurately as possible. We're often told to "write what we know." This can't always be the case, obviously. We are only one person with a single perspective. I am only one race, one gender, and have only lived within my life experiences. To portray another's life is tricky. Can I authentically write in a woman of color's point of view? Or a man's? Like I said, it's tricky.

In my first book, Again, Alabama, I wrote about a woman who'd been cheated on by her fiancé. She was a celebrity chef and found solace back in her Alabama hometown after a hugely embarrassing ordeal. I'd had none of those particular experiences. But I'd been lied to and hurt by a guy as young woman, (who hasn't at some point?) I love to cook, and my family does make me feel safe and protected when things go wrong. So, I took those emotions and put them to work in my story.

When I write about something unfamiliar, I research, I speak to people extensively about their experiences and how they were affected by things out of my realm of understanding. Plus, writer's often tend to be intuitive and empathetic. We are really good at putting ourselves in others' shoes. Hopefully we get it right more often than not. And we use beta readers. Readers who are our target audience, or maybe the same gender, race, or circumstance as our characters in our stories. I wouldn't consider sending a book to my publisher without fist making sure the voice and tone is authentic.

Bravo to Kristan Higgins on her new book. It couldn't have been easy to write. I'm deeply impressed!

Have a fantastic week, everyone!

Susan Sands


dstoutholcomb said...

I have this book on my TBR.

Having read your books, it's obvious you've taken time to research when needed.


Liz Flaherty said...

Kristan's book was one of the best things I've ever read. You are so right about the research. I think it has to be a stack of it, too, in order to get not only facts to work with, but the feelings that go along with the facts.

I enjoyed your post!