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Taking the Crooked Route

Liza Palmer is the author of Conversations with the Fat Girl and Seeing Me Naked, both about women learning to accept themselves in spite of others’ expectations. She took Girls Inc. Online on a tour of her crooked career path and talked about what she and her characters have in common: challenging the pressure to be perfect.

What it’s like to be a fulltime writer? What’s a typical day like for you?

Being a writer means that you pretty much have homework all the time. There’s never a time when your brain isn’t running through some plot point or character trait or when you don’t think you should be writing.

3 a.m.?  I should be writing. 10 p.m.?  I should be writing. Sigh. I’m kind of thinking it right now.

You had some pretty crazy jobs before you wrote your first book, Conversations with the Fat Girl. Describe your career path.

I’m imagining Lombard Street in San Francisco, the world’s most crooked street. That’s my career path. I wasn’t the typical student, not the typical kind of smart and it took me a long time to understand that my kind of smart was good. It wasn’t until I found writing that I truly felt like I belonged somewhere I fit.

That’s the basis of my career path: trying to find somewhere I fit—somewhere I didn’t feel bored or crazy. Realizing I could write for a living was quite the lovely discovery indeed.

The Supergirl Dilemma, a Girls Inc. research report, shows that girls are pressured to live up to many conflicting expectations of perfection from different people in their lives. Trying to be perfect all the time can be exhausting, especially when there’s a lot to learn from mistakes and setbacks.

What are the top three best mistakes you’ve ever made? What makes them so valuable to you?

The author James Joyce once said, “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional, and are the portals of discovery.” (Translation: Successful people know that so-called “mistakes” will only open doors to opportunities!)

I think the most impacting “mistakes” I made were:

  1. Dropping out of college after six months. Discovering my true intelligence without the guidance of institutionalized [formal] education has made me freer to think bigger and messier than ever…the perfect ingredients for a writer.

  2. Never conforming. As a kid I remember just wanting to fit in (and even now it’s a temptation), but staying unique has been the most valuable gift I’ve ever given to myself. It makes me…me. It makes life so sweet.

  3. Risking with my heart. Loving someone is a risk and at times it feels like a broken heart is just going to crumble right out of your chest. But, to love and allow yourself to be loved in return is never a mistake, even though sometimes it feels like the risk wasn’t worth it. It was. In the aftermath of a broken heart you discover just how beautiful love can be – and I do believe that with every broken heart there is an expansion that happens if you let it.

At the beginning of your book, your main character, Maggie, sees herself as imperfect and not deserving of success and happiness. Why did you create a character like this?

It’s fun to think of ourselves as Sidney Bristow from Alias or James Bond, but the reality is we’re not those people, never could be. And to be more honest, those people aren’t very interesting. I don’t identify with them. They’re not even human. So, I think a flawed hero is someone we can all identify with. We can see ourselves in the cracks of someone else’s personality, and in so doing, maybe not feel so alone.

How does Maggie learn to accept and love herself for who she is?

I think so often we tune out; we go to sleep and hope that things go a little better when we don’t have to ride the rollercoaster that life can sometimes be. Maggie’s love and acceptance of herself comes when she realizes that not caring about people is actually not caring about herself.

How did you come up with your book’s title? How do you feel about the word “fat”?

I realized that [the character of Maggie] was plagued with self-doubt, bordering on self-loathing. I wanted to know why she hated herself. It took maybe two seconds [for me] to find the answer, and once I did I felt sick to my stomach. 

[At first], I didn’t want to talk about the body image stuff – it seemed too painful or too private. So, one day the title, Conversations with the Fat Girl, came to me and I thought, well, if you put [the word “fat”] in the title, you’re going to HAVE to talk about it. I guess you could say it was a kind of dare that I gave myself. And I’ve never been happier that I accepted that dare.

What’s it like to be a female novelist? What are some of the challenges and stereotypes you face, and how do you overcome them?

I think we overcome these stereotypes and challenges by not feeding their power. Those little voices of inadequacy don’t exist if we don’t give them a megaphone to spout their vitriol (a.k.a. bitterness). Half of the battle – really, more than half – is about making a decision not to listen.

Last but not least, when it’s time to relax, what do you do for fun?

I am absolutely in love with Los Angeles. I was born and bred right here in Pasadena, CA and I have never stopped exploring and discovering new and amazing things about this city. I love driving the Pacific Coast Highway with a cup of tea, a good friend, and a loud iPod. I love museums. I love being with friends and family. I think that’s the most wonderful thing of all – just being around people who love and accept you, who you can be your true self with.

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