Where the story began
Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” The same could be said for me and losing weight. I’ve bought so many diet books that they’d fill a good-sized bookshelf if I hadn’t given half of them away. And every single one of those diets worked: for as long as I stuck with it.
It is, of course, the “sticking to it” that is the problem, as anyone knows who has ever tried to break any bad habit. It’s the “foreverness” of a lifestyle-changing resolution that is so hard to deal with. While you are going through the deprivation period, you feel sorry for yourself. You are certain that you will never again feel normal, much less happy – at least not as happy as you were when you were still eating ice cream, or lighting cigarettes, or clicking onto FaceBook for the fiftieth time that day. (Yeah. I can get addicted to anything. 🙂 )
I started writing The Whole Clove Diet about a year after I quit smoking. I had tried quitting smoking as often as I had tried to lose weight, but never succeeded until I finally got it through my head that if I did not quit, I was going to wreck my future. In short, it was the will to live (and to live well) – and not the will to quit – that got me through the weeks and months of quitting.
I realized that the same principle must apply to weight loss, or alcohol abuse, or Internet addiction. Focusing on the treatment was not the way to go about it: you needed a bigger reason. The long-term gain had to be significant enough to put up with the short-term pain, day after day after day. So figuring out the long-term gain was the first step.
I began to see how ridiculous (and even funny) all those weight-loss programs had been: they’d had nothing to do with what a person really has to do in order to get in shape, which is to change her entire way of thinking.
That’s when I started to write a novel about a young and unfocussed woman who knows instinctively how pointless it is to be going on and off diets, but is unable to figure out how to stop doing it – or how to stop gaining weight. I may have invented Rita out of my own experience, but as her story evolved, she became less and less like me. Eventually she learned the same lesson I did, but she did it in her own pig-headed way.
I am very fond of Rita, and I am very proud of her: not because I created her, but because she finally figured out how to create herself. As all of us must do.
(This post originally appeared here, on the wondrous and endlessly intriguing Confessions of A Watery Tart, the blog of the equally wondrous and intriguing Hart Johnson. Hart writes cozy mysteries that sell like hotcakes, as well as literary fiction.)