Junk has been Freshly Pressed

Posted in editor's corner with tags on August 28, 2013 by Tim Elhajj


Junk has been freshly pressed by the editorial team at WordPress, which basically just means we’re getting a lot of traffic.


It’s all coming in for Cheryl Strayed’s Heroin/e, a fantastic essay. We’re so proud she let us post it. I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I really don’t know Cheryl all that well. I am one of her Facebook friends because I am northwest writer and we have a lot of friends in common. I hadn’t even met her when I messaged her and asked if we could post her essay, because it fit so well with our journal’s theme. She wrote me back almost immediately. She made it seem as if I were doing her a favor by posting it. She is just that kind of person.

Now, because of her generosity, the WordPress editorial staff’s help,  a lot more people will get to read her essay. I’m so pleased to be a part of it. It’s a really good story.

Read it.

Read it again.

You won’t be disappointed.

Junk Talk Interview with Allen Zadoff

Posted in authors with tags , on February 4, 2013 by Tim Elhajj


Allen Zadoff is the author of several acclaimed novels including FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE, winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award and a YALSA Popular Paperback for Young Adults and the upcoming thriller series Boy Nobody. He is a graduate of Cornell University and the Harvard University Institute for Advanced Theatre Training. His training as a super spy, however, has yet to be verified. Visit him on the web at www.allenzadoff.com.

Holly Huckeba for Junk Talk: Overeating seems to have qualities that put it in a class all its own as an obsessive compulsion. Rarely do you hear of recovering alcoholics attempting to drink in moderation. How have addicts in recovery for other things influenced your own recovery from overeating? Does it work the other way, too, where your unique insights have been able to help those suffering from other obsessions?

Allen Zadoff: Great question, but I think there’s a parallel between recovery from alcohol and overeating.  Many food addicts like me discover they have alcoholic foods, substances that for whatever reason trigger a mental and physical obsession.  There’s a now-infamous story in HUNGRY where I attack a giant chocolate Easter bunny in a colleague’s office, then find myself returning to that office again and again over the course of an afternoon until the bunny is demolished. Chocolate addiction meets Mission Impossible. At the time, I had no idea I was suffering from an eating disorder.  Let me correct that. I was over 360 pounds, so I was clearly suffering from something. But I wasn’t yet in recovery and I had no understanding of the addictive cycle. Looking back on my Easter debacle, I see that one bite of chocolate triggered a physical reaction that caused me to crave more along with a mental obsession that forced me back to eat it again until I was sick.

I found later that if I abstained from certain trigger foods, alcoholic foods and behaviors that triggered the cycle, I was free from them. My alcoholic friends tell me that if they don’t pick up the first drink, they don’t get drunk. And if I don’t pick up the first bite of my alcoholic food, I don’t get food drunk. For many of us, the journey towards eating moderately begins with getting sober from alcoholic foods and behaviors.

The big difference is that I still have to eat. I have to find a new healthy relationship with food—food as sustenance rather than as anesthetic.  In this way, food recovery might be more akin to recovery from co-dependency issues or sex and love addiction. While a food addict can abstain from alcoholic foods and behaviors absolutely, they cannot abstain from eating. I’ve been very inspired by other addicts and the way they view recovery from their substances.

Junk Talk: The 90/10 model of recovery from overeating that you propose in HUNGRY is simple yet powerful (10% changing how we eat; 90% spiritual and emotional work). What does the 90% include for you, on a daily basis?

Allen Zadoff: Our dieting culture puts enormous emphasis on food and weight, doesn’t it? So 90/10 was a way for me to share that my focus had to be elsewhere. But I think it’s important to say that it starts with the food for me. It’s just that once I put down the substance, I realized the substance was never the problem. I think a lot of addicts can relate to this.  Life is the problem. Or rather, my reaction to life is the problem. It’s the reaction that causes me to need something to soothe myself.

So the 90% is about working on myself so I can find a way to live more comfortably in the world.  These days that looks like twenty minutes of meditation twice a day, prayer, therapy, working with fellow overeaters, reporting my food and behavior to someone who knows me and isn’t afraid to call me on it, reading spiritual literature, doing service in my community.

It’s always changing. And by the way, I do it all imperfectly. I watch a lot of bad TV, too.

Junk Talk: Food addiction can certainly benefit from some PR to override the public and media’s cynicism that it is somehow a moral failure. Do you see HUNGRY as part of that PR? Do you feel the need to educate the public or are you strictly speaking to overeaters in HUNGRY?

Allen Zadoff: I feel no need to educate. I’m just trying to share my experience in the hope it might be helpful to anyone who struggles with food, weight, and his/her body.  As a side note, one of the greatest letters I received from a HUNGRY reader was someone who said, “I gave your book to my husband, and for the first time in our ten year marriage, he said he understands who I am and what I’ve gone through.”  That was really gratifying to me, the idea that friends and family of people with food issues could gain some insight by reading the book.

Junk Talk: Your gratitude for overeating may come as a surprise to some readers. Tell JUNK readers more about how gratitude works for you.

Allen Zadoff: It’s a great irony that the thing that almost killed me ended up saving my life and opening my eyes. There’s a lot to hate about the years I spent overeating. As my body got bigger, my life got smaller until there was almost no life to speak of. On the other hand, food kept me sane and comforted me during a troubled adolescence and young adulthood. It worked until it stopped working, until the cure became the poison.

Eventually my total collapse around overeating opened the door to a new life for me—a life of community, spirituality, and emotional growth. I don’t think addiction is the only way to get a new life. But in my case, I ran out of options at 28 years old, and I had to change or die. Today I’m grateful for that.

Junk Talk: Where do you think HUNGRY fits in the literature: Self Help? Memoir? Diet book? Would a mere problem eater benefit at all from reading your book?

Allen Zadoff: I like to think of it as a funny memoir with a serious message. I hear from many problem eaters who write to say, “I don’t have it exactly like you had it, but a lot of what you said made me think, and some of the techniques you describe in the book are helping me.”

Junk Talk: You’ve written an award-winning young adult novel, FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE, about a fat kid in high school. How much, if any, of this story is based on your own experience in high school? Do readers often ask you this question? Do you think young adult readers expect more transparency and honesty from authors than adult readers?

Allen Zadoff: I’ve written three funny young adult novels now, but I’ve got a new dark thriller series starting next year called BOY NOBODY. An exciting departure for me.

About young adult readers, I think they have a great sniff test. If you lie, you lose them. Being authentic emotionally is very important in young adult literature, but that’s not the same thing as being factual.  My book FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE is based on how it felt for me to be big as a teenager.  For example, seeing the world based on the size of the chairs. I wouldn’t go to restaurants with booths because I might not fit. I avoided plastic and wicker because they were flimsy and I could break them. In my experience, there are not a lot of 15-year-olds obsessed with wicker. I don’t think you can fake a detail like that. It comes directly from experience. Those are the kinds of things you’ll find in my novels.

Junk Talk: You’ve got a splendid sense of humor, and laughter definitely helps to deliver the painful messages in both your fiction (FOOD, GIRLS) and non-fiction (HUNGRY). FOOD, GIRLS won the Sid Fleischman Award for humor, and HUNGRY is #3 on the Amazon non-fiction e-book list, so obviously plenty of readers enjoy your sense of humor. Do you ever get feedback that your self-deprecating humor hurts or offends some of your readers? If so, how do you respond?

Allen Zadoff: Most people find it refreshing. I try to approach very serious topics with humor and perspective, but it’s humor born out of a lot of pain. I was 325 pounds by the time I was a junior in high school. That didn’t exactly make me hot stuff on the dating circuit.  But my humor isn’t for everyone. And if it offends, I’m probably not the writer for you. I encourage people to find a writer whose voice speaks to them.

Junk Talk: You quote from WINNIE-THE-POOH throughout HUNGRY, which, in addition to your humorous style, brings levity to a tough subject.  But JUNK editors want to know: Is Pooh Bear really a food addict or is Milne’s lovable creation a caricature of an overeater? Or is more going on here?

Allen Zadoff: I quote only because representatives of the Milne estate were kind enough to allow me to do so! I don’t know about Pooh, but I fear his food issues are a bit more serious than he lets on.  Here’s the difference between us. I got to the point where food and weight were making me miserable 100% of the time, and Pooh seems to delight in his eating adventures.  Based on that standard, he’s just fine.  Cartman, on the other hand—That dude has a problem. We should talk.

A Bagel Never Jumped into My Mouth by Allen Zadoff

Posted in Uncategorized on January 15, 2013 by Tim Elhajj

For the new you, in 2013: Allen Zadoff and his inspiring story of self discovery with the eating disorder that was threatening his life.

Here is a little “taste.”

“One day in 1995, I was walking toward a McDonald’s on Eighth Street in New York’s West Village. My plan had been to buy healthy food at the grocery store and make myself a nice lunch, but the moment I stepped onto the street, like so many times before, my good intentions were tossed out the window for the siren song of fast food. I started to cry as I walked, knowing I was about to do the thing I didn’t want to do, the thing that had been hurting me all my life. Now at more than 350 pounds, this thing was getting near killing me.

“Suddenly, I stopped in midstride and turned back toward Washington Square Park. I’d never walked away from a binge before, and I had no idea why I was doing it then. Maybe I wasn’t really walking away. Maybe I was going to hijack a pretzel cart. I couldn’t be sure.

Read the rest in issue 10 of Junk . . .

Passages by Fiona Helmsley

Posted in journal updates with tags , , on November 15, 2012 by Tim Elhajj

I read some of Fiona Helmsley’s work on The Rumpus and it blew me away. I was so impressed I immediately commented on it. I think I said something like, “You’re an amazing writer!” Perhaps I even asked for her hand in marriage. I can’t remember anymore. Not more than a few days later, I came into the office and found the entire Junk editorial staff gathered round the water cooler, chattering excitedly.

Passages had arrived by carrier pigeon. Everyone was agog. I snatched a copy of the story and then raced up the winding stairs to my office to read it, huffing all the while. Now it’s your turn.

Junk is proud to present Passages by Fiona Helmsley.

Pathological grooming, the latest in OCD, to be added to DSM

Posted in commentary with tags , , , , , on October 7, 2012 by Tim Elhajj

NPR is running a story about how psychology is changing the way it looks at compulsive nail biters by listing it as a disorder—pathological grooming—in the next DSM.

If you read Junk faithfully, you may have already considered this type of obsession, because Jeffery Brown was kind enough to bless our humble little journal with his own tribute to compulsive grooming in Yaaaay, Bite Your Nails.

Check out Jeffery Brown’s latest work, Darth Vader and Son, an adorable picture book for Star Wars fans of all ages. 

Junk Talk Interview with Cheryl Strayed

Posted in authors with tags , , , on September 16, 2012 by Tim Elhajj


Cheryl Strayed is the author of #1 New York Times bestseller WILD, the New York Times bestseller TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS, and the novel TORCH. Strayed has written the Dear Sugar column on The Rumpus since March 2010. Raised in Minnesota, Strayed now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Holly Huckeba for Junk Talk: Why choose non-fiction? You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction to much acclaim. Tell us what inspires you to write non-fiction.

Cheryl Strayed: I think I’ll always write both. What I love about writing fiction is how you take experience and cast it off into the limitless possibilities of imagination. What I love about writing nonfiction is the visceral power of the author standing immediately behind the work saying this really happened to me. Some stories demand that intensity. I think the story I told in “Heroin/e” is one. It’s the first personal essay I ever wrote, by the way.

Junk Talk: Many writers, when mining for ideas, return over and again to ‘origin’ stories: stories of our family, coming of age, or rebirth. Tell us more about your own idea-mining, and how it works in your fiction and non-fiction.

Cheryl Strayed: Anyone who has read my work knows I’ve been fairly obsessed with telling the story of my mother’s death and my grief over that again and again. I didn’t know that would be the case. It just is. I had to remake my life after my mother died. I had to re-imagine a world without her in it. Doing so was incredibly complex and difficult, so I suppose it’s not a surprise I write about that experience often. Though it’s been a powerful story for me so far, I do think I’ll move on to other things. In my next book my intention is to avoid dead moms entirely. We’ll see if I can stick to that.

Junk Talk: Your essay, Heroin/e, is two stories threaded together–the story of your start and stop of heroin, and the story of your mother’s death. You intertwine these stories without even a glimmer of the disease model of recovery. Instead, you choose a literary model–the hero’s journey–to talk about your recovery. This is, in some respects, a very old school way of looking at addiction; in other ways, it is refreshing, novel and perhaps more inclusive than a purely medical model. Tell us more of your thinking about your addiction and recovery, and your choice of story structure.

Cheryl Strayed: I wrote it that way because I lived it that way. I was heading down the path of heroin addiction, but I didn’t go all the way there. I never became an addict. I was on the cusp of that when I pulled myself away, or rather allowed myself to be pulled away by my ex-husband. It was very hard for me to stop using heroin, but it was a psychological struggle more than a biological one. I could see how heroin had the potential to engulf me entirely, but I ran away from it before it did. So writing about my experiences with heroin within the context of the hero’s journey seemed the truest way to write about it. In its most classic and distilled form, the hero goes into the darkness and comes back a changed person. Heroin did that to me. My mother’s death did that to me. It seems natural to intertwine these two harrowing tales.

Junk Talk: Some writers talk about writing as therapy. Others talk about the primacy of writing as art. What is your take on the debate about writing as art vs. writing as healing?

Cheryl Strayed: I used to be quite defiantly in the writing as art camp, and I still essentially land there. I don’t write to heal. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing as catharsis, but there is a difference between being a serious writer and writing because one seeks an emotional release. When that line gets blurred the art of writing is diminished and I think writers—by which I mean people who’ve developed their craft in intentional ways over a long period of time—tend to feel a bit defensive. Like they have to distance themselves from the writing as catharsis camp in order to be seen as legitimate. They didn’t have an experience and then accidentally and brilliantly spill it out on the page, no matter how it might seem. They worked long and hard to create that effect. Having said that, there’s no question that writing is often cathartic for me. I don’t write seeking to be healed, but writing has healed me.

Junk Talk: You make several references to the hero’s journey in Heroin/e. The quest seemed to involve a spiritual journey through death. But you portray neither yourself nor your mother as particularly heroic or successful in your respective quests. Tell us more about how the idea of the hero’s journey plays a part in how you think about the events of this time.

Cheryl Strayed: When my mom got cancer I had this distinct image of what a “heroic” cancer patient looks like. She keeps a positive attitude. She battles and at least temporarily wins. She loses her hair to chemotherapy, but doesn’t let that get her down. She wears brightly colored scarves instead. But my mom didn’t do that. She didn’t have the chance. She just got sick, then she got sicker, and then she died. She lived only seven weeks after her diagnosis. She had always been my hero, but how could she keep being that if she went so fast? I struggled with that question—of whether my mom did cancer “right,” whether she fought hard enough.

The answer is, yes she did. She wanted to live. We don’t always get to choose whether we live or not. We simply like to think we do. Seeing my mom die that way was a tremendously painful thing, but it was informative too. It changed the way I understood almost everything about the world. As far as my own journey, by writing what I did about myself in “Heroin/e” and elsewhere, I’m saying I believe in the strength of the jagged path. We don’t always do the right thing on our way to rightness.

Read Cheryl’s lovely essay Heroin/e, available in this month’s issue of Junk.

Previous Junk Contributor Ryan Hilary Available on the Web

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 26, 2012 by Tim Elhajj

Ryan Hilary, a previous Junk contributor, is experimenting with a blog that we think is very interesting. Some have even described it as a “tongue and cheek nod to Russian existentialist writers like Dostoyevsky.”

We encourage you to go over and check it out. See how that Russian existentialist vibe is relevant (if it is) for writers in the media age.

And keep watching this space. Next month we’ve got a story and an interview from none other than the amazing Cheryl Strayed.

We’re so excited.

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