Archive for author interview

Junk Talk Interview with Allen Zadoff

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

hungry

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.

Junk Talk Interview with Alan Kaufman

Posted in authors with tags , , , on February 22, 2012 by Editors

drunkenangel

Alan Kaufman is the author of Drunken Angel from Viva Editions. The author of the novel Matches and a critically acclaimed memoir, Jew Boy, he is also the award-winning editor of several anthologies, most notably The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. He lives in San Francisco.

Tim Elhajj for Junk Talk: I’m a recovering addict myself and thought you really captured what it feels like to navigate the rooms of a 12-step fellowship as a new person. Twelve-step programs, and even the culture of self-help and pop psychology, are parodied in the media, but you write with such reverence of the 12 steps, sponsorship and even your higher power. Did you feel any reluctance as a writer to cast yourself as such an unabashed 12-Step believer?

Alan Kaufman: Not really. The twelve steps saved my life. Also, significantly, they lead me through existential doors that I had sought for all my life but could not somehow access.  Before coming into Recovery, I could READ Camus and even remotely sense my kinship with his perspective and yet have absolutely no idea just how to extract personal meaning from his work for my own life. I could, intellectually-speaking, identify with, say, Melville and yet not be able to grasp the essential spiritual struggle implicit in every line he wrote. But when you have death perched on your shoulders–an awareness of which is absolutely essential to successful engagement with the Steps, Recovery, et al.–then, suddenly, the moment of clarity is at hand. Suddenly you feel identification with others. You can grasp the spiritual struggles at  the heart of so much of what others have faced and wrestled with, the questions about our essential meaning, our actions, our core beliefs–all of which we must confront when getting sober.

Junk Talk: You’re not afraid to weigh in on political or social issues in your work. In one particularly memorable and poignant passage, you meet up with a mentally ill, homeless woman. You’re essentially homeless yourself or very close to it. You allow the passage to become a meditation on homelessness, a stinging indictment of American values. Do you feel called upon to use your gifts to speak to issues that you feel passionate about?

Alan Kaufman: Absolutely! My spiritual life and sobriety and my writing are inseparable from my sense of existential responsibility to whatever lies at hand. And if what lies at hand is glaringly unjust, how can I soberly look away?In fact I would say even further that I dare not look away if I  hope to remain sober. I cannot falsely refuse to bear witness or fail to respond to an urgent human crisis lying near death at my very doorstep or at the very least to express it through my writing.  Because think of the constant lies I will need to tell myself in order to deny what I have seen. I will need to numb myself to a considerable degree in order to avoid the pain of such refused witness. And that is precisely the sort of somatization which modern society–the State and Corporation and most political isms– has fostered among contemporary populations; a kind of feel-good trance state self-absorption that requires, on the part of the individual, constant numbing consumption and denial to sustain. I cannot afford that. Nor do I choose it. Also, my sobriety is contingent upon an ability to empathize with and respond actively to life, meaning other human beings. How can I experience your suffering and turn away indifferently? But if I embrace it at some level, even only as a writer, and convey it, then somehow I have served a purpose. It has not been lost. It will somehow matter. It will not be completely swallowed up. I may not be able to directly counter all such suffering. But I can at least use my gifts as writer and witness to be sure that some of what I have seen is not forgotten.

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Junk Talk Interview with Ned Vizzini, author of, It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Posted in authors with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2011 by Holly Huckeba

kindfunnystory

Ned Vizzini is the author of TEEN ANGST? NAAAH…, a collection of personal essays about high school, many of which were published by the New York Press. He went on to write a young adult fiction novel, BE MORE CHILL and several years later he wrote another novel, IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, which was later made into a major motion picture (pictured). FUNNY STORY is a work of fiction, but it’s largely based on Vizzini’s own experience with mental illness, suicidal ideation and a week spent in a psychiatric hospital when he was 23 years old. Most recently, he has released a limited-edition comic he wrote while in high school, UNCLE TUMBA, the tale of a septuagenarian monk and his pet pig ($2 on Etsy).

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Junk interviewed Ned Vizzini about his high school comics project, his current efforts to educate about mental illness, and writing fiction and memoir.

Holly Huckeba for Junk Talk: In your senior year at Stuyvesant High School, you applied for early admission to Harvard and landed an interview with admissions staff. Your comic, UNCLE TUMBA, may have played a role in the eventual outcome of that interview, with the chief criticism leveled against UNCLE TUMBA being its use of profanity and other naughty bits. When you look back at that interview and your decision to try and sell UNCLE TUMBA to the interviewers, what do you think is the “lesson learned”? If you had it to do all over again, would you change anything, either creatively (content) or politically (the interview)? Or would you do it all exactly the same?

Ned Vizzini: The lesson learned is that you shouldn’t be too interesting in your college interviews. I wanted to get into Harvard, so of course I felt stupid that I tried to sell UNCLE TUMBA and basically got this look from my interviewers like, “This guy’s weird.” What can I say—it was my Italian peddler heritage. If I could go back and do it again, I’d change the content and curb my entrepreneurship, but thankfully I can’t.

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Junk Talk Interview with James Brown, author of This River

Posted in authors with tags , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2011 by Editors

This River

We had the good fortune to sit down with James Brown, author of the recently released This River from Counterpoint Press. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation. Jim Brown is one of the most thoughtful, humble, and articulate authors writing today.

Tim Elhajj for Junk Talk: I’m a writer and recovering addict. With the stigma of addiction being what it is, I thought long and hard before publicly revealing my problems with drugs. One thing that really impressed me with your writing was how candidly you discuss your own struggles with mental health, alcoholism, and hard drugs—all subjects that have an associated social stigma. Granted the stigma with some of these subjects has softened in the last, say, fifty years, but do you ever feel the weight of having revealed so much of your life in your writing?

James Brown: Yes, like you, I thought long and hard before I decided to come clean about my past in my writing, particularly with my first memoir, The Los Angeles Diaries. Years of alcoholism and addiction had robbed me of my sense of responsibility, ethics, morality, self-confidence and self-esteem. When I was finally able to collect a decent amount of sober time, just over a year, I came to realize that there was no story more important to tell than my struggle with addiction, and I felt that if I didn’t write about it, that I’d never be able to move beyond that part of my life. I needed to tell the truth in order to confront and better understand the nature of my illness, the same illness that destroyed my brother and sister. Their suicides haunted me, and still do. The revealing of my past was painful in the recounting, the remembering, the reliving, the recreating on the page. It wasn’t cathartic, though it did, in the end, give me a sharper perspective and greater understanding of my family and what tore us apart.

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