Hello and happy Monday!! I’m excited to have Lisa Whalen on the blog today. I had the pleasure of interviewing her for today’s Author Spotlight!! Stable Weight, Whalen’s upcoming memoir, releases on March 2nd, and it is a fascinating read.
About the Book:
Title: Stable Weight
Author: Lisa Whalen
Page Length: 274
Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Publisher: Hopewell Publications
Synopsis: A lifetime of trying to be perfect lands Lisa Whalen in the psych ward at age 29. Eating-disorder treatment sets her on a path toward health, but her progress stalls until she meets 10 special horses. They teach her to face her fears, trust her intuition, live in the moment, and love her body. A story of resilience, empowerment, and the transformative power of human-animal bonds, Stable Weight illustrates that what matters isn’t whether we fall, but that we rise.
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Getting to Know Lisa Whalen:
Question: What inspired you to write Stable Weight?
Lisa Whalen: It began as a writing exercise. A friend and I agreed to meet weekly to work on our writing. We spent most of those meetings socializing, but at the last one, we did a 20-minute freewrite. For lack of a better idea, I wrote about a recent horseback riding lesson. What I wrote seemed like the seed of an essay. As I wrote, the essay grew too broad, so I split it into three essays. Someone suggested an essay collection, so I worked toward that. When I showed a partial draft of the collection to my writing group, they said, “This is a memoir, not a collection.” A book-length narrative seemed like the best fit for the material, so I set out to write a book. That’s probably why Stable Weight reads like a memoir-essay hybrid. It’s structure doesn’t satisfy every reader, but I like its complexity and its capacity for layering one idea on top of another as the narrative unfolds.
Lisa Whalen has a Ph.D. in postsecondary and adult education from Capella University and an M.A. in creative and critical writing from Hamline University. She teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
In her spare time, she rides horses and volunteers at the Animal Humane Society.
Q: How did you become interested in memoir, as opposed to fiction, poetry, or another medium?
LW: Fiction intimidated me. I wasn’t confident that I could create something readers would believe. I didn’t even know that I liked to write until I had to submit at least one essay every week in college. Writing academic essays built my confidence enough that I transitioned to creative nonfiction.
I enjoyed writing Stable Weight and learned a lot from it, but making the worst parts of my life available for public consumption is hard, as is writing about real people I don’t want to hurt. Knowing that a publisher believed in Stable Weight enough to invest in it gave me the confidence to try fiction. I have started working on a novel that’s completely different from my memoir.
Q: Which books or authors have most influenced your writing?
LW: Ironically, the authors I read most frequently are the polar opposite of me and my writing style. I gravitate toward male authors who write satire or observational humor with a dry or tongue-in-cheek tone. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers is one of my favorite books. Its experimental, genre-blending style was a revelation; it showed me what’s possible within nonfiction. I also like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” Carl Hiaasen’s novels, David Sedaris’ essays, and James Frey’s and Harrison Scott Key’s memoirs.
I also admire Jodi Picoult. I’m awed by her ability to crank out engrossing, layered, deeply-researched, multi-point-of-view novels so quickly. I’m a sucker for any narrative—fiction or nonfiction—that teaches me about a topic or discipline.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
LW: I find a central idea—something I’ve learned or want to figure out—that I want to convey. I create a bulleted list of images, experiences, and supporting details. That list morphs into a sprawling diagram full of arrows, stars, and text going off in every direction. The diagrams wouldn’t make sense to anyone who saw them, but they move my mind toward an organizational structure that I then fill in and rearrange once I start writing sentences. Because Stable Weight has an unusual structure, I planned and revised its organization by putting color-coded Post-It Notes on butcher paper.
About the Book:
Q: You refer to your Meyers-Briggs personality type in the book; how did understanding Meyers-Briggs theories aid your recovery?
LW: Most of that understanding came late in my recovery, but it played a key role. Learning about my type, INFJ, convinced me that it’s OK to be who I am. There are fewer INFJs in existence than any of the other Meyers-Briggs types, so the way we perceive the world and react to events seems strange to everyone else. We grow up thinking there’s something wrong with us. Seeing myself reflected in a type, sharing perceptions and experiences with other INFJs, has given me permission to acknowledge my imperfections and accept myself as I am.
Q: I love how working with horses helped you physically and emotionally. What propelled you to work with horses?
LW: I stumbled into riding by accident. A friend from graduate school is a lifelong horse owner. Hearing about her experiences reminded me of how much I’d liked the week-long introduction to riding I’d had as a kid at summer camp. A few years ago, I found a riding school that specialized in teaching adults and signed up for what I thought would be a handful of lessons. The groundwork exercise in chapter 3 of Stable Weight revealed immediately that riding was exactly what I needed for recovery. From that moment, I was hooked.
Q: What did writing this book teach you about yourself and the world around you?
LW: Writing Stable Weight made me more comfortable with not knowing. I used to get anxious unless I knew everything I thought I needed to know: What I was doing or where it would lead, how long it would take, who would be involved and what their roles would be, what was expected of me, how I’d get to the end or recognize the end when I arrived at it. Knowing all of that is rare—both in life and in writing. I’ve since learned to see both as a process of discovery and trust that I’ll figure things out as I go.
Writing Stable Weight has also thickened my skin. Not everyone will understand my story or like the way I tell it. Some readers are disappointed the book isn’t strictly chronological. Others are annoyed that it branches to show the connections between unlike things instead of following a linear trajectory. I understand those reactions, but the book’s structure reflects my view of the world and my life within it. Because I have been a teacher for a long time, I write like a teacher. I want anyone willing to invest time in my book to benefit from it, so Stable Weight includes a level of detail that allows anyone to understand topics they might not be familiar with, like horses or psychology. People who read or learn very quickly could find that detail frustrating, but I’m learning to accept that just because a reader doesn’t like my book doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.
Q: What messages do you hope to convey in your writing?
LW: I hope Stable Weight conveys the power of compassion for ourselves and each other. Society can be cruel to women and teach them to be cruel to themselves, especially their body-image and self-perception. Eliminating a misogynistic mindset requires time, encouragement, and models we can study or adopt. If my book helps just one woman fight misogyny or avoid the mistakes I have made, I’ll consider it a success.
Q: Can you tell us anything about your upcoming books?
LW: I’m currently writing for and editing a collection titled Narratives and Empathy in the Digital Age, which will be published by Cambridge Scholars. I don’t know the publication date yet.
I’m also in the early stages of writing a novel similar in plot and style to Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies but set on a college campus.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your writings (i.e., website, Twitter, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.)?
LW: My website and blog are available at https://lisawhalen.wixsite.com/lisawhalen. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram as @LisaIrishWhalen.
To celebrate the upcoming release of Stable Weight, Lisa Whalen is giving away a copy of the book! To enter, CLICK HERE or click the link below! Giveaway ends March 13, 2021.