Erica Bartlett is the author of the recently released Winning the Losing Battle: A True Story of Weight Loss and Transformation. Winning the Losing Battle is an inspiring story of Erica’s journey of transformation. Erica is an old friend, I’ve watched her through the process of putting this book together, and thought it would be great to have the chance to interview her about the process.
“Does everyone hate themselves? I wish I knew, because then I’d know if what I’m feeling is normal or not. Where did I go wrong? I was so adorable as a child.
“What did I do to deserve this transformation from beauty to beast? I think, if I weren’t so gross, I’d be an actress; I’m already so good at pretending. Fulfilling that stupid myth that fat people are jolly, like Santa Claus. Only Santa Claus doesn’t exist, and how should I be jolly when people call me a cow, or porky, or say I’m dull?”
As an overweight teen, I wanted so much for things to be different, to not feel guilt and shame about food or my body, to not be judged, to buy clothes in a regular store, to climb Mt. Katahdin with my family. I felt alone and isolated, a pariah because of my excess fat.
I also believed if I achieved the goal of Being Thin, my life would truly start and everything would be perfect.
Much as I tried, I didn’t succeed until tragedy motivated me to ditch dieting and find my own way to lose weight.
That didn’t mean I got the life and body I expected.
Instead, I got something much greater.
Allison: Thanks for agreeing to let me interview you Erica. I was wondering, what originally inspired you to try your hand at a memoir and particularly about this aspect of your life?
Erica: In the summer of 2009, when I began looking at my mom’s diaries for the first time, I discovered that she had written about my weight. She noted every Weight Watchers meeting and if I’d gained or lost, as well as when she had me see a counselor, a nutritionist, try a yeast-free diet, etc. It caught me off-guard, since despite her focus on my weight, I never knew she did that. Then I got curious, because I’d forgotten the order of events, or in some cases completely forgot about a diet or weight-loss attempt. So the book started as an exercise for myself to piece together what had contributed to my weight gain, and when things had happened. I also wanted revisit how I had lost weight and try to understand the impact it all had on my life. After talking to a few people about it, I realized that other people might also relate to my story, and that’s when I started thinking about publishing.
Allison: Who would you most like to see reading your book?
Erica: Anyone struggling with food or weight issues, who feels alone or isolated by it, who feels like their worth is defined by their appearance, or maybe feels helpless to do anything that will bring real change and has given up trying. I want them to know they’re not alone, and that they can find your own way to happiness, and that they deserve joy and love no matter their appearance. I did write it to hopefully be accessible to young people, but parent and older adults may also enjoy it.
Allison: What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a memoir? What were some of the challenges you faced?
Erica: If you want to write a memoir, you might face a couple of the same challenges I did.
One was simply how much information to include. My first draft of the book was mostly a brain dump and included everything going on in my life. It was useful, but I realized I couldn’t inflict all that on the general public. That meant I had to go through the long process of winnowing down to the most significant events.
The other challenge is with anyone else who appears in your book. For me, I worried especially about my dad, who doesn’t come across so well in the early part of the book. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, simply to tell my side of the story, but it did lead to some stress of getting in touch with people in the book to give them a chance to see how they were portrayed. In the end, everyone I could contact was very supportive, but certainly particular kudos go to my dad, who never asked me to leave out any of the really hard parts, and I’m grateful that by the end of the book our relationship had gotten a much better place.
Allison: Why did you decide to publish independently? What was that process like?
Erica: Going the independent route was not my first choice. In 2012, when I had a second draft done, I put together a book proposal and sent it to a bunch of agents, since everything I’d heard indicated that getting non-fiction published by a major publishing house requires an agent. I got turned down a few times and became discouraged, so I let the book rest for a while. Then in the summer of 2013 I joined a writer’s group and met a number of authors who had independently published. That idea became more appealing, but the real clincher came when I took a book publication course in 2014. Between the course and the writer’s group, I had a lot of support, and I also really wanted to get the book out soon, rather than sit on it for more years while trying to find a publisher.
Allison: I know you do other kinds of writing, what sort of other things do you write?
Erica: I sometimes think the better question is what don’t I write. But to answer what you asked, here’s a rundown. I regularly write in a journal and have for over twenty years, which was invaluable for the memoir. I write some short stories, fantasy and sci-fi mostly, but I’m starting to experiment with fiction. I write poetry and have placed in contests by The Maine Review and Blue Mountain Arts. I’m involved in lay-led worship at my church and regularly write reflections to share there. I keep a weekly blog about my musings on food and weight, and I’ve had blog posts published on AmIHungry.com as a facilitator for the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating program. And I’ve had Letters to the Editor about food and weight issues published in the Portland Press Herald.
Thank you Erica for taking the time to answer my questions!