am very excited to interview the Pasta Queen for the humor issue. It’s not often a writer can provide inspiration in two important areas of a woman’s life: career and health. But Jennette Fulda, author of Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir, has managed to do just that. After doing this interview and reading her blog, she inspired me to dust off my running shoes (literally) and start a blog to help my writing career along its path. What about you?
Jennette was born weighing 8 pounds 5 ounces, but eventually tipped the scales at 372 pounds before losing over half her body weight through diet and exercise. She chronicles her weight loss journey in the popular blog, Half of Me (www.pastaqueen.com), which has been mentioned in The Wall Street Journal and Glamour. Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir was published in May 2008 by Seal Press.
When she is not working her ass off, she works in Indianapolis as a Web developer.
WOW: Welcome to WOW!, Jennette! Your book is out this month from Seal Press. How does it feel to have such a personal book finally coming out?
Jennette: I've been anticipating the release for so long it's hard to believe it's finally happening, but good things come to those who wait.
WOW: This is so true, and many other writers seem to feel the same way. Tell us a little about the book, and what we can expect from it.
Jennette: Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir is the story of how I lost half my weight without losing my sense of humor. Hopefully, you'll only put it down because it will make you want to get up and exercise. If not, at least all the laughing you'll do is good cardio. It's not a diet book. There are plenty of books that will tell you what to eat and how to exercise, but mine is about what it was like to lose almost 200 pounds and how the journey changed me.
WOW: What an accomplishment—almost 200 pounds! Congratulations to you on all your success with your health and your career. Why did you decide to put your weight loss journey into a book?
Jennette: Many of my blog readers encouraged me to write a book because they found inspiration and hope in my story. Like most writers, I saw writing a book as one of the highest pinnacles of achievement. I've conquered so many challenges in the past few years—losing half my weight, running a 5K, learning to cook—that I wanted to see if I could write a book, too. I hope telling my story will help other people believe in themselves, so they will achieve their own goals. There's a lot of power in showing people possibility. While my book is about weight loss, ultimately it's about transformation and the idea we are all capable of more than we think we are.
(Photo: Jennette Fulda, Before)
WOW: Thank you for those inspirational words. It does seem like many of us sell ourselves short, and we can learn from you to rise to the challenges in our lives. You have done so much by challenging yourself! Humor is a large part of your book. Why did you decide to use humor to write about an emotional subject such as weight loss?
Jennette: It's really just a reflection of my attitude toward life. I always try to see the humor in things. I'd rather be laughing than crying. We don't get to control everything that happens to us in life, but we do get to control how we react to it. If you focus on the negative, you're probably not going to be very happy. I try to see the positive side of things and find the joke. It makes me a happier person than if I were to dwell in the doom and gloom of things.
WOW: This is important advice for everyone, but it applies especially to writers when facing rejection. It’s important not to give up and to keep going. Humor helps you stay positive. How does it help you tell your story about weight loss?
Jennette: Humor makes it easier to talk about the more miserable times of my life. Nowadays, I can joke about how I was so fat I couldn't buckle my seatbelt, but at the time, it was very painful and embarrassing. Sometimes if you phrase things as a joke, you can talk about stuff you would never get away with saying straight up.
WOW: That’s a great point. We are very lucky you chose to share all these moments with your readers, so we can learn from you. You also have a blog about your weight loss journey at www.pastaqueen.com. How is your blog different than your book?
Jennette: The book has a narrative, so it has a beginning, middle and end. The blog contains reflections on my life as they happen, so it jumps from topic to topic, depending on what's happening that day. The book is far more polished than the blog because I had more time to work on the prose, whereas I write blog entries more quickly on a daily basis. The blog has more of a conversational tone since I talk directly with readers in the comment section, whereas the book is more like a soliloquy.
“I've never consciously tried to be anyone's inspiration, but many people have said they find my story inspirational and it keeps them going, knowing someone else has been successful.”
WOW: Many writers wonder why they should blog, and your explanation really makes sense. I am already thinking of blog posts I could write thanks to you. Does your blog encourage others who are trying to lose weight?
Jennette: According to my readers, it does. I've had people post they've started running because they read about me jogging on my local nature trail and my training for a half-marathon. I've had people say they've tried new fruits and vegetables at the grocery because I blog about trying new foods. I've never consciously tried to be anyone's inspiration, but many people have said they find my story inspirational and it keeps them going, knowing someone else has been successful. Sometimes, that's the only encouragement people need. Quite frequently, we influence people with our actions, though you might never know it unless you keep a blog.
WOW: Congratulations on having such a successful blog! You also use humor in your blog? Why?
Jennette: I don't think I could write without using humor. In college, I hated writing term papers because my professors wanted me to use a dry, collegial voice, which I found very boring. In one of my freshman English papers, I made an analogy comparing The Odyssey to the Japanese cartoon Sailor Moon because the goofiness of it entertained me. My professor wasn't as amused, and I had to tone it down later in the semester to get a better grade.
WOW: Great story about what you tried to do with your term paper! Lucky for us, your professor did not discourage you from including humor in your writing today. Is it difficult to be humorous on a daily basis on your blog? What inspires you?
Jennette: It can be hard to be funny on a daily basis. I try not to overdo it or try so hard to be funny it becomes forced. Sometimes, I write serious entries without much humor, if I'm not feeling "the funny" for that particular topic. It's also harder to be funny when I'm having problems in my personal life, like with work or relationships or my health.
As for inspiration, I just finished watching a TV show about the Iron Man competition that was very inspiring. These people swim more than two miles, bike over 100 miles, and then run a marathon. I'd consider any one of those tasks difficult enough, but seeing so many people complete those challenges puts me in awe of what human beings can accomplish. I suppose it's personal stories like that where people do more than they thought they were capable, which inspire me.
WOW: To see people cross the finish line after an Iron Man competition could provide inspiration for all of us! If they can swim, bike, and run, surely we can sit down and write a daily blog or finish a book manuscript as you did. Right? Do you feel your blog will help market your book? Is this a marketing tool you would suggest to other authors?
Jennette: I definitely think the blog will help market the book because I already have a large readership of people who want to buy my memoir and are enthusiastic to recommend it to other people. I've developed a relationship with my readers over the years, and I don't consider them pawns to use in my marketing endeavors, more like friends and acquaintances who are all part of this experience, too. Having a receptive audience kept me writing my blog, which in turn led to my book, so I owe them a lot for helping me do what I've achieved.
I'd definitely recommend blogging to other authors. It's fun, and it's good practice. I've become a much better writer just because I make myself write on my blog several times a week.
“It's amazing all the things that can happen to you in life if you just say "yes" more often.”
WOW: So, as the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” It’s great you have such a large following, and that’s something we can all strive to achieve. You are also a guest blogger on Elastic Waist, Capessa at Yahoo! Health, and Calorie Lab. What do you blog about on these sites that is different than on your own blog?
Jennette: Every blog has its own personality. When I've contributed articles to other sites I try to match the tone of that blog. Elastic Waist has a sassier attitude and is aimed at women. Capessa is devoted to inspirational stories. Calorie Lab is mostly about health and fitness news.
WOW: Then blogs are very similar to magazines. A writer should make sure to read several blog posts first before writing for them just as she should review previous issues of magazines. Thanks for pointing that out. How did you get these guest blogging jobs?
Jennette: They asked me! More importantly, I said yes. It's amazing all the things that can happen to you in life if you just say "yes" more often. It can be scary to take on new challenges and try new experiences, but it can also be very rewarding. It's also amazing what you can get if you just ask for it. So if someone out there wants to guest blog on a site, they should just ask. The worst that can happen is you'll get turned down.
WOW: Two great pieces of advice—say yes and just ask! Besides your book and blog, do you write or have you written other humorous pieces? What are some of the publications you have written for?
Jennette: I mostly write for the Internet. I like the immediate feedback I get from readers and the ability to control my content. It's like freelancing for myself. I've had a lot of fun, learning about advertising and figuring out how to make a profit from my blog. I feel like I've gotten away with something when I make money doing something I would have done anyway.
“Sometimes a humorous remark has greater impact if it comes after several normal sentences.”
WOW: That sounds like a double reward—doing what you love and getting paid for it. That’s so wonderful! Can you offer some advice for writers who also want to write humorous pieces?
Jennette: Don't try too hard to be funny. Look for the natural humor in a situation without forcing a joke that isn't there. If someone has to think too hard about a joke, it's not that funny. Also, you don't have to be funny in every single sentence. Sometimes a humorous remark has greater impact if it comes after several normal sentences. It's more unexpected.
WOW: Great advice once again. In your opinion, is humor easy to write? Can it be learned?
Jennette: Some people are naturally funnier than others, but most everyone has at least some sense of humor. There is some craft to humor writing. A lot of it comes down to pacing a joke correctly and structuring the punchline for the best impact, so it comes as a sudden surprise to the reader.
WOW: It sounds like surprising the reader is something to definitely remember when writing humor. What is your writing routine like?
Jennette: I usually have an hour in the mornings before my full-time job to write a blog entry. Sometimes I write in the evenings, too. I like to write on a computer because I type very quickly. When I write a blog entry, I usually jot down several key points or observations I want to make. Then I write a draft from that, revising a bit as I go, and maybe a little more when I'm done. I read through the whole thing at least once before I post it, and then usually one more time when it's on the blog to make sure there are no errors.
When I was writing the book, I would usually work on it for two or three hours in the evenings when I came home. I wrote it mostly in order, trying to get a couple pages done each day.
WOW: A regular writing routine seems to work great. You have also had a lot of success with this routine. This gives us all something to think about, especially when working on a longer project like a book. Did you have an agent when you sent your book to Seal Press? Was this the first place you sent your manuscript?
Jennette: I don't have an agent. Brooke Warner, an editor at Seal Press, read my blog and contacted me about possibly writing a book. She helped me put together a book proposal, and ultimately I got a contract with them. They've been an awesome publisher and I'm really happy I ended up with them.
WOW: So, because of your blog, you had an editor contact you? How awesome! Another great reason to blog, build a website, or be a part of a social networking site. You are also a web developer. Is this a freelance job? Do you do author websites?
Jennette: Web development is my full-time, 40-hour-a-week, health-insurance-and-benefits job. I create websites and do some programming. It dovetails nicely with my blogging because I stay up-to-date on web trends. It also meant I had the skills to make 3-D spinning progress photos on my blog (http://www.pastaqueen.com/halfofme/progress.php), create my own book website at http://www.halfassedbook.com/, and set up my own mailing list. I'm hoping to use my web skills to promote the book on the Internet.
WOW: Technology is so important when marketing your book today. It is great your full-time job provides this knowledge. Thank you, Jennette, for taking time to chat with us today. It’s been fun! Do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share with our readers?
Jennette: Keep on writing. All you have to do to be a writer is write. That's it. It's great if you get a book published or can get freelance work, but if you love to write, then write. It's good for the soul.
Margo L. Dillis a freelance writer and elementary school teacher, living in Mahomet, Illinois. Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The News-Gazette. Her first book, Finding My Place, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids in 2009. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, and two dogs—Charlie, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound. You can read more about Margo at www.margodill.com.
Margo is also part of Team WOW! You can read her previous article in WOW!’s September issue: Writers' Conferences: 5 Reasons You Should Go NOW and How To Get the Most for Your Money and her previous interviews--20 Questions interview with Bobbi Smith in February’s WOW! Issue and 20 Questions with Jennifer Cody Epstein in March’s WOW! Issue