R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson) wrote,
R.J. Anderson

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INTERVIEW: Erin Dionne, author of "Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies" (Dial, Feb. 5th)

Today I'm happy to introduce fellow debut2009 member Erin Dionne, the author of the delightful tween novel Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies!

Thirteen-year-old Celeste Harris is no string bean, but comfy sweatpants and a daily chocolate cookie suit her just fine. Her under-the-radar lifestyle could have continued too, if her aunt hadn’t entered her in the HuskyPeach Modeling Challenge. To get out of it, she’s forced to launch Operation Skinny Celeste—because, after all, a thin girl can’t be a fat model! What Celeste never imagined was that losing weight would help her gain a backbone . . . or that all she needed to shine was a spotlight.

Erin Dionne has lived on two coasts and in four states. Her debut novel, MODELS DON’T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES, was inspired by events that occurred in seventh grade, when she wore a scary peach bridesmaid dress in her cousin’s wedding and threw up on her gym teacher’s shoes (not at the same event). Although humiliating at the time, these experiences are working for her now.

Erin lives outside of Boston with her husband and daughter, and a very insistent dog named Grafton. She roots for the Red Sox, teaches English at an art college, and sometimes eats chocolate cookies.

Your book shows a great sense of humor, even (and sometimes especially) about things that your heroine Celeste finds mortifying. Have you always found it easy to laugh when things go wrong for you, or is that an attitude you've had to work hard to develop?

When I was a teen, I would never have laughed stuff off--I took things Very Seriously and never wanted to appear anything other than cool. How annoying was I?! Thankfully, I grew out of that by the time I was in college! Now, I am able to laugh most stuff off and turn those excruciatingly humiliating moments from childhood into book-fodder (even though my Inner 14 year old is cringing).

When Celeste is unhappy or distracted, she starts to nibble -- as a lot of us do. What's your favorite go-to snack when you're feeling discouraged? Have you discovered any tricks for avoiding the temptation to stave off emotion with food?

I love tortilla chips and mint chocolate anything (not together!). So when I'm stressed out, those are the two snacks I reach for.

To avoid burying myself in nachos, or drowning in mint chip ice cream, I ask myself if I really need what I'm reaching for before I put something in my mouth. I also try to drink a glass of water before I have a snack--sometimes I find that I'm more thirsty than hungry that way. But in the end, it all comes down to moderation.

Part of Celeste's personal journey is about gaining confidence, the ability to speak up for herself instead of letting everyone else speak for her. Her story rings true -- is this something you had to wrestle with personally as a teen, or just something you've observed in others?

Like a lot of kids, I had to develop confidence as I grew up. I wasn't an athlete, wasn't the prettiest or the cool kid--I moved a lot, was in honors classes and played the flute in band. NOT material for self-assurance! But it was band--my most geeky extra curricular activity--that actually helped me grow stronger (that and a great family foundation). I loved being a musician, and got really involved in the leadership elements of band. So as I moved through junior high and high school, I took on more and more responsibility and larger leadership roles. It was hard (especially when we moved between my freshman and sophomore year in high school!), but I grew so much from that experience, and made such good friends, that I continued with band even into college! I am proud of my band-geekdom (and yes, I am going to write about it someday!).

Your book has a great title -- did you come up with that yourself or did your publisher?

MODELS was originally called BEAUTY BINGE. I wasn't thrilled with that title, but I'm terrible at titling my manuscripts, so that's what it wore while it was on submission and through half of the editing process. Between revisions, my editor suggested that we retitle the book. I was so grateful! We went back and forth on several titles (A BITE OUT OF LIFE was one), and then I stumbled across a line at the end of Chapter 2, where Celeste is contemplating becoming a model and thinks that the travel, money, and missing school would be great, but, thinking about her weight, "real models don't eat chocolate cookies." I sent that in to my editor, and Voila! Chocolate cookies abound!

You've lived in a lot of different places. Tell us about one of your favorite places to live and what made it so special to be there. Would you go back if you could?

I loved living in Los Altos, California, which is in the San Francisco Bay Area. My family moved there between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, so I only lived there for three years before I went to college (then I visited on breaks). It's a small-ish town, south of San Francisco. The weather is excellent, the people are wonderful, and I loved it so much that I set MODELS in a fictional version of the town. I'd totally go back if I could, but since my parents moved to the East coast several years ago, I think they'd be pretty bummed if I packed up and took their grandchild across the country!

I'm sure readers of MODELS will want to know about your next fiction project. What do you have coming out next, or what are you working on right now?

My next book, THE TOTAL TRAGEDY OF A GIRL NAMED HAMLET, will be released in 2010. I'm in the middle of a second round of revisions with my editor right now. The book is about eighth grader Hamlet Kennedy and features her Shakespeare-loving parents, genius sister, Renaissance Fairs and Jackson Pollock.

Thanks for stopping by, Erin! Best wishes on the success of MODELS!

Thank you!

As a parting note, I read Models a few months ago and would readily recommend it to readers aged ten and up who would enjoy a witty, charming novel with a great first-person narrative voice. I loved and sympathized with Celeste right away and I'm sure that many readers will, too! You can order the book from Amazon or find it through IndieBound.
Tags: books, debut2009, interviews, writing
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