Author Tara St. Pierre was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions I had about her experiences in writing and about her book Just a Few Inches, which sounds so interesting. For those of you that don’t know what it’s about, here’s the excerpt from Goodreads;
“All Carrie Roberts wants is to be a little bit smaller.
To fit into the perfect dress for the Valentine’s Day Dance. To look beautiful for her boyfriend, the school’s star basketball player. To keep his jealous ex-girlfriend, a rival cheerleader, away from him. And to be noticed by her classmates.
Exercising and dieting don’t work, but an advertisement for weight loss pills promises a quicker solution to her problem. As time runs out, she takes more than the recommended dose until she’s just a few inches slimmer. Heads turn when she arrives at the dance, and the wonderful night with her boyfriend is beyond what she dreamed it would be.
Days later, Carrie discovers that her body is changing in ways that should be impossible. While her doctor searches for a cure, she desperately turns to her friends and family for support. Everyone is noticing her now whether she likes it or not, and even the media is intrigued by her incredible story. Getting everything she once wanted has created new problems—problems that are growing more terrifying every day.
Because Carrie Roberts is shrinking.”
What was your inspiration for Just a Few Inches?
I was in the checkout line at a supermarket or drugstore, staring at the magazines—many of them targeted at women. One cover offered a diet program to lose inches from your waist and shrink your dress size. The usage of the word shrink in that context intrigued me. There had been other movies or TV shows where people shrunk, but none that I knew of due to a diet. I thought this was an interesting premise for a story.
I chose a high school setting because teens are always trying to fit in, so Carrie’s insecurities would be believable. Also, by having her shrink in height, I hoped readers would be more intrigued because it was something new, and I could make it about body image in general instead of just weight issues.
With Carrie shrinking in height, it allowed me to posit some interesting questions in a unique way. For example, there are claims that the unreal measurements of fashion dolls may be one reason why young girls have body image issues. I don’t know if that’s true, but when Carrie is that size, she’d have a different perspective and I could posit the question. In the end, if readers of my book learn something from it, then I’ve done my job.
Did you have to do any research?
I could probably write a book about all the preparations and research that went into the story! I have a little more than a basic knowledge of biology and chemistry, so that helped in making the explanation Carrie’s doctor gives about why she’s shrinking at least sound believable. I did some research into how diet pills work on a biochemical level. There were actually more scenes between Carrie and her doctor and many more between Carrie’s family and the pharmaceutical company. They didn’t test well with my advanced readers, so they were removed. All for the better because it shrunk the length of the book and kept the focus on Carrie and her friends and family, which all the readers loved.
But most of the preparations for this story came in taking tons of measurements of anything and everything I could find! Such as: the height of the average doorknob, of a high school locker shelf, of high school desks, of a bed, of a smartphone—everything Carrie interacts with in the story was carefully measured to determine when they would transition from inconvenient to use, to difficult to use, and then to impossible to use. The same measurements were made about a variety of clothing: adult to young teen to pre-teen to toddler, infant, and a variety of dolls.
I found typical growth charts for females so I had an idea what the average height for a girl at every age up to 18 years old so I’d have a frame of reference for her height in comparison to other characters, particularly her sisters. Also, since Carrie shrinks proportionally, I learned that she wouldn’t look like a toddler when she was toddler-sized. Teens and toddlers are built very differently, so toddler and infant clothes would be baggy on her even if they were the right length for her. Thus, I had to keep track of how her shrinking progressed (lots of math) to find a time when she could go to the prom in a somewhat nice dress.
Was there anything particularly hard to write?
The chapters are titled after Carrie’s height, and one of them (2’ 4”) was definitely a challenge. It’s a chapter that surprised me as much as my first round of readers. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s the first time that Carrie finds herself in a dangerous situation because of her size. She had experienced awkward, bizarre, and embarrassing, but nothing like this. Also, it’s an important turning point in the relationship between two characters. All the elements of the chapter needed to work together just right to have the right impact.
Wish I could be less cryptic, but you can find out what happens if you read the story!
What are your ideal writing conditions (in bed, outside, etc)?
I usually write on my laptop at the kitchen table. I try to keep the TV off but play some music, preferably 80s pop. I’d have a few cookies and sip some raspberry iced tea. It would be even more ideal if I could stop letting the internet distract me while I—oh look, a cat video! CLICK. 😉
Is there a character you have a special connection with?
I spent a lot of time inside Carrie’s head since she’s the first-person narrator, and it took a long time to stop thinking in her voice. Also, to get a better feel of what the world looked like to her as she shrank smaller, I would often kneel or even lie down on the floor to learn her perspective of things. That was definitely a unique bonding experience.
But, I also share a connection with Evan. It was great to write someone so sweet and secure in who he was, even if he was shy at times. Also, I could incorporate some of my inner dorkiness into him. There are some scenes where he performs calculations about Carrie’s height or her trajectory in a cheering routine. I had to do the calculations myself in researching and developing the story, so why let them go to waste or keep them behind the scenes? His character gave me the opportunity to insert some of them into the storyline!
Do you have any plans for upcoming books?
What author doesn’t have plans for the next book? My head and laptop are full of incomplete (and sometimes incoherent) plot bunnies.
But I have written what may become the first chapter of a future project. Right now, it’s a scene with two boys eating pizza while one wants to discuss fractions and infinity. The conversation came to me one morning, so rather than lose it, I typed it out. I like the narrator’s voice, and I’ve started sketching out what his lecture is a defense mechanism for. Whether this will develop into a later YA novel, I don’t know. It took a long time for me to complete Inches, so we’ll just have to wait and see!
Any advice for aspiring writers?
If you want to write, it takes practice. You need to write a little bit every day—even if it’s just a journal entry—and you need to read. Know that not everything you write is going to be perfect or sometimes even good, but it’s all useful. Know that not everyone’s going to like everything about your writing and that’s okay. It’s art; it’s subjective. Write the story you’d want to read, and if others want to read it too, that’s a very special gift. If people you don’t know like it, it’s a wonderful and surreal experience, and never take it for granted.