Guest Post, Excerpt and Giveaway: Tara St. Pierre ("Just a Few Inches")
Hi my darlings...I have a special treat for you today :).
But first, a little background is required...
A few days ago, I got an email from indie author Tara St. Pierre. A special email, because unlike most authors who would just toss a message at you without even knowing what your blog is about, she had clearly made the time to peruse my review policy and take my likes and dislikes into account. So, to make a long story short, I readily agreed to feature her YA contemporary-with-a-touch-of-sci-fi novel Just a Few Inches on my blog. You all know I have a soft spot for indie authors - though I don't say yes to just about everyone. But Tara's book has a great message at its core, not to mention that - like I said - she was really nice to begin with. And, ice on the cake, AFTER our deal was made, she also volunteered to offer two ebook copies of Just a Few Inches for me to give away! Now...before you guys run down to the end of this post to fill the form...don't you want to know what Just a Few Inches is about? and also get the chance to read a guest post by its author, peppered with esclusive excerpts from the bookyou won't find on Amazon? Yes, you do :). So here goes...
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.
"Just a Few Inches" is a Young Adult novel that deals with issues of body image, self-esteem, and teenage relationships. It is intended for readers age 13 and up.
Guest Post by Tara St. Pierre
Plus Exclusive Excerpts from "Just a Few Inches"
Have you ever stood in line at the checkout counter at a supermarket or drugstore? Then you’ve seen the photos on the covers of the magazines—celebrities or models, often showing off the great shape of their bodies in something revealing or form-fitting. Flat stomachs, smooth and shapely legs, clear complexions, smiling faces, pictures of perfection.
But how much of that “perfection” is actually real? There exists photo-editing software that can remove even the smallest blemishes. The software can add shadowing to accentuate certain body parts. It can even change someone’s overall shape, smoothening out arms or legs, or creating/eliminating additional curves.
I’m an adult, so I know this truth—or lack of truth. But do young women—teens, pre-teens, or girls even younger—know? They see these images in magazines and in television commercials, and the message being sent is to strive for an ideal body shape. If the images aren’t always truthful, then chasing an unreal ideal can be futile, even dangerous.
Couple that with another common message you’ll see on those magazines: cover stories of people losing extreme weight via a variety of methods that promise to shrink waistlines or dress sizes. Note that I’m not knocking weight loss or staying in shape. I have immense respect for people who do it the right way—by eating healthy and a regular regimen of exercise. As a writer, I spend a lot of time sitting down, sometimes snacking on some delicious but unhealthy foods. Perhaps I should be a little more active, and perhaps I could lose a little bit of weight, but there’s no quick and easy fix. In today’s society, it seems like we’re only looking for quick and easy way to do things.
One day, I wondered if maybe there was a story there.
Imagine a normal girl in a normal high school setting. Carrie Roberts is a cheerleader with a boyfriend, but that boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend is also on the cheerleading squad, maybe trying to get him back. Insecurely believing she doesn’t physically match the ex-girlfriend, Carrie buys the “perfect” dress to impress her boyfriend for the upcoming dance, but it’s one size too small. With only a week to go, she resorts to a quick fix—weight loss pills—to slim down in time. Carrie’s career plans are in journalism, so she knows how the media works, but that doesn’t stop her. Well, the pills work in time for the dance, but this wouldn’t be a story if there wasn’t some sort of lesson to be learned, right? Here’s where I decided to take the story into a different and unexpected direction.
I could have given Carrie an addiction to the weight loss pills. I could have told the story about a girl developing and battling an eating disorder. There are already many Young Adult novels that have gone those directions, so I chose to tell the story in a very different way—with a “little” touch of sci-fi. Instead of the pills shrinking Carrie’s waist and/or hips, they shrink all of her. She starts getting proportionally smaller and smaller in all directions, including her height. The following is an excerpt of when she has shrunk about six inches and people are starting to notice:
We did our usual half-time routine. The safety pins held fine, but every time I jumped, my sweater-skirt combination shimmied. At the end, it took more effort to lift Trish into position, and even when I stood on my toes and straightened myself as much as possible, I couldn’t keep her right foothold even with her left.
Maintaining the required cheerleader smile, Janelle chastised me through her clenched teeth. “Higher, Carrie.”
“This is as high as she goes,” one of the other girls whispered so she wouldn’t be heard over the music.
In an unexpected display of professionalism, Janelle bent her knees to even out Trish’s footholds, and then she rolled her eyes at me.
“Did you get shorter?” snapped the girl closest to Janelle while eyeing me up and down. “What’s up with that?”
The moment I dreaded had come. Without my heels, I couldn’t come close to making up my lost six inches, and Janelle and her clique had caught me. My heart sank as my loose sleeves slid down my raised arms.
While waiting for the cue to release Trish, my body quivered from the pain in my overstretched muscles. At the last possible moment, my arms gave way, but Trish jumped and we caught her as if there hadn’t been an issue. I sighed in relief, but my entire body felt deflated.
Once the routine ended, I ran for the locker room. Trish and Lauren followed and found me bawling my eyes out. Sitting on the bench beside me, Trish said, “You know, Carrie, I really respect what you’re doing.”
“You mean almost letting you fall?”
“No. You’re not letting this thing that’s happening to you stop you from doing what you want to. I don’t know if I’d be able to do that.”
Lauren sat on the other side of me and put her arm around me. “Trish, go tell Ms. Martin that Carrie’s—”
“Female problems.” Trish hopped up and skipped away. “Got it.”
“It’s going to be all right, Carrie.” Lauren let me cry into her shoulder. “Just try to keep your mind off it.”
But I couldn’t keep my mind off it. When I went to change, my skirt fell into a puddle around my ankles as soon as I removed the final safety pin. And once back in Amy’s clothes, the sliver of midriff showing that morning had been sealed up. People were shorter in the evening, I tried to rationalize to myself, but I knew that I was continually getting shorter.
And I couldn’t keep other people’s minds off it. On the bus ride home, I overheard some of the other girls on the squad whispering about Trish’s near-accident being caused by my strange new height. Trish helped me tune them out by letting me listen to her earphones, and I slumped in my seat to avoid being seen.
When we got back to Montvale, Todd found me outside the gym. After bending down and kissing me on the forehead, he put his arm around me and asked, “What’s goin’ on? Why are you shorter than you used to be?”
Before I could answer, Janelle strutted by and said, “Hey, Todd. Great playing this season.”
“Thanks, Janelle. Great cheering.”
“That’s sweet of you to say.” She touched his shoulder and then turned to me. “You hear that, Carrie? Great cheering.”
“Yeah,” I said, trying not to look directly at her.
“You shouldn’t slouch like that. It’s bad for your posture, and people with bad posture aren’t attractive.” Janelle kept her back perfectly straight but wiggled her behind as she walked away.
Even back in three-inch heels, I couldn’t hide my smaller height from Janelle since that cat was already out of the bag. In my despair, I convinced myself that since her previous plan to steal Todd away from me at the dance had failed miserably, she would use our difference in height. I looked up at Todd’s chin, which had always fit securely atop my head. It was a special part of our relationship, and that night, I’d have done anything to keep our relationship.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?”
“Let’s go to your place, like we had planned.”
Before long, we were in his living room eating a pizza we had grabbed on the way there. I wasn’t hungry, and I nibbled on one slice while he wolfed down five. As I sat back and sank into the high sofa, my feet didn’t touch the ground—a sensation I wasn’t accustomed to yet.
When he finished eating, he dimmed the lights. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have realized he was setting a certain mood.
He put his arm around me. “Aren’t you gonna tell me what’s wrong?”
“I’m shrinking.” I leaned against his shoulder. “I’m seeing a specialist tomorrow.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
I knew I had to say something, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start from the beginning. If I told him I took the pills to fit in a dress because I suspected Janelle was trying to steal him away from me, he’d probably think I was crazy. And then even crazier if he knew I tried to cover it up while hoping it was only a temporary thing. But the reason that spilled out of my mouth was that I was afraid he wouldn’t like me anymore.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
I stood up. “Look at me!”
He squinted. “What?”
“These are my little stepsister’s clothes.”
He stood and looked down at me. “You look great.”
“You’re, like, more than a foot taller than me now. Talk about lopsided.”
He shrugged. “So?”
“But I can’t be your custom-sized chin rest.”
“You think I’d dump you for that?” He reached over to put his arm around me but gently set it atop my head. “Besides, now you can be my custom-sized arm rest, Shorter-Stuff.”
I knew he was only trying to make a joke, but it wasn’t funny. I turned away and folded my arms, but he wrapped his arms around me from behind and held me close to him. “Will this make you feel better?”
When his chin touched down atop my head, I giggled, imagining him hunched over behind me. “A little,” I replied.
“You look kinda cute shorter.” He squeezed me a little tighter. “Like you need someone big and strong like me to protect you.”
I laughed out loud, perhaps the first time I had since I discovered what was happening to me. Todd was great. I didn’t want to let go of him.
They say that the best science fiction stories use their speculative elements to illustrate something about human nature. In this case, I tried to point out the issues of body image and media perception via Carrie’s shrinking. Obviously once she starts losing height, she regrets what she has done. I would suspect that in real life, no one would want to shrink the way Carrie shrinks with seemingly no end in sight. I hope that readers will sympathize with Carrie’s unique plight and that her continually decreasing height will keep the pages turning.
Along the way, Carrie observes the body struggles of others. Questions are asked. Are body shape and size predetermined by genetics? Or how much control do we have over that through diet and exercise? Where do our image perceptions come from? The media? Innately comparing ourselves to others? Is it a learned behavior? Carrie eventually shrinks as small as fashion dolls and wonders what role they play. Neither Carrie as a character nor I as the author have the answers to all these questions, but that’s not the point of the story. My intention was simply to hold the mirror up to ourselves and make the reader think. The key to growth is understanding.
About midway through the story, Carrie starts blogging about her experience, and she sums up some of her personal growth in this excerpt:
I’ve been shrinking for about two and a half months now. Given my original height of five-foot-eight, my doctor was mathematically able to backtrack and estimate when it began. Back then, my clothes had gotten a little looser, and I thought I had lost some weight. My bathroom scale confirmed it. Ask yourself this: in that situation, would something seemingly impossible and ridiculous like you’re shrinking be the first explanation that came to your mind? I didn’t think so. We all know now that the reason I had lost weight is because I was getting smaller, but back then? Nope. Losing weight was the most plausible explanation. It was the only explanation.
And you know what? I was overjoyed to think that I had lost some weight, even though I really didn’t need to lose any. I was a cheerleader then, so I was fairly athletic. I had a boyfriend then, so at least one person found me attractive. I thought losing that little bit of weight would make me more confident and more attractive. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with looking healthy or pretty, but at what cost? I certainly wouldn’t want to pay for a little weight loss with so much loss of height.
Some news broadcasts do a brief daily feature giving my estimated height, and I know there are a few websites tracking my up-to-the minute height. I checked them out, and today they say I’m about two feet, four and a half inches tall—gotta include that half-inch because at my current height, I’ll take every half-inch I can get. When you’re counting down your inches like the days until the end of the school year, each one becomes much more precious. I don’t want to lose any more, but I don’t have much choice.
I’m not fishing for attention or sympathy, though I truly appreciate all the sympathy I’ve received. I just want to tell the truth. Once, I was thrilled that some of my measurements had gotten smaller. But now, I just want to stop getting smaller, even if it means I’ll be stuck this size for the rest of my life. I’ll find a way to accept it. I’d much rather have a body—any body, at any size, even this one—than to shrink away to nothing and have no body whatsoever.
And that’s the point I hope people will come away with after reading the book. We all only have one body, and it’s one of the greatest gifts we could ever have. We should keep it healthy, but we shouldn’t be judged by what it looks like.