I recently interviewed Fran Lewis, author of the tween My Name is Bertha and Bertha Speaks Out. Fran is currently working on the third book in the series—Bertha Fights Back.
What do you love about writing?
Freedom of expression is important, and after retiring from teaching, I realized that there were many new things I could learn to do. I love writing because it allows me to express my true feelings about any subject I choose.
Writing is an art. I have always loved writing poems, short stories, and reviewing books or short stories (that my friends would write, that they wanted an honest opinion about). Writing children’s stories is something that I am new at and hope to continue doing.
So far, you have written two books and are on your third. This has become a trilogy, possibly a series. What is it about your main character, Bertha, that causes you to keep writing?
The main character, Bertha, is really me. Bertha is smart, and she has her own unique voice and personality. She is overweight, as I was as a child, and is often the brunt of jokes, ridicule, and more. Her sister is always prettier, more agile, and able to do sporting activities like dancing and ice-skating. Bertha is still a total klutz, but she’s a klutz with a great sense of humor. Bertha’s father won’t let her play any sports that requires running. She’s allowed to play punch ball, but only on the condition that someone run for her.
Bertha goes through many of the things you endured as an overweight child—how has writing about them helped you?
In both of my books, Bertha learns to deal with her weight issues, mean teachers that treat her unfairly, and the persistent feeling that she is hiding in her sister’s shadow. In real life, my sister and I were always best friends, and I guess I never expressed how I really felt about being the outcast and the overweight, not so cute sister. I never realized how much I was affected by what I went through as a child and by what adults were doing to me (and others who were overweight) until I wrote these books.
You went from heavy to skinny in a few months after years of fad diets and mantras. What was it that finally caused you to start losing the weight?
I lost the weight when my doctor called me one morning and told me my cholesterol numbers were off the charts, and that I was eating all of the wrong foods. I realized that my Dad died because he was overweight and had diabetes and more. My mom had a stroke and now has Alzheimer’s disease. I did not want to have any health factors that would cause me to have any serious problems in my future if I could fix them by dieting.
I never went on a fad diet, but I did try the heart healthy one and modified it with my own plan. I lost over 75 pounds in three years and will never gain them back again. I walk every day, and I never eat eggs, fried food, butter or red meat. I eat lots of fresh fruit, and I love to snack on grapefruit whenever I get great white or pink ones. I never went on a real diet, and I think that is why I lost the weight. I enjoy food that is good for me, and I have never felt better in my life.
I would be happy to share my plan with anyone who wants to try it.
Have you had many young girls contact you about their own embarrassment of weighing too much? What kinds of advice do you give them, besides, of course, telling them to buy your book!
I have had girls at my book signings, family members, and sales people (in stores that I knew before I lost the weight) tell me how empowering my two books are; they mention how great it is that I am reaching out to help them understand that what you look like is not who you are as a person. I would tell girls:
Do not let others make fun of you. Feel comfortable with the way you are, even with your extra weight; when you are ready and want to lose the weight, you will. I always explain to girls and adults that losing weight is hard and does not happen overnight. It can really be discouraging at first. When I finally realized that I needed to lose the weight or I’d have other problems, it took me 6 months to lose 3 pounds. My dad was overweight, and I guess I always took after him.
I have never hurt or insulted anyone, ever, for the way they look or dress. I have gone into stores and been made to feel that I did not belong there because of my weight. I was told in one store that a plus-size store was just across the way and maybe I should shop there. I will not repeat what I told the salesperson. Let’s just say she was encouraged to work elsewhere. To this day, I will not shop in many of the stores where the sales people were rude to me. It is true that you are treated differently in many places because of how you look or whether you can wear particular styles or not. That is sad.
I think that buying my book would help all kids understand what someone with a weight problem goes through. I welcome e-mails from girls and adults—I love to help them and tell them how I did it, and possibly give them other resources to help them start their own journey.
What have you found to be the best selling method for your book?
The best method of selling my book is a hard question. Wherever I go, I manage to tell people about my books. I am on so many sites and have been the featured author on many. I’ve even had an interview on live radio, but no matter now many sites a writer is on, if someone is not looking for that genre, it will not be sold. I could use some help with that. I have blogs, websites, and e-mail addresses. I have five star reviews on many sites, and my books were just reviewed by Online Stories Magazine by Wayne Walker for the July issue. I will take suggestions for this question.
Your heart is that heavy girls will be helped through their pain in the crucial, formative years of puberty. Obviously, you have a lot of compassion for those who are hurting. Are there other areas of suffering in others’ lives that you would love to help ease?
My mom has Alzheimer’s, and it has had a devastating impact on my life and my family’s life. She is in the last stages of the disease and is at home with split-shift home health aides. It is hard for me, because I have to monitor her care on a daily basis as well as give her the medications she needs twice a day.
I am writing a book about how she dealt with the illness when she first learned she had it, and how she is now. The book will include research and information about the disease, websites to find more support, as well as original poems and stories that I and other members of my family wrote. There will be a dedication section and a good memories section. The dedication page will be for short sentences or paragraphs dedicated to anyone who wants to wish my mom well, and the good memories section will have post by relatives whose family members have, or had, the illness.
To read more from Fran, you can find her here: kidsread.ning
Fran also loves to read other genres and review unknown authors: gabina49.webs
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