Tara St. Pierre, author of Just a Few Inches joines me today to talk about inspiration and some behind-the-scenes information about her book.
Hi Tara. Thanks for taking time to answer my questions about Just a Few Inches. 🙂
You’re welcome! It’s a pleasure to be here, Kasey.
I find that a story was often inspired by a question. Was there a question that inspired you to write Just a Few Inches?
What if one of those checkout-counter magazine headlines that claimed a diet could “shrink inches from your waist” caused a person to shrink in height instead? I realize that it’s a somewhat odd question to pose, but it’s the one that crossed my mind while I stood in line at a drugstore when I first came up with the idea for this story. The usage of the word “shrink” in that context is what really jumped out at me, and my imagination went to movies like The Incredible Shrinking Woman and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I figured I could make this into a story about body image but in a much different way than had been done before. Rather than Carrie (my protagonist) battle with an existing eating disorder—and risk the book being too heavy-handed or worse, inaccurate or insensitive—I chose to show weight loss in the most outlandish way possible with this sci-fi/fantasy twist. There are claims that fashion dolls cause young girls to develop body image insecurity, and though I don’t know if that’s true, it became a much more interesting question to posit while Carrie was literally the size of a fashion doll. By employing the speculative element of Carrie shrinking, I could still tackle the issues I wanted but integrate them into a unique, gripping, entertaining plot.
Very cool stuff. As I was reading, I definitely had a few moments where I thought about those movies, too. I liked that you had that moment about fashion dolls, too. I think you’re right– the way you chose to tell the story did explore the issue in a really unique way.
Do you have a favorite character? Were there things about your favorite character which couldn’t be included in the novel?
I think my favorite character would have to be Carrie’s mother. Imagine watching your own daughter shrink smaller and smaller with possibly no end in sight. A chilling thought, isn’t it? She’s brave and supportive because she has to maintain that face for her daughter, but inside, she’s terrified and angry and trying her hardest no to be completely devastated. Because the story is told from Carrie’s point of view, I can’t just tell the reader how her mother feels; I can only show her mother’s emotions during her interactions with Carrie. There’s an entire perspective there that I couldn’t include as much as I would’ve liked. Also, in the first draft, I went into more detail about the legal matters between Carrie’s parents and the manufacturers of the diet pills, but my advance readers, which included some teens, didn’t respond to these scenes as positively as other parts of the book. They would have shown Carrie’s mother fighting the external conflict for her daughter. But no matter how much of her mother’s story that I had to keep out of the book, Carrie is extremely grateful for all the love and support her mother provided—and I have what I think is a neat way of symbolizing that in the final chapter.
As a mom myself, I totally identified with Carrie’s mom, so I hear you. Kudos to you for trusting those advance readers. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to make some of those changes.
Is there a scene or moment in your novel that really sticks with you? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
There’s a chapter about halfway through the book where Carrie and her younger stepsister Amy have a significant confrontation. I don’t want to spoil it with details, but their relationship had been bubbling to this point, and it was exhilarating and frightening and draining to write about when it reached its boiling point. I had a handful of advance readers who were reading chapters every few days after I’d draft them, and I vividly remember their reactions to this chapter above all others. The consensus was that in the first few paragraphs, they dreaded what could conceivably happen in the chapter. Then that dread developed into full-scale panic. But in the end, they were surprised with where I went with it, and it was the confirmation I needed to know that I had achieved what I set out to do in that chapter. I’d love to tell more, but I want readers to really feel that chapter—and they’ll surely know which one it is when they get there.
I remember the scene you’re talking about. Yes! It’s really intense. What a great scene. 🙂
What do you most hope that readers take away from your novel?
We should not be a hostage to our shape and/or size because what’s inside is what really makes each of us incredible. Carrie wanted to be smaller, and she got smaller in ways she could never have imagined, but did she really need to be smaller? Even as she shrinks, she never lets it fully stop her from doing what she wants, and her family, friends, and school find ways to accommodate her growing disability. In the end, I would like readers to think about their own inner strength and confidence, about respecting and helping out others, and about being true to themselves.
That’s a great message. I liked that her changing size made her reevaluate those things and challenged her to see herself in a different way. It also challenged her friends in some unexpected ways, too.
What is one question about your novel you are often asked by readers?
A question I’m often asked is: “How did you make Carrie’s experience seem so real?” It all starts with the decision to tell the story from her first-person point of view. Doing so allows the reader to always be inside her head and see through her eyes, especially as her perspective changes—the world seemingly grows around her. To make it seem real, I measured everything in my house—countertops, windowsills, doorknobs, pillows, phones, you name it. Then I’d walk around the house on my knees or lie down on the floor and look up, trying to imagine myself at Carrie’s varying size. To an outside observer, I’m sure I would have looked a little strange, but hey, it was all research necessary to make the journey believable!
Funny the things writers do to really get inside those characters, huh? 🙂
What are you most looking forward to reading next?
How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather. I grew up close to Salem, Massachusetts, and I was involved with a production of The Crucible when I was in high school. The Witch Trials have always fascinated me, particularly how hysteria prevailing over rational thought can have serious consequences. That theme can be applied to many eras in history as well as the present. The author is a descendant of someone involved with the Trials, and so is the main character of the book. A retelling of sorts with a modern Mean Girls kind of vibe? What’s not to be excited about with that?
Oh man. I remember reading The Crucible in high school, too. I like the idea of marrying that with a Mean Girls vibe. I can totally see that!
Kasey, thank you so much for featuring me and my book in your Sanctuary. It has been an absolute pleasure to answer your questions! As Carrie would blog, I hope you and your readers are always looking up!
About Tara St Pierre
Tara St. Pierre has been writing for over two decades, but her muse only sporadically provides inspiration. Her laptop is filled with incomplete manuscripts and other plot outlines, and she feels blessed when one finally pushes its way through to completion–no matter how long it takes!
She enjoys classic science fiction movies and television shows. When driving, she sings along with the radio loudly and off key. She prefers tea over coffee, spring over autumn, vanilla ice cream over chocolate, and caramel over hot fudge. Though she lives by herself, one of her two cats enjoys cuddling with her.
About Just a Few Inches
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... Getting everything she once wanted has created new problems—problems that are growing more terrifying every day.
Because Carrie Roberts is shrinking.