Today's Story Behind the Book is called The Hungry Mirror by Lisa de Nikolits. When Lisa first contacted me about being a guest on Story Behind the Book I was fascinated with her novel. When my husband was getting his Education degree many years ago, he did a report on Anorexia and Bulimia. While he wrote the rough copy, I typed in the good copy for him and what I learned was quiet fascinating. Up until that point, I had no idea how serious the illness was, but my eyes were definitely opened.
If you have ever wondered what someone with Anorexia or Bulimia goes through then you should read this book. In the mean time, here is Lisa talking about how the book came to be, and a little about the characters. Enjoy!
(for more about the book as well as comments from readers and reviews)
(an excerpt reading on YouTube from the book)
(to order a copy of the book)
The How of The Hungry Mirror.
The idea for this novel was inspired by just about every woman I have ever met.
In general, women of the Western world, (and women more than men, although not exclusively so) have a complicated, wonderful and terrible relationship with their bodies and, to one degree or another, this relationship involves food.
Going to high school, graduating from college, getting married, watching girlfriends’ reactions to their pregnant bodies, working in fashion magazines with editors, models, photographers and adding to that mix my own issues of disordered eating and body image, how could I not write this book?
Not that it was easy; the strong voice of rules for social engagement urged me to shut up and sweep my issues and observations under the rug like so many women I knew — because who in their right mind wants to own that shame, that stigma, of talking about, writing about, an eating disorder?
“A dirty little habit,” a physician father commented with disapproval upon discovering his 25-year-old daughter was bulimic. Thereby adding untold layers to her existing torment and shame.
“Just don’t eat it, if you don’t want it,” a honeymoon husband told his new bride.
“As if it were that easy,” she said to me and I understood. “I want it beyond my control and then I want it gone.”
“The beautiful numb of starvation,” said another woman, a recovering anorexic. “I miss that pure, clean feeling every day.”
Eating disorders, disordered eating, body image. All these are the protest singers of our souls, and they will not be silenced, no matter how ‘dirty’ or inconvenient to us or the rest of the world.
They protest our authentic voices silenced, they protest ‘good girl’ labels, they protest how we deny our own unique wild side, they protest our efforts to squash our bodies and bones into the cookie cutter corners of a Good Housekeeping mold.
When the voice of polite, closed-door society urged me to keep quiet, to not write the book, I gathered my courage while it chattered on, dancing like an enraged monkey behind my eyeballs.
I wrote my difficult book, and it wrote me. We forged a story together, and then, with my wonderful editor, Luciana Ricciutelli, we forged it even further.
So, where did the idea for this book come from? The answer is just about every woman I have ever met.
The life Inside My skull.
A friend stopped by my desk at work.
“Let me read your horoscope du jour,” she said, and she flapped the newspaper open with a flourish and cleared her throat. “Hmmm, Gemini. ‘Your secrets will be revealed for all the world to see’.”
She and I both laughed.
“You’re a writer,” she said. “You don’t have any secrets, everybody knows exactly what you think. Anybody who has read your book, that is. Everybody knows everything about you.”
“The main character in the book isn’t me,” I wanted to say. “She’s very much her own person.”
But I didn’t say anything because there wasn’t a point. People believe what they want to, insisting they know the truth.
However, in a way my friend is right – everybody who has read my book does know all the secrets of my imaginary friends and because they are my friends, and came out of my head, they are, in a way, me.
The assumption is that I’m responsible for the creation of these characters while in truth there’s a bunch of strangers living inside my skull, all of them fighting to land a place on a page, hopefully for a grand finale of appearing all dressed up in black ink.
And they, ephemeral trying-to-be-people, find their form and shape themselves by stealing. They are the unashamed thieves of your every secret and foible. They eavesdrop, take note of conversations, pick up your dropped scraps of paper, study the way you scratch your nose or shift your hip as you stand.
No casual encounter or elevator chat is safe from these hungry predators. They guzzle your birthmarks, the careful messages of your persona; your haircut, earrings, relationship with your mother, bite of lip, twitch of eyebrow, scowl.
Carrion eaters of the living, they pick people apart, flinging the unwanted bits aside. They gather anything that speaks to them of themselves, they are ravenous for expression but won’t accept just any clay to flesh out their being. They take this brooch, that word, your sacred uniqueness and in this way, the formless become real.
The main character of my novel was wily. And she, unlike me, was patient. She took more than eleven years to grow. She gleaned, sieved and sorted through the flotsam and jetsam of people who passed through my life. She stood in the backstage of my mind, notepad in hand, building herself.
I am the medium for my imaginary friends but I am not a casual bystander, fingers pounding out their message. I argue with my characters, probe them for inconsistency, for flaws. I am the one who carries the burden of guilt for only allowing them to present that face to the world I want readers to see.
And they do object. “You’re not letting me show my good side at all,” they complain. “You’re only telling half the story.”
“I am telling the story that is relevant now,” I say and they sulk but like a parent, I have to do what I think is best for them.
And I love them endlessly. I love the devious workings of their psyches, the mischievous thievery of their antics. I love not knowing what they’re going to get up to next.
“You are quite right,” I tell my workplace friend. “I don’t have any secrets at all.”