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Equilibrium. That’s what Stacey and Calvin found in each other. He is as solid as his beloved vintage motorcycle and helps quiet the constant clamor in Stacey’s mind. She is a passionate, creative spirit—and a lifeline after Calvin’s soldier brother dies.
But lately the balance is off. Calvin’s grief is taking new forms. Voices of self-loathing are dominating Stacey’s life. When struggles with body image threaten her health, Calvin can’t bear to lose another person that he loves. Taking action may destroy their relationship, but the alternative could be much more costly.
What is Running Lean about, and what inspired you to write this book?
Running Lean is about a farm boy, Calvin, living in rural North Carolina, who has fallen for a transplanted city girl, Stacey, who turns out to have some issues Calvin just doesn't understand. Being a “fix it” kind of guy, Calvin attempts to diagnose the problem and offers solutions--which doesn’t sit well with Stacey. She denies she has a problem and feels like he’s suddenly judging her, just like the people she used to know. Stacey’s story was originally part of a larger plot involving an ensemble cast of characters, and at the time I really didn’t know much about eating disorders. I soon discovered, though, that Stacey’s story was too important to be glossed over. It needed its own novel.
So I began researching eating disorders … not just the medical aspects, but the personal ones. I read blog posts from people who were caught up in eating disorders (there are many forms), and what I found broke my heart. These complex disorders are about so much more than being thin or looking good, and the stories of those who suffer with them are deep and compelling. What also broke my heart was that at the time there was very little information available to help the family and friends of ED sufferers understand and cope. Because of this lack of information--because of the many posts from guys asking the question, “My girlfriend has anorexia … what should I do?” I decided Running Lean would be Calvin’s story as well as Stacey’s. What inspired me? Once I got into my research, I couldn’t NOT write the story.
Did you weave any of your personal experiences into Stacey's journey?
I don’t have personal experience with anorexia, but as a teen and into adulthood, I went through similar self-esteem and body image issues (as well as other external causes) that triggered Stacey’s eating disorder. Those causes can come from places people might not expect--anything from a need to be in control of one’s life to a response to sexual abuse. While I was researching, I found myself empathizing with many sufferers. I feel that helped me to tap into Stacey’s mindset to a degree. Finding that point of empathy is important in creating characters in a novel, as well as giving the readers a place to connect with them.
Why are you passionate about writing inspirational and realistic books for teens?
I could get deeply personal here and talk about my own youth or whatever, but the truth is there are a variety of reasons, some literary, some emotional, some practical. I wrote my first full novel when I was thirteen. It was dreadful, but it was where it all began for me. And of course it was a YA novel. For a number of years I wrote fantasy novels based on Irish mythology, but the protagonists were always teenagers (or the elven equivalent). I’ve always been fascinated by the contrast of innocence and coming of age, by the idea of a person standing on the verge of “becoming.” And teenagers are just so much fun! They’re allowed to make mistakes. They’re allowed to be emotional. They’re allowed to be more authentic in some ways than adults. Plus, my daughter is now in college, but her teen years and all the drama therein are still fresh. I write for her, her friends, for the kids in our church youth group, and for the teens I meet at book signings. The bottom line for me is that I have a heart for them, and I want my books to inspire, entertain, and give them hope.
Running Lean deals heavily with the topic of eating disorders. Why is it important that teens become aware of the dangers of this disease?
The National Eating Disorders Association reports that in the United States alone, 30 million people suffer from some clinically significant form of eating disorder, and that EDs are the leading cause of death for women between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. (www.nationaleatingdisorders.
org) That should be reason enough! But as I said above, my focus of the novel was also on the boyfriend of the girl with the ED. Because for every person (female or male) who suffers with an eating disorder, there is a circle of family and friends who are desperately concerned. So it is likely that a teenager reading this blog now knows someone who is battling an eating disorder, if not that person him or herself. It’s also important to know that an eating disorder isn’t just a desire to lose weight and skip lunch or watch calories, but it is a mind altering compulsion that takes a tremendous physical toll.
For many people with eating disorders it becomes a lifelong battle even after they have been through treatment. And so, as the media feeds us images of Photoshop altered models we’re forced to believe are the standard for beauty and acceptability, the triggers for eating disordered behavior are all around us. I feel it’s very important for teens (and parents) to understand the dangers and the signals, so they can seek help early.
Is Running Lean a romance novel?
In the traditional sense of boy-meets-girl romance, no it isn’t. Calvin and Stacey are already in a relationship, which is tested. But I would say Running Lean is a love story. It is about loving someone through tough times. Another boy in Calvin’s position might throw his hands up and walk away from all the drama--and I wouldn’t fault him for doing so! But Calvin doesn’t do that, because he truly loves Stacey. So the story is about love that is tested, understands, and endures.
What do you hope your readers will take away from this story?
Clearly I hope they will come away with a better understanding of eating disorders, but I think the story is more than that. It’s about faithfulness and sacrifice and perseverance through hardships. Calvin is a hero in the most traditional sense, and I hope readers will learn something about love through him. Oh … and motocross bikes. There are a few of those thrown in too.
Do you have any advice for teen writers?
Finish the book! Whenever I work with young writers I find one problem cropping up with so many: they get inspired, they start writing furiously, they get stuck on something, they get frustrated or bored, they think of something new to write, and they give up on what they haven’t finished. Truth is, though, that writing is rarely a flurry of inspiration from start to finish. There are times when the words or ideas seem to dry up or when you’ve written yourself into a corner (or a mud pit) and can’t see how to get out, and you just feel like quitting. It happens to all writers. Keep going, though. Even if what you write seems awful, keep going until you get to “The End.” You can always go back and fix the lousy parts, but you’ll never feel satisfied with anything you’ve done if you don’t see it through.
How can readers connect with you and stay up-to-date on your upcoming projects?
Shh, don’t tell the marketing people, but I’m not really up on the latest social media sites. The best way is through Facebook, either at my author page, Diana L. Sharples, or my personal page, Diana Sharples. I’m currently updating my website and working at posting more on Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and such, and you can find me just by searching my name. I also hope to have news soon on the sequel to Running Lean, tentatively titled Running Strong, which is about Calvin’s best buddies, Tyler and Flannery. So, check first on Facebook, and I’ll blast any news--along with lots of pics of the Harley and the fur-kids.
Diana Sharples lives in north Georgia with her husband and daughter, and a house full of rescued pets. She wrote her first teen novel at the age of thirteen. Although she holds a degree in communication design/illustration from the Atlanta College of Art and won awards for her work in science fiction and fantasy illustration, she never lost her love for story telling and in addition to infusing her artwork with narrative, she wrote several epic-length fantasy novels. As her daughter was entering her teen years, Diana refocused her writing efforts on contemporary young adult fiction, and in time began winning pre-publication awards in that genre as well. Her debut novel, Running Lean, was released from Zondervan Books (a division of Harper Collins) in 2013, and she is currently working on the sequel and another series of stories with elements of mystery. Diana is also a motorcycle enthusiast and can be found riding her Harley around the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
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Thanks for joining us today, Diana!
READERS: Do you have any questions for her? Leave them in the comments below!