From the case files of a hospital eating disorder unit in Los Angeles. . .
Jack "Bones" Plum: Age 16, anorexic.
Goal: To retain his svelte self no matter what the hospital tries to force-feed him.
Likes: Alice, a sexy but dangerously thin ballerina in the program.
Dislikes: One-on-one meetings with the resident shrink-ologist, Dr. Chu.
Alice: Age 17, returning anorexic patient.
Goal: To be hired by a professional ballet company.
Likes: Manipulating the system, road trips, and, just maybe, Bones.
Dislikes: Anyone and anything that keeps her from getting what she wants.
Sherry Shahan has nearly 40 books to her credit, fiction and nonfiction. When not writing she spends her time at dance convention and sometimes competes.
Welcome, Sherry. What was the spark that ignited this book?
Skin and Bones grew from a short story I wrote years ago. Then titled “Iris and Jim,” it sold quickly to a major literary journal. Later, a London publisher included it in their YA anthology, and later in their Best of collection. In total the story has appeared eight times worldwide. My agent encouraged me to expand it into a YA novel.
What was the most difficult element to the revision process?
More than one character with anorexic figures out how to beat the health care system. They’re experts at manipulating family, friends, and each other, as well as their environment. I worried about Skin and Bones becoming a how-to manual for those still in the throes of the disorder. Also, I knew I had to include information about the potentially grave consequences associated with the illness. But I didn’t want to sound didactic. Sometimes I sprinkled facts into farcical scenes. Other times statistics emerged in dialogue between ranting patients. Either way, disseminating information felt more organic when slipped in sideways, and never straight on.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever Googled for research?
The physical effects of long-term purging, such self-induced vomiting. The consequences are many (yellow teeth) and can be quite serious (ruptured esophagus).
How did attending VCFA affect your writing?
I began the program with numerous published books, from picture books to novels. However, I felt my writing was becoming stale, predictable. I wanted (needed!) an artistic community that would encourage me to push the creative envelope. That it did!
What advice would you give a prospective VCFA student?
I remember first time students arriving with fixed notions of what they wanted to produce while in the program. Only picture books, for instance, or novels. I say, keep an open mind and explore as many genres as possible. Amazing work rises from the flames of risk.
Sherry Shahan's Skin And Bones (Albert Whitman) launched on March 1. It's available in bookstores everywhere.