The Heather Wells books are about a woman who has gone through many changes in her life -- America's sweetheart by the age of 15, has-been by 25 -- and who has dealt with those struggles not by giving up, or by digging in her heels and sticking to the same old path, but by transforming herself into something new ... righter of wrongs, college administrator, defender of candy.
The series isn't a critique of our society's preoccupation with weight. True, all of the titles have something to do with Heather's bemusement over the media's obsession with the size of the average American woman (thus the title of the newest installment, Size 12 and Ready to Rock).
But the books are actually mysteries. I love mysteries -- both writing and reading them. To me, they're the purest form of literary narrative. A crime has been committed -- an affront against civilized society! There's something so satisfying about the ending, the fact that we're finally going to see the bad guy get what he deserves. If there can be a little romance thrown in -- and if Heather Wells is involved, there's usually a lot of romance, as well as some sex -- even better!
Of course, Heather has several nemeses who -- like Sherlock Holmes's Moriarty -- haunt her, but none of them is her weight. One is her ex-boyfriend, Jordan, and the other is his father, the CEO of the record label for whom Heather used to work as a teen, who fired her for gaining too much weight (in his opinion). This is how the heroine, years later, ends up working at a residence hall (nicknamed "Death Dorm" because of the number of murders committed there last semester, none of which were Heather's fault) at a popular NYC college.
Now, I've never been a teen pop star, but I do know what it's like to work in a residence hall -- I worked in one at New York University for 10 years. And I also know what it's like to put on weight and have to shop in plus-size stores because even though more than half the women in this country wear a size 14 or larger, few of the most popular retail fashion outlets carry sizes above 14. I've lost weight since then (this is what happens when you're diagnosed with celiac disease and have to give up pizza and beer), but I rang in at close to 200 pounds for a while, which was considered pretty lightweight for my family: I have a brother who is a 6-foot-8 police sergeant in Colorado. But people who didn't know largeness runs in my family occasionally made unkind remarks.
I think this is why readers connect with Heather: she's been there, she thinks she's over it, but the unkind remarks can still sting. Yet Heather knows better than anyone that no one can let an impossible body image shape her life, let alone her self worth. Feeling good about yourself is what's important, and the best way to feel good about yourself is to take care of yourself and be as healthy as you can reasonably be, not try to look like your ex-boyfriend's model-slim new wife, let alone the teen pop star you used to be 12 years ago.
We're constantly fed images that could lead us to believe that if we don't look a certain way, we'll never find happiness. Why else does the chubby girl so rarely get the guy in books and movies ... unless she loses weight, of course? Heather doesn't qualify as perfect by any means, but in the end, she's happy. She has a job that fulfills her, friends she cares about, and even the hot guy she's had her eye on for a while (her ex's big brother, Cooper).
That's not because my books are fiction. It's because they're based on my own experiences, and -- as more and more readers keep telling me -- their experiences as well. This should give us all hope ... and maybe even one of those endings I find so satisfying in mystery novels, where the bad guy finally gets what he deserves.