Photo from OneFour KidLit
The ever fabulous Willowdean Dickson has won over many hearts, us included. We just can’t get enough of her, so our reviewer Anna chats with the author, Julie Murphy, for a behind-the-scenes look at Dumplin’.
ANNA: What inspired you to write Dumplin‘?
JULIE MURPHY: I was inspired by lots of things, but mostly by having a bigger body myself and a body that stands out in a crowd. I was always a fat girl, but I didn’t identify with the fat girls I saw in books or in movies. All of those fat girls were always the funny sidekick or the butt of the joke. I was neither of those things and I wanted to write a story about a fat girl that my teenage self could relate to.
Why did you choose the South as the setting for the story?
JM: Well, I’ve spent most my life in the South and I think bodies are perceived different ways in different parts of the world/USA. There are places I can go where I fit in pretty well and there are places I can go where I stick out like a sore thumb. I think Willowdean’s experience being fat can feel universal, but also specific if you’re familiar with the South.
Strange question… How did you come up with the nickname ‘Dumplin’ for Willowdean?
JM: Ya know, I don’t actually know, but it was the first thing I knew about this book. I knew it would be called DUMPLIN’, and that’s actually part of the reason I set in the South since dropping the G off the end of the word is usually distinctly southern.
What (or who) was your inspiration for Bo? Did you decide from the very beginning that Bo would be a handsome jock?
JM: Bo is sort of inspired by every boy I was ever taught was unattainable for me. And Willowdean thinks the same, too. He fits into this label of handsome jock, but once she gets to know him she finds that he’s much more. A lot like how readers learn that Willowdean is much more than a stereotypical fat girl.
Some female characters hit their turning points when they go through an emotionally trying event (the death of a loved one) or even heartbreak. Why did you choose the motions of participating in a beauty pageant to be Dumplin’s catapult into self confidence?
JM: I think I chose a beauty pageant, because for someone who looks like Willowdean a beauty pageant should feel dehumanizing, but instead she turns it around into this powerful act. She takes something she shouldn’t be allowed to do and she finds strength in it. That’s something I can admire.
Willowdean could be viewed as a role model and a heroine for young girls who are experiencing the same things she did in the book. How did you manage to do that without bordering on Willowdean turning into a somewhat comical representation of fat girls in society?
JM: What’s funny about that is I don’t think Willowdean would want to be perceived as a role model. She just wants to be normal, but her striving for normalcy is actually I think what makes her so relatable and less of a caricature of what we think fat girls should be. Maybe it’s because I’m a fat girl myself, but it’s so simple for me to see Willowdean as more than the fat stereotypes society has created. Willowdean is just as human and dimensional as Katniss or any YA heroine. She just happens to be fat as well.
Bo or Ellen? Why?
JM: I do love Bo, but I’m going to have to choose Ellen. I think their friendship is the true love story in this book.
Anything interesting in the pipeline? Another book? Maybe a screenplay for Dumplin‘?
JM: I’m working on my third book, currently titled Ramona Blue. I believe it should be out around this time next year. And there’s a screenplay for DUMPLIN’ in the works as we speak! Hopefully I’ll be able to see it soon.
Thank you, Julie! But before we let you go, we need to prove that you are, in fact, a human being. Would you mind taking a quick photo of yourself right now for your fans?
AnnaWhy works behind the scenes for international theatrical shows. At night, she likes to sing songs from musicals and laugh at the members of her family, and on occasion with them. Check out her review of Dumplin’ here.