Interview with Lois Metzger
Please tell us briefly about your latest book.
What inspired you to write about an eating disorder from the male perspective?
What process do you use to gain knowledge and gather information for writing a book?
Why did you feel it was important to include the section “10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Eating Disorders”?
What would you like your readers to experience and learn from reading “A Trick of the Light”?
“A Trick of the Light” is the story of a 15-year-old boy, Mike Welles, who develops an eating disorder. He has a voice in his head—and for a long time he thinks the voice is on his side. The voice encourages him to get fit, get strong. It tells him to eat less so he can get rid of everything weighing him down.
It also tells Mike to run laps around a park even after he is exhausted and in pain, and to keep increasing his number of sit-ups and push-ups. And the voice warns Mike against his best friend and urges him to be friends with a girl who clearly has an eating disorder. This voice—the anorexic voice—is the narrator of the book.
Ten years ago I read an article in the New York Daily News about a boy with anorexia, called “Not For Girls Only.” I thought this must be a mistake—boys can’t get anorexia. The boy in the article, Justin, was 16 at the time and healthy, but at 13 he had nearly died (his heart-rate slowed to 42 beats per minute and his body temperature plunged to 92). The idea of a boy getting a “girl’s disease” fascinated and gripped me—which was how it became a book.
I always do a lot of research because I like fiction to feel as real as possible. In fact I treat fiction as if it was non-fiction, so it reads like “this really happened.” In the case of “A Trick of the Light,” I got in touch with the writer of the Daily News article, and she put me in touch with Justin and his family.
From them, I spoke to Justin’s doctor, and he gave me the names of several families in New York City, where I live, so I could interview them. I read as much as possible, fiction and nonfiction, novels and memoirs, about males with eating disorders and about eating disorders in general. I looked up videos on YouTube. Since the publication of the hardcover edition a year ago, I’ve discovered other significant resources, such as Eating Disorder Hope.
There was so much information I couldn’t put into the novel simply because it was a novel, and the narrator (the voice in Mike’s head) wouldn’t say it or think it. Things such as the Maudsley Approach—family-based therapy rather than hospitalization—or the fact that there is scientific evidence of a genetic component to eating disorders, or that wrestlers are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders, or that children as young as five have been diagnosed with eating disorders.
So for the paperback, I highlight some of this in the “10 Things”—and also, most importantly of all, if you know someone with an eating disorder (and chances are you do), it’s essential to get help right away because eating disorders can escalate quickly and are so deadly (with a 20 percent mortality rate, the highest of any psychological disorder) .
First and foremost, it’s a story and I hope a good one! It’s written in a very simple, easy-to-read style—my intention is that you can race through it—but the book is also complicated to think about.
Because the narrator is unreliable, the reader has to figure out when the voice in Mike’s head is telling the truth or lying, whether what it is saying is helpful or lethal. Maybe the reader will ask himself or herself, is there a voice in my head and what is it telling me? Is it good for me, or the opposite? Should I listen to it, or banish it to silence?
To learn more about Lois Metzger’s works, please visit www.loismetzger.com.