Interview with Kelly deVos


About the Author: Kelly deVos is from Gilbert, Arizona, where she lives with her high school sweetheart husband, amazing teen daughter and superhero dog, Cocoa. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. When not reading or writing, Kelly can typically be found with a mocha in hand, bingeing the latest TV shows and adding to her ever-growing sticker collection.

Kelly is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and her work has been featured in the New York Times as well as on Vulture, Salon, Bustle and SheKnows. Her debut novel, Fat Girl on a Plane, named one of the “50 Best Summer Reads of All Time” by Reader’s Digest magazine, is available now from HarperCollins. Her second book, Day Zero, is coming in 2019 from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

Find Kelly deVos on the following platforms:

A huge thank you to Kelly deVos for taking the time to talk with us about her literary career as well as her debut novel, Fat Girl on a Plane!

Matty Ortega & Katelyn Wildman: What inspired you to begin your career as an author?

Kelly deVos: Like a lot of authors, I was first a reader. I grew up reading a teen mystery series called Trixie Belden and I would write my own stories about Trixie in my journal – kind of like fan fiction. I knew I wanted to be able to tell stories at a very young age but I took a long and winding path to becoming a published author.

MO & KW: Fat Girl on a Plane is based on your own negative experience with a flight attendant fat-shaming you on a flight. What was it like, re-creating this experience into fiction? How much more of your book is based on your own experiences?

KD: I modeled some of the fat shaming experiences in the book on things that had happened to me over time. Prior to writing the book, I had also spent a lot of time working as a graphic designer in the professional beauty industry and for some fashion-oriented companies. Most of these companies didn’t want people of size represented in their marketing materials and many didn’t like having fat people behind the scenes either. I worked casually with a haircare company that was pretty overt about the fact that it was recruiting its sales people and hair artists based on having a conventionally attractive appearance – often at the expense of job qualifications. I tried to show that world in my book.

MO & KW: Fat Girl on a Plane has received a lot of praise and positive reception. However, as you noted in your essay on Insatiable, your book received a lot of criticism, especially regarding Cookie’s weight loss. What was your experience managing this criticism? Has any of it shaped your writing?

KD: As a writer, I think it’s always important to acknowledge that readers are entitled to have whatever kind of reaction that they want to a book and are within their rights to criticize it. So as a writer, I was okay with the criticism. I think that receiving criticism is a valid and natural part of the publishing process. As a human being, sometimes the comments hurt. The criticism from other fat writers probably stung the most because I value their opinion and it was hard, at times, to process the fact that my perspective (based on a lot of difficult personal experiences) wasn’t welcomed. For a while, it undermined my confidence as a writer but ultimately my goal is always to make people feel things or to make them think and in general I think I accomplished that.

MO & KW: Cookie, like you, goes to ASU, and even decides to continue her academic career there rather than going to Parsons, which was Cookie’s dream school to begin with. Why was it important to have Cookie continue her journey at ASU, rather than fulfill her dream by going to a more prestigious school?

KD: This was more of a commentary on the need for young people to be open to change and reassessment. ASU was the right environment for Cookie because she’d found the right mentor, it was the best program for her and she had a good support system. When I talk to teenagers, I sometimes find that they have dreams that they are almost afraid to allow to change. My daughter, for example, decided at the age of five that she wanted to go to Harvard. She’s had this study plan in place and has been working toward that goal. But now that it’s getting closer, she’s starting to feel that maybe the size and location and cost might not be the best fit for her and she’s like, “What do I do? My dream is to go to Harvard.” But you don’t need to be locked in to a life plan you conceived when you were five or ten or fifteen. All of life is a process of deciding both where to go and how to get there and people can make changes if needed.

MO & KW: Why did you decide to tell Cookie’s story in alternating chapters of present and past, or rather, skinny and fat?

KD: For me, that narrative device was the only way to effectively show how differently society treats those people that it classifies as fat and those classified as thin. I simply felt that it was necessary to show the same person going through both sets of experiences. I also wanted to show how fat shaming and fat phobia work to undermine personal self-confidence and reduce feelings of self-worth. In FAT GIRL, every time Cookie has a major opportunity in the Skinny Timeline, a similar opportunity exists in the Fat Timeline. The difference was in how Cookie handled and reacted to the scenarios. Over my life, I often found myself falling into this trap of thinking that success belonged to people who looked a certain way. And those thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophesies because they can result in people not pursuing (or feeling unworthy of) dreams or opportunities that could lead to success.

MO & KW: Weight loss is often thought of as a good thing, but in the novel, Cookie feels uncomfortable about the attention her weight loss receives, and the types of comments she receives. What experiences inspired you to write on this discomfort?

KD: Weight loss can be a good thing if the choice is made freely and isn’t based on fat or body shaming or fatphobia. I just basically don’t think that we should decide how we treat people based on body size. Culture tends to offer some superficial rewards to people who lose weight and a big part of society still loves the Cinderella weight loss story. So people who lose weight get a lot of praise and affirmation. But it can be a weird situation emotionally because society is essentially letting you know that they like you better now than they did before. I wanted to address that tension in the book and also speak to how it might feel to be handed rewards that were once off limits to you.

MO & KW: Society claims to be accepting of all body types, but Cookie feels her weight impacts her ability to get her dream job and her dream body. Do you think that society is changing its views on body types?

KD: I think part of society is changing in a positive, much-needed way. There is a lot more discussion of the need for representation of all body types in media and more content out there that encourages self-love and self-care. But I also think there are parts of American society and culture that the fat positive and body positive movements have not been able to penetrate. While some companies are being more inclusive in their marketing efforts, there’s still very little fat representation in television and film. There’s also a huge, fairly dominant part of culture, that thinks the problem is that fat people should lose weight and not that society needs to change the way fat people are treated. There doesn’t seem to be a clear solution or way to impact the thinking of that group.

MO & KW: Something that Cookie says as she walks through the ASU campus is, “Everybody I walk by seems to have it so together.” The idea that “everyone but me has their lives together” is a popular line of thinking, especially with college students. Do you remember thinking this during your ASU journey? What would you say to your college self, or anyone else thinking similarly?

KD: I definitely had the idea that everyone was more together than me when I started college, and I think that, with social media, this is a problem that has actually gotten worse. With sites like Instagram, we often see the highlight reel of someone else’s life. If I could go back and talk to my college self I would tell myself to focus on what I was doing and not worry about other people. Everyone does things on a different timeline and it can be really unhelpful to get caught up in comparing yourself to others.

MO & KW: “I don’t think life is ever about a single, one time shot. Every day is filled with opportunity.” What inspired you to write this line?

KD: This was another part of the book that was a bit inspired by my daughter. One day, she said to me, “If I don’t get an A on this test, I won’t get into the college I want. Then I won’t get the job I want and I’ll have to live in a box.” I’m absolutely for every person trying their absolute best but anyone’s life is going to be made up of some successes and some failures. You will be able to capitalize on some opportunities but not others and you never know what will happen tomorrow. I wanted Cookie to vocalize that thought process.

MO & KW: What or who inspired the Giver of Zero Fucks Club? Are you a part of that club?

KD: While I was writing FAT GIRL, I saw the phrase “Giver of Zero Fucks” on a coffee mug at a writer’s conference but honestly, I’m not sure where it originates. I remember thinking that a Giver of Zero Fucks is how I wanted Cookie to end up. I’m definitely in this club in the sense that I am really determined to pursue my dreams regardless of what other people think about my body size.

MO & KW: Cookie’s best friend Piper plays an important role in Cookie’s journey. Who or what inspired Piper’s character?

KD: I kind of feel like Piper represents me and my perspective as I am now while Cookie is more representative of how I felt about things as a teenager. It took me a long time to go from someone who let my weight define me to being a person who wouldn’t let weight hold me back. In creating Piper, I asked myself, what if that process had been a lot faster? Then I developed her character.

MO & KW: What can we expect to read from you after Fat Girl on a Plane? Will we see more of Cookie?

KD: In 2019, I’m so excited to have a new book called DAY ZERO coming from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins. It’s a YA Thriller that follows a teen coder who believes that her father may have triggered a crisis that threatens the safety and stability of the entire country. I hope to be able to write Cookie again one day. I’d love to be able to send her on a road trip with Piper, but we’ll see what develops!

PRR Writers, Matty Ortega & Katelyn Wildman