I met Nicole Winters through a local Toronto writers group that supports Canadian authors and illustrators, Torkidlit. We get together once a month, talk shop, and celebrate our successes. Nicole was one of the first people I connected with. Genuine, kind and driven, she is a writer who is interested in telling stories for kids and teens who may not be the best readers, perhaps even called “reluctant,” as she was. She will bravely write in different genres for different age groups. As you’ll see from her bio below, her first YA novel, TT Full Throttle is about “cool dudes on motorcycles,” and the one we are discussing today concerns “hot guys and romance.”
She is impressive and so deeply invested in her stories, that she will travel, join clubs, and engage in conversation with those she is writing about so she can be authentic.
Her new YA ebook, The Jock and the Fat Chick, is really wonderful. Told in the point of view of Kevin, a high school jock with an eating disorder, Nicole expertly navigates the “jock culture,” while also providing the reader with a nuanced approach to romance. She takes the romance genre and turns it around, exploring our traditional notions of gender, body image, and conformity.
ABOUT THE JOCK AND THE FAT CHICK:
No one ever said high school was easy. In this hilarious and heartwarming debut, one high school senior has to ask himself how much he’s willing to give up in order to fit in.
Kevin seems to have it all: he’s popular, good looking, and on his way to scoring a college hockey scholarship. However, he’s keeping two big secrets. The first is that he failed an assignment and is now forced to take the most embarrassing course ever–domestic tech. The second is that he is falling for his domestic tech classmate, Claire.
As far as Kevin is concerned, Claire does have it all: she’s funny, smart, beautiful, and confident. But she’s off-limits. Because Kevin knows what happens when someone in his group dares to date a girl who isn’t a cheerleader, and there’s no way he is going to put himself—or Claire—through that.
But steering clear of the girl of his dreams is a lot harder than Kevin thought…especially when a cooking project they are paired together for provides the perfect opportunity for things to heat up between them outside the classroom….
Nicole loves books, bikes, horror films and globe hopping. She’s currently at work on her third YA novel called THE CONJURER.
Cool dudes and motorcycles: TT FULL THROTTLE
Hot guys and romance: THE JOCK AND THE FAT CHICK
Melanie: I’m sure you get this question a lot, but usually when one is crafting a romance about a “jock” and a “fat chick,” the main narrator is a girl. When did you know it was going to be Kevin’s story?
Nicole: I knew it was going to be Kevin’s story, before I realized I’d be writing a romance. I had talked to a friend who never had real food growing up. He said that cooking in his household consisted of two steps: a can opener and a microwave. I thought, what if I had a teen boy whose mom made meals like that? Then, what if the teenager thought he could do better, when in reality he’s doing much worse? Initial thoughts veered towards him having an eating disorder, but I didn’t want to go there. I wanted Kevin to be naïve about food and cooking, not obsessed with his next meal. To him, what he was eating was simply fuel. The story turned into a romance by chance. At the time I was thinking about Kevin, I had been reading a couple of YA stories with plus sized girl heroes who all seemed to be depressed, bullied or abused. It left me feeling depressed, so I’m like, how can I pair Kevin with a girl who happens to be plus sized and confident, funny, knows who she is and where she’s going? The story came together from there.
Melanie: You had once mentioned that in some ways this novel is an anti-sex story. Why do you think so?
Nicole: I think I was being a little cheeky with that. What I mean is that in some ways this novel is a mature and realistic view of the potential emotional consequences of having sex. Teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and who they’d like to become. They struggle with dependence and independence, community and self, and connection and disconnection. It’s an intense time, emotions are raw and ever-changing based on past experiences, new information and outside factors like social media and advertising. In the story, Kevin’s thrown into multiple situations that are so big, at times not even he knows how to process what he’s thinking or feeling let alone be able to express what he wants or even make good decisions. I think readers can relate. They don’t want to make mistakes anymore than we do as adults. In one scene, Kevin gives into peer pressure and sleeps with Missy and they end up dating. Readers know this is wrong on many levels. Having sex has emotional consequences and if you’re not ready for that, don’t do it. Kevin didn’t love Missy and I think it’s a terrible thing to be intimate with someone who really likes you, but whom you just don’t really like back; it’s just using someone.
Melanie: One of the things I struggle with as a writer is putting words I don’t necessarily believe into my characters’ mouths because that is what is their world view. How did you resolve this, particularly with the “jock culture?”
Nicole: Scenes where the guys rip on girls weren’t easy to write. You’ll notice it’s always tied in with peer pressure. I grew up in a less politically correct era, and you don’t have to go too far back in Hollywood cinema to find cringe-worthy situations in films that were once thought as okay (e.g. Sixteen Candles). I just channeled that.
Melanie: When the novel begins, Kevin has some terrible eating habits, even might be considered a disorder. What were some of the things that surprised you when investigating this and how did it influence Kevin’s character?
Nicole: Protein bars have been around since the 60s, but there was a heavy resurgence in the late 90s early 2000s and I bought into the craze. I’d read fitness magazines that spouted the benefits of carrying a handy post-workout protein meal or an in between meal snack. I was eating 2-3 of these things a day, some of which really were like chomping particle board. I reached the point where I got sick of the artificial flavours and thinking about how I missed the taste of real food. I took what I experienced with protein bars and channeled it into Kevin’s experience.
Melanie: You play a lot with our notions of gender, sexuality and body image—particularly with the character of Claire, who is the one that seems more emotionally distant. How did you explore these complex issues without falling into stereotypes and becoming too didactic?
Nicole: I never treated the idea of role reversal as a conscious plan when plotting out the story. Their personalities emerged on their own and I discovered a lot of contrasts e.g. Kevin’s pretty naïve and semi-sheltered and Claire’s worldly and experienced. Similarities emerged too like how they always enjoyed laughing and cracking jokes and they both move with a lot of physical energy. From there, I just let the characters lead me as I discovered their truth when I put them under stress. I didn’t consciously set out to make points or not make points, I just let them shine through.
Melanie: Something that I noticed that I thought you could speak to. The, forgive me, chemistry between Kevin and Claire is “hot.” You really show how much Claire owns her body and this is one of the reasons why Kevin adores her.
Nicole: I grew up reading teen magazines that spouted headlines on how to look fabulous (make-up, clothes, body, exercise, etc.), or how to get the guy. One day, I’d came across a ‘revolutionary’ article that had surveyed guys on what they thought was sexy about girls. Confidence, kindness and humour were part of the top traits. There was no mention of skinny thighs, toned tummies and perfect lashes. I remembered thinking, huh, so if that’s what guys really find sexy, why am I reading these magazines? I stopped after that. So when I was thinking about a positive plus sized character, I recalled the article and ensured she embodied these characteristics guys find hot in girls.
Melanie: Sex scenes, kissing scenes even, are one of those big questions for writers. What are some of the tips you picked up while revising these scenes while also keeping it in Kevin’s perspective?
Nicole: I asked a couple of my male friends to tell me about their first kiss experience which led me to thinking about things like physical dynamics. Girls usually tilt their head upwards, sometimes rising on tiptoe, whereas guys stretch their necks downwards and depending on how tall they are (Kevin was tall), they’d hunch over. We also discussed what Kevin might be experiencing his first time with a girl he really likes and how that’d differ being with a girl he isn’t in love with.
Melanie: Did you try any of the recipes you use in the book?
Nicole: I’ve tried a lot of the same foods in this book, from the protein bars to the curry rice. The only thing I didn’t have was the watermelon gel shot, or any gel shots for that matter. I’m happy to leave that to the imagination.