Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My Character’s Overweight?

My protagonist in For Better, For Murder, sports car boutique owner Jolene Asdale, bears an uncanny resemblance to her estranged husband’s favorite actress, Valerie Bertinelli. That’s what first attracted him to her. Let me tell you what attracted me to using this description in the debut novel of the Broken Vows Mystery series.

You may think I picked Valerie because she’s getting a lot of press lately. In reality, I picked her before all this press started, and, as a result, it’s been a little stressful.

I picked Valerie because I wanted someone who had been on television when my characters were children. Her girl-next-door image from One Day at a Time and her attractiveness fit Jolene Asdale. And some days Jolene can only take life one…day…at…a…time. The symmetry of it all was perfect—or so I thought.

My first hint of trouble was a note from one of my critique partners. It said “what if the reader doesn’t know who Valerie is?” I thought this might be my critique partner’s subtle way of letting me know she had to look up Valerie on Wikipedia. I brushed this concern off—we all use Wikipedia.

Then, a month after I started sending out queries to agents for this novel, I was pushing a grocery cart through the store when I spotted Valerie on the cover of People magazine. I rolled closer, only to read about her undesired weight gain. My first thought was—okay, I can’t tell you my first thought. But my second thought was that I had written a size eight character that had, according to the report, blossomed to a size fourteen. Not the desired imagery at all.

I studied the picture of Valerie at size fourteen. I thought about the fact that the average American woman is, I believe, a size fourteen. I decided Valerie still looked fabulous. I rolled my cart away.

It seemed like less than two months later, I’m in the grocery store checkout line and Valerie was gracing the cover of People again, now a slimmed down size something. Once again, she looked fabulous. I mentally thanked her for being a team player.

A couple months ago, Valerie’s on People magazine in her size six bikini with belly button ring, looking fabulous yet again. However, my character Jolene Asdale would never wear a belly button ring. She wouldn’t want the pain and wouldn’t see any reason for it. She prefers her belly button covered; she doesn’t like drafts. She doesn’t like to exercise and would never run unless chased.

It’s too late to talk to Valerie about being a team player. I’m going to have to say it’s all fabulous. That’s all I can do.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh, that's hilarious! Just goes to show how weight can yo-yo...and our point of reference about a character can change. Thanks for the post.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Hi -I run a little blog project on Fridays where writers and readers talk about books they think are forgotten or neglected. More than 150 writers, reviewers and readers have recommended a book. I wonder if you'd be willing to do one for July 3. Your review doesn't have to be long or complex and you can see it at
The entire year’s worth is at
Any book you choose is fine--even if it's already been reviewed.
If it's not your thing or you’re too busy just now, I understand. Best, Patti Abbott
My email is

G.M. Malliet said...

Maybe if Valerie is asked to play your character in the filmed version, she'd be willing to take out the ring? ;-)

Alan Orloff said...

I must confess, I used to have a thing for Valerie.

Can't wait to read your book.

Um, will it have photos?

Lisa Bork said...

LOL. No photos, Alan. Try People magazine. Lots of photos there.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

You can always add a line like: "She resembled Valerie Bertinelli pre-Jenny Craig."

Kirstie Ally gained all her Jenny Craig weight loss back, and then some. Not that I wish that for Valerie (or anyone), but you never know what Valerie will look like in a few years. To me, she's adorable at any weight! And I'm jealous of the belly button ring.

Kathy Whelan said...

That's so funny, Lisa! At least you didn't model a character after Michael Jackson when he was a cute little boy in the Jackson Five! I think Valerie has looked great at all her weights - her name evokes for me a beautiful face and smile and gorgeous hair, not a particular size body, so I consider Jolene safe!

June Shas said...

Great post, Lisa. And so funny. Love it -- and your writing.

Jen said...

At least you won't be running into the problem of no one knowing who she is any more.

Diane Vallere said...


And we thought technology was what kept our books from being timeless!

Great post!

Anonymous said...

hah! I love the team player line. I always think of Valerie as I saw her originally in One Day at a Time and I can't believe how great she looks now. If Jenny Craig could promise me that body I would be a convert today.