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Interview with Jenny Ruden, author of Camp Utopia and the Forgiveness Diet

How did you come up with the title of your book?

The book was originally entitled, The Forgiveness Diet & Other Illusions, but many felt that Utopia should be in there too. Ultimately, we decided on CAMP UTOPIA & THE FORGIVENESS DIET because these two motifs comprise the main thrust of the book.

What is your writing environment like?

Like most environments in my life, it’s a mess. I tend to write at home, but I also write at work (sorry, boss). I can and will write in coffee shops and restaurants, but prefer to write in an empty house.

What is your favorite quote? Why?

“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.” James Baldwin.
I love this quote because one, I love James Baldwin. This quote is from Sonny’s Blues, which, in my view, is one of the best short stories ever written. I also love it because it’s true.

How has your upbringing influenced your writing?

Though my childhood was far from a story book tale, I encountered an endless cast of characters who inspired me. I also knew at a very young age that I felt things for language that most other people didn’t. I loved reading, sure, but I loved gathering stories from people more. I loved curse words and raunchiness and people’s secrets. I embellished things and often downright lied. I was really adept at making sh*t up and I never grew out of it. Luckily, no one ever tried to turn me into someone “normal.” Perhaps that more than anything helped me become a writer. My family didn’t quite know what to do with me, so they just let me be.

What inspires you to write?

People inspire me to write more than anything but, as far as my writing process is concerned, I tend to hold everything in. I don’t write a scene every day. I can go months without writing. Considering I have a full-time job and a family, it’s easy to do. Then, after I’ve daydreamed for about a year, ran several traffic signals, stared out random windows for approximately 2400 hours, lost track of a thousand of conversations, washed the same load of laundry four times in a row, I just kind of explode. I lock myself in a room and write like a maniac. It’s not a good process or even a healthy one, but it’s mine and you don’t want to f*ck with your process.

What do you consider the most challenging part about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

Writing is really lonely. We tend to think it’s sexy and glamorous, but a typical day unfolds like this. 1. Wake up. 2. Have conversations with 20 people inside your head who don’t exist. 3. Write a paragraph. 4. Delete the paragraph. 5. Ctrl Z. 6. Punch yourself in the face. 7. Repeat.

Did you learn anything while writing this book? If so, what was it?

I learned tons while writing this book, but, most importantly, I learned the following: You must become your biggest fan. I wrote a book about a girl who runs away from fat camp and I treated it like it was War & Peace. When people said they hated it, I just assumed they were morons. You must drink your own Kool-Aid. You must believe you’re Tolstoy. Love thy Novel. You must believe it’s true.

What have you done to promote this book?

My agent/publicist/coach/therapist/website developer named Antonella screams the following into my ear every hour: POST! TWEET! UPDATE!

What are some of the best tools available today for writers?

I’d say the Internet, even though I often use it as a MOWD (Method of Writing Distraction) and it’s very effective, believe me. Seriously, where would we be without our information highway? I love having a direct link to readers.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Just by reading my book, you will drop unwanted pounds. It’s a miraculous new approach to weight loss. OK, that’s a lie. By the end of the book, though, I hope you won’t care about a few extra pounds anyway. Come visit me at and I’ll forgive you. . .For free!

Title: Camp Utopia and The Forgiveness DietTitle: Camp Utopia and the Forgiveness Diet
Genre: Young Adult
Author: Jenny Ruden
Publisher: Koehler Books
Language: English
Pages: 300
Format: Paperback

Sixteen-year-old Baltimore teen Bethany Stern knows the only way out of spending her summer at Camp Utopia, a fat camp in Northern California, is weight-loss. Desperate, she tries The Forgiveness Diet, the latest fad whose infomercial promises that all she has to do is forgive her deadbeat dad, her scandalous sister, and the teenage magician next door and (unrequited) love of her life. But when the diet fails and her camp nemesis delivers the ultimate blow, Bee bids sayonara to Camp-not-Utopian-at-all to begin what she believes will be her “real” summer adventure, only to learn that running away isn’t as easy—or as healing—as it seems.
Her wry and honest voice bring humor and poignancy for anyone, fat or thin, tired of hearing “you’d be so pretty if…[insert unwelcome judgment about your appearance from loved one or perfect stranger].”


Jenny Ruden has published short stories and essays in Nerve, Salon, Eclectica Magazine, Literary Mama and High Desert Journal. She won an Orlando award for creative nonfiction, was named a finalist in Glimmertrain’s short fiction contest, and has been nominated for the Pushcart prize two years in a row. She has worked with teenagers for over ten years as a teacher of Reading, Writing and GED, and has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Oregon. She lives with her husband, two daughters, two basset hounds and cat in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

She does a flawless impersonation of a normal person. Don’t be fooled. She’s a writer.

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