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'Til the Fat Girl Sings' Sharon Wheatley Talks

Hello BroadwayWorld readers! Allow me to introduce myself—my name is Sharon Wheatley and I am a Broadway actress (Avenue Q, Las Vegas Company), Les Miserables, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera) and also a newly published author of  Til the Fat Girl Sings; From an Overweight Nobody to a Broadway Somebody—a memoir.  This book tells my story about growing up as an overweight, underestimated Broadway wanna be in Cincinnati, Ohio and chronicles my years at University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music's Musical Theater program.  I've been everything from a size 22 to a 4 petite and my path to Broadway was a rocky one.  I am a huge fan of BroadwayWorld (all the best Broadway gossip!) and I'm delighted to be here, clicking away on my computer--seconds away from hopping on a subway to Chelsea Studios for an audition.    

Since the June 1st release of 'Til the Fat Girl Sings; From an Overweight Nobody to a Broadway Somebody—a memoir, a lot has happened.  My book has received many terrific reviews (including one on BroadwayWorld) and I was named to the Wall Street Journal's Best Reads list, which was featured on "Good Morning America."

I've also had thousands of visits to my website www.sharonwheatley.com and I've received hundreds of letters from readers.  There have been many wonderful surprises about becoming a published author, but nothing tops getting a letter from a reader who, because of my story, has become inspired to change the way they think about themselves.  Over and over again letters begin with "Sharon Wheatley!!  We are the same person!!"  In fact, one aspiring New York City actress wrote "SHARON WHEATLEY HOW DID WE HAVE THE SAME LIFE?????  People thank me for being "brave" and my story is often called "inspiring."  

I'd like to thank everyone for writing me—your letters make me laugh, and they are often inspiring small memoirs themselves.  I always answer my mail personally, but I'd like to take a moment to answer a couple of the most common questions.

How did you get your book published?

I certainly didn't plan on writing a memoir.  In fact, if you'd told me two years ago that I was going to have a memoir about growing up overweight and underestimated in every bookstore across the country right now—well—I would have told you to smoke a little more crack.  So imagine my surprise when I checked my cell messages one sleepy Wednesday and my literary agent—who I hadn't spoken to in two years—was bubbling over with excitement.  "Call me.  Right away.  I think we have a book deal for you."  I won't lie, my heartbeat did quicken, but only in that "magical thinking" kind of way.  Kind of like when you daydream about winning a Tony while typing legal briefs at your day job.  I knew it had to be some kind of mistake, but because I'm a card-carrying optimist, I had high hopes.

A few minutes later I was knee deep in a conference call with two agents tripping all over themselves telling me what had happened.  "They are LOOKING for someone to write this book!!  They need a memoir about growing up OVERWEIGHT!!  They've already read material you've written and the editor is FLYING TO NEW YORK to meet you!!"

I immediately panicked.  Flying to New York meant they were going to see me in person, and seeing me in person meant that they were going to see my body—which was clearly not skinny.  And certainly they wanted someone thin.  In my experience, that's usually the case.

So I said, "Call back and tell them I'm a size 12.  If they still want to meet me, I'd be happy to talk about writing a book.  But it won't be a fairy tale story where I grow up and get skinny and I live happily ever after.  I can't write that because it's not entirely true.  I'm living happily ever after at a size 12 and that's the story I'll write."  

They put me on hold and called the editor. I was a wreck as I waited, listening to the cheesy "hold" music and wondering if I'd blown my one and only chance at a book deal. In a moment of temporary insanity I wanted to sprout 5 inches and drop 50 pounds to look like Sutton Foster.  I wondered if I should agree to a rigid juice fast to get my book deal. But ultimately I knew, if they wanted a book about being a fat unhappy kid who becomes a skinny-minny happy adult, they'd have to find someone else to write it.  My story was happiness, self-acceptance and a theater career at a size 12 and I was sticking to it.  I believed there was an audience for my story, and I hoped the editor would agree.  The news was great. The editor agreed, and wanted to take me to lunch and hear my story.  

And no mention of a juice fast.  I was in.  Now I just had to figure out what my story was.

I arrived at Angus McIndoe armed with my childhood.  Over steak salads, I told the editor stories for two hours, stories about being called heifer, stories about wanting to become a nun so I never had to date, stories about going from a size 22 to a dancing CAT on Broadway.  I talked about my mother, an Olympic dieter, and my father, a poster boy for mayonnaise.  

And at the end of the lunch we had a deal.  It didn't become formal for a couple of months, but sure enough, I was going to become a published author.

Wasn't it hard to be so brutally honest about yourself and your family?
To answer simply--YES it was hard, and NO (despite what my father originally thought) my publisher didn't make me do it. 

Writing a memoir about people who are still alive--especially people who you are related to and would like to continue to celebrate Christmas with—is a tricky thing to do successfully.  My goal was to be honest about what had happened without playing the "blame game." I wanted to write in detail about many of the events that had happened in my life, and almost every scenario involved someone else.  I explained to my family and friends over and over again that: the past was the past, and my character was going to be the only one dragged through the mud.  
I also had to promise lavish gifts and vacations if the book became a huge bestseller, and everyone liked to tell me which Hollywood star should play them in the movie.  My parents—god love them—read and agreed to every draft of this book.  They have been totally supportive of this project from the beginning.

Writing about me—well—I still can't believe I wrote myself so truthfully.  I was in total control of this book, it was my story, and I could have written myself in any way I wanted to. Nicer, smarter, more popular, anything—but the truth kept coming out.  I couldn't sit down and not be brutally honest about myself.  Writing this book was like a daily dose of truth serum, and I kept calling my editor saying "Everyone is going to hate this character! She's so unlikeable!"  Sometimes I'd put my head down on my computer and cry.

One big question I'm often asked:  Why did you write about being molested at 16?

Originally, I didn't write about it.  I skipped it.  But then, there was a big hole in the story where I went from being totally together to being a mess.  My editor called and asked what happened, "I feel like something is missing.  Why would you go from getting thin, getting your grades together, getting involved in school activities to a sudden massive weight gain and a year off between high school and college?  It feels like something is missing." Something was missing.  I wanted to leave it out, and I'd convinced myself that it wasn't relevant to the story I was telling.  But the truth is that I was scared and not sure anyone would care—old baggage I still carried around from when I was 16.  Molestation in every form happens to millions of young people in this country and it needs to be talked about and understood. Based on what I hear from readers, it was important—and I'm glad I wrote about it.

Like many of you, I've got an audition to get to, so I'm going to sign off for now. If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact me on my website, and keep those questions coming in.  It is an honor to get to know so many of you, and remember—keep asking yourself this question "Am I who I want to be?"  If you're not, it's never too late to change. 

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