Denise Williams joins Zibby to talk about her latest novel, The Fastest Way to Fall. Denise shares why she loves writing and reading stories about fat women owning their bodies, how she infuses what she has learned on her personal self-love journey into her characters, and the specific post-workout energy she tried to encapsulate in this book. The two also talk about the four books Denise has coming out next year and how Zibby can achieve her M&M-centered dream.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Denise. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Fastest Way to Fall.

Denise Williams: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, it’s my pleasure. This was great and fun and interesting. I loved all the different parts, the texts, the emails, how you included so many different ways of telling the story. I loved the characters, the alternating viewpoints, and also the thought-provoking-ness of it, especially kicked off by your author’s note.

Denise: Thank you so much.

Zibby: You’re welcome. Why don’t you start by telling listeners a little about what The Fastest Way to Fall is about? What inspired you to write it?

Denise: The Fastest Way to Fall is about Britta, who is an aspiring journalist. She’s a fat woman. She is tasked with reviewing a body-positive fitness app. She doesn’t particularly care about fitness, definitely doesn’t want to lose weight or change herself. This is really something for work, but she’s excited to dive in. In addition to reviewing the app, she decides to talk about her journey using the product. As she embarks on this journey, she’s surprised about how much she actually enjoys some of the different things she’s doing. She especially enjoys getting to meet her personal trainer, Wes, through the app. He is somebody who is very supportive but also funny. Their chemistry just sparks right away. The beginning of the book is really epistolary because they’re chatting through the app. Meanwhile, Wes actually owns the app. His background is in personal training. He really misses that. He’s one of those characters who’s at a professional and personal crossroads. He opens the book really unhappy and throughout the book, figures out how to find and get what he needs.

At its core, the book is really about strength, being strong and finding the person who makes you feel stronger, both physically but also emotionally, and the strength to be vulnerable. Particularly, the hero goes on that journey. Actually, I was inspired to write that while I was at work. I work in higher education. I have a PhD in education. I was with college students. We were making them reflect. We do that a lot in education. I actually loathe and hate doing it. We were doing it, so I was playing along. The question we asked is, what was a time that you felt strong? We had students think about that. At the time, I thought about being in the gym and being on the elliptical and just crushing an awesome workout and defeating the person next to me. They’re in their seventies and they did not know we were racing, but I knew. It was just that moment when you step off the machine and it’s like, I can do anything. I am in charge of this right now.

Zibby: I did the elliptical this morning, and I did not feel like that at all, by the way. I finished and I was like, did I even do that? I don’t know. I was on my phone the whole time. Hats off to you for your great elliptical workouts.

Denise: Maybe you needed the seventy-year-old next to you to compete.

Zibby: Maybe that was it. Maybe I needed you there.

Denise: Maybe. I had Starbucks and drove to work with my son this morning. at all. I thought about, what would it be like to write a love story that took place in that moment where you felt so strong and like you could do anything? What if you met your person in that headspace? That’s where the inspiration for the book came from.

Zibby: Wow. They do say, I feel like I learned this in college, how when you are working out and all those endorphins are sort of floating about, you’re more likely to make connections. You’re more likely to fall in love and all these things when you’re at the gym. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Denise: Oh, yeah, because you’re in that —

Zibby: — In that zone.

Denise: You’re feeling it. You’re pumping it.

Zibby: I know, so I’m always like, oh, who’s at the gym? No, I’m kidding.

Denise: Not my husband.

Zibby: I know, exactly. I should get him to come work out with me. That’s great. Of course, Britta, she is also doing this sort of competing side by side with her colleague at work and really wants this new promotion and was trying to get this assignment to vault her up and ends up collaborating with somebody who she had been competing against. It’s the same as what you’re saying, using something to fuel you that maybe you were working against to begin with.

Denise: I loved writing their relationship. Claire is another aspiring journalist and ends up reviewing a competing app, so there’s kind of a couple levels of competition. These are the only two women of color on this level on this writing staff. They feel like they’re against each other. This is the person I have to do better than. They come to this realization that, we are competing, but we don’t actually have to be competitors. We could support each other. I think that’s so amazing when you come to that realization with a colleague, that you can actually support each other and still have healthy competition. I actually really loved writing the Claire character because she’s pretty tough. She’s tougher than the heroine. I have a love story in mind for her someday.

Zibby: Oh, good. That’s fun. That’s awesome. I did not realize that the characters were women of color until fairly deep into the book. I feel like that wasn’t in the initial — it came out, I feel like, in page a hundred or something when I realized. Maybe not that far. Not that it matters anyway at all. I hadn’t even realized. I guess I should’ve from the cover. Anyway, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Did you do that on purpose? Did you even think about it? Did I miss something?

Denise: Oh, gosh. Most of the characters I write share identities with me, physical identities, and so usually, my heroines are women of color. For this story, race isn’t really part of it, so no, it’s not talked about much. There’s a scene early on that I actually loved writing where Britta is about to get on the internet and talk about being a fat woman and realizes, you know, let me take stock of myself before the internet does it for me. She gets down to her underwear and stands in front of a mirror, but actually points out things about herself she loves. She also talks about, my grandma used to tell me I look like Lena Horne. This is my skin tone. This is what I love about it. These are my shoulders. I love my boobs. Those sorts of things, and talks about her skin tone and her race and her parents and things like that but is also just pointing out all of these things about herself that she really loves or has come to love. When I first wrote that scene, it was much more critical, like how many of us probably are if we stand in front of our mirror in our underwear. Then I rewrote that and realized, you know what, the script doesn’t have to be negative. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can look in the mirror and find these things that we love about ourselves just for ourselves. That’s kind of how that scene ended up being that way. Her hair and her eyes and skin tone and things like that are definitely part of that. Otherwise, race isn’t a big part of the book. It’s not a big part of the narrative in an active way. I think our experiences are always racialized. How we move through the world is always impacted by that, but it’s just not really centered in the story.

Zibby: Go back to the author’s note and talk about your own feelings, your own — I hate to use the world struggle — your own journey with weight and your own body and how that has you seeing the world in a certain way.

Denise: What I put in the author’s note — I wrote the author’s note pretty early on, actually, in the publishing process for the book — was that I have been a fat woman my whole life. That’s always been part of my experience. I love stories about fat people, particularly fat women, who are just owning their bodies. They’re in it. They love everything about themselves. They’re confident all the time. At least, that’s what they put forward. I think those stories are wonderful to read, but for me, that’s never been my journey. I was the kid who was self-conscious and the teenager who was awkward and unsure and the college student who was trying to hide my body or over — not really ever over-exercise. I don’t think I ever veered into some of those unhealthy ways, but emotionally and mentally, I questioned myself. I had issues with my body. I had to navigate what it meant for me to be a fat woman in a world that didn’t seem to want fat people at different points in my life, and really, largely, got beyond that. I still, like Britta, have my days where I’m like, oh, it’d be nice to be a size four. Largely, that’s not where I am anymore. That’s how I wanted to start the book, in just saying that I think we can have both. We can have days where we are confident and we look at our stomach or our butt and are like, wow, I am crushing it with this body today. There are days where we can realize that it’s hard to navigate the world in a body that the world doesn’t always seem to appreciate. We can have that simultaneity in our experiences. I don’t think that’s just for fat people or fat women. That’s what I was writing from, but I think that’s all of us in thinking about how we have agency in our bodies and in the world.

The point that I make in the author’s note that the character actually makes in the book too is that in this story and in a lot of our stories, you can be a fat person and also be excited about exercise. It doesn’t mean that you need to change. It doesn’t mean that you have to change. It doesn’t mean that you want to change. Although, you can if you do. It can just be something that you appreciate and enjoy for the sheer act of it. When I proposed this book and was telling people about it, they’re like, oh, no, you can’t write a fat heroine exercise. I was like, but why not? That’s just another constraint that we’re putting on bodies. I like to touch third rails with my books, so I decided to do this. I love it. I think that’s really spoken to some people, that I can be fat and I can be excited about the gym and exercising and still be fat when I leave the gym and be happy with all of those sides of myself. That’s what I think comes through in the character Britta. That’s what I think the hero encourages. The app that they’re reviewing says on the front end, we do not do weight loss. That’s not our thing. We’re not going to work with you on weight loss particularly. I don’t own a fitness app. I don’t know if they would ever say that, but this particular app does. That’s not part of the book at all. I think at one point the heroine says, “I lost two pounds.” The hero says, “Great. How do you feel?” Then they move on. That’s never really .

Zibby: Interesting. I love that. I just wanted to read a couple passages that really struck me. You had this one email from Bmoney34 to FitMiCoachWes1 on February 13th, 6:46 AM. They were talking about finding alternatives to chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Britta says, “Alternatives to chocolate sound like cruel and unusual punishment. I’ll do a lot for you, Wes, but I draw the line there. But I remember, all things in moderation. It’s a moot point anyway. No Valentine to speak of. Please give real chocolate to the person you’re seeing, unless they’re some sort of fitness freak, in which case, flowers. No roses, though. They’re boring.” Of course, then their banter continues. I loved this idea of no chocolate is cruel and unusual punishment.

Denise: I agree.

Zibby: Right? Oh, my gosh, a life without chocolate. You wrote from Britta’s perspective — this is supposed to be a funny repost. “Guilty pleasure foods. My coach would tell me that linking food with guilty isn’t healthy, and he’s right. Still, I know certain foods provide me with more nutrition and energy than others. It’s those others I want when I’m down. To listen to my coach, I’ll start calling them comfort foods.” You go on. You say, “I have many, but at the top of the list is pizza. By that, I do not mean the iconic deep dish Chicago is known for. I like my pizza thin, cut into squares, and heavy mounds of cheese and sausage. Basically, the exact opposite of the foods I’ve learned make me feel physically good. There’s a lot to unpack there about finding comfort or guilt in food, but right now, I’m going to open the box that just arrived from my favorite local place, stick with comfort, and try to ignore the idea of guilt. What’s your favorite comfort food?” Are you a big pizza person, by the way? Is this a vice of yours? I shouldn’t say vice.

Denise: I love pizza. Who doesn’t? Besides my five-year-old who refuses to eat it. I don’t know if it’s my favorite comfort food. Since she’s in Chicago, I thought about, what’s something that speaks to the place but maybe challenges a little bit of what — I think one of the only things people sometimes know about Chicago is deep-dish pizza, which is great and amazing, love it, but showing that little different angle of the culture of the city too. Who doesn’t love pizza? As long as you can eat cheese and the crust and everything. I love it.

Zibby: I love this — I don’t love, but I relate to this feeling of guilty and comfort foods and what you are supposed to eat and what you are not supposed to eat. I know that we’re supposed to be over this. I’m forty-five years old. I shouldn’t still be in these same traps from when I was a kid, but I still see a piece of food and it’s hard for me to be like, oh, yeah, I have no — I still eat it, but I still, in the back of my head, have this little chirping bird of, you shouldn’t have really done that. I know you did it, but whatever. I don’t know if that ever goes away or if it’s just my own issues.

Denise: I don’t think it’s just your own. We’re so conditioned from an early age that it’s like, okay, you can have that, but you’ve got to do this many sit-ups to work off that Oreo. There’s a line in the book where the hero was talking to his business partner. He’s like, “You know, so much of what we do in fitness is undoing what people learned when they were kids and what they were conditioned to when they were kids.” So many of us were with these, not even always unhealthy, but just unproductive connections between bodies and food and exercise and size in ways that I think, for most of us, leave us as adults in our forties going, oh, I feel bad about enjoying this piece of cake, when it’s just cake.

Zibby: True. Although, it’s so good. I think sometimes I get even more enjoyment from food or something. I love sweets. I just love them. I get so excited. I’m like, this is amazing. Maybe other people just don’t love food as much. I think that’s a thing.

Denise: They should love it more. I am working on a book right now that takes place in a candy store. I have never fought the urge so hard to live inside a candy store and just eat truffles while I write as being in the middle of this book.

Zibby: One of my secret fantasies at one point in my life is to be in a bathtub full of M&M’s. At some point in my life before I die, I’m going to try to make that happen.

Denise: I say do it. Maybe freeze them first so that they don’t melt immediately.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that is such a good idea. I know, I was thinking they’d get all over me. Freeze them first, but we’d need such a big freezer.

Denise: Yeah, you’re going to have to work through some of the — you’ve got connections, though. Find somebody who owns a restaurant and ask if you can store a couple of Rubbermaid tubs full of M&M’s.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, this is getting really embarrassing. Maybe I’ll do it at a hotel or something so I don’t have to clean up my own bathroom. Could you imagine, though, if the next person came in? I’m kidding. I wouldn’t actually.

Denise: Oh, my gosh, the cleaning staff. That would have to be an amazing tip.

Zibby: I know. I wouldn’t actually do that. I’m probably never going to do this anywhere.

Denise: It’s a good fantasy.

Zibby: It’s just a fantasy. I’ll just keep it right there. What is your next book about aside from the candy store?

Denise: I actually have four books out in 2022. It’s a little busy right now. I have three novellas that are out in the spring that all take place in and around an airport. One is an airport dog groomer and what I call her Diet Coke break, the frequent flyer she’s been scoping out. It turns out he’s a romance author who’s , so all of their dates are in the airport during his layovers. That one’s called The Love Connection. The Missed Connection is, two people have kind of a clandestine, serendipitous New Year’s Eve kiss when they’re stranded. Then several months later, it turns out they’re academic rivals. They have to travel to five cities together to learn about these different universities. Then the third one is the candy shop one. It’s two best friends who both work in the airport. They have five days to solve the mystery of a missing love letter found in the candy shop before one of them leaves the country. That’s also been fun to write, and light and lots of banter and just a little bit of steam. Then my third novel will be out in September. It’s called Do You Take This Man? It centers RJ, who is the heroine’s best friend in The Fastest Way to Fall. RJ is a badass divorce attorney who doesn’t actually really believe in romantic love. She gets ordained to perform Britta and Wes’s wedding. Spoiler, they get together. She’s in the park, runs into a couple. She gets swept away in the moment. The couple just got engaged. They want to get married right away. She says, “Hey, I’m ordained. I can perform weddings.”

Then they do it right there in the park on the fly. It goes viral. When it goes viral, she finds herself in the position of being a tough-as-nails divorce attorney who doesn’t believe in love who’s also a hotly sought-after wedding officiant, and very shocked to see that she actually loves to do it. I’m actually ordained to perform weddings. I do that for friends on the side and for fun as well. She loves it even though it conflicts with her profession. The only challenge is that she has to work with this wedding planner who just arrived from LA where he used to event plan for the NFL. For a variety of reasons, he has dropped his nice-guy persona and has kind of a dude-bro façade. He is now planning weddings. They hate each other. In their first meeting, they run into each other. She calls him every expletive in the book. He tells her she should smile more. I promise he redeems himself. It’s an enemies-with-benefit, enemies-to-lovers tale. It’s just a lot of fun. I think that the dedication will be “To ones who think they’re hard to love,” and that idea of those brushes we paint ourselves with in terms of who we think we are in a relationship and how the right person can challenge that.

Zibby: Denise, when are you writing all of this stuff? My, gosh. You have a son. You have a full-time job. You’re marketing your books. When on earth? When are you doing it?

Denise: Lunch breaks are really helpful. I have a little table in my office where I can leave my desk and go write for an hour on my lunch break. Then I am very lucky to have a five-year-old who still goes to bed pretty early. Once he goes down, then the rest of the night is writing. Somebody asked me the other day, how do you balance it? I was like, I don’t balance anything. You know this. You’re doing a million things, incredibly. You’re juggling. It’s just always figuring out which balls are plastic and which are glass. Sometimes your book is glass. Sometimes your kid is not. It’s about what’s most critical at this moment and then juggling.

Zibby: Yes. That is really cool. I love that analogy. Thank you. I’m going to try to use that today to get me through which ones are glass and which ones are plastic. Amazing.

Denise: And some M&M’s.

Zibby: And some M&M’s. It helps everything. Chocolate helps everything. By the way, what are you reading now? What do you like to read? What are you reading?

Denise: Oh, my gosh, I’m reading so many things right now. I have a ton of books that are going to be out soon. West Side Love Story by Priscilla Oliveras is on the top of my list right now. Then I just finished rereading Kennedy Ryan’s All the King’s Men Duet, which is a contemporary romance. Oh, my gosh, it’s epic. It’s a twenty, thirty-year story. It touches on indigenous rights, land rights, missing/murdered indigenous women, climate change, politics. It’s this incredible epic love story too. I just reread that maybe for the third time because it’s a story that always draws me in. Then Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships by Sarah Grunder Ruiz, it actually comes out today. It’s touching and glorious. I ugly-cried. That was a really beautiful story, romance but also kind of a finding yourself — do we still use the term women’s fiction? I don’t know. It’s a story about this woman finding her own journey in grief too.

Zibby: Wow, thank you. Those all sound good. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Denise: The best advice I have is — there’s a couple pieces. The main thing is just reminding yourself that the only thing a first draft has to do is exist. No matter if this is your first book or your fiftieth, you will hit that moment where you feel like the book isn’t perfect yet, and especially if you just came off a finished book, which you tend to do before you have a new draft. Reminding yourself that the only thing a first draft has to do is exist. You can always edit what’s on the page. You can change things. You can shape it. You can mold it. You can delete things later. Just keep writing so you can get that draft on the page. So many people stop because it’s not perfect. Personally, no book I have ever submitted to my editor has been perfect. That’s why we have editors. The other thing is, in publishing, is to remind yourself — Jen DeLuca, who wrote the renaissance faire romance series, the Well Matched, Well Met series, said this to me. It’s always stuck with me. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is not your turn. In publishing for most of the year, your book is not front and center. It can feel like you’ve been forgotten. It can feel like what you’re doing doesn’t matter. Then for that one percent of the time when you are in the spotlight, it’s amazing. The sun is shining on you. M&M’s and Skittles are just being thrust in your general direction. It’s gorgeous, but then it’s not your turn again. To just hold onto that sunshine moment and know that publishing is cyclical. Your turn will come around again. That can be really hard, especially for new authors, when you’re in the spotlight and then you’re not. Then it’s figuring out, what does that mean for me as a writer?

Zibby: Interesting. I started a publishing company recently called Zibby Books.

Denise: Which is amazing. Congratulations.

Zibby: Thank you. I’m trying to find ways to solve all those problems. The writer should not be in the spotlight one percent. The writer should be in the spotlight. The author should be in the spotlight a hundred percent of the time. How do you make that transition and all of that?

Denise: It’s true. It’s also finding where you want to be in the spotlight. Where do I find joy and acknowledgment as an author? I think what I thought I would find the most excitement about was being on the lists and in the media outlets and being interviewed, which happens a lot more right as your book comes out. Then along the way for me, actually, the most meaningful thing with my first book, which was about a domestic violence survivor, and then my second book, which is with Britta and Wes, has been hearing from readers who DM me and just say, I saw myself in this book. Here’s what it meant to me. I save every single one of those messages. That happens all the time because new people are always finding your book. The sunshine of media attention is amazing. I’m a Leo.

Zibby: Me too.

Denise: For the win. What are those pieces where you are validating? For me, it’s those messages. Hands down, it’s the most incredible thing about having the book out and putting books out, but also knowing that that is a kind of being centered and recognized and acknowledged, validated, whatever as well.

Zibby: Excellent. Love it. When is your birthday, by the way?

Denise: July 26th.

Zibby: I’m August 22nd.

Denise: That’s my cousin’s birthday.

Zibby: Denise, thank you so much. This was really fun. I’m excited for all of the things you have coming next year. Hold onto your hat. That’s going to be a wild ride. Wow, busy but exciting. It’s really inspiring how you do so much. I feel like fiction is such a gift that I do not have. I’m so impressed. Keep at it. It’s awesome.

Denise: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me on. I am in awe of your meticulously clean background.

Zibby: Thank you. I do this for Zoom.

Denise: I do this fake background.

Zibby: This is also where my kids watch TV at night. It’s a zoo with milk and — but right now, we’re all good.

Denise: Love it.

Zibby: Have a great day. Thank you for coming on.

Denise: Thank you. You as well.

Zibby: Bye.

Denise: Bye.


THE FASTEST WAY TO FALL by Denise Williams

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