So, of course, I was absolutely thrilled to read Alicia's debut novel, Simply From Scratch. It's the sweet and soulful story of Zell, a young woman who copes with the death of her husband by entering a baking contest. Gladys Knight, goopy cooking messes, a pirate dog, a chainsaw artist, a precocious neighbor, a dessert made with chocolate and goat cheese, and a story about starting life all over again - what's not to love?
And, because I love interviews, Alicia was so kind to answer some of my questions!
In my hometown of Holden, Massachusetts, I was hired at a small, community-centered newspaper (The Landmark) soon after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. For months, my colleagues and I wrote feature stories about the people in our area of New England who traveled to New Orleans to help rebuild its churches, schools, and libraries.
Long after I wrote about these volunteers, their words and experiences replayed in my mind. I knew I wasn't done writing about them.
Eventually, the novelists' question came to mind: What if? What if one of those volunteers didn’t make it home to Massachusetts? Characters were born, and my debut novel grew from there.
2. Is the town of Wippamunk inspired by any specific place?
Wippamunk shares many physical characteristics with the real-life town of Holden, Massachusetts, my hometown. Personality-wise, I'd say Wippamunk is similar to Rutland, Massachusetts, Holden’s neighbor to the north. I covered Rutland during my reporting stint at The Landmark. The people there seem connected both to the land and to each other, much more so than other places I’ve lived.
However, in some ways Wippamunk is an ideal. Small towns aren’t always as loving as Wippamunk is. The people who live in a community, regardless of its size, determine whether it’s an unwelcoming place, or an inviting, homey one.
3. How did you decide on the recipe to include in the book?
Baking does not come easily to me! When my fantastic editor (Erika Imranyi at Dutton) suggested I include Zell and Ingrid’s recipe in the pages of SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH, I thought, how in the world am I going to do that? Answer: I followed the example of my characters and headed to the kitchen for some experimental baking.
I started out by listing a few of my very favorite things to eat --- cheese, fruit, chocolate --- and went from there. Trial and error, baby.
4. Simply From Scratch is infused with music. Did you listen to Gladys while you were writing?
Actually, I listened to Gladys Knight and the Pips exclusively while writing Simply From Scratch. When heard from the context of widowhood, their breakup songs take on a particular poignancy and a new layer of meaning and heartbreak.
If you're interested in the connection between music and the writing process, please feel free to check out my recent guest post at the Divining Wand.
Beyond weekly piano lessons when I was a kid and singing madrigals in high school, I never really studied music. So when I sit down to write a song, I depend on inspiration, intuition, and that elusive muse.
By contrast, during the process of writing a book, I'm much more analytical, more intellectually aware. The writing choices I make are more purposeful than the music choices I make.
6. Your husband, Matthew Quick, is also a writer. What's it like having two writers in the family? Have you had to navigate having deadlines at the same time?
Right now, Matt is editing his third book, and I'm in the thick of promotional activities for Simply From Scratch. So our lives are pretty hectic. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I love that Matt and I are both writers. We understand each other so well, and we read and edit each others' work. It’s a beautiful partnership.
7. Obviously, through Matthew, you had an insider perspective on what to expect when publishing a novel, but was there anything about the process that surprised you?
A debut author usually anticipates publication day for a year or more. You might imagine that, on that magical day, you'll open your front door to great celebration: a marching band, acrobats, reporters, an airplane sky-writing the title of your book overhead.
On publication day, I gathered my entire family together to find my book in the bookstore. My sister and her kids piled into their minivan, and my dad left work early; there were so many of us that we took three separate cars. In the parking lot we grouped together and Matt videotaped us on his phone. We marched into the bookstore .... and couldn’t find a single copy of Simply From Scratch on the shelves. In fact, the bookstore hadn't even heard of it. That was a surprise .... a bummer of a surprise, unfortunately!
What I learned: To survive the publishing process, you have to have a very healthy sense of humor. Also, it helps to find that balance between taking yourself seriously, but not too seriously.
Thankfully, having seen Matt experience two publication days, I knew that my own wouldn't be accompanied by overwhelming fanfare. I was able to keep a fairly level head and realistic expectations, and I think that, as a result, I avoided that post-publication depression that many authors suffer.
Matt and I try to celebrate every step in the publication process, and mark every positive occasion. We try to keep it light.