In Conversation With Chef Kunal Kapur: About Food And More

A chef who has trained under some of the most reputed institutions out there, who has a couple of television shows to his name, who is well recognised by all and sundry in Indian households, who has been a judge of the famed MasterChef India, who has been witness to some of the most exciting trends in the culinary world, who has had the opportunity to cook for the nation’s Prime Minister and the foreign dignitaries visiting him – that is Kunal Kapur for you, a celebrity in his own right. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity, recently, to attend a ‘Food Camp’ by the celebrity chef at the International Institute Of Hotel Management (IIHM), Bangalore.

I had gone to the event prepared with a set of questions for the chef, and was so glad I managed a little one-on-one conversation with him. Chef Kapur was happy to answer my questions, in his cool and composed and smiling manner.

Do read the little tete-a-tete I had with Chef, just in on my photo blog!

In Conversation With Erica Bauermeister, Author

I simply love Erica Bauermeister’s lyrical way of writing, her unusual characters, and the way she has of depicting sections out of people’s lives in her books, without overly focusing on developing storylines as such. I am a big, big fan of her The School Of Essential Ingredients. I didn’t connect with her Joy For Beginners as much as I did with The School Of Essential Ingredients, but I still found it quite an enjoyable read. Having read and enjoyed two of her books, I was thrilled when I managed to get in touch with Erica, and she agreed to a little interview for my blog!

Without further ado, here’s presenting to you… Erica!

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Me: You have a unique, flowy, lyrical writing style that is a pleasure to read. Just how do you manage to write like that? Where do you find your writing inspiration?

Erica: My father was a musician and I grew up with music in our house, but unfortunately, I have a terrible ear in the traditional sense of singing or playing an instrument.  I have found, however, that I hear music in the structure of sentences.  To me, the flow and rhythm of a sentence is an underlying feeling supporting the meaning of the words, much the way a musical soundtrack supports a movie.  I love thinking about how to build that feeling, opening my mind until I can hear what needs to happen.

As a general rule, I aim for a more lyrical style.  My books tend to focus on characters more than plot, and on the sensory aspects of life, so that makes sense.  When I was still finding my own writing style, I drew a lot of inspiration from Joanne Harris, Alice Hoffman, and Diane Ackerman (I must have read A Natural History Of The Senses five times during the writing of The School Of Essential Ingredients). I still often return to these authors’ books – not to try to copy their style, but rather to hear the music of it, as a way to switch from ordinary, daily dialogue into something more poetic.

Me: Your books have the most interesting of characters – from an insomniac gardener in Joy For Beginners to a child with the gift of using magic ingredients in cooking in The School Of Essential Ingredients. You have a way of getting into your characters’ heads! How do you think of such utterly interesting characters? Are they inspired by people you know in real life?

Erica: I love this question because I was so very, very bad at creating characters when I was a young writer.  I remember one time going to hear a Famous Author, who talked about how her characters talked to her, and took over the endings of her books.  When she was signing my copy of her book afterward, I said to her, a little self-righteously, “I’m a writer, and no characters have ever talked to me.” (Did I mention I was young?).  In any case, the Famous Author was completely gracious.  She just looked up and smiled, and said in the most compassionate way, “Well, maybe you aren’t listening!”

I think I had to get a lot older before I could listen.  I had to get my own ego out of the way.  I had to learn how to get into other people’s heads.  Having children helped this, as did living in another country.  All I know is when I got the idea for The School Of Essential Ingredients, I just suddenly believed the characters would show up. So I sat back and waited. Carl was first, and he will always be special to me because of that.  And now, there is nothing more fun for me than catching a glimpse of a character in my mind, and then following where they want to go.  It’s like seeing one of those curving, secret paths that lead through a meadow or a forest.  You just have to go down it…

Which is a long way to answering your second question – which is no, none of my characters are based on people I know. I find characters who are not restrained by a personality that already exists to be much more interesting.

Me: Food seems to play an important part in your books – your love for food shows in your writing. How important a part does food play in your life? How has food influenced you, your writing?

Erica: When our children were young, my husband got a job offer in Italy, and we spent two years living there.  What I learned about food and family changed my life. I honestly don’t know if I would have written fiction without that experience – both because it gave me that important experience of trying to see through another culture/person’s eyes, but also because of the loving and instinctual relationship the Italians have with ingredients and mealtimes and family.  In Italy, cooking is like putting personalities together at a dinner table, rather than a lock-step set of directions to follow. There is an inherent creativity and generosity to it that is marvellous. That feeling invaded my sense of cooking, and writing.  I learned to trust my instincts.

Cooking is still a huge part of my life. I love the creativity of it (what can I do with these four ingredients in my fridge?). I love the rhythm of stirring polenta or risotto, or the community of a group of people making pasta from scratch in a big, flour-filled kitchen.  If I am traveling and don’t get to cook for a couple days, I start to get a little itchy, actually.

Me: Have you always wanted to become a writer? How exactly did you get into it?

Erica: I have always wanted to write.  I loved reading as a kid, and somewhere along the line, I realized that writers got to LIVE in that world they were creating. How much fun is that?  In college, I figured out the kind of books I wanted to write, but I also knew that I wasn’t old enough to write them yet. So, I went to graduate school, got a PhD in literature, taught, wrote guidebooks to books, practiced my craft on several memoirs that weren’t published (thank heavens!). I had pretty much given up on the idea of fiction, honestly, when I took a cooking class after we returned from Italy. In that class, we killed crabs with our bare hands, and the idea for a book about a cooking class fell into my head. (And to answer your next question, no, I’m not Claire, although I empathize with her greatly).

Me: Are you working on a new book now? If so, we’d be thrilled if you could tell us something about it!

Erica: I love working with the subliminal things in our lives, and exploring how they affect us in ways we often don’t even notice.  Food was a fun one, in The School Of Essential Ingredients.  In Joy for Beginners, I stretched things further. The book I am working on now deals with the sense of smell.  I’m superstitious, so I’m not going to tell you any more than that…

Me: Who are your favourite authors/books?

Erica: Joanne Harris, Alice Hoffman, and Diane Ackerman are three of my favorite authors, but I would add to that list happily. I could read MFK Fisher’s writing all day long. I love the magical fairy tale of Eowyn Ivey’s Snow Child, and the lyrical way Rene Denfeld explored deep and horrifying subjects in The Enchanted. I was impressed by Emily St. John Mandel’s use of structure in Station Eleven, as I was with William Faulkner’s in The Sound And The Fury. I think Jane Austen, E.M. Forster, and Anne Tyler are masters of subtle social commentary. I think it is partially because of all the research I did when I co-wrote 500 Great Books By Women, but I tend to draw my inspiration from an eclectic group of authors.

Me: What kind of a process do you follow to write your books? Do you come up with the broad idea first, and then fill up the gaps as you go? Or does it come to you in bits and pieces and make the story along as you go?

Erica: For my first three novels, the structure just fell into my head.  It was like building a house and then waiting for the individual stories to move in. Recently, however, I’ve been moving toward more chronological stories with fewer characters, so this has been a switch. Always, though, I seem to start with an image or a character.  I try not to write for 6 months – I just research and sketch scenes. When I start to feel a real momentum, the building of pressure that is the story itself, then I start writing.

Me: What is your most favourite writerly tool or knick-knack? It could be anything from a writer’s website to a favourite desk where you write your best.

Erica: A window seat.  In architectural terms, a window seat is an almost perfect element, in that it provides both outlook and refuge. I think that is just what writers need – a way to look out on the world, broadly and privately.

Me: Do you read a lot of food blogs or any blogs, in general? Tell us about your favourites, please!

Erica: I think it’s because I spend so much time starting at a screen that when I want to read, I want a book in my hands. That said, I do love Tara Austen Weaver’s Tea and Cookies. Remedial Eating is another world I like to spend time in.

Me: What else you do love doing when you are not writing?

Erica: Cooking. Traveling. Walking on the beach near our house.  Finding a new topic (architecture, conmen, bespoke perfumes, Paul Ekman’s work on micro-expressions) and learning about it. All of these things have a couple things in common – they are all soothing and stimulating at the same time.

Me: Tell us about your favourite foods! Which foods do you love eating, and which ones do you love cooking?

Erica: I think my favourite food is butternut squash ravioli, in butter and sage sauce.  But the ravioli needs to be thin, thin – like a whisper on your tongue – and it’s almost impossible to find it made that way. We got it one time, in a restaurant in San Gimignano, and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.

When it comes to cooking, I like the leisurely, repetitive-motion foods like risotto or pasta sauces or polenta. There’s something about the stirring and inhaling the scents and thinking about the people who will eat it that is completely satisfying.

Me: What are the bits of advice you would like to pass on to people who want to be creative in their lives?

Erica: I would ask them what they are waiting for – and I mean that as a real question. If you are waiting because you are scared about failure, then think about what your life would be like if you DON’T do this thing that calls to you. And if there are concrete reasons, or skills you need to acquire, then deal with those, but don’t let them be an excuse.

And more than anything, just try to open yourself up to the joy of it. Forget that myth that art has to be painful, that you have to suffer for it. Nothing makes me happier than time spent writing. So, go make yourself happy!

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I really hope you enjoyed reading this tete-a-tete! And if you haven’t read anything by Erica yet, I would urge you to pick up at least one of her books – I’m sure you’ll enjoy her flowing prose!

 

Meet: Masha Hamilton

I loved The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton, a book that I accidentally found in a store for pre-loved books and picked up. It was a very different story, told in a very beautiful and sensitive manner. As soon as I had finished reading it, I was curious to know more about the author and the other books that she has written.

A quick internet search showed me that Masha has worked as a high-profile journalist for several years, for major newspapers like Associated Press and Los Angeles Times. Involved in the reporting of the conflicts of war and political upheavals, they made a mark on Masha as well, and find a place in most of the books she has authored. Masha has written five books so far, including The Camel Bookmobile, which is based on a travelling library that visits a remote semi-nomadic settlement in Kenya, and how it changes the lives of the people there.

Masha currently serves as the Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. She is the force behind two world literary projects – the Camel Book Drive, which aims at helping the camel-powered library in Northeast Kenya, and the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, which aims at giving a voice to Afghan women.

I was intrigued enough to drop a mail to Masha, and ask her for an interview. She was gracious enough to agree, in spite of her quite hectic schedule.

Without further ado, here’s presenting to you: Masha!

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I understand that your book The Camel Bookmobile is a work of fiction, based on an actual camel bookmobile that operates in Kenya. How and when did you first get to know of the real camel bookmobile? How did you hit upon the idea of writing a book based on it?

My daughter first told me about the real camel bookmobile, because it was featured in a Time for Kids article she’d read in school. I was in the car with all three of my children, and when she mentioned that the equivalent of a library “fine” was to stop coming to an entire community if one person didn’t turn in his or her books, I suddenly saw the dramatic possibilities. We were actually on the way to our local library at the time, and I began making up a story for my children right then in the car. But as my imagination quickly stitched story lines together, I suddenly realized I might have my next book, so I stopped talking. “What happened next?” the kiddos asked, but I told them they would have to get a book from the library; I needed to hang on to this one, keep it inside, so I could write it. I don’t outline and I don’t want to tell a story I already know; I want to learn the story as I write it, and that’s what I did in this case too.

Please share some of your most memorable moments while working with the real camel bookmobile? How was the entire experience like?

I didn’t actually go see the real camel library in action until the book was finished, sold to a publisher, and in the final editing stages. I have worked as a reporter, and I didn’t want to risk “reporting” this story as opposed to fictionalizing it. Then I went out with the real camel library, joined by my daughter, who after all had given birth to the entire concept for me. It was amazing to be in a semi-nomadic area, and I know we were an oddity–the children would get close to us and touch us delicately with one finger, and I know we sounded different, looked different, smelled different. But what was most moving was once the books came out, they forgot all about us. They were totally caught up in the books themselves.

The ending of The Camel Bookmobile is pretty open, and leaves much to the readers’ imagination. Did you always have that kind of an ending in mind? Is there a sequel in the making, so that your readers can know what happened to Kanika, Scar Boy, Mr. Abasi, Matani, Abayomi, Fi and the rest of the characters?

I typically leave the endings a bit open. As a reader also, I don’t like everything all tied up, and I don’t think that is life. But no, I don’t imagine a sequel. Other ideas have captured my attention.

What is with the ‘mosquito quotes’ in The Camel Bookmobile? Is there a story behind including them in the book?

I wanted to break up the sections with something that would contribute to the timelessness quality of the story, and also to the sense of danger, and would also play with fiction versus non-fiction, since there actually IS a camel bookmobile but my story is made up. All those mosquito quotes are also made up, although they look like I could have found them on Google. After my mom read the book, she called to tell me how much she liked it and she also noted how much research I’d put in to finding those mosquito quotes. “Actually, I made them all up, Mom,” I said. “Oh,” she said, pausing a moment. “Are you allowed to do that?”

Are you working on a book at the moment? Do tell us about the gist of it, in brief. If so, when is it expected to be out? 

My fifth novel recently came out; it is titled What Changes Everything, and I’ve felt fortunate with the reviews. You can read the Washington Post review here. At the moment I’m trying to write something about the emotional experience of the last 16 months working in Afghanistan, but I do have an idea for a novel. Like with my kids, I don’t talk about work in progress, though; sorry!

Tell us about your  The Afghan Women’s Writing Project. What exactly is it?  

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project pairs Afghan women with published authors in the United States for online writing classes in three secure classrooms and then publishes the writing on www.awwproject.org. The idea developed after I saw a videotape smuggled out of Afghanistan in 1999 that showed the execution of Zarmeena, a mother of seven, killed by the Taliban in Kabul’s Ghazni Stadium in front of a crowd for allegedly murdering her husband.

Watching the videotape of Zarmeena kneeling on the soccer stadium and then being shot repeatedly was heart-stopping. Without knowing any particulars, I wondered if in fact her act hadn’t been criminal, but instead one of enormous courage. I was determined to find out about her.

But few details were available, and this made me realize not only were Afghan women hidden beneath burqas, but their stories were silenced. After many years as a journalist, I had come to believe that telling one’s own story is as important to a certain kind of survival as food and shelter. In response, I began to learn what I could about Afghanistan, reading books and articles, attending lectures. This interest led to my visits to Afghanistan and, in May 2009, the founding of AWWP.

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Thank you so much for this, Masha!

I hope you guys had as much fun reading the interview as I had communicating with her!

Meet: Jacqueline Kelly

I loved The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate when I read it some time back, and haven’t stopped recommending it since. It was a lovely read, and made me want a sequel eagerly so that I could know what did happen to the protagonist, the spunky Calpurnia Tate aka Callie Vee. I read up a bit about the author of the book, Jacqueline Kelly, and was surprised to know that this was her debut novel! The writing is beautiful, and quite mature actually.

I wrote to Jacqueline and asked her if she would be interested in answering a few questions for my blog. She was sweet enough to say yes, and sweeter still to send in her responses within just a few days, even though she is busy writing a sequel to The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate. Thank you so much for this, Jacqueline! And, yes, I am all excited to get my hands on the sequel!!

Without further ado, here we go:

How did you come up with the idea of The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate?
I came up with the idea for the book while lying on the couch, in the middle of summer, in my big old Victorian farm house.  The air conditioning wasn’t working well, and as I lay there in the terrible heat, I thought, “How did people stand it in this house a hundred years ago?”   And just like that, a little voice started up in my head, telling me what life had been like in my house in 1900.  I got up and found a piece of paper and a pencil, and started writing down exactly what the voice said, and this ended up being the first page and a half of the book.

By the way, the first chapter was only intended to be a short story.  It was my writing group that encouraged me to turn it into a novel.

Are any of the characters in the book inspired by people you know in real life?

Calpurnia is about 60% me, about 30% my mother, and about 10% various friends of mine.  Granddaddy is about 1/3 my own father, 1/3 my friend Houston White, and 1/3 my friend Phil Tate.

Why did you base the story of Calpurnia Tate in Texas?

I based the story in Fentress, Texas, because that’s where my house was located.  The house in the book was my house.  I say “was” because it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground a couple of years ago.  I have nothing left except the front door key.

The end of your book didn’t reveal whether Calpurnia succeeded in breaking away from the shackles of her life, and became a naturalist or not. Did you intend to leave the ending vague? Is there a sequel in the offing?

Yes, there is a sequel in the offing! I can’t say much except that I am working on the sequel right now. I don’t yet know when I’ll finish.
Also, my second book, Return to the Willows, just came out a few months ago.

How has the response to The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate been? 

The response has been overwhelming.  Calpurnia has been translated into 17 languages, which I find astonishing.  It turns out that young girls in Finland and Korea and India respond to her the same way Texas girls do.

What is the best compliment you have so far received for The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate?

I’ve had several young readers tell me they think it’s the best book they’ve ever read.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Please tell us the names of some of your all-time favourite books.

My all-time favorite childhood book was The Wind in the Willows.  I loved it so much that fifty years later, I wrote my version of a sequel to it.  My favorite books for adults are Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Moo by Jane Smiley, everything written by Alice Munro, John LeCarre, Lee K. Abbott, and T. C. Boyle.  And I absolutely adore P. G. Wodehouse.  Who doesn’t?

A word of advice for newbie writers?

The best advice I can give new writers is to find or form a writing group of people you trust, to critique your work.  This does not mean your family, or best friends, or someone who is going to gush about the work and tell you it’s great when it’s not.  It’s not easy to find the right group.  I went through three groups before finding the one that works for me, and we have all been together for about 12 years now.

Meet: Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran

Some time ago, I read Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran’s book Mayil Will Not Be Quiet and loved it. As soon as I had finished reading the book, I started wondering about the way the book would have been conceived of and written. I wanted to know the story behind Mayil and, curious, wrote to the authors. Very graciously, they accepted my request for an interview on my blog!!

Excerpts from our e-mails:

How did you come up with the idea of writing Mayil Will Not Be Quiet? What was your inspiration behind the idea?

Both of us are interested in gender issues as well as children’s literature. When we were in college, we realized that looking at gender as a construct had to do with unlearning the ways in which we had been  taught to think and behave all our lives. We wondered if our lives would have been different if we had known all this while growing up. Most of the material on the subject is theoretical and, therefore, not accessible to children, so we thought it’d be a good idea to write a children’s book on it. Mayil started off as a beginner’s text on gender, a kind of resource book that was intended for classroom use. However, it eventually became a diary. This genre gave us the opportunity to add more dimensions to her character and make her more knowable to the readers. The shift from a third person narrative (as it was in the resource book format) to the first person narrative (as it is now in the diary) is what has allowed for the intimacy between readers and Mayil.

How did you come up with the unique and lovely name of Mayil for the protagonist?

Well, the protagonist sounded like a Mayil!! 😀

Is the character of Mayil based on anyone you know in real life?

We actually got to know Mayil as we wrote different entries together. We would sometimes discuss how Mayil would react in a certain situation or not. We were inspired by our childhood, different interactions, and situations that happened to us as children, but Mayil is very much her own person. She has strong opinions, likes and dislikes, peeves, fears and all kinds of questions.

Are any of the instances mentioned in the book autobiographical, as in they have happened to you in your childhood?

Yes, there are a few! Sowmya’s mum would actually give her a rupee if she could keep quiet for ten minutes, for instance! Many of the school-based incidents are from real life too.

How did you decide on the title of the book? Any special significance behind it?

Mayil is spirited, even precocious at times. In her diary, she says, “…I’m going to write about everything I think of, and nobody is going to ask me to be quiet.“And so, there it is – the title – Mayil Will Not Be Quiet.

How did you (both the authors) collaborate to work on the book?

We really didn’t think much about collaborating on this when we were actually doing it. It’s only now when people wonder about how we managed to do it that we become conscious about the fact. We discussed what themes we would address in the book initially (when it was a resource book) – like gender and language, gender and work, gender and representation, etc. Then, one person would start writing a chapter and send it to the other whenever she got stuck or felt the other person completing it would make it more interesting. The entire book was done this way. If one of us felt that a certain line or incident was not working, we would discuss it and resolve the issue. Since we had a structure in place, writing the 2nd draft- the diary-was not too difficult.

What other books have you (both the authors) written in the past? 

Sowmya

Picture Books: Monday to Sunday, School is Cool, Power Cut, The Snow King’s Daughter, Aana and Chena

Young Adult: Mayil Will Not Be Quiet

Anthology: Water Stories from Around the World, ThePuffin Book of Magic Stories for 8-year-olds

Niveditha

Picture Books: Jalebi Curls (2008, story), 9 to 1(2009, story and pictures), The Musical Donkey(2010, story), The Sky Monkey’s Beard(2011, story and pictures), Click!(2011, text), Where’sthe Sun? (2012, story)

Young Adult: Mayil Will Not Be Quiet

Anthology: Water Stories From Around the World

Is there going to be a sequel to Mayil Will Not Be Quiet? When is it coming out?

Yes, it is slated for 2013.

What are the other books you (both the authors) working on in the moment?

Sowmya is currently working on an adventure series for Karadi tales. Niveditha will be illustrating her second picture book for Tulika later this year, and she is very excited about it.

What are you (both the authors) doing when you are not writing books? 

Niveditha, apart from writing, loves reading, listening to music and photography. Sowmya loves blogging, and is currently balancing between being a work-from-home plus stay-at-home mum, and managing content for a soon-to-be-launched website for children’s books.

What if Mayil Will Not Be Quiet were to be made into a movie?

If it were to be made into a Tamil movie, we hope it can have an embarrassingly fun rap song. 🙂

Did you start with a clear picture of how the book should be and then develop on it, or did the book take on a flow of its own once you started writing?

It really did take on a flow of its own once it took on the diary form. (It was Tulika’s Publishing Editor, Radhika Menon, whose idea the diary form was.) Also, the book’s editor, Deeya Nayar, gave us gentle hints and suggestions, which were quite encouraging.

How similar is Mayil to you in real life?

While we have tried to address a host of issues through her voice, we were conscious that Mayil have a character of her own. There is a bit of us in her, though, especially in her usage of language; it does go back to middle school, for both of us.

Have you been avid journal-writers in real life too, like Mayil, in childhood?

Both of us did keep diaries, but neither of us were dedicated diary writers like Mayil.

Cute, right?

Eagerly waiting now for Mayil‘s sequel to come out!!

Meet: Caroline Preston

This happens to me many times: I fall in love with a book even before I have read it! It happened to me with A Bear Called Paddington, The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society and Things I Want My Daughters To Know. I read about these books on some wonderful book blogs that I follow, and just knew I had to read them. I had a feeling that I was going to love these books. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on my copy of these books, and when I did, I LOVED them. I fell for them lock, stock and barrel.

And now, the scenario repeats with Caroline Preston’s The Scrapbook Of Frankie Pratt. I read about this book on the messy baker’s blog and fell head over heels for it. It was such a charming and unique concept that I couldn’t resist wanting a copy for myself at the earliest!

What is the book all about? Here is an excerpt from the author’s website:

About “The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt”

For her graduation from high school in 1920, Frankie Pratt receives a scrapbook and her father’s old Corona typewriter. Despite Frankie’s dreams of becoming a writer, she must forgo a scholarship to a prestigious women’s college to help her widowed mother. But when a mysterious Captain James sweeps her off her feet, her mother finds a way to protect Frankie from the less-than-noble intentions of her unsuitable beau.

Through a kaleidoscopic array of vintage postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket stubs, catalogue pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus and more, we meet and follow Frankie on her journey in search of success and love. Once at Vassar, Frankie crosses paths with intellectuals and writers, among them “Vincent,” (alumna Edna St. Vincent Millay), who encourages Frankie to move to Greenwich Village and pursue her writing. When heartbreak finds her in New York, she sets off for Paris aboard the S.S. Mauritania, where she keeps company with two exiled Russian princes and a “spinster adventuress.”  In Paris, Frankie takes a garret apartment above Shakespeare & Company, the hub of expat life, only to have a certain ne’er-do-well captain from past reappear. But when a family crisis compels Frankie to return to her small New England hometown, she finds exactly what she had been looking for all along.

Now, doesn’t that sound like a quaint and charming book?

The hubby ordered a copy for me online, and I can’t wait for it to arrive! I hope to be able to start my New Year’s reading with this one! I’m super-duper excited! 🙂

There’s another cause for cheer as well. I got in touch with Caroline, and she very graciously accepted my request for an interview!

I am thrilled to share with you my conversation with Caroline! Here goes:

1.     What gave you the idea for doing a novel as a scrapbook?

I like to say the idea of making a scrapbook novel was 40 years in the making.  As a little girl, I used to pore over my grandmother’s flapper scrapbook filled with dance cards, letters from old boyfriends, ocean liner tickets, and even long curls snipped when she got her hair bobbed.

My first three novels were what I guess you’d call “conventional” format—i.e. just words.  My third novel Gatsby’s Girl was inspired by the meticulous scrapbook F. Scott Fitzgerald kept about his first love, Ginevra King—her first note to him, her handkerchief, and a newspaper clipping about her marriage to another man.  Later he would turn the story of his unrequited crush into The Great Gatsby.

When I was casting around for the idea for my fourth novel, I wanted to create something that was as visual and powerful as a scrapbook.  And then I had a crazy idea—why not make a novel that WAS a scrapbook. Not a digital scrapbook, but an actual one made of real stuff that I cut up with scissors and pasted together with glue.

2.     What came first—the story or the memorabilia?

I started with my character, Frankie Pratt, and the outlines of her story, which was set in the 1920’s.  I imagined an 18-year-old girl who wanted to become a writer and her journey which would take her to Vassar, Greenwich Village, and Paris.

Then I hunted down and bought all the things that a girl like Frankie  would glue in her scrapbook—postcards, movie tickets, Vassar report cards, menus, sheet music, fashion spreads,  popular magazines, a New York subway map, a Paris guidebook, and of course love letters.  In all, I collected over 600 pieces of vintage 1920’s ephemera!

3.     How did the memorabilia dictate the story?

Frankie’s story changed and evolved as I  found surprising things—for example an original book cover for The Sun Also Rises. The book caused a huge fuss in Paris when it came out in 1926 because everyone recognized the characters, and she would have been right there to bear witness.

4.     Why did you choose to set Frankie’s story in the 1920s?

Like a lot of people, I have a romantic obsession with the 1920s when every aspect of life (especially for women) was turned upside down and reinvented.  Women cut off their hair and hemlines, got the vote, went to work, and felt freed from Victorian behavior codes. Writing Frankie Pratt was a chance for me to indulge in some lovely time travel.

5.     Where did you get a lot of the things featured in the scrapbook?

I had a surprising number of 1920s items in my own collection of vintage paper.  I stopped at every roadside antique store and junk shop I passed- in Mississippi, Virginia, New York and Illinois.  (My favorite store is Whiting’s Old Paper in Mecanicsville, Va.)  And also I bought over 300 items from eBay—so many that my mailman complained.

6.     Do you think this was easier or harder than writing a novel in a more traditional manner?

Creating a scrapbook novel may not have been easier than writing a traditional novel, but it sure was a lot more fun! Writing a 300 page novel requires thousands of hours of sitting in a chair and staring at a blank computer screen.  With Frankie Pratt, I could spend countless hours and dollars on eBay every day and tell my husband with a straight face that I was “working on my novel.”

7.     What are you working on next?

I have started in on my next scrapbook novel, this one kept by a bride during her first year of marriage 1959-1960.  I like to think of it as a prequel to Mad Men.  My favorite finds so far:  a 1959 Brides magazine, the Betty Crocker Bride’s Cookbook, a 1960 sex manual, View-Master slides, a set of bride and groom paper dolls…

Sweet that, innit?

Thank you so much for this, Caroline! 🙂