I was excited to get to interview Kate Jacobs, author of The Friday Night Knitting Club, in regards to her newest book, Comfort Food (you can read my review HERE). She’s been interviewed before (you can read one interview HERE), and not wanting to bore her with the same ol’ questions, I reviewed questions that were asked and answered, and came up with a few of my own. However, there were some great questions asked and answered that I wanted to include here:
What made you decide to make the “foodie” trend the backdrop for your second novel?
I love cooking shows on TV! I am addicted to Top Chef. Plus I spend a lot of time dreaming about how I want to redo my kitchen (someday, someday!). The truth is that I love good food. There’s something so aspirational about watching a TV cook put together a great dish. But there’s an even more basic element: I have these wonderful memories of going to my grandmother’s house and tucking in to homemade chicken soup, freshly baked buns, fried chicken, and fruit pies that not only had made-from-scratch crusts, but were also made with peaches and cherries grown in her own yard! When I reflect on those family meals, I recall laughter and a tremendous sense of happiness.
Did you draw on connections in your personal life to write COMFORT FOOD? Why did you decide to make Gus a young widow?
Shortly before the publication of my first novel, The Friday Night Knitting Club, my husband became suddenly and seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. He experienced a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) – what is sometimes referred to as a “mini-stroke.” Now, we’re both in our 30s and had just returned from a vacation cruise to celebrate our fifth anniversary. It was a happy time. We’d been back a day and I’d just put a lasagna in the oven when the phone rang. Within a half-hour, I found myself watching in horror in the ER as my husband lost the ability to speak coherently and couldn’t move his legs. The doctor pulled me aside for one of those conversations you always see on television – about the next hours being crucial and calling the family and a litany of worst-case scenarios and tests that had to be done now, now, now – and every moment felt sharp and yet unreal at the same time. I kept thinking, “Will he be here tomorrow?” It was a long, lonely night, with a lot of scary moments and a lot of pressure to make smart choices for his future. The best news is that my husband received some very important medication within three hours of the onset of symptoms and therefore made a full recovery. He’s good as new. Still, privately, I found I was often thinking of that week– lots of emotions to sort through. When I began to work on Comfort Food, I found my way into the character of Gus Simpson by imagining her to be widowed right around the same age as I was when my husband went into the hospital.
Do you identify more with Gus specifically, or with another strong female character(s) in your book?
All of the characters are fictional – no one character is me even as I sometimes put bits and pieces of myself into them — but I feel we could all relate to each of them in different ways. Hannah cannot forgive herself for her mistakes and poor choices; she lives in shame and fear of judgment. Carmen feels underappreciated and craves respect but doesn’t know how to get it. Sabrina seems always cheery yet she runs away from her own feelings. Aimee has the weight of the world on her shoulders: she feels this tremendous sense of responsibility without respite. And Gus spends so much time holding it all together and making sure everyone else is nurtured and nourished that she is afraid to let herself seem anything less than perfect. The characters, and all the women I know in real life, deserve to cut themselves a little bit of slack.
You’ve said when you need a little dose of personal therapy, you have to bake. Can you explain why this helps?
I wish I knew! No, I think it’s just a strong association with childhood. Even when I wouldn’t learn how to cook I always baked. My mom typically made us kids do the baking if we wanted treats, and, as the youngest, I was suited up in an apron and marched in to make the chocolate chip cookies or brownies or whatever for my older brothers and sisters. Now I just find it soothing. And trust me: I spent a lot of time in the kitchen as I was writing Comfort Food, sometimes trying out Spanish recipes to get a feeling for Carmen, and sometimes just making cookie after cookie as I thought about the characters. It’s not an accident that Hannah has a sweet tooth!
Do you have any favorite real-life celebrity cooks?
I am a huge fan of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. I find her absolutely engrossing and so welcoming — everything she makes seems infused with yummy deliciousness – and at the end of every show I think how much I’d like to be one the folks dining with her on her patio! I also love Giada De Laurentiis because I love Italian food, and everything she makes is so elegant. And I really enjoy Rachael Ray. Simple and fast appeals to me. I own cookbooks by all three of them.
Now, for my questions…
Hey Lady!: You mentioned in other interviews that you love cooking shows. Have you gotten to meet any celebrity chefs since you wrote Comfort Food?
KJ: Hmmm…now you have me thinking…..! No, I haven’t. That would certainly be neat, and I’d love to. But I think all those celebrity chefs are busy cooking and, frankly, I’m busy writing. I have another book on the go!
HL!: Would you like to have your own cooking show?
KJ: Whether I’d enjoy having a cooking show and whether it would be remotely fun to watch are two different things! I tend to make the same dishes over and over. So I could see episode after episode of my cooking show in which I make risotto, tenderloin, chocolate chip cookies, and, my favorite breakfast, smoothies. You know, I do have a larger repertoire than that and I enjoy trying new dishes, but no one should give me a cooking show. I’m just a writer, a home cook like most of us are, and not a gourmet at all. I also tend to enjoy softer tastes, whereas my husband really likes spice and bold flavors. (We always joke that this is because I grew up in Canada and he is a born-and-bred American.) Instead of a cooking show, I’d like a reader show, in which I’d get to interview folks about what’s on the nightstand and we could talk books all afternoon. That’s the TV program I want to host!
HL!: I’ve read at least one person was disappointed that Comfort Food didn’t come with a recipe. Was that something you considered? What recipe do you think you would have included if you had done that?
KJ: I never want people to be disappointed – that’s my people pleaser side that’s typically in overdrive – but at the same time it is challenging to keep everyone happy. I also read a blog in which a reviewer was appreciative of the lack of recipes! So it’s always a hard balance. Let me tell you, I almost put seven recipes into the back of the book – and then changed my mind and decided to build an entire website for the new novel at www.comfortfoodnovel.com . And you can find recipes at the site that inspired some of the menus in the fictitious cooking show, Eat Drink and Be, and there’s also a recipe-share database where anyone can register and put up favorite dishes and so on. I wanted it to a fun site to fit with the new novel, which is lighthearted and upbeat.
HL!: After you completed either The Friday Night Knitting Club or Comfort Food, did you think about the characters after you were finished writing the book? Do your characters have lives of their own in your head, so to speak?
KJ: Yes, of course. I hold them close. I am going to be 35 in June and I have an entire parade of imaginary friends in my head! I think about the characters quite often, and I imagine different futures for them. Sometimes I like to just sit and think up happy endings all round because it’s soothing. And I also have a lot of new characters who are bursting to get out of my brain. So there are many stories to tell.
HL!: What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?
KJ: Starting is the hardest part – but also very exciting, in a nervous, anticipatory way. Who knows what characters I’ll meet or where the story will go? Finishing a manuscript makes me feel euphoric – in the “I’m done, I’m really done” moment – but then sad as I have to turn the page and move on to new stories. As for my truly least favorite part of writing, it has to be the combination of mental, emotional, and physical fatigue. I tend to get up early as I get closer to a deadline. I am not a morning person! So I dread that darn alarm. But, at the same time, it’s good to get these stories onto paper. Writing is what I’ve always wanted to do and I feel privileged to be able to be a storyteller.
Next week Ms. Jacobs will be guest posting here, which is a relief to me, ’cause I’ve got PLENTY to do for the wedding! If anyone else wants to guest post, I’m looking for volunteers. 😉