I'm happy to present her reply here and would like to thank her so much for considering this a worthy forum...
Is Gus based on anyone you know or would like to know?
You have written tragedy into your main character’s lives in both books;
do you feel that it’s necessary to have tragedy, that it builds a better story?
Most characters I write ultimately end up being simply
themselves: Not me or someone I know. Though certainly aspects of Gus’s
character in Comfort Food – her elegance, her warmth – owe a lot to the fact
that I love watching Ina Garten on Food Network. I am a huge fan of The Barefoot
Contessa. But Gus isn’t Ina, and she certainly isn’t me. I’m not a good enough
cook! You know, little bits of my personality and my quirks can seep into the
characters, that’s for sure. But even when that happens the characters do not
become stand-ins for me. Someone said to me recently that a writer is everywhere
and nowhere in a book and that strikes me as accurate. There are times I do use
a personal experience to find my way into understanding a character. That’s how
I got to know Gus: I imagined a shared experience. You see, my husband and I
went through a bit of a health scare shortly before my first novel, The Friday
Night Knitting Club, was published. (Talk about putting everything in
perspective!) He ended up in hospital with a mini-stroke and it was frightening.
Fortunately, he recovered fully; today, you’d never guess. But those days were
awful. Overwhelming. We felt blindsided, truly, having just come home from a
vacation cruise celebrating our fifth anniversary. Happy endings are fun. To
live. And sometimes they’re fun to write. And while I do think conflict or
challenge is important to storytelling, tragedy isn’t necessary for a story to
work. But I drew on my very real fear of my husband dying when I thought about
Gus. How would that change my direction? How would it change Gus? That’s why Gus
is widowed around the age I was when my husband was ill, and it’s also why I
made her a mother. Because my husband and I don’t have kids yet and the feeling
we’d always had – that time is on our side – quickly evaporated that night. So
what I think you’re sensing in my books is something else: There are moments
about which I feel profound sadness, such as the unexpected death of someone
close to me almost five years ago, and the experience of my husband’s illness,
and so on. The feelings sneak into the writing, I think. Even as I try to create
breezy, fun-to-read stuff, even as I laugh a lot in real life and don’t take
myself too seriously, these emotions and memories poke through the pages every
now and then. It’s in those moments you probably see the real me more than at
any other time. And yet Comfort Food is meant to be a cheery, comforting book; I
hope readers finish with a smile!
Thanks, Kate. I'd like to wish you good fortune with Comfort Food. It's been a pleasure
to have you as my guest.