Throughout the year she’s watched, applauded, supported her fellow 2010 Class Members dance across the ballroom floor to launch their books and celebrate with tours/signings. However this Thursday, August 5, 2010 it’s Debutante Alicia Bessette’s turn to take a bow when her first novel, Simply from Scratch, appears in local bookstores and ships from online retailers.
Of course, truth be told, this book is not Alicia’s first published “composition.” As a self-trained musician, she’s been playing the piano since childhood and her original solo piano pieces can be heard on radio stations around the world. Reservoir, the first CD, was released in 2002 and the most recent, Orchard, received a nomination for the 2009 “grassroots grammies.” For more about Alicia’s music please visit, Alicia Bessette pianist/composer.
Yet in her Wednesday posts at The Debutante Ball, Alicia rarely mentioned music except for a brief nod, such as this, in the September 2, 2009 post, In which Ms. Wednesday introduces herself, and her book!. Here’s what she shared in that first post:
1. I’m married to my college sweetheart, novelist Matthew Quick. In 2004, with the shared goal of becoming full-time novelists, we quit our jobs, sold our house, and moved in with my parents. Five years later, Matt and I are on our own, back in the Philly area, publishing novels and doing everything we can to continue living the dream.
2. I can’t wait to be reunited with my piano, which is very quietly waiting in what was my parents’ dining room in Massachusetts. What caused the separation? More on that in future posts.
3. Does it have something (anything) to do with France? Or dogs? Movies? Music, of any kind? Yoga? Travel? If so, I’m probably very interested!
In that same post the new Debutante also offered a brief synopsis of her novel:
I once heard an inspiring piece of writing advice: “Write the book only you can write.”
That was my aim with my debut novel, Simply from Scratch—to create a story that’s bighearted, accessible, and totally, authentically me.
A week after Hurricane Katrina, I was hired at a regional newspaper, The Landmark, in my hometown of Holden, Massachusetts. For months my colleagues and I wrote about volunteers from our area helping the people of New Orleans. That spirit of community outreach inspired Simply from Scratch. I asked myself, What would happen if one of those Massachusetts volunteers didn’t return? And the book grew from that question.
Simply from Scratch is peopled with lively small-town heroes. You’ll meet a chainsaw artist in her seventies. (Because really, isn’t it time American literature boasted a strong, chainsaw-wielding older woman?) And you’ll meet Ingrid, a young girl scheming to get to know world-famous TV chef Polly Pinch, coquettish star of a hit cooking show. You’ll meet other characters too.
Marisa de los Santos, bestselling author of Love Walked In offered early praise:
“This story of a young widow edging warily back into the world is full of vivid characters and grace. Imbued with hope but blessedly lacking in sentimentality, it is a fresh, stirring take on the devastation of grief and the holiness of friendship.”
And the buzz of anticipation for the book began.
That first chapter introduces many of the storyline’s characters, while leaving the reader with a variety of unanswered questions. It’s not meant to confuse but to pique interest as the author deftly withholds telling backstory details all at once. Instead she scatters bits of information like breadcrumbs to keep the reader following and engaged.
On the other hand, there may be one character who “knows” almost everything from the start. In response to an interview question (posed by a chain bookstore in Germany) — What is the role of the non-human character, the greyhound, Captain Ahab? –, Alicia answered in the July 21, 2010 post, Knowing things:
Greyhounds are a little bit odd. They’re different than other dogs. Their affection is subtle; their presence is calm and cool; and they have many quirks (they rarely sit, for example).
Like her dog, the grieving narrator of Simply from Scratch is a little … different! An artist, Zell “feels” the world more intensely than most people. She’s got her fair share of quirks too: talking to Ahab in pirate-speak; composing emails to Nick, her deceased husband. Captain Ahab’s reserved yet quirky personality underscores that of Zell.
Many people who feel a bond with animals will tell you that animals know things. They know when their people are hurting. They know when there’s celebration in the air.
Captain Ahab joins literature’s many animal characters that serve to remind us of intuition, of inner-knowing, of keen perception. In the very first scene of Simply from Scratch, Ahab looks on as Zell discovers a present hidden in her oven, a gift Nick intended to give to her. Not emotionally ready to open it, Zell hides the present away, until the end of the book.
But I think part of her knows all along what’s in that box. Some readers might know it, too.”
Knowing what’s in the box (I didn’t) or any other of these characters’ unspoken truths doesn’t matter. In fact it’s part of the enjoyment of getting to know the town that Alicia has created. A cross between two brilliantly written TV shows, “Northern Exposure” and “Men in Trees,” Simply from Scratch offers a comfort zone despite having grief, guilt, and a general feeling of indecision exist within its pages. Yet even as Zell mourns — as does everyone else –, there is hope. Why? Well they all must deal with the loss of a husband or friend and start over, simply from scratch.
Charming, thoughtful, and heartfelt, this debut novel gathers seemingly unrelated, significant details together to create a tale that’s both tender and true. But how did the author transform fictional quirky characters and events into what could pass for a realistic human interest story? Alicia explains:
I’m not sure how they all came together. When you’re working on a book, you devote so many hours and an unthinkable amount of thought (!) to it. After a while, all the random little pieces of your story — events, details, characters and what they want — all these things start to synthesize, start to make even more sense than you realized. I hesitate to use the word “magic” in conjunction with the writing process, and I don’t want to sound flaky … and yet, I do believe that when you’re writing, you’re in a very receptive state, and at some point, subconscious takes over, or some kind of inner awareness — perhaps the magic of creation? — and it guides you in drawing connections.
Simply from Scratch connects on all levels, including the double entendre of its title. Alicia Bessette’s “magic of creation” is present on every page and in every character, none of whom you will soon forget. Treat yourself to this warm-hearted novel and enjoy!
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Alicia Bessette’s Simply from Scratch in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.