The Divining Wand

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Archive for October, 2010

Guest Melissa Senate on Motherhood, Julia Child, and “please can I have a mouse, rat, hamster, or rabbit” made a cook out of me

October 12, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Melissa Senate’s (The Secret of Joy, The Mosts YA, the rest in Bibliography) latest novel, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, releases in two weeks on October 26, 2010. Another Trending: food book? The answer is yes and no. In today’s guest post, the author reveals her inspiration for the book….a pinch of this, a wish of that sifted and stirred into immeasurable love.]

Motherhood, Julia Child, and “please can I have a mouse, rat, hamster or rabbit” made a cook out of me

The epigraph of my new novel, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School (pub date: 10/26) comes from Julia Child: “I was thirty-two when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” I came across this quote by the legendary chef a long time ago and it stuck with me–and gave me hope. Until my son came along when I was thirty-six, I wasn’t much of a cook 1) because anything I did attempt to make came out awful and b) because it was “just me.” My typical dinner in those “just me” days? A knish with a squirt of mustard from a street vendor on the way home from work. A bowl of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios in cold milk. If I made anything in my tiny kitchen in my Manhattan studio apartment, it was an omelet. Any other attempts: #foodfail. I love food, all kinds, all ethnicities, particularly Mexican and Indian and Italian, but even my how-can-you-mess up chicken and cheese quesadillas were something not to behold—or eat. Pasta, no matter how simple the recipe, was always overcooked or undercooked. And my ambitious attempts at my beloved chana masala? Inedible.

So I was happy enough with my knishes and omelets and ate out a lot. But when my dear son Max was born, I knew I had six months to get my act together (in that lovely space when babies eat liquid food only). I bought How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and learned how to make the basics. My toddler food—from chicken fingers to meatloaf—wasn’t half bad. By the time Max was two and we moved to Maine, to a kitchen that you could actually turn around in, Max began asking to cook with me. Cracking the eggs for scrambled eggs and brownies. Laying chicken cutlets in breadcrumbs. The concentration on his little face, his happiness at being with me in the kitchen, and his pride at not sloshing eggs out of the bowl made me realize what had been missing from my time in the kitchen all those years: a sense of fun, of caring deeply what I was doing, of wonder at the very process of cooking. Before I began cooking with my son, cooking was about the end result. Now it was about much more.

A few days before his sixth birthday, Max was cracking eggs into a bowl for his beloved bacon frittatas, and as he began working on his gentle beating technique, he said into the bowl: “Please let Mommy say yes to getting me a mouse, rat, hamster or rabbit for my birthday.” Beat, beat. “Please, please, please. I really want a rat but I’ll take any of them.” Then he added in the pinch of salt and made his wish again.

And the idea for The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, about a neophyte chef whose cooking class, with its special recipes that call for adding wishes and memories into every pot and pan, changes the lives of its teacher and students, was born. Right in my very own Tuscan-inspired kitchen in a small town in Maine.

P.S. Max did get his wish, two little fancy pet rats he named Jeffrey and Timmy.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Richard Hine’s Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Richard Hine and Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Richard Hine and
Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch

October 11, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Although Richard Hine presented a 25-step advice list on How to Write a Novel in 30 Years or Less, he might have left out one “crucial-for success” point: Write a timely story. For when his book, Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch, debuts tomorrow — October 12, 2010 –, the author’s perfect timing will become obvious.

However it wasn’t always that way. During his years of working in publishing companies that included Adweek in 1988, Time in 1992, and The Wall Street Journal in 2002, Richard accepted each job by being told he “had just missed a great party.” And, in the celebratory aftermath, everyone was stressed as the print media tried to be creative in the digital age.

Nevertheless it proved inspiring for the author who took a creative look at what was and what was not happening. As he says of writing his book:

“I’ve tried to peel away the outer cloak of seriousness that people bring to their workaday lives and reveal some truths about the specific challenges and pressures facing today’s media business.

I do hope that my novel will appeal to a broad audience of readers—especially those who like the humor and humanity of “The Office” or movies like “American Beauty.” But I also hope I’ve created a document that records what it was like to work specifically in the newspaper business in the first decade of the 21st Century.”

With both his professional and personal plates heaped with problems, Russell Wiley is out to lunch, literally and figuratively. Here’s the Synopsis:

Russell Wiley is in deep trouble. A media executive for the failing Daily Business Chronicle, his career is teetering on the brink of collapse, and his sexless marriage is fast approaching its expiration date. With his professional and personal lives floundering, it’s no wonder Russell is distracted, unhappy, and losing faith in himself. Making matters worse are his scheming boss, a hot-shot new consultant determined to see Russell ousted, and the beguiling colleague whose mere presence has a disconcerting effect on Russell’s starved libido. Disaster seems imminent…and that’s before he makes a careless mistake that could cost the paper millions. Russell realizes he must take drastic action if he is going to salvage his career, his love life, and what little remains of his self-respect. Sardonic, edgy, and true to life, this gripping novel offers an insider’s view into a newspaper’s inner sanctum and the people who oil the wheels of the “old media” machine.

Now please watch a Video Interview with Richard Hine.

Applying the adage of “Write what you know,” the author has taken on the corporate failure of the media to adapt to the times and then mixed in an Everyman to give the book heart, soul, and humor. In truth the complicated issues are reflected in the humanity of Russell (and some of his colleagues) as they throw ideas/darts at the wall, hoping a few will stick to become their salvation and allow them to maintain their power.

Of course power tends to equate with sex and sexiness — according to the author — is “at the core of the novel.” In general terms this makes perfect sense since the media is driven by sex. And Russell is in the throes of realizing he isn’t as sexy as he once was, whether at home with his wife, or at work with his corporate bosses and the advertisers whose cash keeps the company going. It’s all very real and understandable when one considers that the print media has not adapted their content to connect with Internet users. In other words, to succeed in the future, newspapers simply need to sell enough ads to bankroll their high-priced content.

It’s simple in business terms but what about in human terms? Ah, therein lies the humor. Although Richard admits that he doesn’t know what the future holds for newspapers and magazines, he does know and care for the personalities who work in the industry:

“I do know that the media business I worked in is filled with some of the most intelligent, passionate, committed people you’ll ever meet. Scratch the surface and you’ll find they’re wacky, too. Some even have quite a repertoire of silly walks.”

Based on that intimate knowledge, the writer has given us Russell Wiley along with a newspaper staff trying to survive. Um, well, since it is a corporate business some are trying more than others. TRUST: Corporate work experience is not required to identify, appreciate, and understand these characters. Richard Hines’ flawless writing “shows and tells” what is needed to know, including how Russell Wiley could use something close to a miracle to salvage his life.

*SPOILERS* are not allowed on The Divining Wand but creative endeavors found on the Internet are. Take, for example, the Daily Edge (definitely a part of the novel) which appears in its secret design on the home page of Richard Hine’s website.

The author worked with top website designer Jefferson Rabb to create/build what you see as an internal document that allows for the addition of marginalia — the poking fun notations at today’s newspaper business. It’s brilliantly clever but that’s not the best part. Richard explains taking this a step further:

“When we added a Twitter feed, the first thought was to just leave it, let it sit there inactive. But then I started tweeting fake news stories, and we decided the inactive part of the site should actually be the Blog, which is promised on the home page, but is still undelivered. It’s worked out quite well so far, @TheDailyEdge actually had the Top Tweet on the Twitter #news hashtag a few days ago — take that CNN and New York Times!”

What fun and what more proof is necessary to claim that Richard Hine is the wily one? Beginning tomorrow Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch at your local bookstore and online retailer. Please stop by, pick him up, and take him home. His tale makes a wonderfully juicy, after dinner treat!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Richard Hine’s Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Best Writing Exercises, Part I

October 07, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles

Whether it’s to warm-up, jumpstart, or let their imaginations wander, many of our authors/friends use a writing exercise. Being interested in what works for them, The Divining Wand asked: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

The following replies lead off with Tawna Fenske, a 2011 Class Member of The Debutante Ball:

Tawna Fenske (Making Waves debuting August 2011, Believe It or Not in January 2012, and Let It Breathe August 2012):

“I’m a big fan of #1k1hr. That’s the official hashtag for those of you on Twitter, but tweeting isn’t a requirement for participation. I was introduced to the idea by author Patrick Alan, who explains it like this: “The object is simple. Sit down and write until you have one thousand words and one hour has passed. You have to accomplish both. The challenge isn’t to write 1,000 words in an hour. It’s to write for at least an hour and at least 1,000 words.”

I love this concept because it forces a writer to switch off his or her internal editor. It’s fast and furious and very rewarding for such a small investment of time. I enjoy the motivation of the challenge, particularly if I’m playing with other authors under the #1k1hr hashtag on Twitter. Most importantly, it’s a good way to get words on the page. They won’t always be good words — in fact, some of what I’ve written playing #1k1hr is truly awful. But you can’t edit a blank page, so it’s a good way to nail down a starting point with something I can edit later

You can read more about #1k1hr here.”

Allie Larkin (Stay):

“STAY started as a writing exercise in a college class. We had a sheet with two columns of words, and were asked to take a word from column A and one from column B. We had to make a sentence with them – A is a B. My sentence was “Separation is a battle.” We wrote for 3 minutes, using that line as the first sentence. Later in the semester, we had to revise one exercise three different ways, changing something major like point of view, tense, or setting. By the third round of revisions, I’d found my main character.
I still do writing exercises when I’m looking for new ideas. Often, I’ll take a song lyric – something short enough to not be too specific – and use it as my first sentence. Then, I free-write for a set amount of time. And, I still love going back and revising my exercises by rewriting them from a different point of view or tense. It’s easier to play with those things in order to find the right character and the right time and place when the idea is new and messy and there are so many different directions it could go in.”

Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

“I don’t really use exercises, but I tend to write and write and write excess background, excess scenes, stuff that I know will fall on the cutting room floor. This helps me know my characters better. I also try to rewrite scenes from another character’s perspective if something doesn’t feel right.”

Leah Stewart (Husband and Wife, The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl):

“Writing from the point of view of a character whose point of view I’m not using in the actual manuscript.”

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“In Robert McKee’s book on the craft of writing, STORY, he talks a lot about the “controlling idea.” What is it that your characters are struggling over throughout the course of the book? In the story I’m working on now, the controlling idea is that hope—no matter how foolish—can lead you to a better future. The opposite force at work is death of hope. McKee asks us to play out those contrasting forces, using each to create tension, back and forth, throughout the scenes and chapters, so that the reader is never entirely comfortable, never really sure what’s going to happen next. That’s an extremely simplified explanation of the controlling idea, though; to fully understand it, I recommend reading McKee’s book.”

To be continued.

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Announcement: The winners of Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis are Janel and Wendy Kinsey. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and your book will be sent out promptly.

The Revealing of Melissa Senate

October 06, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Popular and prolific, Melissa Senate (The Mosts YA, The Secret of Joy, the rest in Bibliography) offers her latest novel The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, to be released on October 26, 2010, with the following description:

An Italian cooking class, with special recipes that call for adding wishes and memories to every pot and pan, changes the lives of its new teacher–heartbroken Holly Maguire–and her four students: a twelve-year-old girl; a grieving woman; a serial dater, and a newly separated single father.

And then its topped off with this Advance Praise!

“Tender, charming, and seasoned with a pinch of old-world magic, The Love Goddess’s Cooking School is a warmly rendered story of loss, heartache, and starting over. Melissa Senate has created a delightful cast of characters who learn about life, love, and the mess they’ve made of both while in, and out of, the kitchen.” –Beth Hoffman, bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

“The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate reads like a recipe for reinvention, filled with hope and seasoned liberally with forgiveness. But the real magic here is Melissa Senate’s writing, which laps rhythmically against your heart like gentle waves along the coast.” –Claire Cook, bestselling author of Must Love Dogs and Seven Year Switch

The Divining Wand has scheduled its presentation/review of The Love Goddess’ Cooking School for Monday, October 18, 2010 but, in the meantime, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Melissa Senate is the author of eight novels, including the bestselling See Jane Date, which was made into an ABC Family TV movie and has sold over 200,000 copies worldwide. She’s published short pieces in Everything I’ve Always Wanted to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume, It’s a Wonderful Lie, Flirting with Pride and Prejudice, and American Girls About Town. A former romance and young adult editor from New York, she now lives on the southern coast of Maine with her son.

Impressive? Indeed Melissa is, and she’s also fascinating by revealing:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Writer. Mother. Mainer. Observer. Reader. Animal lover. Flower-smeller. A-ok.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Has always been: “Just do it.” Was mine before Nike’s.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: On a sunny, warm day, lying on a float in some bugless body of water and reading something wonderful, my son lying on his own little float next to me, reading something that makes him think and laugh and wonder.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: That something bad could happen to my little guy.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Rome–for the food, the Vatican museum, the architecture, the ruins, the beauty, the language, and yes, those handsome Italian men.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I’m still thinking about this one.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: I think J.K. Rowling is pretty darn amazing. That she started writing in a coffee shop as a down-on-her-luck single mother. Look at what her imagination, talent, and perseverance led to.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: The copyeditor on my last book started circling the words “actually” and “just” and drawing smiley faces next to them in her amusement of how many there were. When she got really sick of circling them, she started drawing little frowny faces.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’d love to be able to draw. I can’t even draw a stick figure. I took one of those Drawing For Absolute Beginners classes a couple of times, but it didn’t help.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: That I’m an optimist. Still and despite A LOT.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: My loner tendencies.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Generosity.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: That I didn’t recognize how I truly felt about someone until he was quite literally gone.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I gotta stick with myself.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: I have gobs of thick, long, curly dark hair. I’m easy to spot.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Was Nellie Olesen in the Little House books?

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Hmm, although I admire athletes in general for their skill, I’m not really up on any sports. When I lived in New York City, I did recognize Derek Jeter when he was sitting behind my booth in a diner, and I asked if he’d sign my then 2 year old’s soccer ball, and he very kindly did. Maybe because young Max was wearing a Yankees cap. And yes, Jeter is even hotter in person.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Grrr…when people yammer into cell phones.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Reading on my loveseat with my cuddly throw and both my cats curled at my feet.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Seriously, writing novels is it. No better dream job for a creative introvert.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness, generosity, humor.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Your basic BLT.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Hold On by Sarah McLachlan; Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye; Romeo & Juliet by Dire Straits; Back Streets by Bruce Springsteen; Photograph by Ringo Starr

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Anne of Green Gables, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

Lovely, creative, and very down-to-earth, stay updated on Melissa by following her on Twitter and becoming a friend/fan on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Stacey Ballis’s Good Enough to Eat in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Stacey Ballis and Good Enough to Eat. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Richard Hine on
How to Write a Novel in 30 Years or Less

October 05, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Rather than a wishful dream, Richard Hine’s real ambition was to be a novelist. But in the meantime he decided to try to make his fortune in the world of advertising. And, though the fortune in advertising didn’t quite result in a windfall, his debut novel, Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch, launches October 12, 2010. In today’s guest post, the about-to-be author shares how he never lost sight of his real ambition….more or less. ]

How to Write a Novel in 30 Years or Less

When people who’ve known me only a few years find out I’ve written a novel they are usually quite impressed. “Wow!” they say. And, “Congratulations!” And, “How did you find the time?” To these people, the fact that I’m a 47-year-old debut novelist does nothing to detract from the accomplishment.

Others, those who remember me from my brash, youthful, overconfident days, remind me that I’ve been talking about writing a novel for quite some time. “What took you so long?” these underminers ask. They say things like, “After all this time, your novel better be good.” And, “I’ve raised three children since you told me you were going to write a novel. Would you like to see a picture of my granddaughter? Her name’s iPadora.”

I do understand that we live in a fast-paced world. It’s possible to write a novel in 30 days if you really want to. That’s the whole promise of National Novel Writing Month each November. (Or NaNoWriMo if you’re in a rush.)

But what about those millions of people who dream of writing a novel, but aren’t in a particular hurry?

Perhaps you are one of them. If so, this article is written for you. If you follow its advice, you will have written at least one full draft of a novel in 30 years or less. And hey, even if you’re not happy with the result the first time, you can always go back and start over.

1. Set a deadline. The key with any project is to plan it effectively and execute it rigorously. If it’s a big project, like writing a novel, it’s best to establish the overall goal before breaking it up into smaller pieces. With my method, the key is to start out with a deadline that seems eminently doable. For example, tell yourself: “I will finish my novel before October, 2040.” You can do that, right?

2. Relax. Take a breath. There’s no need to be paralyzed by fear. Congratulate yourself on taking that important first step. You are now on the road to becoming a novelist.

3. Don’t start writing immediately. Heck, you’ve got too much to do already. As a reminder, please circle all that apply: Get out of bed. Eat breakfast. Think of a witty Facebook status update. If you have kids, remember to feed them. Do something personal-hygiene-related. Go about your day. Try not to get too grumpy/inebriated/lost on the way home. Don’t forget the kids (if applicable). Check for comments on your Facebook page. WTF? Not even a “like”? Don’t any of your friends get your humor anymore? If it’s a weeknight, cereal’s OK for dinner. Find remote. Watch TV. Remember to brush or remove your teeth. Go to bed. Recite your nightly mantra: “No pressure, I’ve still got 29 years and 364 days to complete my novel.”

4. Repeat step three for eight years and seven months. (But remember to subtract a day from your current time remaining in your nightly mantra.)

5. Now circle your age: a) 17; b) 29; c) 38; d) 53; e) celebrating the 25th anniversary of your 39th birthday

6. Take a long hard look in the mirror. Ask yourself: “What made you think you could ever be a writer anyway?” Don’t answer.

7. Investigate new technologies. Is it possible yet to transmit your thoughts to a computer wirelessly and have them spell-and-grammar-checked and put directly into an ebook format? If not, check again at three-month intervals. You never know when a breakthrough will occur.

8. Sort out your closets. Don’t become a hoarder. Make three piles. Keep. Donate. And throw away.

9. Throw away pile three. You know you can. Don’t second-guess yourself.

10. OK, you can keep one thing from the donate pile. But only one.

11. Clean your house or apartment. If you have a yard, you can also:
a) Build a “writing” shed out back.
b) Move your old couch into the new shed in your yard.
c) Hook cable up in there, too.

12. Ask yourself: “Is my lack of productivity caused by: a) a diet too rich in saturated fat; b) lack of exercise; or c) the 37 cats I have somehow acquired.” If you do answer this question, email it to me. Your answer will remain confidential, and be used for statistical purposes only.

13. Find a medical issue to worry about. If you can’t think of one, use this list of idea starters: i) Gum disease; ii) Did your ears always look like that?; iii) What’s that smell?; iv) Have you taken that “Real Age” test yet?

14. Stop regretting that one item you wish you hadn’t thrown away. Move on.

15. Read lots of critically acclaimed books. Tell yourself you could never write like that. Also tell yourself that you’re not scared of failure, you’re just protecting yourself against future disappointment.

16. Try a new workout regime. Minimum one hour of cardio, plus weight training for your bones. Commit to three sessions per week. After four weeks, reduce to twice a week. After six weeks, stop.

17. Be realistic. Not everybody can be a writer. There have to be readers, too. And seriously, when was the last time you did laundry?

18. Check the calendar. Is it 2038 yet?

19. Find out if that thought-into-novel-technology has been invented yet. If it hasn’t, excuse your French, but F-that. You have a novel to write. Remember the deadline? Everyone else may have forgotten, but you promised yourself, right?

20. Don’t worry if you’re a little rusty. Just tap out a few ideas. Just let it flow. Put on some music if it helps. Remember Lady GaGa? You used to love her. God, how long ago was that? Or maybe try some classical music if it’s less distracting. That’s right. Go with it. Wow. This is good.

21. Next day. Read over what you wrote. Tell yourself: “No. That was shit, actually. No structure and it kind of just drifted into whatever.”

22. Fight that rising panic. Read a book about how to write a book. And a few writer’s magazines too.

23. Find that old short story you wrote. You know the one I mean. The one everybody liked. Read it again. It’s not bad, is it?

24. Ask yourself: “Did I really write something that good thirty years ago?”

25. Go back to step one. Pick your own deadline. Politely ask your spouse/kids/cats to fix their own cereal/dry food for dinner.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Stacey Ballis’s Good Enough to Eat in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Stacey Ballis and Good Enough to Eat. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Stacey Ballis and Good Enough to Eat

October 04, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Whatever storyline Stacey Ballis (The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography) writes it’s always about the character and, in her most recent novel — Good Enough to Eat –, she proves this once again.

Following her own guidelines described in the guest post, What a Character!, the author introduces Melanie Hoffman’s voice, flaws, and emotional baggage within the book’s first pages. For this is a multi-layered, fascinating woman whose story was inspired by a few of Stacey’s friends who lost weight through gastric bypass surgery and then discovered it was difficult “to date after they lost the weight…harder to trust people, to know who they were in their new body.”

In a Philadelphia Examiner interview, the author explains:

“There is such a misconception that larger people are not the object of attraction, or that the people who are with them are with them “‘in spite”‘ of their size, so I wanted to acknowledge that there are people for whom that is actually the preference. And an equally large misconception that losing the weight brings happiness, when in fact losing a lot of weight can often bring self-doubt, depression, and identity crises. I always love the idea of putting a spin on themes, so starting the book with a woman whose husband has just left her for a woman twice her size after she struggled to lose that much weight seemed to be an interesting place to begin.”

The writing began and evolved into the following synopsis:

The last thing Melanie expected to lose when she went on a diet was her husband.

Former lawyer Melanie Hoffman lost half her body weight and opened a gourmet take-out café specializing in healthy and delicious food. Then her husband left her-for a woman twice her size. Immediately afterwards, she’s blindsided by a financial crisis. Melanie reaches out to a quirky roommate with a ton of baggage and becomes involved in a budding romance with a local documentary filmmaker.

In this warm and often laugh-out-loud novel, Melanie discovers that she still has a lot to learn about her friends, her relationships with men, and herself-and that her weight loss was just the beginning of an amazing journey that will transform her life from the inside out..

And enjoy watching Stacey talk more about the book, while cooking her Roasty Tomato Soup, on Lunchbreak WGN.

To truly appreciate this novel, consider how something as quick and easy as a change in hair style or hair color can affect a personality or even lifestyle, yet both are transformations that result from working solely on one’s outward appearance. On the other hand, dramatic weight loss begins within the inner self — complete with personal emotional issues — and, while pounds may melt away over months/years, the heavy inner baggage is apt to remain…possibly forever. And that’s merely one reason Good Enough to Eat gives readers food for thought.

True-to-life Melanie carries around internal baggage and the author includes this insight by titling each chapter with a food — the first being Mashed Potatoes –, then elaborating on what the food dish means to Mel through an excerpt from her diet journal. Not only is this a clever method of revealing the character’s background, it also serves as realistic motivation for her behavior in the storyline as Stacey explains:

“A lot of nutritionist and diet support groups focus on keeping a diet journal of what you are eating now. But for people with compulsive overeating disorders, it is as much about what the food represents as what you are eating, finding out what the food means to you is half the battle of gaining control over your impulses with it. So I imagined a diet journal for Melanie that was about deconstructing her cravings.”

Certain foods — such as mashed potatoes — are triggers of memories and negative consequences that Melanie could fall back on. However the author continues:

“But maybe if she addresses the trigger, the craving itself will go away. The old adage about ‘“it’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you”’ is very true for emotional eaters. By allowing Mel to explore her food memories with her most major trigger foods, it helps her in her battle. And also gives the reader some insight as to where the disorder gets its psychological foundation.”

Hmm, and you thought Good Enough to Eat sounded like another easy, enjoyable read, complemented with savory descriptions of food and the inclusion of forty recipes (all of which are Stacey’s unless otherwise noted). Of course it still can be read for fun but, when given the opportunity to better understand others — maybe even yourself –, why not take it?

The theme of transformation and reinvention is currently quite popular in women’s fiction. For just when twentysomething choices have been made and things feel settled….life happens and we’re forced to face a new reality filled with change.

Stacey Ballis is a delicious storyteller who stirs in changes resulting from significant weight loss, divorce, entrepreneurial success, financial problems, trust issues, and new relationships, sautes, and serves a hearty comfort food dish that would go well with any fine wine. By offering up the tale of Good Enough to Eat as a healthy perspective to accepting ourselves, flaws and all, she wishes Bon Appetit for the rest of our journey. Indeed this is a book to truly savor!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Stacey Ballis’s Good Enough to Eat in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.