Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
Today we welcome Dana Bate, whose debut novel THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS would make a great Valentine’s gift for … you! (Or, if you’re in a giving mood, for anyone who loves humor, food, and a great fun read.)
Dana Bate is a writer and former Washington producer and reporter for PBS’s Nightly Business Report, where she won the Gerald Loeb Award for a series she produced on the Indian economy. She studied molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University as an undergraduate and received her master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, where she won the Harrington Award for outstanding promise in the field of journalism. She lives outside Philadelphia.
I met Dana through the Debutante Ball blog, where we’re both members of the Class of 2013. I read an ARC of THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS, and absolutely loved it, so I’m thrilled Dana could join us here today for an interview!
And now, on with the questions:
1. Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
I grew up outside of Philadelphia, on a cul-de-sac where all of the neighbors knew each other and regularly got together (in fact, several of my former neighbors came to my book signing last weekend!). One of my neighbors, Sarah, was my age and in my class at school, and we used to get into all sorts of trouble together. When we were about ten, we saw an ad on TV for a service called “Teledate,” where you would call a 1-900 number and link up with a “date” on the other end. Not realizing that this was likely a borderline x-rated service, we thought it would be really funny to prank call this 1-900 number and pretend we were adults looking for a date. So when Sarah’s parents were elsewhere in the house, we called the number and pretended we were “Barbara and Roxanne,” two ladies looking to chat it up with a nice gent. Needless to say, Chad (or whatever his name was) realized within five seconds that we were ten-year-old girls and promptly hung up the phone. We tried a few more times, to similar effect.
Fast forward a few months, and Sarah’s mom gets an exorbitant bill for the minutes we racked up on these calls. She called my mom, and they both had a sit down with us, explaining why it was not okay to call 1-900 numbers without permission – especially 1-900 numbers that were meant for “adults.” Whoops.
2. What inspired you to start writing?
Two things: my love for story telling, and my eighth grade English teacher, Ms. Purcell. I’ve always loved telling stories, and Ms. Purcell taught me how to channel that love in a creative way.
3. If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
“Trust the process.” There are times when, in the midst of a major revision or difficult scene, you wonder if you will ever get through it or if this book is a terrible idea destined for failure. You have to trust that this is all a part of the writing process, and if you keep going, you can get through it – and your book will be better for it in the end.
4. Your debut novel, THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS, involves an underground dinner club. What inspired you to choose such a unique and unusual setting?
I knew I wanted to write about food, but I wanted a setting that wasn’t a restaurant or a bakery. At the time, I was living in London, and one morning I came across an article online – in the Guardian, I think – about a woman called MsMarmitelover who hosted a secret supper club out of her flat. Total strangers would come from all over and pay to eat her food, even though the whole operation wasn’t technically legal. I thought it sounded like such a fun, albeit risky, idea, and that sort of became the launching pad for my novel.
5. Do you have a favorite author or book? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?
I have lots of favorite authors and books, so it would be hard to narrow it down to one. But I will say that 1984 made a lasting impression on me. The book made me think about the role and power of government in an entirely new way, and as the tension increased throughout the story, I found myself unable to put the book down.
6. Hannah Sugarman, the protagonist in THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS, is a dissatisfied professional who seeks – and finds – an outlet for her true passions: food and cooking. What did you find most challenging about creating Hannah and writing her story?
In order to increase the tension and raise the stakes, I had to continually put Hannah in situations that made me uncomfortable. I loved Hannah and really felt for her, so that was hard. I also had to make her do things I’d never do (as in, many questionable decisions on her part), so that was definitely a challenge as well!
7. Do you have a favorite scene in THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS? If so, what makes that scene stand out for you?
Ooooh, that’s a tough one! The problem is that a few of my favorite scenes give away aspects of the plot I’d rather not give away. I hate spoilers! So, with that in mind, I do love the Halloween party scene. The costumes and the scenery make the scene so visual – Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd, Balloon Boy, the pizza guy. Writing that scene, I felt as if I was right there with all of the characters.
8. What is the last book you read, and why did you read it?
The last book I finished was Kerry Schafer’s Between. I hadn’t read much fantasy before that book, but I met Kerry through The Debutante Ball and was delighted to dip into a new genre. Her book was such a ride!
9. Hannah Sugarman often ties her supper club menus to times, places, and memories. What is your favorite cooking memory, and do any of Hannah’s experiences with food and cooking parallel your own?
When I was sixteen, my mom-mom taught me to make rugelach, using her old rolling pin and my great-grandmother’s recipe. My great-grandmother – Gram, as she was called – died when I was a baby, but the stories about her cooking lived on. Her dishes were legendary – mocha cake, strudel, cherry pie, poppy seed cookies. I loved learning how to make one of her recipes, if only to keep her traditions alive.
In my book, Hannah also maintains a strong connection to her heritage through cooking, although she sometimes does it in unconventional ways. But Hannah and I both find solace in cooking – the way it allows you to put the rest of the world on “mute” while you measure and mix and fold. That said, one major difference between our experiences is that my mom taught me took cook from a very young age. Whereas Hannah’s mom poo-poos her interest in cooking, my mom always supported mine.
10. Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?
I just had two signings outside Philadelphia last weekend, both of which were lots of fun! I also have a reading and signing on Saturday, February 23 at The Spiral Bookcase in Manayunk, a neighborhood in Philly. There will be cupcakes and bubbly – everyone wins!
And now, the speed round:
– Plotter or pantser?
Both. I write a very loose outline, but from there, I let my imagination run wild.
– Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Coffee – usually in the form of a latte.
– Socks or no socks?
Depends on the place, season, and time of day. How’s that for an evasive answer?
– Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
– For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Can’t I have all four? No? Okay, okay. In that case, Italian. I could live on antipasti and pasta.
Thank you, Dana, for joining us today!
You can find Dana at her website, on Twitter (@DanaBate) and Facebook, and every Tuesday at The Debutante Ball. You can buy her book at Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Target, Amazon.com and a variety of local and independent booksellers near you.
Dana’s novel is also available in the UK, under the title THE SECRET SUPPER CLUB!
Big thanks to Dana for joining us today, and if you’re looking for a last-minute treat for a special someone (or for yourself! You’re special too!) check out THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS!