THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CLUB is so different from your other books. What made you decide to tell this story?
I have been writing fiction for some time and have won prizes for short stories from small literary magazines. I also have written several novels that have not found a home, one back in high school. So writing fiction is not new for me. When I first attended the cookie party in 2000, I knew it would make a great setting for a novel about women’s friendships. I started notes for it then. Writing another non-fiction book interrupted the project.
How was the writing process different for writing fiction than it has been for writing non-fiction? Do you feel your personality is better suited to either one? Do you enjoy one more than the other?
In fiction there is less research. When I’m writing non-fiction, I do massive amounts of research which I love doing. Some of my non-fiction has entailed projecting myself into another person’s mind and experience, which is entirely different than going deep inside your own mind and unearthing characters there. With both fiction and non-fiction, the writer is entertaining and teaching.
In both, it’s a question of getting to know your characters, making scenes come alive and believable. In fiction, your characters teach, show you, tell you who they are. In non-fiction, I work to be true to people and facts. In fiction, I work to be true to in an internal vision.
Would you consider including not only cookie recipes but also recipes for some of the dishes that the women bring to the party?
You must be prescient! Marybeth Bayer, who is the hostess for the cookie party I attend, and I are finishing up a non-fiction workbook The Christmas Cookie Cookbook. In it we have dozens of new cookie and appetizer recipes, baking tips, and all sorts of other suggestions for a cookie exchange. Marybeth is a great hostess and baker.
How have the members of your Cookie Club reacted to the publication of this book?
They are excited and proud! I threw a party for them, gave each of them a copy of the novel. We decided we’ll sign each others’ copies at our cookie party this year. The book seems to have focused attention on cookie exchanges throughout the country, and started a bunch more!!
Do they recognize themselves in it?
I didn’t give them that chance. Long before the book was published, I told the few that were in it and showed them a draft of the bits I used – an email, an appearance, and an event– and received their enthusiastic permission and excitement. Our friends recognize the pieces of people who are in it in spite of the fact I made up so much about them. But other than the few things I mentioned in the acknowlegements, the book is not true and my characters are not the women in my cookie club.
I think the women in the cookie club feel proud that our great group has been memorialized by the book and may increase the number of cookie clubs across the country.
And people who live in Ann Arbor get a kick out of reading about the city.
I loved the little essays about the cookie ingredients. At what point in the writing process did you decide to include them?
That idea came almost out of the blue as I was finishing up the book. I wanted to give people something they could take away that would spotlight and call for reexamination of things we assume as ordinary… our friendships, the very food we eat. It’s not ordinary. Especially now focus on food has changed. Our search for food has a spectacular history and effect. I struggled how to present the ingredients… Some people wouldn’t want the narrative interrupted, others read to learn. So I put them in discrete chapters and assumed each reader would decide how to handle them. Some save them to the end and read them all at once. Others read the book straight through.
For me this is really a story about the importance of women’s friendships.
Why are they important?
Individually, we help each other get through rough times, and celebrate the good. We are there to talk, cry, laugh, and help out in an emergency or a major crisis. We have fun together. We understand and accept each other. We support each other when our lives need to change. We love each other.
As communities, by relying on each other, we cooperate to get through emergencies and crisis. In Katrina, for example, women who merged resources, shared, and figured out what to do survived with the least trauma.
Recently, evolutionary research has looked at the role of grandmothers. A grandmother, a non-reproductive female with stamina to work, often made the difference in the life of her grandchildren, and the carrying forth of her genes. We underestimate the importance of grandmothers to the survival of our species and cultures.
Do you have any plans for a sequel to THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CLUB?
Absolutely. I’m working on a novel about Sky and Tara. I have fallen in love with them and their story. And the novel Family Meals will be launched in October 2011. A question for you and your readers: The Christmas Cookie Club is like a party. You meet new friends and enjoy old ones. Which of the women from the novel would you like to become a closer friend (or enemy)? Who do you want to know about?
This interview first appeared in Bermuda Onion Weblog: http://bermudaonion.wordpress.com/