Inspiration is all around us, and no one knows that better than Alicia Bessette. I love what she says in particular about what writers should do once they are published. So often we think about what to do before we are published, so I appreciated Alicia’s advice. Enjoy this interview.
You were inspired to write Simply from Scratch by the events that centered around Hurricane Katrina. Tell us about the book. What do you hope readers take away from it?
Simply From Scratch is about a young widow, her nine-year-old neighbor, and the baking contest they enter together, with the aim of donating the winnings to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. It was inspired by the outreach volunteers I interviewed while working for a small newspaper. It takes place in New England and in New Orleans. People magazine recommended Simply From Scratch as a Great Read, calling it “tasty,” and it’s an international bestseller.
Mostly, I hope readers are moved and entertained by the story. I also hope it gets them thinking about some of the themes in the book — friendship, love, community, children, nourishment, recovery — and how those themes are expressed in their own lives.
You and your husband are both full-time novelists. How has that worked out? Do you share a space or work in separate areas?
So far, it’s working out pretty well! We both dreamed of becoming novelists and here we are, fully supporting ourselves by writing fiction. We know how rare that accomplishment is. Pretty much every day, we discuss how grateful we feel to be in this position — and the next steps we need to take in order to keep it going.
We live in a small two-bedroom apartment. The second bedroom is Matt’s office. He needs an enclosed space; he likes to shut the door, close off the world, and concentrate. Meanwhile, my work space is a corner of the living room, and my desk looks out onto a busy street. I glance at the outside world as I write. It inspires me. I can work through distraction — probably thanks to my newspaper gig!
We’re within yelling distance twenty-four seven. We spend a lot of time together. We read each others’ work and give feedback. His success is mine, and vice versa. It’s a beautiful partnership.
Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?
I hope to publish many more engaging, warm, and emotionally honest novels starring smart, funny, and endearingly flawed characters. I like to keep readers in suspense, keep them flipping pages to a satisfying conclusion. That’s always my writing goal.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
I read widely, because my interests are very broad. I think you can learn something from just about any book, even a book that might not be to your taste. Right now, I’m reading Twilight and also What French Women Know by Debra Ollivier. Both are totally compelling, in different ways.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Hike, listen to music, read, meditate. Matt and I love going to the movies and traveling to new places. I’m a pianist, but my piano has been parked at my parents’ house for a few years now (no room in the apartment). Someday, when my piano and I are reunited, I’ll spend a good hour or two a day playing it.
In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?
Every writer — every individual — should meet his or her own standards for success. I try not to compare myself to others. Right now, I’m concentrating on improving myself, my writing, and my public speaking. I try to celebrate every accomplishment, big or small, along the way. For me, that’s success.
Advice for other writers?
Let your writing evolve. It’s okay if the first draft doesn’t knock your socks off. Give it breathing room and take it through two or three or even more drafts. Don’t evaluate it too soon, or judge it too harshly.
Also, be tenacious. Don’t quit after one or two early disappointments. You might have quite a few disappointments before you get some good news.
And, when you do get published, take time to appreciate how far you’ve come, and all the various people involved in the process of bringing your book to readers. Thank those people; they work hard, and they are rooting for you.
Where can we learn more about you?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Props to my savvy agent, Laney Katz Becker of Markson Thoma Literary Agency; and my committed team at Dutton.
Author photo: Karl Seifert