Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Kate Jacobs Writes Again

Remember Friday Night Knitting Club? I love that book. I know every knitter in it many times over. I loved the different ages represented, the sense of community which I feel every time I get together with other knitters, the finely drawn characters that I connected with so strongly, and the wealth of emotion and integrity in the plotting.

Well, the great Kate Jacobs has done it again. This time it's the world of food TV.
The ages and stages of women are still there to teach us all some lessons. The characters are real and complex; the prose smooth and readable; and even though it's not knitting, it's a fantastic world to visit.

How does this young woman know so accurately what it feels like to be perceived as old and no longer with it? We all have or will go through this in our careers; it is very hard because so few people around you recognize what's happening. She has so described it, the frustration, the pain, the fear. Lord, this woman can write.

I had the chance for Kate to guest blog here and I sent her a question to try to ferret out how she does this character thing so well.
The book is Comfort Food, and here is my question:

I’m guessing Kate hasn’t always hung out with TV personalities or chefs. So what I would really like to know is how she researches the worlds she writes about. Her characters are all so real; like the group that I knit with. How does she create them or allow them into her stories?

And Kate replied:

KJ: Thanks, Jane; it’s a huge compliment to hear that the characters seem real.
Research is a peculiar thing – it is necessary, to some degree, but it can also get in the way of telling a story. It can constrain you. And because my background as a journalist demanded objectivity and accuracy, I prefer to run loose with my fiction. I want to live in my imagination. Though certainly there are some aspects that demand research; health issues are a good example. The rest of the time I like to wing it!

Work matters very much to us these days – it takes up most of our days and a good deal of our energy -- and that’s why I spend time in my novels on that aspect of my characters’ lives. But that doesn’t mean I could do their jobs: No one is going to give me a cooking show like Gus in Comfort Food! And, trust me, they shouldn’t. I didn’t try to spend time on a cooking show when I wrote this book but I did watch a lot of TV. It was a great excuse: You know you have a fun job when sitting in front of the TV counts as research. But it was quite helpful and I often took notes when I watched, trying to get a feel for how the hosts behave. They each have their own style but there are certain things they always do: Tasting the food at the end of the program is key. Mainly, though, I focused on my own emotional experience as a viewer and thought about how Gus would want to create a similar response. How would she do that?

I used a similar approach to my first novel. I knit but I don’t own a yarn shop, unlike the main character in The Friday Night Knitting Club. And I didn’t spend any time hanging out with yarn shop owners, either, because I wanted to create an Everyshop, a place that would remind a reader of her own local store and all that is welcoming about that place. If I had spent time researching one store, I feared I would make Walker & Daughter, the fictional yarn shop in FNKC, too much like that place. And I’d feel limited. That’s what I didn’t want to do. Still, when I’m creating characters, it’s all about listening. I have to try to get to know them – which I realize sounds a bit odd about people who aren’t real. But that’s how it works. I do create back stories and bios for my characters, often giving them details and experiences that don’t make their way into the book helps me have a fuller understanding of their personalities.

Because my books, even as they have a backdrop of knitting, or a backdrop of a cooking show, are all relationship stories. My stories are about people, why and how we love and live and make connections, and that’s how I am able to write about people who are so different from me in terms of age or background, and whose professions are so different from my own. I just think about them, first and foremost, as human beings.

Jane says -- Go buy this book and snuggle down for a great read.


jet said...

Thanks,Jane! That was a good review and it was really fun to hear the author talk about her process.

Debba said...

Thanks Jane! And Thanks Kate for the wonderful books! I had the privilege to interview KATE JACOBS for my Girlfriendology.com podcast (www.girlfriendology.libsyn.com) for her new book Comfort Food. She was a sweetheart to talk with and obviously someone committed to her friendships.

Listen in at www.girlfriendology.libsyn.com and visit www.girlfriendology.com for the monthly contest where you can win a copy of Comfort Food.

Jane - thanks again for the great review! Debba / Girlfriendology.com