Author Q & A: Jael McHenry

Yesterday was the pub date of THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER which I LOVED. I met Jael at a recent Tweet Up in New York, and she is every bit as charming as her fiction.  She was kind enough to answer some questions I had for her after reading the book.

It was such a pleasure to read such a unique work of fiction. Where did you get the idea to have ghosts conjured from handwritten recipes?

Thank you! I’d been writing fiction and trying to get it published for a long time, but it just seemed like I couldn’t quite break through. So I started doing some soul-searching. I realized that I love to cook – it’s something I’m passionate about – but I had never written a character who had that same passion. So I was just walking around every day trying to think of how cooking could drive a plot. And I was literally standing in my kitchen, staring into an open refrigerator, and boom – the idea hit me. What happens when she cooks? The ghosts of the people who wrote the recipes are drawn back into her kitchen. Everything flowed from that moment of inspiration.

It’s clear that you love cooking.  Will future novels center around the kitchen?

I may come back to the kitchen for a future novel, but the one I’m writing next isn’t based there. That was a two-fold decision. First, I worried that if my second book was also foodie fiction, that I would basically need to write only foodie fiction for the rest of my career – which certainly wouldn’t be the worst fate in the world, but I like to keep my options open. Second, I just didn’t have another great food idea to write about! I’m not a chef and I’ve never worked in a restaurant, so I didn’t want to write about those worlds, and I didn’t want my second book to be too much like the first. So, I’m headed in a different direction for now.

Have you always written magical realism, or did it surprise you?  Do you think you’ll continue to write fiction with magical aspects?

I do really like this particular type of magical realism – it’s a very real world, it’s recognizable as the world we live in, except for a single game-changing supernatural element. It’s not a completely magical world. It’s real enough that when Ginny starts seeing the ghosts, she’s not going to share that information. Some of the other book ideas I’ve worked on either have a supernatural element or a supernatural question – is this character imagining things or is something impossible actually happening? – so I think that’s likely to be a common thread in most, if not all, of my fiction.

How long does it take you to write a novel? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

It really varies. I’m a very fast drafter, but I go through a lot of revisions. I try to plot beforehand, but I end up veering away from my outline pretty quickly, because I discover as I go. So I think I’m an aspiring plotter, but I may just be an inveterate pantser.

Who are some writers who inspire you?

My number one writing inspiration is Margaret Atwood. I just love her work, especially her novels Lady Oracle and Alias Grace. She’s not literary, she’s not commercial, she’s not sci-fi, she’s just an excellent writer who finds inspiration in a thousand different places. And she writes beautifully, of course, but I never find her work self-indulgent. It’s never just about the sentences. There’s always a compelling story.

Thanks so much for these insights, Jael. I wish you all the best with your debut.

You can find out more about Jael on Facebook, Twitter, or her blog, Simmer.

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2 thoughts on “Author Q & A: Jael McHenry

  1. I think the draw of magical realism is that it makes us ponder the “what ifs” in the world … to me that’s always been fascinating. I’m always amazed when people so quickly dismiss the POSSIBILITY of spirits, other intelligent planets/beings … even Big Foot! I say, “why not?” But then again, maybe that’s the nosey writer in me, always wanting to believe in new worlds! (The “other” writer side of me that writes science research articles has another firm foot on the ground. It’s good to ‘live’ in both worlds, but fun to imagine).

  2. heather webb says:

    Magic exists in every day life, particularly in the kitchen- the heartbeat of a home where love and tears are shared and fabulous pies abound. I love when a writer mixes a supernatural question into a “normal” story, since we all secretly believe in one form of supernatural or the other. As a foodie & a fellow writer, I can’t wait to read your book, Jael!

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