Social media success story! Even though The Kitchen Daughter doesn’t come out for months and months, I’ve enjoyed “meeting” and building relationships with other authors through Twitter, which is how this interview came to be. Stacey Ballis is a friend to WU and participated in Therese’s recent book giveaway, but our paths didn’t really cross until we both started firing off #badliterarymashups. (Neither of us can resist a good hashtag.) Without further ado, here’s Stacey!
Stacey Ballis

Q: I love the concept of Good Enough To Eat — can you give us the quick summary?

SB: The heroine has left a lucrative and high-pressure law career when she realizes her weight-related health scares are not going to go away without drastic change. She goes to culinary school, studies holistic nutrition and over the course of 2 years she loses 145 pounds, half her body weight. She then opens a healthy gourmet take out café, but the doors are barely open when her husband of nearly a decade announces that he is leaving her. For a woman twice her size.

We meet Melanie in the aftermath of this announcement, and watch as her whole life is turned upside down and she must learn to live in a new reality, a new financial circumstance, a new body. She is starting completely over at 40, and the journey is a bumpy one, but she is supported by good friends and work she is passionate about — and even a new love.

Q:This is your fifth book, right? This is the first one I’ve heard described as “foodie fiction.” Has food played a big role in your previous work or is this a new direction?

SB: This is number 5, and while food has made fairly significant appearances in all my books, this is the first one that really dives in unabashedly, including 40 pages of recipes! I’ve been waiting for the right “chef” story, and while it surprised me that this one came to me (I always assumed it would be more decadent fine-dining), I am so glad it did!

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the recipes in Good Enough To Eat — what’s your process for recipe development?

SB: Recipe development for me is often about being thoughtful and taking notes when I am cooking, which I often do without recipes. It forces me to be focused, which is actually good for me and very tied to eating healthy, since calories can really sneak up on you if you aren’t careful. About half of the recipes for this book needed to be healthy version of comfort food, so that was about trial and error…can I find lighter ways to still get soul-satisfying dishes. Thank goodness mostly I could, and when I couldn’t, those dishes didn’t make it into the book!

Good Enough to Eat coverQ: Would you say you and Melanie cook alike? Are the recipes in the book all things you would make yourself, or did you find yourself having to edit the food to fit the story?

SB: Melanie is much more disciplined than I am about the healthy eating and healthy cooking. It is a constant struggle for me, but one I am working on. All the recipes in the book are things I make with regularity, and love, and have cooked for others. I wanted the food to be seamless with the story, and that meant relying on old favorites and then tweaking them to be healthier.

Q: So in your first two weeks on Twitter you managed to go from zero to 1000 followers. I am inspired and awed and, naturally, extremely jealous. What was behind the decision to start tweeting? Do you feel like you get back as much as you put into it?

SB: My boyfriend was the one who finally convinced me to join Twitter. I fought it for ages, feeling worried that it would just be one more distraction, and that I have enough of those. But when he looked at me and said “It is the new reality, and do you really want to be sitting here in a year without a new book contract wondering if it might have helped? If it helps to sell an extra 50 books, isn’t that worth it?” When I realized it couldn’t hurt, and opened myself up to it, I find I enjoy it. I am still finding my way, I want to use it as a promotional tool, but also I want to be sure I am more “social” than “media” and not be one of those annoying tweeps who just try to sell themselves.

Q: I know from your blog that we share a deep affection for Nigella and the Two Fat Ladies. Any other food-related television you particularly enjoy? Top Chef just isn’t blowing me away this year, but I was such a huge fan of the Voltaggios last season, I think I’m still missing them.

SB: I loved last season of TC, and yes, this year is not changing the color of my sky. I have high hopes for TC: Just Desserts, tho! I watch plenty of cooking shows, I like Ina Garten, love Paula Deen’s personality, even though I don’t know she has ever made something I would want to actually eat, and I love old episodes of Julia Child. No Reservations, especially when Tony can avoid navel-gazing. And I love compilation shows like The Best Thing I Ever Ate and Unique Eats.

Q: Chicago: good food city, or great food city?

SB: AMAZING FOOD CITY. Seriously. Spectacular… the highest of the high and most delicious of the low and everything in between.

Q: Do you have a favorite book? Favorite author?

SB: I re-read The Art of Eating every year. Ditto The Mists of Avalon. But Shakespeare is my desert island guy.

Q: What is your favorite thing to cook for other people? What’s your favorite thing to have cooked for you?

SB: I love cooking simple French or Italian influenced home food…lovely rustic peasant cooking. Everything on the table at once and being present at my own dinner parties. And my favorite thing for people to cook for me is their special family recipes, makes me feel closer to them.

Q: And when can we get our hands on Good Enough To Eat?

SB: Hits shelves September 7!

For more about Stacey, including links to order Good Enough to Eat and her other books, as well as fabulous recipes, visit her blog: The Polymath Chronicles. And of course, I recommend following her on Twitter: @staceyballis.

About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.