MMBC: Eating Heaven (author Q&A)

Dear Manic Mommy book club members,
I'm so delighted and honored that you chose to read Eating Heaven for your June book. Your questions are intriguing, and I hope I do justice to them in my answers here. I also have a few questions of my own below!
All best wishes, Jennie

The author says in the back of the book that this book was a rework of a piece she had abandoned and then reworked. Is this final product what she envisioned when she started reworking the book? It's so much better than I imagined it could be, because by then I'd written another book and had some actual skill and craft under my belt. I'm so glad it wasn't my first book, after all. There's a reason first novels from beginners aren't usually published! I was able to more fully develop themes and ideas and characters. And the Buddy the cat made an appearance, and I loved that she was in it.

I read that the author did research on eating disorders for the book. What was her inspiration for exploring this issue in the book? I was angry (am angry) at the way our society treats women and eating and food, and I thought one way to get at that would be to have someone suffering from it in an extreme way. I have friends and family with eating disorders, something that was VERY rare until fairly recently. I didn't hear it being talked about in a very real way anywhere else, except for sensationalist news pieces on anorexics, complete with horrifying photos. I just wanted to talk about it in a real honest way, and I didn't want to do any disservice to those dealing with it, so I talked with eating disorder doctors and a nurse, friends who binge, and read everything I could find. I even sat down to binge, on purpose, one day with cookies, my favorite food. I found I couldn't get that far into the package without naturally just stopping, and I'd always thought that if I allowed myself to binge, I would. This told me so much about the actual disorder, that it is chemical and hardwired in the brain, not something that people do just because they're greedy or weak. I can definitely be both of those things, yet I couldn't binge.

Where did the recipes come from that Ellie "made" in the story? Especially the one for "shecret shauce". I wrote and tested all of the recipes, except for Shecret Shauce, which is actually my dad's special marinade, from my childhood. I called him when I was writing the book to confirm the ingredients, and he said them the same way Ellie's dad did. I had to laugh, realizing that i'd completely stolen every detail from my dad.

I love to cook, have cooked occasionally in cafes, and have been a recipe developer, so it was a natural to include Ellie's creations for Benny.

Was Bennie the father of any of the three sisters? I kind of like to leave that up to the reader. I sprinkled a lot of clues, but as with our own parents, there are things we can just never know for sure, you know? I have a feeling that whatever you're thinking is the right answer, though.

Why did Yolonda leave Benny and never divorce him? I don't remember that they didn't divorce, but I also don't remember writing that they did, so . . . It was my intention that they were split up for good. As in divorced.

Why did Bennie and Eleanor's mother never restart their relationship? If I followed the timing correctly, it seems they had at least one opportunity to restart the relationship. By the time Bebe was in a place to be with Benny he no longer wanted her. He wanted to stay with Yolanda, so Bebe took it into her own hands and poisoned that well by telling Yolanda about she and Benny. Then Benny REALLY didn't want to be with her. He rejected her.

There are many directions for personal growth and happiness at the end of the book, yet not a perfect ending (I love that the story ends this way). If you wrote a flash forward at the end of the book, how would you see Eleanor’s life? Ah. Again, that's for the reader to decide. What do you think? I hope she's still with Henry, cooking together and enjoying each other's company. I'm a romantic.

Now, my questions, or rather, some questions I get asked by other book groups:
Just how "big" is Ellie? I really wanted to portray Ellie as the woman we all feel we are when we're not at our best. I didn't want to use any numbers or measurements, just that feeling of "too big," so that everyone could relate. You know, if you say size 16, some people will think "That's not very big," while others may think that's heavy. How big did you picture her?

Where can I find Henry? I seem to have invented many women's idea of the dream date, a man who will cook for us and make us laugh and be kind and tender, and love us no matter what size we are. He's a complete figment of my imagination, I'm sorry to say, although he has my husband's facial features and kindness, and a dear friend's sense of humor.