21 August 2013

Blog Tour: Author Interview with Mary Simses

Today I am pleased to be a part of Mary Simses' blog tour to celebrate the release of her new book The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Café which is out now. Mary was kind enough to do a Q&A with me, and here are the answers for her questions! My thanks go to Helena at Headline for her help with this, and to Mary for answering the questions!

You can buy The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Café as a paperback or an eBook now.

 1. Could you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the novel, how did you get the idea about the letter from Ellen’s grandmother?

The idea came from something I heard on the radio one morning. A woman told a story about how, just before her grandmother died, she said, “Erase my hard drive.” I began to wonder what that grandmother had on her computer that she wanted to keep secret. It led me to think about a much broader range of questions, such as what someone in their later years might want to change about the life they had lived and what regrets they might have about decisions they’d made. All of that led to the idea of an elderly woman reviewing her life and feeling the need to set certain things right before she died. I used a letter as the object that would get the story going, as I wanted something old-fashioned and tangible, but the computer-hard-drive story is what initially led me to write the book.

2. Ellen is surprised about her grandmother’s past in the novel, do you think we’re often very different people in different parts of our lives, is this something that you’ve experienced or have you ever been surprised by how differently people close to you are seen by other people?

I do think that people are often different in different parts of their lives. Age is obviously a huge factor, as in the case of Ellen’s grandmother, Ruth, who was really only a girl (in her late teens) when she was in love with Chet. I remember how I acted in my late teens and I mentally cringe when I think about some of the things I did. I’m guessing I’m not alone there. Fortunately, maturity sets in and most people grow up. But what do we grow into? That’s the question.

Ruth has secrets and things she wishes she had done differently in her life, and I think she’s probably not alone there. I feel as though it’s human nature to reflect more on our past as we get older, and, perhaps, to want to correct our mistakes as well.

I also think it’s true that we’re not always viewed the same way by everyone. And sometimes people have a certain “mind set” about a person and then they find out an additional detail that changes their whole perspective. I feel that occasionally happens with me, when someone who I’ve gotten to know a bit finds out I’m an attorney. I believe, in their mind, it suddenly makes me more serious or studious or something like that, when, in reality, I’m still the same person.

3. The baked goods in the book sound delicious! Can you tell us about some of the American treats that we might not have heard of in the UK? (The cider doughnuts are a stand out for me!)

I wish I could box up some apple cider doughnuts and send them to you! They’re amazing. In fact, there’s an interesting story about those doughnuts. We buy them at a “green market” not far from where we live in South Florida. A green market is a weekly outdoor gathering of vendors who have booths and sell fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, cheeses, coffees, teas, plants and flowers, and other items. One of the owners of the apple cider doughnut business told me the recipe came from his business partner’s great grandmother, who lived in Connecticut. So there is a New England connection to the recipe, which I just love, being a Connecticut native myself and having set Blueberry Café in New England.

Because I haven’t spent enough time in the UK (sadly!) to become familiar with what treats we have that you don’t, I enlisted the aid of a good friend who moved back to England after she and her family were here in the U.S. for several years. We recently emailed back and forth (ironically, they have spent most of the summer travelling throughout the U.S.!) and here are some of her favourites (mine, as well!):

Pumpkin pie – This is a seasonal dessert typically made at Thanksgiving, which we celebrate in November, and often made again at Christmas. Ingredients include pumpkin, of course, and spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and/or ginger.

Blondies – These are dessert bars that look like “blonde” brownies. They are based on brown sugar, rather than cocoa, and often have nuts in them.

Red velvet cake – Typically made as a layer cake, the color is dark red or red-brown. Enough cocoa is added to a “yellow” batter to turn the batter darker but not too dark, and the taste is more of a “light” chocolate cake. Food coloring provides the red tint and the frosting is usually made with cream cheese.

Pancakes with real maple syrup – According to my source, pancakes (thin, flat, round cakes that are made with batter but that are much thicker than crepes) are not common in the UK. In the U.S., they’re very popular and we often put fruit, such as blueberries, bananas, or apples, in the batter, but chocolate chips are great, too. Most people use “pancake syrup,” but that’s really just corn syrup. The best thing for pancakes is real maple syrup.

Cinnamon buns – My source also tells me that cinnamon buns are available in the UK but that she prefers the U.S. variety, which are very moist and are topped with a glaze or icing.

Cornbread – This is a quick bread (no yeast—baking powder is used instead) made with corn meal. Cornbread is a cornerstone of Southern American cuisine and cornbread stuffing is often used in Thanksgiving turkeys.

Giant pretzels – These are made from strands of dough that are baked into a knotted shape. Like bread, they are slightly crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. My source tells me she has found these in England but knows of only one place

4. Small town life in Maine sounds idyllic, is it really exactly as you describe, do tell us about some of your favourite places?

I’ve visited a number of areas in Maine over the years but I’ve never spent summers there as some people do or lived there, so I can only speak as a tourist. Yes, Maine is full of idyllic places – lighthouses poised on cliffs, small harbour towns, quiet bays where sailboats gather, quaint inns and hotels, beautiful beaches, magnificent lakes and mountains. Much of Maine is also very rugged and wild, however – more so than any of the other New England states – and that makes it such an interesting place. I happen to love taking pictures (I’ve been a shutterbug ever since I was a child) and with so much amazing scenery it was easy for me to fall in love with Maine.

As far as favorite spots, that’s really tough to say because I’ve loved all of the places I’ve visited, which include Kennebunkport, Camden, Rockport, Castine, Blue Hill, Portland, Deer Isle, Scarborough, Newcastle, Damariscotta, Bar Harbor, Augusta, and many stops in between. I love the smaller towns the best but there are many great places to see. My husband and I are squeezing in a little five-day trip to Maine in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to go! I’ve got the cameras ready.

Although there are many places one could write about in Maine, when I started to write what became Blueberry Café, I chose to create the fictional town of Beacon. Or maybe the town created itself. All I know is that, over time, I began to see it more and more clearly, building it piece by piece. When you create your own town, you can make it exactly the way you want to. And that was great.

But later on, after I was well into writing the book, I began to worry that Beacon might not be enough like a real Maine town. I was concerned about how I had laid out the downtown, how I’d described the inn, and some of the other physical details. So my husband and I took a trip to Mid-Coast Maine and just drove around for several days, “looking for Beacon.” The scary thing is that I couldn’t find it – the Beacon I had created didn’t exist.

I returned home feeling terrible, worrying that Beacon wasn’t “authentic” enough, until a good friend and fellow author reminded me that I was writing fiction and that I had permission to make my own town to fit my own purposes. I realized she was right – and I was relieved because I liked Beacon and I really didn’t want to change it. After that, I never looked back, and I’m glad I didn’t. Many people who have read the novel, including those who know Maine well, have told me how much they love Beacon – just the way it is.

5. There are two gorgeous men is Ellen’s life, her preppy fiancé Hayden and the rugged Roy, which is your type!?

I think they each have their allure, which is what Ellen finds out! My husband is closer to Hayden, however (attorney, suit and tie, cufflinks), so I guess I’d have to say Hayden is a bit more my type. Still, I do love Roy . . . .

After reading the manuscript, my husband asked me if there was anyone in the story modelled after him. I said, “No,” because there really isn’t. But I guess Hayden’s analytical ability (he’s very competent) and his outward appearance (he’s always well put together) might have been taken just a wee bit from my husband. (Honey, are you reading this? . . . )

6. Are you working on anything new at the moment you can tell us about? 

Yes, I’m working on another novel, although it’s been on the back burner a little since Blueberry Café came out. The main character is a woman who goes to visit her parents in the house where she grew up, on the Connecticut coast. While there, she ends up dealing with some “unfinished business” in her past life. I think my themes, at least for the time being, are small New England coastal towns and unfinished business, as I keep coming back to those ideas.

Thank you so much, Mary!

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