Author Interview - LARA M. ZEISES (Plus, Give Away!)
Today we have the prolific YA author Lara M. Zeises joining us! Lara is the author of eight books, including TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A HOLLYWOOD STARLET (under pen name, Lola Douglas) and ANYONE BUT YOU. Recently, her new book THE SWEET LIFE OF STELLA MADISON got released, and Lara is here to tell us more about it. (It's a very fun, upbeat read!) Also, don't forget there is a give away for the book, which you can read more about at the end of this interview!
As for the illustration of Stella, I wanted to go for the cute look to match the book. Used a bit of a French vibe and of course, I couldn't forget adding sweets to it.
1) What is the THE SWEET LIFE OF STELLA MADISON about?
SWEET LIFE is a novel about a girl named Stella who finds herself flailing in some uncharted waters. Her dad is this reluctantly world-famous chef, and her mom runs a demonstration restaurant. Stella's idea of gourmet is a bacon double cheeseburger, but because of who her parents are, she's serendipitously offered a summer internship at her local newspaper writing about (you guessed it!) food. She gets some help from her mom's hot new intern and finds herself crushing on him hard, even though she already has a boyfriend, Max, who is super sweet and who, at the beginning of the book, tells her he loves her. Stella's confused by her affection for both boys at the same time, and these feelings are complicated by what's going on with her parents, who have been separated for six years but never actually got a divorce and remain each other's best friend. Finding out that both of them are dating other people hits Stella pretty hard. So, basically, it's a book about a girl trying to figure out what it means to love and be loved, set against this hyper foodie backdrop.
2) What inspired you to write the story?
Stella's mom's restaurant, The Open Kitchen, is based almost entirely on a real place my family and I love called Celebrity Kitchen, which is on Concord Pike in Wilmington, Del. My mom had her 50th birthday party there years ago, and we all just fell in love with the place. Stella's dad, Andre, was inspired by a real chef named Phil Pyle, who I met through Celebrity Kitchens, and who's this fantastic storyteller. He was trained at in Paris, and told us all of these stories about how over there, when you make a mistake in the kitchen (or, at least, when he trained), the instructors would flick you with knives. He's got the scars to prove it! He also told us about one final exam where he had to butcher a cow or something, head to toe, blindfolded, while describing how he'd prepare each cut of meat as he was butchering it. I turned to my mom and said, "Some day I'm going to put that man in a book."
I was supposed to be working on a collection of linked short stories, but my editor wanted something that would appeal to a larger audience. I said, "I want to write a book about a girl named Stella. I think her dad is a chef," and Jodi (Keller, my then-editor) said, "Okay, so go do it." So I did.
3) Which character in THE SWEET LIFE OF STELLA MADISON do you relate to the most and why?
I worked in journalism briefly, and there are parts of Stella's internship based on my own experiences at the Wilmington News Journal and Baltimore Sun. I'm also an only child, as is Stella, and have curly hair that frizzes up whenever it's humid/about to rain. Even so, Stella's way more confident than I ever was (or probably ever will be), and she's also less of a go-getter than I've always been. Writing the character of her friend Kat was fun, because she's very happily single, not afraid to speak her mind, and very much into calling people on their crap - Stella included. But in terms of relating? I'd have to say Max, oddly enough. Not just because he's a total romantic (as am I), or because he's something of a home body (ditto), but because when I was revising the manuscript, I was thinking of ways to make Max super appealing and sort of imbued him with a lot of my fiance's interests and mannerisms and sayings and even his fashion sense. I needed to be a little in love with him (Max, I mean), because if Stella was believably torn between these two boys, the reader had to be, too. I don't love novels where the heroine obviously belongs with one guy and obviously doesn't belong with another.
4) Did you encounter any challenges while writing THE SWEET LIFE OF STELLA MADISON? How did you overcome them?
There were a couple. The first draft took me a long time, much longer than normal, because while I was writing it, my third Lara book (I also publish under the pseudonym Lola Douglas) came out to mixed reviews and less-than-stellar sales. I'd slaved over ANYONE BUT YOU and thought it was some of my best writing, so I took this very hard. ANYONE came out the same week as my first Lola book, TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A HOLLYWOOD STARLET, and also right after I moved into my first (purchased) house, and while I was in the middle of revising MORE . So in this perfect storm - of being a new homeowner, of being a working writer, of promoting two new books, one of which was floundering - I got completely burned out. It took me about 18 months or so before I could even approach the revision seriously.
When I did start revising hardcore, I was teaching a lot of writing courses, and it was making me question things that I don't normally think about. For instance, in teaching character I'm always talking about motivation and what's at stake - what does she want? What's standing in her way? How does she overcome that obstacle? What's the resolution? - but I don't approach the creative process from that standpoint. It's much more organic and messy and then later, after I've done a revision or two, and know my characters very, very well, I can clarify that other stuff and layer more of it in. But this time around, I was asking myself these questions early on and not really knowing the answers. Stella's not an easy character to summarize, and what she wants isn't cut and dried. It's not like, "I like this boy - can I get him to like me?" It's more like, "I have a great boyfriend who adores me, and I have a crush on this hot older guy who isn't as adoring but who seems to understand me a better, and OH MY GOD, HOW DO I HANDLE THIS?" And while the novel deals with love, both in concept and practice, it's not entirely a love story. It's a book about family, about friendship, about figuring out who you are, what you want, and where you belong in this world. Which, now that I say that, are the themes of pretty much EVERY book I've ever written.
5) Can you describe the publishing process you went through?
Since I'd already had that collection of linked short stories under contract, I didn't have to "sell" SWEET LIFE. I just swapped it in for the other one. I wrote a very messy, somewhat different first draft in which Stella didn't have a boyfriend and Jeremy had a girlfriend. During the revision process, my editor suggested that Jeremy might be more likeable if he didn't have a girlfriend (because he always flirted with her), and that Stella's confidence level might seem higher if she was the one already in a relationship. I started thinking about what it must've been like growing up with parents who separated but never went through with the divorce, and who seemed to be closer than when they were still "happily" married. So with the new storyline hashed out, I did a major revision, and then from that draft did a more minor revision. Jodi and I had worked together on two books prior to SWEET LIFE, and this was pretty much our process on all of them. Once the manuscript was accepted, it went through the typical copyediting/proofreading cycles, followed by galleys, and eventually publication. Nothing too out of the ordinary, except that working on this book helped me fall back in love with writing all over again.
Thank you, Lara! Readers, if you like THE SWEET LIFE OF STELLA MADISON, you can order the book here!
Also, commenters of this post will have a chance to win a signed copy of THE SWEET LIFE OF STELLA MADISON! Plus, if you tell me about your favorite memory from a restaurant, you will get two raffles--double chance to win! The winner will be announced on Saturday, so stay tuned!
Enjoyed this interview? If you're an author, editor, agent, or illustrator and would like a five question interview and a drawing of your character (or of yourself), email me at rtlovejoy (at) yahoo (dot) com. Check out the FAQ page for more info.