Starting From Scratch QA
<b><u>A Conversation with Susan Gilbert-Collins, Author of <i>Starting From Scratch</i><br><br></u>Olivia, your main character, is the youngest sibling in the family. Did your position growing up in your own family affect the story at all?</b><br><br>I’m the youngest of three and wanted to explore in writing how that position in the family colors one’s experience of the world. While neither Olivia nor I are “typical” youngest children (being separated by four or more years from the next sibling), I agree with Olivia that a lot of things “boil down to birth order,” like it or not.<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>Are there any similarities between the Tschetter family and your own?</b><br><br>We have a lot of Mennonite relatives and we eat a lot of homemade chicken noodle soup. And my mother was very much the center of our family. But I don’t think anyone looking at the Tschetters would recognize my family. That said, there is more than a glimmer of my sister in both Annie and Ruby, and like Olivia, I find myself convinced that my brother can do anything.<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>Do you like to cook? Do you have a favorite special recipe that you can share?</b><br><br>I do love to cook. Here’s a favorite recipe I make year round, although especially on winter nights:<br><br>Cheddar Soup with Shredded Carrots and Potatoes<br><br>Melt <b>4 tablespoons butter</b> in a large pot. Add <b>1/2</b><b> </b><b>cup diced onion</b> and <b>10 oz. shredded carrots</b> and saute for several minutes. Sprinkle about <b>2 </b><b>1/2</b><b> </b><b>tablespoons flour</b> over the onion and carrot and stir until blended.<br><br>Add <b>6 cups chicken broth</b>, <b>1 pound shredded potatoes</b>, <b>1/2</b><b> </b><b>tsp. dried thyme</b>, <b>1 bay leaf</b>, <b>1/8</b><b> </b><b>tsp. Tabasco</b> (or more to taste), <b>1/2</b><b> </b><b>tsp. Worcestershire sauce</b> (or more to taste), <b>1/2</b><b> </b><b>tsp. sugar</b>, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer until veggies are tender.<br><br>Stir in <b>1 </b><b>1/2</b><b> </b><b>cups half and half </b>(or milk). Remove pot from burner and cool for 1 minute. Add <b>2 cups shredded cheddar cheese</b> and stir until melted. <br><br>· Note: You can play with the amount of flour you add. A little more results in a thicker soup.<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>What importance did food hold for your family when you were growing up? How about now?</b><br><br>Food was often about comfort, about being home. I remember waking on Saturday mornings to the scent of my mom’s caramel rolls or a pot of beef vegetable soup simmering on the stove. Food was also to some degree about participation, as when my grandparents would come to help make noodles. As a child, I loved cranking the handle of the noodle machine my grandfather brought back from a trip to Germany.<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>Was it difficult to leave behind the characters you created when you finished writing Starting from Scratch?</b><br><br>Alternately difficult and a relief!<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>Will any of the characters from this story appear in a sequel or upcoming novel?</b><br><br>I have no plans to use these characters again (having new ones in my head), although I sometimes think I’d love to explore one peripheral character more: Penelope, the off-stage girlfriend of Harry’s. She’d be an interesting study in extremes: painfully sincere and committed to the point of being nearly impossible to endure.<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>Early in the story, you explain, “in the Tschetter family, it was important to be able to tell a good story; to Olivia . . . it was all but a survival tactic.” As a fiction writer, do you relate to this at all?</b><br><br>As a fiction writer and as a youngest child, yes. Having a story to tell that others actually want to hear is the best way to get attention, which is something both fiction writers and youngest children want.<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>You write about some dark subjects, including death, grief, and molestation. Did you find it difficult to strike a balance between these topics and the overall warm, humorous tone of the book?</b><br><br>I purposely struck that tone in an effort to sustain a whole novel about grief that might otherwise have sunk beneath the emotional weight of the topic. Grief can bury you; it nearly buries Olivia. But I couldn’t afford to bury the reader.<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>What would you most like readers to take away from this story?</b><br><br>When you lose someone, do what you need to do. That might mean doing nothing for a while. Our culture does not know how to grieve and does not support people who are grieving, so you need to find a few good people who won’t judge.<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>This is your debut novel. Did you enjoy the writing experience? Did you find anything particularly challenging about the process?</b><br><br>Writing by turns exhilarates and stymies you. I did love writing this novel in the way that you can love raising an infuriating yet incredibly dear toddler—who, by the way, will never thank you for the trouble.<br><br><b> </b><br><br><b>What’s next for you?</b><br><br>Another novel. And some short fiction, which I love. It’s very satisfying to complete a fictional thought in weeks instead of years.