Erica’s novel, Joy For Beginners, was our featured book club selection last February. She’s back with a new release this month that we’re eager to share with you. The Lost Art of Mixing is the sequel to her first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. And one lucky reader is going to win copies of ALL THREE of Erica’s novels today! Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered!
Update: the winner of this giveaway is Jill Little. She has been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!
In real life, I am a control freak, but when I am writing fiction, something else entirely happens. I don’t outline. I don’t plan. I let go, relax my mind, and wait. My novels always come from a spark — an image that then opens up over the course of a year or two or ten of writing, with other characters showing up and relationships developing between them all. Seen in retrospect, it’s like watching a slow-motion film of a firework expanding across the sky.
The Lost Art of Mixing started with two images.
The first was of a quiet man in his early fifties, caught in a marriage he didn’t understand. In the scene in my head, he was in bed with his wife, her complaints coming at him like small waves rocking against the side of a boat. I felt such sympathy for him; I wanted more for his life.
And then one day I went into a bookstore in a faraway city and offered to sign their stock of my books. The clerk got the books and never once checked my identification. As I left the bookstore I thought — anybody could just walk in and sign someone else’s books. I thought of Al, my quiet hero, and I knew that this was just the sort of hidden rebellion that would appeal to him. A transgression of the quirkiest kind. What would happen to him, I wondered, if he took this small and unusual step towards independence? Where would his story go?
The other image in my mind was of a character I had loved for a long time — Lillian, the chef from The School of Essential Ingredients. From the moment that book was published, I had begun receiving letters from readers asking me what had happened to Lillian and Tom after they went for their walk at the end of the book.
I thought I was done with the characters from School, and yet, another image started showing up in my imagination — Lillian, standing in the restaurant kitchen doorway, just the way the first book had started. But this time, Lillian was overwhelmed by the smells of the kitchen, and through her reaction, she was realizing she was pregnant.
Well, what was I going to do with that?
And that is the fun of writing — following those images to wherever they lead. Seeing what happened when Al finally got caught. Understanding the difficult decision that Lillian had to make. Finding all the other characters, whose personalities and conflicts made the pages come alive. In the end, there were eight characters — four pairs, each pair in the midst of a misunderstanding. All of them brought together through serendipity, tipping each other forward like dominoes, sometimes without their even knowing it. Fireworks, all of them. Sometimes made from anger, sometimes from joy, always from life.
Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect. . . .
Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.