When I started writing East Hope I needed to give my main character a job. Without a moment’s hesitation, I made Caroline Waverly a food writer as I love cooking, planning menus, and thinking about meals. A novel is a long endeavor, and selfishly I gave her a career that I would enjoy myself. Before I turned to fiction, I wrote a cooking column for a newspaper in Maine, so I did have some experience to bring to my character’s life.
You’ve probably come to this website as you already know how much food reveals about characters in books as well as in real life. A man enjoying a good hot dog at a ball game tells an entirely different story than an account of a solitary woman heating up a tin of soup on a rainy night.
Some of our greatest writers have focused entirely on food. My all time favorite was MFK Fisher, a prolific writer on all aspects of food and cooking. I will never forget her description of tomatoes ripening on her window sill and her awareness of needing to eat them at the pivotal moment before they turned bad. Other writers I’ve loved reading over the years are Elizabeth David, an English cookbook writer, and Julia Child, an American icon. Julia Child’s recipes read like the finest stories and her culinary writing changed the way America cooked.
In East Hope, Caroline tries to cook her way into her friends’ and family’s hearts. She makes a delicious fish chowder when her best friend comes to visit her in Maine. She shows her affection for the people in East Hope when she invites them to dinner and prepares her own version of New England boiled dinner. Caroline impresses Will at the beginning of their friendship when she shares a picnic lunch with him on a sparkling afternoon by the water. That old cliché, wooing a man through his stomach, is part of Caroline’s character, whether she knows it or not.
Later in the novel Will Harmon, also new to East Hope, Maine, is trying to select cheeses at a shop in New York for a party that his wife, Mary Beth, is hosting in his honor. Will’s reflections on the cheeses and his experience of shopping for them are a window onto his tempestuous relationship with her and his feelings about New York.
Probably the first question anyone asks an author is what their book is about. With East Hope, I tell readers that the novel is about starting over. My two main characters leave complicated problems behind and struggle to remake their lives. It’s also a novel about the power of place, in this case, Maine. Finally, I have to admit, it’s also a novel about food. What we eat, how we eat, and who we share meals with are truly stories in themselves.