Authors & Events
Gifts & Deals
Feb 17, 2004
| ISBN 9781400080731
Feb 17, 2004 | ISBN 9781400080731
Harry became a fabulous cook. It began with a simple indulgence: secret bowls of buttery popcorn that he and his wife, Francie, would share after the children were tucked into bed. The aroma of melting butter, the hot kernels on their tongues, the salt crystals sticking to their lips—it was their own private romantic feast, imbuing their marriage with a new kind of passion. Soon, Harry began to dazzle Francie with luscious bisques and brioches, delectable soufflés, rich risottos, and classic versions of coq au vin that left her breathless.Their family life came to revolve around the dinner table, where each night Harry’s cooking brought Francie and their four children together for an awe-inspiring and mouthwatering meal. But inevitably the years slip by, and when all but one child has left the house, Harry wins a digital scale in his company’s Holiday Raffle and their happy bubble bursts in a single instant. Harry’s cooking has finally caught up with him. His doctor confirms it: He desperately needs to lose weight. Terrified of losing him, Francie puts Harry on a strict diet, leaving him eternally frustrated at the table and in the kitchen. When they both realize that he has to take a break from his culinary passions if this diet is to work, Francie begins to cook. Eventually a younger-looking, leaner, and more driven Harry emerges—one so newly committed to his job and his low-carb support group that not only is he no longer in the kitchen, he’s hardly ever at home. Feeling confused by the dynamics of their new relationship, Francie must contend with her need to keep Harry on his diet, and also with the women who have suddenly begun to eye her truly attractive husband. The question now becomes: Will love be enough to keep this marriage together, or will the Atkins Diet ultimately tear Harry and Francie apart?Pop a pan of cookies into the oven and put up your feet. Cooking for Harry is a deliciously good time.
KAY-MARIE JAMES is the pseudonym of a New York Times–bestselling author. She wrote Cooking for Harry as a way to help her best friend, who was struggling financially. She hopes that you enjoy reading it as much as she enjoyed… More about Kay-Marie James
“Cooking for Harry is a warm and tender read, brimming with love. Readers will certainly want to welcome Kay-Marie James into their lives with open arms and a big bowl of buttered popcorn.”—Jeanne Ray, author of Eat Cake, Step-Ball-Change, and Julie and Romeo“Cooking for Harry is a fine and funny novel written with plenty of snap. It reads like the zany collaboration of Elizabeth McCracken and Julia Child, with an added dash of Dr. Atkins and Jane Austen.—Anne D. LeClaire, author of Leaving Eden and Entering Normal“Cooking for Harry is an absolute treat. This book is for your mom, your sister, and your friends, and a must-read for anyone who has ever been on a diet! Hilarious, moving, it’s all there.”—Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Bad Girl Creek and Along Came Mary “Cooking for Harry is as delectable as a four-course feast. Can food really offer such a potent combination of nourishment, sensuality, and compassion? This wonderful book proves that it can! Kay-Marie James is a wise and winsome writer with a champagne pen who will leave you hungry for more.” —Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Christmas Present
A CONVERSATION WITH KAY-MARIE JAMESQ: A note in your biography says that you wrote Cooking for Harry for your best friend, who was struggling financially. Which came first, the specific idea for Cooking for Harry, or helping your friend? How did the two ideas merge?A: The two ideas occurred pretty much simultaneously, thoughit’s hard to re-create, exactly, how it all came about. Basically, Ihad a book on the New York Times list, and my first big checkhad just come in. My friend had recently given birth to her firstchild—my first and only godchild—and she was trying to figureout how she could afford to be a full-time mom. We werehaving one of those late night, best friend phone conversations,with lots of long pauses in which no one says anything and yet,somehow, everything gets said. My friend didn’t want to simplytake money from me, and I wanted to do something for her andthe baby. Finally, we agreed that I’d write a book, somethingeasy and breezy and quick, using elements from her life, and inreturn, she’d accept 50 percent of all royalties. We hatched theplot together over the next few days, and I wrote the book inthree months.Why the anonymity? A writer’s greatest challenge is findinga balance between actually writing—the clean, quiet spaceone needs to create art—and all the resulting promotionalobligations: interviews, book tours, questionnaires like thisone. Some people are good at maintaining this balance. Iam not. The thought of having to do yet another book tourwas simply overwhelming. And my friend, who really is aphysical therapist in Pittsburgh, was concerned that everybodywould think she, too, had run off with a handsome doctor.(She has not. Nor have I, alas. In fact, I haven’t even been on acruise.)Q: Cooking for Harry is a lot of fun to read. Did writing it pseudonymously allow you to have more fun with the writing process than you normally do? Was it easier to write under the cover of a fictional name? Did it make you want to write more books pseudonymously? Was there an ease or freedom in this process that might find its way in your other writing?A: As I said, I wrote this book in three months. Typically, the socalledliterary novels I write take anywhere from two to fouryears to complete. This is because they are considerably morecomplex, both in terms of the language they use and the multilayeredstories they tell. Cooking for Harry is a straightforwardromp, narrated by a person who wouldn’t blush if someonepointed out that the story of her husband’s diet, and its effectson their marriage, isn’t exactly on par with the woes of AnnaKarenina. This, rather than anonymity, was what made thebook fun to write. Everything was plot, plot, plot, with lots oflittle curlicues of humor woven in. At the same time, perhapsbecause of my background as a literary writer, I came to caredeeply about Francie—who is, after all, patterned somewhat onmy friend—and I wanted to present her as a fully-rounded character,a living, breathing person, instead of merely a frazzledmother, a frustrated wife.Q: However light-hearted, Cooking for Harry is an accurateportrait of a family that has slowly veered off into dysfunction.There’s an “elephant in the living room,” a problem that hasbeen gingerly stepped around and cannot be stated. That is,until a talking appliance comes into the home. The scale is oneof my favorite characters in the book. How did you ever think“her” up?A: I’m married to a computer geek, whose definition of “lightreading” is an algorithm textbook. He’s particularly interestedin “AI”—if you’re a geek, you know better than to actuallyarticulate the words “artificial intelligence”—and though Imyself am not particularly interested in AI, Bots, Worms, andother technological horrors, I apparently picked up enough overthe years to invent the New You Digital Scale.Q: All families are, of course, at least a little dysfunctional. ButHarry and Francie’s family, which still seems very loving, doesseem to be approaching a crisis, along with Harry’s weight.Amber’s intimate relationship keeps blowing up and her empathyis faulty; Jason has become a real rescuer and caretaker; andFrancie herself is an enabler. How much of the kids’ traits doyou think can be related to their father’s unspoken problem?And to their parents’ relationship dynamics?A: As you mention earlier, there is an elephant in the Kligler livingroom, and it’s inevitable that, after years spent walking ontiptoe, members of the family will move through the world in away that is slightly off-balance. I think the kids’ traits are likethe traits of people in general; it’s hard to separate nature fromnurture, though, clearly each influences the other. Except in thecase of Amber. Amber, I think, would be Amber even if she’dbeen raised in the desert by a convent of nuns.Q: Francie, as the narrator, is very engaging and funny, but she’salso part of the problem, and at times a little self-justifying, evenborderline unreliable. Was she difficult to write, or did she writeherself? Did you, as the author, like her every step of the way?A: I didn’t find Francie difficult to write because I knew that herlove for Harry was sincere, a quality I can respect. And since Iwas writing a romantic novel, I knew that her sincerity wouldhave to be rewarded, in order to create a satisfying closure. Idon’t think I like or dislike any of my characters. It’s more thatI feel I understand them better, at times, than I do at other times.In a well-written book of any genre, the writer understands hisor her characters even when the characters don’t understandthemselves.Q: Harry is a man who, when he starts to become self-aware,turns away from his wife and toward another woman. How didyou feel about how Harry conducted his diet and himself?A: Again, thinking about understanding—as opposed to judging—a character, I guess I thought about how his relationship with hisweight, his body, his manhood, must have been arrested somewherein adolescence. It isn’t a grown man who responds toKrys Palcek’s advances; it’s the boy who was never picked forthe team, the kid who stayed home on prom night to watch TVwith his parents, the guy who sat in the college cafeteria, laughingand nodding as the other guys talked about their weekend,all the while shoving doughnuts into his mouth. So it’s not surprisingthat Harry finds himself tempted when, for the first time,women start looking at him not for who he is, as a person, butfor what he looks like, as a man. It’s also not surprising that,ultimately, he returns to Francie—and she to him—because,underlying everything, the two of them are best friends, havebeen best friends, for a long, long time. You can find sexualattraction just about anywhere, but an enduring, sustainingfriendship—that is, a strong marriage—is precious, a gift.Q: I laughed out loud at the way Harry’s family and friends allfeel free to add their own two cents about dieting—“Diets don’twork,” they tell Harry, and “live large,” and “doctors don’t knowsquat.” What is this impulse that people have to undercut ourefforts? How do we humans ever survive our friends’ advice?A: Isn’t it the truth? And especially when it comes to commentsabout emotionally-charged issues like eating habits and bodyimage. Everybody who loves us—parents, children, spouses,friends—feels, at some level, that their love gives them a particularclaim upon our physical selves. Therefore, if we attemptto alter that physical self in any way, say, by getting a haircut,buying new clothes, or going on a diet, everyone who loves usleaps forward with a comment that has more to do with theirrelationship to us, their sense of entitlement to the bodies weinhabit, than to any exterior reality. You lose ten pounds, put ona terrific dress, and your mother says, “Are you okay? You’relooking so gaunt. You’re working too hard.” You paint yourtoenails, and your husband says, “That color reminds me ofkumquats. I don’t like kumquats. Are you trying to tell mesomething?”I mean, Yeesh.Q: This book is filled with facts and expertise about dieting andgourmet cooking. Which was more amusing and/or compellingto research: dieting, or gourmet cooking? Which was more funto describe: diets, or food? Did you find out anything about dietingthat particularly surprised or enlightened you?A: I hate to cook. My friend hates to cook. Fortunately, we marriedmen who love to cook, men who kindly but firmly removedthe whisks from our hands as soon as we were married. Menwho, loving to cook, have battled the bulge, so to speak, alltheir lives, and with varying degrees of success and failure.Five years ago, when my husband went on the Atkins Diet,he lost forty pounds. When my friend told her husband—let’scall him “Joe”—about my husband, what Joe heard was thatmy husband had lost forty pounds eating bacon, and so Joepromptly began to fry up a pound of bacon for breakfast everymorning. When I told my husband about Joe and his bacon, he(my husband) began to fry up a daily pound of bacon of hisown. Of course, he began to gain weight again; Joe, who waseating bagels with his bacon, was putting on weight by thestone. My friend and I were putting on weight because who canresist the smell of frying bacon? Eventually, however, we all gotsick of bacon, and everybody’s weight went back to normal—for better or worse.What is the point of this seemingly pointless tale? The pointis that there was very little research required for this bookbecause, between my husband and my friend’s husband, there isalways a man in our lives who is trying to lose weight. FlanneryO’Connor once said that anyone with a childhood has enoughmaterial to write fiction. Kay-Marie James says that anyonewith a dieting husband has enough material to write just aboutanything.Q: Changing one’s diet really is changing one’s entire life. Didyou know when you started writing this book how each of thecharacters would change? Did any of them surprise you in anyway?A: My friend and I mapped out the general arc of the noveltogether, so I knew, from the start, the general trajectory ofHarry and Francie’s fallout and reconciliation. I also knew that,this being a romantic comedy, any relationships that cropped upin the course of writing Cooking for Harry would have to beresolved pleasantly, in order for the reader to be satisfied. Thisis quite different from the writing I’ve done before, which hasbeen more “literary” in nature and, therefore, tends to reflectmore accurately the casual brutalities and unanswered questionsof real life. I guess my biggest surprise was how well Francie’sneighbors came together as a neighborhood, and also, howlarge a role Francie’s mother came to play during the worst dayof Francie’s life. Originally, I’d conceived the mother merely asa voice on the phone. It was my friend’s suggestion to have herarrive for Jason’s graduation, where everybody got to know herbetter, much better—in some cases, in fact, a little too well!Q: It seemed very chancy for Harry and Francine’s marriage forFrancie to take a cruise with Tommy Choi. Did you know thefate of her marriage when you sent her on that cruise? Do youthink that calm seas might have yielded a different ending forHarry and Francie?A: As far as Francie is concerned, her marriage is already overby the time she boards the Czarina with Tommy Choi. But Iknew I’d have to find a way to foil any significant romantic attemptsbetween them, and since I myself get queasy floating ona raft in a swimming pool, the solution wasn’t difficult to find.Q: Cooking for Harry is just the book to give to people on adiet: It’s amusing, it’s chockful of facts, it lightly but intelligentlymaps the emotional territory of dieting. Have you invented anew form—the self-help novel?A: I love it! Academics claim Henry James as the father of themodern novel; I find a satisfying synchronicity in naming Kay-Marie James the mother of the self-help novel. And if you likereading well-written stories about the relationship between lifeand food, Ruth Reichl’s memoirs are wonderful. Also the openingchapter of Carol Shield’s terrific novel, The Stone Diaries, willmake your mouth water even as it breaks your heart.Q: Will Kay-Marie James be writing any other novels? Do youhave any other alter egos clambering for pseudonymous pagespace? Do you recommend the pseudonymous experience toother writers?A: I have actually begun a second Kay-Marie James novel, thoughit is on the back burner right now, as I focus on finishing somethingof my own. I have many alter egos as, I suspect, most writersdo, but the issue, of course, is time. I’m married, I’m amother of a young child, I live close to my extended family, I tryto maintain some semblance of an intellectual relationship withthe publishing world through reviewing and promoting the worksof upcoming writers. Every day, there’s another small fire to putout: somebody is sick, the car needs an oil change, I have to feedmy mom’s cats while she’s out of town. These things all take atoll on alter egos, on egos in general. Maybe when I’m in myeighties, I’ll have time for that Stephen King–style horror novelI’ve always wanted to write.Okay, maybe not.
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