Simmer and Smoke:
A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice
by Peggy Lampman
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Crystal: Today I have the pleasure of hosting Peggy Lampman. Welcome Peggy! I'm so happy to have you here today. Would you share a little bit about yourself with us today?
Peggy: One of my protagonists, Mallory, is a version of myself in that we both had similar upbringings in the Deep South and we both share a love of cooking, writing and photography. As well, we both had by-lines in a newspaper and then, dot com. Mallory is a more twisted, tortured and exaggerated version of myself, and––unlike Mallory––I’d had a couple of kids and a divorce under my belt at her age. Having owned a specialty food store, and worked in advertising and hiring in the grocery industry, I’ve gotten to know many Shelby’s (my other protagonist) in my life, as well. I was fortunate not to grow up in in an environment like Shelby’s, but I am familiar with the world where she was raised.
Crystal: Do you have a favorite scene you would like to share with us?
Peggy: I have a favorite scene in every chapter; some of them happy and some disturbing. I’ll share a quirky-odd, funny-sad scene that involves Shelby when she leaves her new (promising) job in Atlanta and returns to her armpit of a hometown for a weekend visit in Coryville.
I wake up with a start. That smell. Lord, do not let it be what I’m sure it is. I glance at the clock: ten thirty; I’ve been sleeping an hour. I walk out of my bedroom, down the hall, and lo and behold, there sits Mama in Lester’s lap, a lit cig dangling between her fingers. When she sees me, her back stiffens and she stubs it out with quick jerks. The butt is stained with a plum-colored lipstick, matching the ticking on her plunging neckline, and in the dim light, the TV outlines them in a blue florescent glow. Smoke furs the room and bends around the cragged, fanged antlers of the jackalope, who’s presiding over the scene, eyes dancing, eager to see my reaction.
“You promised me you weren’t smoking in the house....”
“You heard the doctor. He said cigarettes weren’t causing her asthma.”
“He said they could be a trigger.”
“This is the first time in over a month I’ve smoked in my own home. Smoking outside hasn’t made a lick of difference to Miss Ann’s cough, one way or the other.”
Grinding my teeth, I growl low and deep, like a mama bear protecting her cub. “I don’t know how you could be so selfish. You only think of yourself. I don’t give a rat’s ass what the doctor says, either your smokes or your hair products are hurting my baby. Your—only— grandchild.” I spit out those last words slow, like I was thrusting a knife deep into her heart. The jackalope’s antlers rattle, as if applauding my performance.
She gives a sharp wounded cry like a crow’s caw, puts her face into her hands then turns into Lester’s shoulders. Static strands of red hair stand from her head like pins stuck in a cushion and Lester smooths them down.
“Now, I don’t want you talking mean to your mama like that.”
Rage swells my chest as my shoulders rise to my ears, fingers curling inwards, poised to jump at Mama, to claw out her freckles like a bobcat. I shake my hands then press them into my thighs, leaning over, trying to clear these crazy thoughts. One minute I’m in love with Clare, and the next I hate my own mother. Something is wrong with me. I’m not mad at Mama. She loves us and is doing the best she can taking care of Miss Ann so I can follow my dream, to carve us a better life. The jackalope snares me with his eyes, anticipating my next move, goading me on, urging me to attack her. I pull a chair from the card table, stabilize it against the wall, hop up, then pounce into the creature.
Weaving my fingers between his antlers, and with every bit of strength I can muster, I pull...wiggle... pull. Ripping sounds of tearing wallpaper fill my ears...bolts heaving from drywall...Mama crying no, Shelby, no... a puff of plaster dust explodes from the wall blinding my vision....as I lose my balance...as I fall to the floor...gripping the vicious, tormenting jackalope.
His antlers, like swords, puncture my palms, and my blood seeps and stains his gnarled, matted fur. I hurl him to the floor, stand, press my hands together and hold them over my head to stop the bleeding. Lifting my leg, I smash the jackalope with the heel of my foot, over and over and over, flattening his skull and crushing his eyes...until an antler cuts my foot...until Lester links his elbows under my arm pits, dragging me away.
Miss Ann is standing in the doorway, which frames her as if she was a portrait of an angel. She is wearing a white cotton nightgown and curls circle her head in a halo of glistening gold. Her blue eye stares at me, crusted around the edges, yet wide, shining with silvery light. Looking down at the shattered jackalope, my throat tightens, and I am proud, amazed by my bravery; both of his evil eyes are missing. Miss Ann and I are rescued. That creature’s been done in for good.
Crystal: Where did you come up with the idea for “Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice.
Peggy: One December afternoon in 2010, I was visiting my ancestral graveyard in Stewartville, a back-woods, confederate flag-waving town in Alabama. As I watched a young woman and child wander down the road, I wondered how a young mother could escape a town of poverty, racism and crack houses. That evening I wrote the first page of “Simmer and Smoke”.
Crystal: What are you currently working on?
Peggy: I’m currently working on a contract with Lake Union Publishing. They’ve presented my agent with an offer to buy “Simmer and Smoke”, as well as an advance for a second book to be completed within the year. Prior to this, I was working on a sequel, “Where There’s Smoke”, had finished the outline and first few chapters, but they (boo hoo!) may be out the door if Lake Union has other ideas.
Crystal: Do you have any special routine that you follow when you are writing?
Peggy: Any routine that can get me into a calm space, void of distraction. I much prefer writing in the morning, well caffeinated. I “stream” 500 words on day, the go back and file and shape them the next. I try to stick to this discipline but life often gets in the way. I always work from an outline.
Crystal: Did you have to do a lot of research for this book or any other? If so do you have a fascinating fact that you have learned you would like to share with us?
Peggy: I researched the book living my life. My husband and I have relatives that live in “colorful” communities. I have drawn tremendous inspiration from these folks that I’ve come to love, and appreciate their giving me license to draw intimately from their landscape.
I’ve worn dozens of hats in my life, have lived in big cities and small towns, and have studied and befriended various types of people. To know, first-hand, the people and community of your book, is the best research for me.
Crystal: Who are some of your favorite authors that you like to read?
Peggy: I gravitate towards literary fiction, particularly fiction set in the American South. Think authors like Sue Monk Kidd, Pat Conroy and Rebecca Wells. I also love Ann Patchett and Donna Tart. My favorite memoir is Patti Smith’s, “Just Kids” and I’m currently reading her book “Woolgathers”. I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s, “Purity”. It’s filled with psychotic twists and turns and I was intrigued with the quirky mother-daughter relationship. Daniel Woodrell’s work, particularly “Winter’s Bone” that was turned into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, is quite inspiring. Ree’s character reminds me of Shelby in “Simmer and Smoke”.
Crystal: Is there a genre you haven't written that you would like to try?
Peggy: No. I’m very comfortable writing high-concept woman’s fiction as it is the type of literature I enjoy reading, and I have so much personal life experience upon which to draw.
A single mother who dreams of becoming a chef.
A food writer who just lost the love of her life.
Two women discover what's worth fighting for in this deliciously rendered novel that illuminates the power of food, love, friendship and family on the human heart
1. ASSEMBLE INGREDIENTS:
Shelby Preston--a young, single mother trapped in a hardscrabble life in rural Georgia--escapes her reality as she fantasizes herself a respected chef in a kitchen of gleaming stainless steel and pans shimmering with heat. Mallory Lakes--an Atlanta newspaper food writer--may lose her job, and searches for her muse in a shot glass of illusion.
Mallory secures her job by crafting a zealous doppelgänger to satisfy the expectations of an illusive cyber audience. This also mollifies the memories of her lover who recently bolted; no warning. Shelby persuades her mother to take care of her daughter so she can pursue her dream of going to chef school in Atlanta. She cooks them a special dinner said to bring good luck; Lord knows her family could use a pot of something good.
Chasing desires and ambitions, the women's lives unravel down a path beyond the kitchen, then weave together in an unsettling culinary landscape of organic farms and shadowy borders--some borders not meant to be crossed. As Mallory combats her demons with booze and pills, and Shelby battles the odds stacked against her for becoming a chef, the women discover what's really worth fighting for.
GENRE: women's contemporary fiction
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Memos from the edge, self-help hieroglyphics, throwaway lines galloping off paper, most of them unfinished. These are the words I should have said to Cooper the day he left, bade farewell, adios, arrivederci—however you say goodbye. Itchy, my dearest friend, is returning a platter and will ignore them, assuming they are recipe scribbles. But if these tourniquets had a voice, their banshee wail would rant, rage and scream, shaking the foundations of Atlanta.
Dearest Cooper. What a splendid feast you made of me. A sprinkle of salt, a grind of pepper, you chewed me up then spit me out. Was I that abhorrent?
Visceral, grisly, teeth-gnashing words; much better script. I write, post, then return to my cutting board. Chopping furiously, I collect, examine, and discard words much too ordinary to assuage my grief. Words...words...I need more words; what words can I write that will ease the pain of what you’ve done?
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Peggy Lampman was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in communications, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a copywriter and photographer for Hill and Knowlton, a public relations firm. She moved back to Ann Arbor, her college town, and opened up a specialty foods store, The Back Alley Gourmet. After selling the business, she wrote under a weekly food byline in The Ann Arbor News and MLive. This is her first novel.
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