Sharing a fun Q&A I did for Sugar and Salt! Recently the book released in Trade Paperback and I have been reflecting on all of the things that went into writing this novel.
Q: Sugar and Salt is releasing into the world at a time when women’s rights and abortion laws, especially in Texas, continue to be top-of-mind in America. In these times of change, how do you see the novel fitting into this current cultural and political conversation?
SW: The storyline for Sugar and Salt touches multiple hot buttons in the current conversation. It depicts a Texas woman facing a barrage of devastating, seemingly impossible choices. She’s dealing socioeconomic insecurity, sexual violence, incarceration, justice inequity, and firearms issues. In researching the novel, I discovered real-life stories that shook my faith in our leadership. Yet these stories also reinforced my faith in the power of a woman’s strength and determination in the face of overwhelming adversity. Margot, the main character in Sugar and Salt, exemplifies the grace, humanity, and deep resolve that ultimately saves her. Another unanticipated but very welcome current issue in the novel was a surprise to me—diversity in adoption choices. The situation in Sugar and Salt was inspired by some friends of mine, a gay couple who now have two children by surrogacy. What I didn’t know as I was writing the book is that a number of high-profile couples have made the news in the happiest way possible. Anderson Cooper, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and one of my favorite book evangelists, Jordan Moblo, all shared their baby joy while I was writing the novel. Real-life happy endings lift me up and buoy me toward my own happy ending.
Q: Readers flock to your novels for their emotional complexity and deeply felt truths about family, love, and ourselves. What do you hope Sugar and Salt will offer readers?
SW: As a reader, I’m irresistibly drawn to stories that reflect the things I hold in my heart. So when I write, I try my best to create characters the reader can relate to—people facing life choices, sorrows and joys, adversity and abundance—in the most authentic and entertaining way possible.
First and foremost, my goal is the same as it’s been since 1987, when my first novel was published—to entertain and uplift the reader. If I fail at that, any meaning or message my story conveys will be lost. However, assuming I’ve done my job (and believe me, readers are not shy about letting me know), then Sugar and Salt will leave a lasting impression. I hope the novel offers readers an opportunity to take an unconventional and dramatic journey with Margot Salton, who is nearly crushed by adversity, and then pulls herself up by her fingernails in search of a dream. I hope her story encourages readers to develop a greater understanding of the issues of poverty, violence, racism, misogyny, freedom of choice, and injustice.
Q: At the heart of Sugar and Salt is a sharp, honest tale of women’s empowerment as Margot Salton strives for a second chance at love and life after an unimaginable, life-changing event. In what ways does her story reflect the challenges facing all women in America?
SW: Ida B. Miller, one of the wisest characters in Sugar and Salt, tells Margot (formerly “Margie” because yes, she changed everything about herself), “Everybody has a past. It’s who you are now that matters.” I didn’t pull any punches with this story. Some of the things that happened to Margie might be hard to read. Believe me, these scenes were hard to research and hard to write. But I persevered because this character was so important to me. I want to believe that there is no mountain too high for a determined woman to climb. Margie’s story feels both timeless and of-the-moment. She faces the challenges women have dealt with from the beginning of time—seeking security through a deep emotional bond and finding the heart’s home, and the day-to-day work of making her way in the world. Yet there is an immediacy to her challenges that feels particularly relevant now. In this moment, women are actively seeking new levels of empowerment and meaning in their personal and work lives.
Q: Sugar and Salt is filled with irresistibly sweet and savory descriptions of cooking and dining. Similarly, readers will treasure its scenes of romance, newly forged and long-lasting. Food can do more than fill a hungry stomach; it can fill a hungry soul. In what ways does Sugar and Salt explore the personal and profound relationship between food and romance?
SW: Before I wrote a word of this story, I knew I wanted the title to be Sugar and Salt, and I’m grateful that my editor and publisher went with it. Preparing and serving tasty food is an elemental expression of caring, a running theme throughout the book. This is where Margot excels and finds meaning in her mission. In a way, it’s one of the key elements that saves her, particularly during her most painful and challenging times. When she first meets Jerome Sugar, the admittedly delectable love interest, she lacks the emotional vocabulary to express her feelings for him. But she can feed him. And feed him she does, letting her culinary arts convey her ardor.
Q: What was the initial inspiration and writing process for Sugar and Salt? Did it start from your own relationships and experiences, or was it driven by a desire to explore certain themes?
SW: For me, inspiration is a process, not necessarily a single lightning-bolt moment. I’m more like a magpie, collecting lots of little bright, shiny objects because they interest me. I can tell you that a key element of this novel—the “Sugar” portion of Sugar and Salt—came to me as I was writing my previous book, The Lost and Found Bookshop. The bookseller in that story gets her supply of pastries for the in-store cafe from Sugar, the bakery across the street. I started wondering who the baker was, and what made his specialties so delicious. And then the other bits came to me. I read the harrowing real-life story of Brittany Smith, an Alabama woman who shot and killed her rapist—and was forced to plead guilty to murder. My fictional story is radically different (admittedly, much more tidy because—fiction), but it led me to learn more about the life-and-death situations faced by women who are marginalized by socioeconomic insecurity, sexual violence, lack of body autonomy, and injustice. Ultimately, all my novels are inspired by my stubborn belief in the sturdiness of the human spirit in the face of adversity. I wrote Sugar and Salt in a white heat, rushing to get the story out in a matter of months. I hope that creative energy is reflected in the pages of this novel.