What We’re Reading: A New Novel About Growing Up and Cooking in the South
Meet Fizzy. She’s twelve, and she loves to cook. She dreams of entering the Southern Living cook-off. Her recipes sound delicious, she’s a really cool kid, and she’s going through a tough time with her parents’ divorce. She is the creation of author C.C. Payne, who sat down to talk with SL ahead of the July 19th release of her new novel The Thing About Leftovers.
SL: Fizzy is such a cool kid, and this book very sensitively navigates some difficult waters. What was your inspiration for the novel?
Payne: Fizzy is a character that sort of popped up in the back of my mind when I was writing my first middle-grade novel; this is my third. I wasn’t ready at that time, so I kind of ignored her. But she was talking about leftovers from the very beginning. So she’s been in my head for about nine years now, and I finally decided to sit down and let her tell her story. Fizzy and I have a lot in common, my parents divorced and remarried and there were a lot of similarities, although none of the scenes in the book are plucked from my personal history. It’s hard being the new kid in school. All the bad stuff at school goes down at lunch, in gym, or on the bus.
SL: That’s so true! I never thought about it that way before. So, do you have an ideal reader for this novel?
Payne: There are millions of people living in blended families, and that’s becoming our new norm. A lot of people in those new families are kids and they are scared, they feel lonely, they feel rejected, they feel unloveable, and they can’t see past today. My primary reader would be the kids that are scared and alone. I hope that the book inspires honest conversations between primary readers and secondary readers, secondary readers being parents and step-parents. Finally, I know what an impact a special teacher or librarian can have on a kid, so I hope this book will help them see these leftover kids and have an even bigger impact on them.
SL: We are, of course, tickled that such a fun character wants to be involved with our magazine. What made you decide SL should be a part of Fizzy’s life?
Payne: Southern Living is like home, it’s just always been there. It’s like I can’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t aware of it. I can still see SL stacked on the end table next to the ferns, I can still see it at my grandmother’s house stacked across the coffee table. I mean, it was just always there. And even when I read it now, it feels like home to me. For Fizzy, it was a natural progression–for her to be at home, be a cook, and what would a Southerner do? She would enter the SL cook-off, of course.
SL: Do you come from a long line of Southern cooks?
Payne: My mom wasn’t a huge cook, she could get by, but both of my grandmothers were excellent southern cooks, and my stepmother was an amazing cook. Most of my recipes have come from her and most of her recipes came from her mother. She really is the fantastic cook in the family. That was a huge blessing in my life.
SL: What made you decide to write YA novels?
Payne: One night (I had been writing for a long time with no success) I said to God, I’ll do anything you want, just let me be satisfied with that. Don’t let me long for more. I’ll do anything, just tell me what you want me to do. And the next morning, my daughter said, she was ten at the time, I sure wish you would write a novel for people my age because then I could read it and share it with my friends. And I thought, well, I don’t have anything better to do while I’m waiting for God to reveal that I’m a plumber, so I guess I’ll give it a shot. And I sat down and began to write without an outline or a plan, and that became Something to Sing About, and the very first publisher I sent it to picked it out of the slush pile for publication.
SL: What a great story! Do you have any advice for new writers?
Payne: Don’t give up, don’t let anything stop you from writing. I don’t think there’s a short-cut to becoming a good writer. I think you have to write every day. When I first started out, the writing was really bad and I have rejection letters to prove it.
SL: Good advice. Tell us, what’s in your beach bag this summer?
Payne: I’m always late to the literary party, but I just finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It was fantastic.
SL: I noticed that Fizzy’s aunt Liz is always making her sandwiches with something called “Benedictine.” I confess I had to look it up. It sounded so delicious and refreshing. What made you include it in the story?
Payne: Well, Benedictine is what I carried in my lunchbox to school. My grandmother and mother make it.
SL: It sounded so light and perfect for summer. This is pretty shameless, but I’m going to ask anyway: will you share the recipe with us?
Payne: I’d love to. The following recipe is from my 102-year-old Mimi, whom, I believe, got the recipe from Benedict's Tea Room in Louisville, which was opened in 1900 by caterer and cookbook author Jennie Carter Benedict. It’s great for a tea sandwich.
1 8 oz. package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1 small onion
milk to desired consistency
Directions: Allow cream cheese to soften at room temperature. Use juicer to get juice from cucumber and onion. (I also use some onion salt.) Add cucumber juice, onion juice, and onion salt to cream cheese in food processor. Add a little milk. Mix. (Keep adding milk until you get a consistency like peanut butter.) Green food coloring may be added if desired.