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Interview: Author Stacey Ballis (Plus a Book Giveaway!)

Stacey Ballis: the author who enlightened me that authors are nice people!

Stacey Ballis. Photo courtesy of Penguin Group USA.
Stacey Ballis. Photo courtesy of Penguin Group USA.
I first met Stacey at a 2007 reading and event for her book The Spinster Sisters. She was extremely gracious in the face of my geeking out (I’d read all of her books and was in awe of her relatable characters, fun style and love of Chicago), and I’m proud to interview her about her newest book, Out to Lunch, as well as her writing process, favorite restaurants and what ’80s movie she digs most.
(Also, GIVEAWAY! Details at the end.)
Your latest book, Out to Lunch, follows a caterer/mogul who is dealing with the loss of her best friend and business partner — and trying to help out her friend’s socially awkward widower. What inspired you to write this story?
I ascribe to the school of thought that believes there are only seven stories, and Shakespeare already told them all. So for me, my work is about trying to find a new way to tell an old story. We’ve seen a lot of stories about people inheriting custody of an unexpected child, and how that changes them. I thought it would be a fun twist for someone to inherit custody of an unexpected adult!
 
Image courtesy of Penguin Group USA
Image courtesy of Penguin Group USA
Can you talk a bit about your blog, The Polymath Chronicles?
I find that I need to have an outlet for my non-fiction writing, and I wanted a place to indulge the part of me that desperately wants to be the love child of MFK Fisher and Julia Child. A polymath is someone with varied interests, many things that they are good at. I figured if I called it the Polymath Chronicles it would give me freedom to write whatever strikes me in a given moment. It is probably mostly a food/home improvement/entertaining blog, but I also tell stories that are funny, rant about things that bother me, whatever is most present.
 
You’ve now had seven books published — congratulations! What was your favorite book, and why? Which was the most challenging to write, and how so? Which character is the most like you?
My favorite is Off the Menu, because it is a love letter to my husband and was inspired by our courtship. The most challenging was Good Enough to Eat, it was a darker story, the character was in a difficult place in her life, and it dealt with many issues of compulsive eating and unhealthy relationships with food that are very much a part of my life and the lives of people close to me. In some ways, that is why I appreciate the book so much, because it was hard. All of my characters have elements of me, but I hope they are all their own people. And I flatter myself that their good qualities and smart decisions are most like me, but probably the truth is that they all love food and Chicago the way I do!
 
Several of your characters are chefs, and many more have a passion for good food — and if your social media is any indication, so do you! What restaurants and recipes have been favorites lately?
I’m fairly addicted to a place called Sumi Robata Grill, simple, fresh, very precise cooking, and mindblowingly delicious. And the smoked gouda mac and cheese at Homegrown Café is like my crack. And since it is winter, I’m all about soups and stews and braises at home, lots of hearty warming “kitchen sink” sorts of recipes. But there is a slow-roasted pork shoulder that is going to make an appearance very soon!
 
Your first book, Inappropriate Men, was published in 2004. Has your writing process changed since then, and if so, how?
I’d say the biggest difference happened when I left my job to pursue writing full time right before my fourth book was published. That allowed me to focus more, which I think makes me a better writer. The second was when I got married in 2010. I used to be a write all night and sleep till 11 girl, but it is important to me that my husband and I go to bed at the same time, and he gets up at 5, so I had to shift to being more of a daytime writer. It was an adjustment, and took some getting used to, but now it feels fairly natural.
 
What is your biggest challenge as an author, and how do you deal with it?
I’d say dealing with the marketing and self-promotion aspect, which is essential to the job, and the most distasteful. I deal with it by making sure that my social media presence is 95% social and only 5% media. I never wanted to be one of those authors who was always just hocking their book six ways to Sunday. So I try to use it as an opportunity to make connections with people, and hope that I keep them entertained!
 
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Write. A lot. And read. A lot. Don’t be precious about the work, if it isn’t good, delete it. There are always more words. Write your most authentic true book from your heart. If you aspire to that, the rest doesn’t matter.
 
You are good friends with author Jen Lancaster, and I’ve heard you two discuss all things 80’s at book signings and panels. What is your favorite ’80s movie, and your favorite ’80s song, and why?
Sophie’s Choice??? Sixteen Candles, if I had to pick just one, although pretty much all of John Hughes comes close to a tie for me. Song would have to probably be “Stand and Deliver” by Adam and the Ants. It’s the first song I remember actively learning all the words to, buying the record (yes, vinyl) with my own money, and dancing with my girlfriends in our pajamas. Plus I had a serious crush on him. I wonder if I can get my husband to wear a puffy pirate shirt?
Out to Lunch is now available in paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers. For more about the author, visit staceyballis.com.
GIVEAWAY TIME! Win a copy of Out to Lunch! Each comment, Facebook comment/share/like, re-Tweet and Tumblr reblog counts as one entry. Winner will be selected at random on Thursday, February 6. Good luck!
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The Unprofessional Critic

Lauren Whalen is a freelance writer living in Chicago. She reviews plays for Chicago Theater Beat (http://www.chicagotheaterbeat.com) and talks about movies on The Film Yap (http://www.thefilmyap.com). Lauren's young adult novel is represented by Chalberg & Sussman Literary Agency. Say hi to her at maybeimamazed02(at)gmail(dot)com. (Photo by Greg Inda)

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