I’m absolutely thrilled to shine the spotlight on YA author Kelly Fiore. I met Kelly this past winter at the Vermont College Novel Writing Retreat and when she told me about her book, Taste Test, I knew I had to read it. I read it and loved it! I’m now a fan of Kelly’s! Stay tuned below to enter for a chance to win her delicious novel!
Taste Test by Kelly Fiore (Bloomsbury/2013)
When Nora Henderson secures a spot on the popular TV cooking competition for high school seniors, she is excited for a chance to achieve her dream of leaving small town Weston, NC and having a career in the culinary arts. She does feel a little guilty for leaving behind her dad and the BBQ joint they’ve been running for most of her life. When she arrives on the set and meets the other contestants, she immediately loathes the arrogant son of a famous chef, Christian. The two become fierce competitors. Fortunately, she makes quick friends with two other contestants. During the course of the show, it seems someone is sabotaging the competition, seriously injuring some of the contestants. Nora is determined to solve the mystery. In the meantime, she fights her growing attraction to Christian. Delicious story flavored with a spicy romance! (And bonus, there are recipes!)
Spotlight on Kelly:
Thanks so much for having me, Debbi!
Thank you, Kelly, for being here! Please share the journey of this book – the inspiration, the writing process, and the road to publication.
I’ve always been a “foodie,” even before the word “foodie” was a common phrase. When the show, Top Chef, became popular, I was hooked. I loved how there was so much drama and stress in a kitchen – a true kitchen “arena.” The only thing I really thought was missing was the romantic chemistry and tension. If the show were a book or a movie, it would absolutely have that.
At about the same time, the class, Commercial Foods, became overwhelmingly popular at the school where I was teaching. It was essentially the cooking part of home economics. The kids loved making things and getting to serve them to others and there was a lot of pride and ownership of that food. Kids who ordinarily wouldn’t excel at art or other creative elective courses loved their cooking class.
So, in the Fall of 2010, I was talking to my agent about the manuscript that was currently on sub (and not going anywhere) and mentioned this “Top Chef for teens” idea. She was enthusiastic and, over the course of about four months, I wrote the first draft. I think it took another 2-3 months to clean it up and get it submission-ready. We went out with it in January and it sold in June to Walker Books for Young Readers.
I’m a sucker for a good (hot) romance. Nora and Christian totally sizzle! Taste Test has it all – romance, food, competition, sabotage, intrigue. Whew! I couldn’t stop turning pages! How did Nora and Christian come about? What are the challenges to writing great romantic tension?
When it comes to YA, I’m always trying to write and re-write one relationship – Pacey Witter and Joey Potter from Dawson’s Creek. I feel like any good romance, particularly for teens, needs to have two people with more than just chemistry – there needs to be a little spice. A little stress. It shouldn’t be an immediate attraction that, thereby, becomes a romance.
Pacey and Joey epitomized that kind of relationship for me. Their friendship and romance was a constant banter, alternately unrequited, then heated, then explosive. A big (read – huge) part of me will always want to be Joey and a big (read – enormous) part of me will always love Pacey.
So, in Taste Test, Nora is my Joey Potter – she’s feisty, but she’s cautious. She works harder than anyone else and feels like she has something to prove. Despite her strength, she’s painfully insecure. She trusts her best friend, Billy, implicitly, but there isn’t a lot of room for more than that in her carefully constructed, safe world.
Christian is my Pacey Witter – he’s cocky, but slightly damaged. His bravado is both a mask and a shield. As the son of a famous chef, he feels driven to prove himself and yet always unable to measure up. I think it’s safe to say that I gravitate toward that kind of male character – the kind that is both irritating and handsome, both frustrating and somehow sweet and heroic.
I think writing a good, desirable, swoon-worthy romance is HARD. Authors who primarily write romance do not get nearly enough respect for how hard it is to write one of the most universal experiences – falling in love – in a way that is both relatable and completely new. I like to think back on a fantastic piece of advice from Jennifer Jacobson – “Things that feel like they happen fast should be written slow, and things that feel like they happen slowly should be written fast.” Okay, she was WAY more eloquent about it than that – but that quote has stuck with me, especially when writing romantic scenes. It’s important not to rush the details. People want to fall in love with your characters and they want to be a part of that evolution. Your readers deserve the time and care a good romance takes.
Okay, I admit it, I love food. I wasn’t introduced to North Carolina barbecue until I met my in-laws for the first time over 16 years ago. But, yum! Do you like to cook? What is your favorite comfort food (or foods)?
Do I like to cook?
That’s like the understatement of the century. Cooking and baking are my “go-to” activities, apart from writing and reading. I use cooking to relax, to clear my head, to stimulate ideas. I ADORE food preparation in just about every form. I also have a son with food allergies, so I find myself cooking more often than not. Somehow, I never get tired of it.
I think my mom’s recipes are my biggest comfort foods. Some of them are in the book – well, variations of them. The macaroni and cheese recipe Nora makes for her first challenge is my mom’s recipe, but with my own spicy twists. But I will make beef stew or chicken noodle soup or chocolate cake from my mom’s classic recipes if I need that warm and cozy comfort feeling. I’m also lucky enough to have married into an amazing Italian family. My husband’s grandmother – who I call Grandma, too – has shared some of the Fiore family recipes with me and I’ve tried my hand at a few of the classics that my husband loves.
For me, food (like love) is a universal experience. It doesn’t really surprise me, in the end, that I wrote my first book about food. They always say you should write what you know and I definitely know food!
Kelly Fiore has a BA in English from Salisbury University and an MFA in Poetry from West Virginia University. She received an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council in 2005 and 2009. Kelly’s poetry has appeared in Small Spiral Notebook, Samzidada, Mid Atlantic Review, Connotation Press, and the Grolier Annual Review. Her first young adult novel, Taste Test, was released in August 2013 from Bloomsbury USA. Forthcoming books include Just Like the Movies, again from Bloomsbury, in 2014 and The People Vs. Cecelia Price from HarperTeen in 2015.
Kelly teaches college composition in Maryland, where she lives with her husband and son.
By the way, I’m totally looking forward to her next novel, Just Like The Movies, due out on July 22! What’s it about? Two girls. Eight Movies. One Happily Ever After. I can’t wait!
But you won’t have to wait to read Taste Test! One lucky person will win a copy! As always, follow these instructions:
1. Comment below and for fun tell me your favorite comfort food. My comfort meal is roast chicken, Japanese rice, and gravy. It brings back memories of home. That and Mom’s potato salad. And pie. Any kind of pie, but I’m partial to key lime. It’s really hard to pick one!
2. Please have a U.S. mailing address. I take care of both the copy of the book and mailing, so this just helps me keep costs down. Thank you for understanding.
3. Enter by Friday, June 13th (lucky lucky!) by midnight EST. Winner will be drawn at random and posted here on Tuesday, June 17th.
Good luck and happy reading!