We all need to be pushed out of our comfort zone now and again. That’s one of the themes in Renee Swindle’s new novel — A Pinch of Ooh La La.
The story is about Abbey Ross, who runs a bakery in Oakland, Calif. Even though she designs great wedding cakes for couples in love, her own love life is a bit flat. (Pun intended). Her best friend, like a lot of our best friends, decides it’s time to change that and sets Abbey up on a blind date.
Surprise, it actually starts of well. Samuel Howard is successful, good-looking, wants to raise a family. But Abbey learns Samuel has some pretty serious issues with people who don’t respect the institution of marriage or young people who end up pregnant.
Abbey comes from a family of 13 children from various mothers and her 20-year-old sister has just dropped the news that she’s pregnant. Are Samuel’s views so entrenched that they can’t find some common ground and move forward?
Recently, I had a chance to connect with Swindle via e-mail.
Q. Congratulations on the new novel. One of the things that struck me is how all of us need to get out of our comfort zone from time to time. Are you someone who is comfortable getting out of your comfort zone?
A. I’m a complete homebody and not really spontaneous at all. I love my schedule and checking things off my to-do list. I also love my home and my doggies. I probably sound like a nerd, but I suppose I save all the drama and craziness for my books and characters. Even so, I do agree that it’s important to get out of our comfort zones. I think breaking out of our habits and comforts are how we grow.
Q. Have you ever had close friends take matters into their own hands to get you out of your comfort zone?
A. I’m not that bad! I will tell you that my friends know that I’m not the girl to call last minute and invite to a movie. Since my life can be so busy with trying to write and teach full-time, I have to plan things in advance. I’m all game for parties and movies and getting out, but I generally have to have it on my calendar.
Q. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
A. I get ideas for my novels one at a time and they usually start with an image or with voice. When I started A Pinch Of Ooh La La, the narrator, Abbey, was upset about a break up and her “public humiliation.” I thought, Whoa, public humiliation? That’s interesting. The more I sat and played around with the story, the more the ideas began to develop. After the first draft I realized I was dealing with themes like friendship, family; and the questions: How do you move on after a horrendous break-up? How do you trust your gut and heart when trying to decide if a person is a match for you?
Q. Many writers draw on their own experiences to a certain extent? How much of what’s in the book reflects your own views or experiences and how much is just good ol’ creative imagination?
A. I’m not sure what I’d write about if I based anything on my own life — my dogs? I actually prefer making up stories and characters. What I do enjoy is adding my hobbies and interests into my novels. A Pinch Of Ooh La La offers commentary on the art world, which is something that I’m interested in. And since I love jazz, I had a blast making Abbey’s father and several of her siblings jazz musicians. I also bake, so Abbey just happens to own a bakery. I also find that fiction can be pretty racially divided, and I like for my novels to portray the world I live in. I have friends of different races and Oakland is racially diverse as well; I like for my characters to reflect that. Abbey, for instance, comes from a huge mixed-race family with four step-moms of different races who are all friends. I’m an only child so it was fun to create a big, artsy family.
Q. I’ve been reading some of the interviews you’ve done with other authors on your website. You come across as an attentive reader, you pick up on a lot of things. When did you fall in love with books?
A. Thank you. It’s been fun interviewing other writers. It basically gives me an excuse to ask questions I’ve always wanted to ask. And I have always, always loved reading. I remember falling in love with certain picture books as a kid and all my favorite authors like Roald Dahl and Judy Blume.
Q. When did you know that writing wasn’t just a passion, but also a career?
A. That’s a great question. I know writing is a career — my career choice, but I never think of it that way. I guess I still see it as my passion and probably always will. Most days I wake up at 4 am to get in my writing time before I leave for work. That to me is passion. Writing takes dedication and can be a hell of a lot of work, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like work. It’s not a total grind. The word career, for me, means it’s something you can change — like when you change your career path. I will probably always write.
Q. Are you someone who just needs a pinch of ooh la la in her life or does it take more to make you happy?
A. Ha ha! That’s a great question — and fun. I have plenty of ooh la la in my life, thank you! I think the ooh la la in life comes from appreciating any bit of joy you can find — whether big or small. And I’d like to add that I think readers will definitely have a good time reading A Pinch Of Ooh La La.