Jen: Please help me welcome Dana Bate as she celebrates the release of The Girl’s Guide to Love and Supper Clubs. Dana, can you share a short bio with us?
Dana: My background is, shall we say, a little unusual. I majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry in college, but in my final year I realized I missed telling stories, so I became a reporter and anchor for a news program on our college radio station. Eventually I ended up landing a job as a reporter and producer for PBS’s Nightly Business Report, where I won an award for a series I produced on the Indian economy (a series for which I endured a monkey attack on location…but I digress). After five wonderful years at NBR, I quit my job to pursue writing full time. These days, when I’m not writing, I’m usually in the kitchen trying my hand at a new recipe.
Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Dana: THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS (published in the UK as THE SECRET SUPPER CLUB) is about a twenty-six-year old woman named Hannah Sugarman who is having a quarter-life crisis. On paper, she seems to have it all: impressive job, brilliant boyfriend, famous intellectual parents. But all Hannah cares about is cooking, and no one takes her passion seriously — not her boyfriend, and not her parents, who want her to become the next Professor Sugarman.
When her relationship falls apart, Hannah decides to start fresh and launches an underground supper club out of her new landlord’s town house — a secret venture that is both wildly successful and highly problematic, given that it isn’t exactly legal. As the success of her supper club grows, so do the number of secrets Hannah is forced to keep. Can she keep her underground restaurant a secret? Or, like everything else in her life, will it end up being a recipe for disaster?
The idea came to me after I’d quit my job and moved to London with my husband for a few months while he worked on a project there. I had been toying with various ideas for a novel, when one morning I came across an article online about a woman called Ms. Marmitelover who hosted a secret supper club out of her London flat. Total strangers would come from all over and pay to eat her food, even though the whole operation wasn’t technically legal. I thought the idea sounded really fun – and risky – and that sort of became the launching pad for my novel.
Jen: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Dana: A little of both. I generally have a rough sketch of where I think the story is heading, but I allow myself some wiggle room because the characters often end up taking on lives of their own. I don’t want to rope myself into a highly specific outline because I like to let the characters surprise me – and the reader, too.
Jen: Do you have a writing routine?
Dana: Historically, I have, yes. I wake up, have my breakfast and coffee, and then as soon as the clock strikes 9:00 AM, I sit in front of my computer and start writing. I usually let myself read over what I wrote the day before, to get back into the story and make any minor tweaks I need to make, and then it’s down to business with new writing. However, I’m about to give birth to my first baby, an event that will, most likely, upend all of my routines, writing and otherwise. I can only imagine what my routines will be in a few months…
Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Dana: I didn’t visit any real underground supper clubs before writing the book. I didn’t want Hannah’s experiences to mimic a specific supper club (or clubs). I wanted the story to spring from my imagination. So instead I read tons and tons of articles about underground supper clubs – everything from profiles of popular supper clubs to essays about the history of underground restaurants. I emailed a few hosts and followed a few on Twitter and pieced together what would be required to run one – even if it was fictional. I also spoke to friends who have worked on Capitol Hill and at Washington, DC think tanks so that I could give the story an authentic Washington flavor.
Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Dana: I’m sure this will shock – shock! – readers of the book, but I love, love, love to cook. And bake. And eat. So…yeah. Let’s just say I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Dana: I’m currently hard at work on my second novel! It’s a separate, stand-alone novel, with entirely new characters and situations. But for those who enjoy my first book, the second will have some of the same ingredients: humor, relationships, family, and, of course, food.