We’ve got another great interview this week with award-winning author, Leah DeCesare. Leah is the author of Forks, Knives and Spoons. We collaborated on a fragrance for her book and it’s a great candle to go with this really fun book. I had a great time working with Leah and reading her book was a great trip back to one my favorite time periods – the 80’s and 90’s!
Today I asked Leah about how the book came to be, what has given her the confidence to become a writer and published author and how she came to be a philanthropist of a children’s organization in Uganda.
But before we get into the interview, I want to share a bit about the book:
For readers who love Adriana Trigiani, Jennifer Weiner and Liane Moriarty, Forks, Knives, and Spoons is a light-hearted, thought-provoking coming of age story that takes readers on a nostalgic journey back to the 1980s and 1990s. Romantic, witty and warm.
There are three kinds of guys: forks, knives, and spoons. That is the final lesson that Amy York’s father sends her off to college with, never suspecting just how far his daughter will take it. Clinging to the Utensil Classification System as her guide, Amy tries to convince her skeptical roommate, Veronica Warren, of its usefulness as they navigate the heartbreaks and soul mates of college and beyond.
Beginning in 1988, their freshman year at Syracuse University, Amy and Veronica meet an assortment of guys—from slotted spoons and shrimp forks to butter knives and sporks—all while trying to learn if the UCS holds true. On the quest to find their perfect steak knives, they learn to believe in themselves—and not to settle in love or life.
Doesn’t that sound like a great story! Now let’s meet Leah!
Hi Leah! Thank you so much for joining us today!
I’d love to start with a question about your book, Forks, Knives and Spoons. I’ll admit that I enjoyed reminiscing a bit in the 1980’s/90’s with your book. What was your inspiration for the story? And more specifically, where did the idea for the Utensil Classification System?
The inspiration for FORKS, KNIVES, AND SPOONS comes from a real life talk my father gave me before sending me off to college in 1988. I wrote the scene of Tom York telling his daughter, Amy, based on how I remember my dad telling me, one difference is my mom was with us too.
I’ve carried the central idea of this book with me since that dinner with my dad. Then, at Syracuse, when I shared this system with my college friends it took off, with everyone adding descriptions for new utensils and talking as if it were an understood concept, for example, “I met this complete fork last night.”
That idea sat with me for decades, but there was no story around it, so when I finally sat to write this book, I had to build the characters and their arcs and let the Utensil Classification System (the UCS) become a backdrop and an organizing idea serving the characters and their growth. In the end, I had a story about friendship and learning to believe in oneself.
Amy and Veronica have this really supportive friendship. It was really nice to read about a healthy girlfriend relationship that was well developed and realistic. Did you have a personal friendship that you drew upon to write about this friendship?
Absolutely! We need our girlfriends at every age and stage. As I mention above, the story ultimately is about friendship. I had an editor tell me that she loved how the book begins and ends with Amy and Veronica and that their relationship is sort of like the main “romance” of the book, if you will, a connection and bond unlike those with the male characters.
One of the main themes of Forks, Knives and Spoons is finding your self-confidence – in dating, family relationships, career choices, etc. Most of the characters struggle with this at one point or another. How have your readers responded to this theme and is there one characters self-confidence that you hear most about?
As a woman and a mother, all around, I notice so many women, of all ages, who don’t value themselves, who don’t believe in themselves. I’ve had a seemingly disjointed career history —from corporate buying, PR and event planning, to doula and childbirth work, to leadership development and fundraising and writing — but through it all, I’ve noticed that a theme for me has been empowering others and I sought to do that through my book as well.
This theme does come up a lot in my book club discussions but I can’t say any one person’s story has been dominant. I think readers relate differently to the characters, I’ve had someone tell me she talked about Jenny in her therapy because she really related to her story, another told me that she’d grown up without a mom and as an only child with her father like Amy and her story resonated, and another who connected with Veronica’s mom, Susan Warren, a more minor character but who undergoes her own transformation. I love that about books and the experience of reading and talking about books — we all connect and respond differently and can share other life experiences through stories.
Speaking of self-confidence, and switching gears a bit, how did you find your confidence to become a writer? Did you have any friends who helped you take the leap to publish your writing?
One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me, I believe, is that of being confident. I sort of just always knew and believed I would write novels. Life took me on a windy path to get here and when I was in my early 40s I asked myself what I was waiting for and I reprioritized my life and actively, consciously set out to write my first novel.
My parents and husband have always been my champions and never had any doubt in me which is the best support possible. My sister and some close friends read the book early, and several times, to provide feedback. I’m very grateful to have a supportive network of friends and family who make it easy for me to believe in myself!
While I was reading Forks, Knives and Spoons I kept wishing I could be the big sister or mom to Amy and Veronica and help them through their issues. I remember being in similar situations when I was there age. Hindsight is always 20-20! If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I love this! It is funny to view this with they eyes of an older, wiser woman. To go on a tangent, I always wanted to be a writer and have wondered why I never took that path right in college and after but as an older debut novelist, I can truly say my life experiences and perspective informed and added value to this book. It’s something I couldn’t have written with the same underlying lessons and wisdom if I’d been in my 20s.
Even with that appreciation for all I just said, if I could tell my younger writing self anything, I would tell her to write while working in a non-writing career, to write while mothering young kids (Ha! Yes, but write anyway! People do it.) I’d tell her not to wait, but to write.
Finally, I want to spend a little time on another project we’ve collaborated on and one I think my readers will love to learn more about. We decided to do a limited edition label on the Forks, Knives and Spoons candle that is for sale in my store. Proceeds from the purchase of this candle will support Kampala Children’s Centre for Hope and Wellness. Can you tell us how you got involved with this organization?
I thank you so much for agreeing to do that. I’ve so loved working with you and am grateful for your support of this cause that is so dear to me.
In 2012, we hosted some kids from Uganda traveling with the Destiny Africa Children’s Choir, a touring group from the Kampala Children’s Centre. KCC takes in orphaned children, adopts them, raises them and educates them. In addition to the hundreds who live there, thousands of kids from the community come to KCC daily for school.
My family immediately fell in love with the kids and chaperones of the choir and when I learned they needed a medical center, I pulled together a volunteer team and together we raised $82,000 in six months. I had the privilege of visiting last March with my oldest daughter and parents and we walked through the medical center that had only been a dream years before. It was intensely moving and emotional. I love those kids and we’re all so happy to have our lives intertwined across continents forevermore. Thank you so much for your kind support!
is inspired by Forks, Knives and Spoons by Leah DeCesare.
A sophisticated perfume of jasmine, gardenia, ylang ylang and soft amber
What I loved about Forks, Knives and Spoons:
This book is the perfect read for when you are looking for a really well written “girlfriend” story. Amy and Veronica support each other and are a friendship we all want from our bestie! This story is full of real life struggles – dating, family, careers – and how your confidence can help you find the right path for you!- Nalana @ Book Scents
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