Deciding which of Ann Staadt‘s novels to read first was an easy choice for me: A New Moon for Emily, featuring a character who drives a purple Volkswagen Beetle like I did back in the day, got first dibs.
Between her road trips in antique cars and years spent running her own apartment business, Ann — a longtime member of my writers group — has a wealth of material to draw on for creating interesting characters in intriguing locations. In this book, an Indiana librarian reinvents her life after inheriting her grandmother’s house on an island off Nova Scotia.
She also eats a lot of wonderful food without seeming to go overboard. I was curious which of the island’s eligible bachelors Emily would end up with, but what I really wanted to know was how she managed to keep all those yummy baked goods around without being constantly tempted to raid the kitchen.
Q. Food seems to play a huge role in this story. Biddy’s always cooking all this delicious food, plus Emily’s always going out on dinner dates and old-fashioned picnics. Yet Emily seems to have a sense of restraint — of knowing when she’s too full for pie, or to have the waitress box up some of her pasta so she has room for dessert. Do you think she gained weight during her time on the island, or did she stay active and sensible enough to avoid “tight jeans syndrome?”
A. After reading your comments and questions I realized that most of my books are full of eating and food. In my mind Emily stayed slender but marriage and children can change that.
Q. I assume this story is based on your own travels. Did you and your husband drive one of your interesting old vehicles up to Nova Scotia?
A. We did tour Nova Scotia in our 1914 Fiat. One of my best memories is eating lobster. That’s one reason I made so much of Jared’s lobster fishing. One day we drove along a canal and I looked across and saw this three story, deep rose colored house. It stayed in my mind and I had to write a story about it.
Q. In my interviews with so-called ‘Normal People’ who don’t struggle much with their weight, I’ve noticed that they often say they really dislike getting overly full. That seems to apply to Emily; at one point in the story she mentions feeling uncomfortably full, and at other times she strives to avoid that sensation. Does that pertain to you as well? Does it bug you to get too full?
A. After I’ve eaten too much I do feel too full and regret overeating, but that doesn’t keep me from doing it again. It’s so easy to eat mindlessly and then realize what you’ve done. My weakness is potatoes, baked, boiled and mashed.
Yesterday (Saturday) was the last day of a three-day old car tour in Bardstown, Ky. I’ve been thinking of you and your accomplishment. I ate a sensible breakfast of fat-free cottage cheese with blue berries in the motor home. We had a coffee stop in a marvelous bakery. While most of the others ate huge cinnamon rolls, I passed and felt good about myself. However we had a closing dinner at Colonel Saunders restaurant. I lost any advantage I’d gained. We started home later and stopped at a Cracker Barrel for a “light supper”. I ordered a baked potato and a salad. The salad came with fried chicken on top, which I didn’t want. But the employees assured me it was a much cheaper deal. You can’t win.
Q. You told me a while back that you lost 15 pounds when you had surgery a few years ago, and that you’ve managed to keep if off since then. How did you keep the pounds from creeping back on?
A. In 2003 I had quadruple by-pass surgery and totally lost my appetite for 4 or 5 weeks. Simply couldn’t eat. Hence the loss of 15 pounds. Once my appetite came back weeks later, I tried to eat less and kept off the pounds. In 2010 I had a knee replacement and dropped another 5 pounds. The pain meds made me nauseated and again I couldn’t eat. However, we spent 5 weeks in Florida this winter and I ate too many Greek salads, you know the ones with a big scoop of potato salad underneath.
Q. I’m curious who the Biddy character is based on.
A. I tried hard to think where Biddy came from and it’s a puzzle. No one in our families is like her. Finally I connected her with Lindy, a man who worked for me when I was in the apartment business. He was a live-in custodian and very interested in food and cooking. I also used him as a character in Billy Dawn Rides the Range.
Q. The characters in this story seem to have rather old-fashioned diets. Homestyle food predominates, and the central characters tend to keep desserts or cookies on hand for company. If I were Emily, I’d have a hard time staying out of Biddy’s brownie stash. Any tips on how Emily manages to live peacefully under the same roof with uneaten dessert?
A. It’s noticeable that many young women are slender but child bearing and life style take over. As life gets more stressful eating provides comfort. It’s so easy to go into middle age enjoying richer food. Often an increase in one’s financial situation changes things. You can afford to eat out more.
For me it was going to work at my newly acquired apartment business. I was used to having a lunch of one piece of toast with a slice of tomato and cheese melted on top. I worked six days a week at the apartments and would trot down the street to McDonald’s and Arby’s for lunch. Richard also started a business and we often met for supper at a restaurant. During this time my thyroid went haywire and then burnt out leaving me with very low thyroid. I hoped that taking medication would make me lose weight but it didn’t. I felt better, though.
Emily saved her desert times for when Jared stopped by in the evening. I think Emily is simply young and not so hungry. I worked a summer in an ice cream parlor when I was 15. I got sick of ice cream and it was years before I wanted to eat it again. (Now I like it). As a child I didn’t have much interest in desserts. Mother served meat, potatoes, salad and vegetables. We had fruit for dessert. Maybe she’d bake a pie for Sunday, but not always. Occasionally there were cookies on hand, but I didn’t crave them.
Q. In all your travels, is there a particular meal at a particular restaurant that really stands out?
A. I love Mexican food and there’s a place in Tucson called Micaya’s. They have great cheese enchiladas.
Q. While I’m at it, let’s ask the Death Row meal question: What would you order if you knew if was your last meal in this lifetime?
A. For a last meal I’d order rare prime rib, mashed potatoes and a slab of “Fruits of the forest Pie” from Gordon’s foods.
Q. Do you exercise?
A. As an adult I’ve exercised a good bit of the time. As a stay-at-home mom I worked out with Jack LaLaine on TV. I’ve always liked to walk and used to hike to a nearby woods. I’m not into sports but after back surgery in 1973 I started my rehab program by lying on my back and clenching my fists. I began walking and worked up to going a mile 4 times a day. I lost about 10 pounds at that time. After heart surgery I did 9 weeks of rehab and later did the treadmill and stationary bike. After knee replacement I did 4 weeks of rehab and spent several months swimming in son Dave’s pool. In recent months I’ve ridden the bike again.
Q. When it comes to monitoring your weight, do you keep an eye on the scale or pay more attention to how your clothes fit?
A. I weigh several times a week so I do know where I am. Also would notice if clothes were too tight but I do wear looser clothes at this age.
Q. So what book are you working on right now?
A. I just finished a book called Raglafart, about a young woman who owns a book store. Jennie can’t cook but she has plenty of good meals from her boyfriend’s mother and her mother’s house keeper. It will go on Kindle as soon as Melissa (a fellow member of our writers group) helps me with a cover. I think I mentioned Billy Dawn Rides the Range. It’s just up on Kindle. It’s full of food and Billie worries about her helper Lindy’s heart problems and makes her meals more heart healthy.
Q. Anything else you’d like to add?
A. You’ve made me realize how much my books are full of food. In the first one, Lily Brightfeather, the main characters camp out in the woods some. There Lily and Jay enjoy their campfire meals. You’ve made me much more aware of food and I’m hoping to take more control and make better food choices. The big problem is to cut back while we travel.
A final thought: it might be fun to write a book with a plump main character and make her weight loss part of the story. I’ll think about that as soon as I finish writing a memoir.