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A Q&A with Sarah Addison Allen; plus, recipes and a chance to win THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Girl Who Chased the MoonAbout the book
Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew, she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life: Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor, Julia Winterson, bakes hope in the form of cakes, not only wishing to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth but also dreaming of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.

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Random House Reader’s Circle: Will you share with us how you came up with the idea for this book?

Sarah Addison Allen: It all started with barbecue. From the beginning, I knew I wanted The Girl Who Chased the Moon to be set in a North Carolina barbecue town. It was the only constant throughout many drafts, and it actually ended up influencing the story and the characters.

RHRC: Do you plan your stories first with an outline or do they come to you as you write them?

SAA: My writing process is very organic. I start with an idea. I have the general story arc and the cast. But then I sit down to write and things change. New characters appear, some disappear. And the big elements of magic in all my books—the prophetic apple tree in Garden Spells, the books that appear on their own in The Sugar Queen, and the cakes with the power to call in The Girl Who Chased the Moon—weren’t in the stories until I started writing. I was actually surprised by them. Making it up as I go along is one of the best parts of writing. But it’s also one of the most frustrating parts. It’s an insecure feeling, not knowing what’s going to happen. But I’ve learned to trust the process.

RHRC: Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?

SAA: There’s always a point where I can see the ending scene so clearly that I can’t wait to get to it. Sometimes I see it when I begin a book, but sometimes I’m almost on top of it before it’s clear. I didn’t see Maddie coming in The Girl Who Chased the Moon. She walked in and I said, “The nerve of you! Who are you and what are you doing, appearing at the end of my story?” So she told me.

RHRC: It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters?

allen_sarah_addisonSAA: I think my characters are more wish fulfillments than they are mirrors. They see things I don’t and live in a world I can only enter through words.

RHRC: What struggles did you have on the road to being published?

SAA: I wrote for about twelve years before Garden Spells—my mainstream debut—sold, and I struggled daily with the urge to give up writing altogether. Discouragement is a big ugly beast.

RHRC: What has been the best part about your success?

SAA: I love that my dad has stopped asking me when I’m going to get a real job.

RHRC: What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your novels?

SAA: My favorite books are the ones that make me smile for hours after reading them. I want that for my readers, for the sweetness to linger. Sort of like chocolate, but without the calories.

Recipes for Julia’s Cakes of the Day

Hummingbird Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1¼ cups vegetable oil
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 can (8 oz) crushed pineapple, well drained
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped firm ripe banana

Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon together. Add eggs and oil to the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, and pecans. Stir in the bananas. Spoon the batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting with cream cheese frosting.

1 pound cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a standing mixer, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed to combine. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high, and mix.

Southern Peach Pound Cake
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups fresh peaches, pitted and chopped

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition, then stir in the vanilla. Reserve 1/4 cup of flour for later, and sift together the remaining flour, salt, and baking powder. Gradually stir into the creamed mixture. Use the reserved flour to coat the chopped peaches, then fold the floured peaches into the batter. Spread evenly into a 10-inch tube pan that has been buttered and coated with white sugar. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes in a 325-degree oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Milky Way Cake
8 Milky Way candy bars (regular size)
2 sticks butter or margarine
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, well beaten
½ teaspoon baking soda
2½ cups flour
1¼ cups buttermilk
1 cup pecans, chopped

Melt candy bars in one stick of butter or margarine. Cream sugar and the other stick of butter or margarine together. Add eggs, baking soda, and flour alternately with buttermilk. Add melted candy mixture and pecans. Bake in 3 (9-inch) pans, greased, at 325 degrees for 30–40 minutes or until done. Cool for 5 minutes, remove from the pans, and cool on racks.

2½ cups sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
1 stick butter or margarine
1 6-ounce package chocolate chips
1 cup marshmallow creme

Mix over low heat. Combine sugar and milk. Cook until it reaches a soft ball stage. Add other ingredients. Stir until chocolate chips melt, then remove from heat. Beat until cool.

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