Thursday, January 21, 2016

Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice @goddessfish


Welcome!  Thanks for being with us today for this Q&A.  How did you start your writing career?

Since earliest memory, I imagined that I would write a novel. No person or event inspired me, I started writing in my diary when I was nine years old. Writing was as cathartic to me then as it is to me now; a way to dig into the pain and root it out.

I grew up in Alabama, but went to school at the University of Michigan. There, I majored in communications/journalism; I wanted a way to earn a living yet continue to write. My first job out of school was writing copy for Hill and Knowlton, a public relations firm in Manhattan. New York beat me up, and I eventually moved back to my college town, Ann Arbor. There, I opened a specialty food store, had children, and my aspirations to write a novel were derailed. After selling my store, I got a food by-line in the local paper and then with a Michigan dot com. I also began a food blog that I update regularly ( 

After the transition from paper to digital, my salary was reduced, so I quit my job and wrote “Simmer and Smoke”.

Tell us about your current release.

An inspiring scene is what triggered “Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice”. One December afternoon in 2010, I was visiting my ancestral graveyard in Stewartville, a back-woods, Confederate flag-waving town in Alabama. As I watched a young woman and child wander down the road, I wondered how a young mother could escape a town of poverty and crack houses. That evening I wrote the first few pages of "Simmer and Smoke".

Where do you research for your books?

I research the story as I live my life. My husband and I have relatives that live in “colorful” communities. I have drawn tremendous inspiration from these folks that I’ve come to love, and appreciate their giving me license to draw intimately from their landscape. I’ve worn dozens of hats, have lived in big cities and small towns, and have studied and befriended various types of people. To know, first-hand, the people and community of your book, is the best research, in my opinion, for writing.

How do you describe your writing style?

I grew up in the Deep South and intimately know her landscape and people. I write of the smells and colors savored in her fragrant magnolias, her simmering gumbos; I write of her affectations, her murky incongruities and transgressions; and I write about the power of her food ––the Soul of the South––bringing her people together.

Do you listen to music while writing? If so what?

Here’s my play list; it’s the music I listened to when writing, “Simmer and Smoke”. 
Inspirational Music for “Simmer and Smoke”

 Pieta, Zoe & Constie Brown: “Ella Mae” (Couldn’t listen to this one enough. It put me in the right frame of mind to write, , Shelby’s voice, even though it wasn’t her story.)
Mamuse: “Glorious” (listened to this when I wrote about Squash Blossom Farms)  “Strange and Wonderful”
Patty Griffin: “A Long Ride Home”
Shelby Lynne (Love her! Mallory’s music): “Trust Me” “Soft Talk” “Anyone Who Ever Had a Heart”
Dixie Chicks: “Top of the World”
Roseanna Cash (et al) : “September When It Comes”(this song played a continuous loop in my brain); “A Feather’s Not a Bird”
Cowboy Junkies: “Misguided Angel”, “I’m so lonesome I could Cry”
Maria Taylor: “Clean Getaway”
Allison Krause: “That Old Feeling”, “So Long So Wrong”, “Gone, Gone, Gone”, “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson”
K.D. Lang:  “Pullin’ Back The Reins”,  “Crying”
Carrie Underwood: “Something in the Water”  “Mama’s Song”
The Wailin’ Jenny’s : “One Voice”
Sara Bareilles: “On The Dock of the Bay”, “Brave”

What books have most influenced your life?

I read what resonates with my life but and enjoy being introduced to different worlds; they have influenced my life on many levels. I gravitate towards literary fiction, particularly fiction set in the American South. Think authors like Sue Monk Kidd, Pat Conroy and Rebecca Wells. I also love Ann Patchett and Donna Tart. My favorite memoir is Patti Smith’s, “Just Kids” and I’m currently reading her book “Woolgathers”, which brings back so many memories of my youth. Reading this book reminds me to treasure my past, holding it in my palm as a precious stone.

 I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s, “Purity”. It’s filled with psychotic twists and turns and I was intrigued with the quirky mother-daughter relationship, reminding me that my upbringing wasn’t as traumatic as it seemed. Daniel Woodrell’s work, particularly “Winter’s Bone” that was turned into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, is quite inspiring. Ree’s character reminds me of Shelby in “Simmer and Smoke”.

So many writers have influenced me and my life through the years. John Fowles is a brilliant writer, and his book, “The Magus”, inspired my epigram: “If reality is an illusion, then is self-perception a deceit?” In this book, which I first read thirty years ago, the protagonist, Nicolas, loses his ability to determine what is real and what is artifice. I work on this notion with one of my protagonists, Mallory. It’s bold to compare my work with his masterpiece, acknowledged, but his writing did influence me.

What is the next big thing?

My agent just received an offer from Lake Union Press to purchase “Simmer and Smoke”. They also want to give me an advance to write a second novel within the year. At the moment, I’m waiting for the acquisition editor to call so that we can discuss exactly what they have in mind. Undoubtedly, that book will be my next big thing (aside from a trip to China and Tibet, and then my daughter’s wedding in July!).

Have any of your characters been modeled after yourself?

One of my protagonists, Mallory, is a version of myself in that we both had similar upbringings in the Deep South and both share a love of cooking, writing and photography. As well, we both had by-lines in a newspaper and then, dot com. Mallory is a more twisted, tortured and exaggerated version of who I was at her age, and—unlike Mallory— I’ve had a couple of kids and a divorce under my belt. 

Having owned a specialty food store, and worked in advertising and hiring in the grocery industry, I’ve gotten to know many Shelby's in my life, as well.

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it? If so, can you share it?

Turns out Itchy and I are both right. Life is random, a deck of cards shuffled, collapsed then dealt to its players with blind oblivion; sperm to egg, roll of the dice, quirky fate. Yet some of us—those fortunate to have been birthed into nurturing families, those lucky few with prescience to find hope in despair—can coerce, twist and reshape the odds into something redeeming. Make your best hand, high card wins the trick.
I cut deals with the devil, learning just what he can do and precisely how he does it, huddling in his abyss as the fear of living devoured me. But light seeped through, tracing the contours of darkness; he couldn’t steal my soul.
Closing my eyes, I round the bend to the place where the year began, and now is ending, and all of the events in between; everything that occurred the day of the accident, and my unraveling since. Nothing that happens in the universe vanishes, and our past is not a dream; our past is our story, which lives forever, somewhere, and is limitless, attaching itself to what follows, and it’s this thing that follows that is the dream. Some dreams drown in booze, some come crashing down on asphalt, while others dissolve in a backwoods Southern town. Yet, for some, the dream persists. Shuddering. So you pick yourself up, retracing your path, but only if—and here’s the burning truth—only if you’ve got the guts. I’ve seen the face of courage. In the past six months, I’ve seen this face on a man, woman and child. Next time I’ll recognize it sooner. Next time it will be my own.

For a slideshow trailer of images that influenced my book, go to my author page,  and scroll to the bottom of the page:


Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice
by Peggy Lampman

GENRE:  women's contemporary fiction


A single mother who dreams of becoming a chef.

A food writer who just lost the love of her life.

Two women discover what's worth fighting for in this deliciously rendered novel that illuminates the power of food, love, friendship and family on the human heart


Shelby Preston--a young, single mother trapped in a hardscrabble life in rural Georgia--escapes her reality as she fantasizes herself a respected chef in a kitchen of gleaming stainless steel and pans shimmering with heat. Mallory Lakes--an Atlanta newspaper food writer--may lose her job, and searches for her muse in a shot glass of illusion. 


Mallory secures her job by crafting a zealous doppelgänger to satisfy the expectations of an illusive cyber audience. This also mollifies the memories of her lover who recently bolted; no warning. Shelby persuades her mother to take care of her daughter so she can pursue her dream of going to chef school in Atlanta. She cooks them a special dinner said to bring good luck; Lord knows her family could use a pot of something good. 


Chasing desires and ambitions, the women's lives unravel down a path beyond the kitchen, then weave together in an unsettling culinary landscape of organic farms and shadowy borders--some borders not meant to be crossed. As Mallory combats her demons with booze and pills, and Shelby battles the odds stacked against her for becoming a chef, the women discover what's really worth fighting for.



Memos from the edge, self-help hieroglyphics, throwaway lines galloping off paper, most of them unfinished. These are the words I should have said to Cooper the day he left, bade farewell, adios, arrivederci—however you say goodbye. Itchy, my dearest friend, is returning a platter and will ignore them, assuming they are recipe scribbles. But if these tourniquets had a voice, their banshee wail would rant, rage and scream, shaking the foundations of Atlanta.
Dearest Cooper. What a splendid feast you made of me. A sprinkle of salt, a grind of pepper, you chewed me up then spit me out. Was I that abhorrent?
Visceral, grisly, teeth-gnashing words; much better script. I write, post, then return to my cutting board. Chopping furiously, I collect, examine, and discard words much too ordinary to assuage my grief. Words...words...I need more words; what words can I write that will ease the pain of what you’ve done?

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Peggy Lampman was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in communications, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a copywriter and photographer for Hill and Knowlton, a public relations firm. She moved back to Ann Arbor, her college town, and opened up a specialty foods store, The Back Alley Gourmet. After selling the business, she wrote under a weekly food byline in The Ann Arbor News and MLive. This is her first novel.

Amazon Buy Link

Goodreads Link

Author Page



Peggy Lampman will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour, and a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn host.

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