Getting inspired – Stacey Ballis
By Stacey Ballis
So excited to be here to talk about inspiration in writing and how it impacted the process of creating my new book Wedding Girl. Inspiration comes from the same root as respiration, it is a type of breath, ideas breathe themselves into your heart and head and the rest is hard work and time and energy.♥
My inspiration for my books comes from all sorts of places. The Spinster Sisters was inspired by my relationship with my own sister, who is also my best friend. Off the Menu was a fictional reimagining of my courtship with my true love, my husband. Recipe for Disaster was inspired by the real-life tales of the renovation we are currently doing on our historic 1907 home.
Usually, between books, I take some time for myself, to regenerate the brain cells. I catch up on books that I’ve put off reading, movies and TV shows I’ve saved in my DVR, not to mention naps and quality time with loved ones! While I was indulging in a long binge of a marathon on TCM of Cary Grant movies, it hit me. I have always adored those black and white rom coms of the 1930s and 1940s, they are what I turn to when I need comfort or escape. I can watch them over and over, and I have, over the years, amassed a ridiculous collection on DVD. William Powell, Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, and of course Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Stewart.
I suddenly realized that what I really wanted to do was to write a love letter and homage to those movies that I have loved since I was a kid. And one of my favorites seemed the perfect place to start, The Shop Around the Corner. If you aren’t familiar with the original Jimmy Stewart movie, you for sure know the 1990s remake, You’ve Got Mail.
I realized that the story, which combines some opinions about commerce in addition to love, was ripe for a contemporary retelling. After all, back in the day it was possible to have a pen pal who could become a true friend, like my hero Julia Child and her dear friend Avis DeVoto, or even a romance, as seen in the original film. Today, we connect to people all over the world through technology, and I have some wonderful friends who I’ve met online, not to mention my husband, who I met through a dating website!
And the battle between the old school family-owned business and larger corporate entities that can do it all bigger and brighter and cheaper, if not necessarily better, is more relevant today than ever. We are finally seeing a return to the mom-and-pop shop, the independent bookseller, the butcher and the farmer’s market. Because we have started to realize that sometimes what is lost in the big box stores is a sense of humanity and community. I am very fortunate to live where I have relationships with many of my local small business owners, and I know that the quality of the things I buy and the personal connection I have to them is worth the small upcharge in pricing.
In order to take this inspiration to fruition, I needed to be sure that the story would both work as a modern retelling, and that I believed I had something new and special to add to the mix. The difference between creating a completely new arrangement of someone else’s song which takes it to a new place, and just singing it as a straightforward karaoke version.
I knew that the small department store of the original, which became a children’s bookstore in You’ve Got Mail would need to be related to food, since I am, after all, a writer of Foodie Fiction! A small neighborhood bakery seemed a perfect setting, and it meant that I could do plenty of baking in order to develop the recipes, never a bad thing! And these days, bakeries can be big business. A Sprinkles, or Crumbs, or other famous national chain can have the same impact on a small local bakery as a Barnes and Noble can to an independent bookseller. So that seemed to fit. And since my husband and I communicated entirely via email, text and phone for nearly two months before we finally had our first in-person date, I knew that there is something special about that sort of courtship in a contemporary vein to explore, and the story began to take shape in my head.
Wedding Girl is the tale of a famous fine-dining pastry chef who gets left at the altar, massively in debt on her dream wedding. In the very publicly humiliating breakup and aftermath, she loses her job and has to give up her condo and move in with her octogenarian grandmother (and her grandmother’s fat elderly pug) back in the old neighborhood. As she starts to piece her life back together, she offers some part-time assistance to the local bakery, slowly dying on the vine in a changing neighborhood. In an effort to raise funds to lower her debt while she waits for the perfect “real job” to come along, she launches a website offering her services as a sort of Dear Abby for weddings, giving pay-per-ask advice on everything from party favors to how to deal with unruly future in-laws. Through the site she enters into a correspondence with a wry funny gentleman, “Best Man”, who writes in looking for help with a complicated bachelor party, and becomes an ongoing pen pal, with possibility for more. For me, this book is ultimately about sometimes needing to lose everything to find your best self, and that you can’t be right for someone else until you take care of yourself first.
Throughout the course of writing, I turned again and again to my favorite old movies, watching them all again, and each chapter title is the title of a movie with a couple of lines that I love, and that also served to inspire something in that chapter. Part of me hopes that some of my readers might get introduced to some classics they might have previously overlooked.
Inspiration can come to you from anywhere. I hope that whatever your creative outlet, when the breath of the muse sneaks its way into your heart, that you let it push you into expression. And I hope that if you read my books, that you let them move you as well.
Stacey Ballis is the author of ten foodie novels, including the upcoming Happily Ever After Forty. She wrote the cookbook, Big Delicious Life and was the recipe developer and tester for the upcoming Cooking for You: Wellness in the Kitchen. She is a contributing author to three non-fiction anthologies and is currently at work on two full-length fiction titles for Berkley/Penguin Random House, as well as co-authoring a YA book.