Sarah McCoy, author of two novels, visits the SheKnows Book Lounge to talk about: her new book, The Baker’s Daughter, the writing process and of course, baking.
SheKnows: How do you describe your new novel, The Baker’s Daughter, to your friends and family?
Sarah McCoy: I tell them it’s the story of two strong women: Elsie Schmidt, a German baker, and Reba Adams, a young reporter in El Paso, Texas. Reba is assigned to interview the elderly Elsie, and they find their lives overlapping. Dark secrets from both of their pasts are brought to the surface. Elsie questions Reba’s struggle to commit to her fiance, a U.S. border patrol officer, and Reba’s questions, force Elsie to remember the horrific last year of WWII in Germany under the Nazi occupation. It’s a story of courage and betrayal, of mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, sisters and ultimately of humanity and the choices we make. It’s not a sugar-coated candy story. It’s more like a rich slice of chocolate Black Forest cake.
SheKnows: Your novel is set in three places, El Paso, where you live now, Virginia, where your family lives now and Germany, where you spent part of your childhood. Did you return to Germany to research your book or did you rely on your memory?
Sarah McCoy: My last visit to Garmisch was in 2001. My husband (then my boyfriend) was working at a restaurant called the Von Steuben. I had just completed a study abroad semester in Italy and Switzerland. I took the train to Garmisch to stay with him for a week. When writing The Baker’s Daughter, I referenced my memories and photos of that trip, previous visits with my family and my childhood living in Germany. Of course, the factual information came from history books, old military documents, eyewitness accounts, etc. My personal memories helped my imagination fill in the sensory details: how the old streets look at night, the feel of the cobblestones underfoot, the smell of an Alpine night, the clip of the foreign tongue, the taste — oh the taste, of good German bread.
SheKnows: What did you learn from the process of seeing your first book, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico, through to publication that helped you when you were working on The Baker’s Daughter?
Sarah McCoy: I learned from, The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico, that if you write what you like to read, your readers will enjoy it too. I love to be completely immersed in a book — to be transcended so that I can feel the story world all around me. I believe that’s a characteristic of all my writing, but it certainly helped me while writing The Baker’s Daughter. I loved reading it. I loved writing it! Now, I’m hoping readers do, too.
SheKnows: What book are you reading this week?
Sarah McCoy: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings. I took SheKnows’ advice in January’s “Books to film: which is better?” column and picked up the book before I see the George Clooney film. As well, I adore the stuffing out of Caroline Leavitt (the bonus read), as an author and a friend, so your review sold me!
SheKnows: What is the best part of being on a book tour? The worst?
Sarah McCoy: The best part is meeting all the incredibly supportive readers, book clubs, storeowners and reviewers! I’ve chatted with so many online that I feel as if we were old friends. It’ll be a dream come true to finally give out hugs and talk face to face about The Baker’s Daughter. The worst part is being away from home. I’m a homebody who loves nothing more than couch snuggling with my two boys (husband and dog, Gilly) on a cold winter’s night. I’ll miss them but know that when I return, I’ll have many wonderful stories to share and new friends to introduce.
SheKnows: The Baker’s Daughter features two bakeries — one in Germany and one in Texas, and so it’s a great treat to find recipes in the back of the book. How many baked goods did you make and taste when writing the novel?
Sarah McCoy: I didn’t add the Epilogue of recipes until months after I finished writing the novel. They weren’t going to be included until the book was almost to production. At that time, I went into the text and listed all the baked items that had significance to the characters. There were so many, but I wanted a solid dozen.
I was diagnosed with celiac disease (a severe gluten allergy) after returning from my last trip to Germany around 2002, so this book was an amazing way for me to revisit all my favorite baked goods without the adverse physical effects. It was a difficult role to fill, but my husband took on the “burden” of being my taste tester. Having worked at a German restaurant, I figured he’d be the perfect food critic. I’d make various German recipes, set the warm goods before him and watch silently to see his reaction. The baker is always partial to believing his/her creation is great, but you can tell the truth about a recipe in the first 30 seconds it is eaten. If it’s good or mediocre, the human face does not lie. Palate response is instinctual. I put together the top twelve that garnered instantaneous eye twinkles followed by mouthful mumbles of, “awesome.”
When readers read The Baker’s Daughter and then bake Elsie’s recipes, I hope they experience that same magic.
SheKnows: You’re at work on your third novel. What can you tell us about it?
Sarah McCoy: The novel I’m currently working on examines parenthood. It’s about a husband and wife fractured by desperation and disappointment in their attempts to conceive a traditional family. I’m captivated by the idea of nurturing — what it means to be a mother or a father outside the conventions. Inspiration for this novel came from my own life and from walking closely beside close friends as they struggled with parenthood/fertility issues. My couple must make monumental decisions regarding betrayal and forgiveness, life and death, which ultimately shape their future.