Welcome, Aletta. Your new novel, The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins, sounds intriguing.
All authors have their own reasons for writing a book. What are yours?
Reason number one? I like ghosts. I live in a house that has some. For real—we’ve been investigated and written up and everything. One of our ghosts knocked down a heavy brass floor lamp one afternoon while I was at work in my study. That is not fiction! Our ghost hasn’t done anything that dramatic in a while, but often, the chandelier over our dining table swings back and forth when we have guests. I knew I had to write a ghost story soon.
What would you like readers to take away from your story? Does it contain a message?
Mostly, I’d like my readers to have an excellent time! My book is set in 1982, and that was a fun era. My characters who aren’t ghosts are chefs and people who work with food, and doing that in the 80’s (I was a chef myself, then) was really fun. As for a takeaway … hmmm. I guess my message is to not be afraid of anything—even having a one-nighter with a ghost! Although a ghost with a broken heart—that you might want to be careful with!
Did you face any obstacles or challenges while writing the story and if so, what were they?
This was my first “grownup” romance. I have written under another name for young people, and I have written a lot of poetry. Romance offers you the chance to tell the whole truth about a relationship. You don’t have to cut away to waves crashing on the beach when things heat up. I needed to keep a paper fan by my computer at first—you know, for when I was getting a little red-cheeked … but that challenge turned into a wild ride indeed. Plus, I’ve never had my husband so interested in what I’ve been writing—ever!
What have you learned from the main characters in your story?
I’m in a long and happy marriage. My characters reminded me how lucky I am to have that—and also how exciting the beginning of a relationship can be, and how we sometimes trust the wrong people but manage to end of with the right ones.
How much emphasis do you put on supporting characters to move the plot of your stories along? Have any of your supporting characters ever gotten their own story?
There is a supporting ghost character in this book named Geoff. He’s not the romantic lead, but he was tons of fun to write. He’s a trickster, a tease. And he’s really important in the plot. I think a good sidekick is important. My main character is named Alma (after Alfred Hitchcock’s wife). Her best buddy, Mary, a fellow chef, is living an open life as a gay women in 1982. I’d love to star her in something somewhere down the road.
What or who influences your writing?
Everything influences my writing. I read my colleagues on Evernight—but I also read poetry and literary fiction. The “serious” book that won the big literary award this year was essentially a ghost story! And the new romance I’m working on right now takes place in a tiny house because I’m morbidly fascinated with them.
What is your writing process? Are you a patnser or a plotter, or a little of both?
I’m a pantser! I do keep notes, but not extensive ones. I usually know more or less where I want a book to go, but sometimes my own plots surprise me. I had no idea the major plot twist in The Chef and The Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins was going to happen…until it did!
Do you have any author idols and if so, how would you like to meet them?
I don’t have true idols. The authors who I think have written real masterpieces aren’t around anymore anyway. I was a chef in the 80’s, but I’ve spent most of my life teaching high school English, so my big writing heroes are folks like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain. By the way, have you ever seen a picture of Hawthorne as a young man? He was seriously hot. Maybe time travel…
What are your three favorite books by other authors and why? You don’t have to limit this to three. (I know I can’t.)
Cider House Rules by John Irving. Anything at all by the British novelist Sarah Waters (okay, she may be a bit of an idol, but I’d be scared to meet her. She is so, so good.) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (I do write YA, too). That book is now and always my North Star. I tend to fall in love with whatever I am reading at the time.
What do you do in your down time to feed your soul?
I DJ on an internet radio station I run with my friends, and I sing choral music. I listen to huge amounts of music—classical and rock and roll both. I read about making classic cocktails, make classic cocktails, and sometimes drink them! And I’m still a very passionate cook with damn good knife skills if I do say so.
What’s next on your literary horizon?
I have publications coming soon in the poetry and young adult world. My alter ego has been busy! And there’s that tiny house romance I’ve started.
What is important in your life and why?
My patient and loving husband and my family. My mom’s 93 (she doesn’t know about the ghost romance!). My sister, who has done some amazing Op-Ed and humor writing. My two spoiled kitties. And getting to write every day.
Halloween, 1982. MTV is new, poodle perms are the rage, and life just might be getting better for Alma Kobel. Her ugly divorce is final at last. Her new job as chef at Bright Day School’s gorgeous old estate is actually fun. But the place is haunted—and so is Alma’s apartment. Bartholomew Addison Jenkins’ ghost has been invisibly watching Alma for months. When he materializes one night, Alma discovers Bart—as he likes to be called–has talents she couldn’t have imagined…and a horrifying past. Can you have a one-nighter with a ghost? And what happens if you decide one night is all you want—and end up ghosting him? Some spirits don’t like taking “no” for an answer.
A ghost is watching me eat an omelet. “What’s your name?”
“Bartholomew Addison Jenkins,” he said. “These days, I just use Bart.”
“These days. But you’ve been here since you…”
“Since 1784,” he said.
“Which was when you died, I guess.”
“I must tell you, dear lady, saying that to one of us is considered rude. In better ghostly circles, that is. Some of us are not aware we are dead. Some of us do not like to be reminded of it.”
“But you called yourself my dead…”
Bart threw his head back and laughed. “No, no, no. I’m not sensitive about it. Geoff Brussy is, though, terribly but he always was a hothead. I swear he acted as if he was ignorant of his own passing for at least a century. Forgive me, Alma. Finish your supper.”
“But you know my name. Oh. Because you live here. So I guess you see and hear…” Everything. He’d have seen me do everything I’ve ever done in this apartment…
“I try not to spy,” Bart said. “And I’m often asleep. Daytimes almost always. Some evenings, too. Ghosts are capable of sleeping for years. Depending on what we’ve been up to, of course. We’re made of energy and sometimes, our energy … just dissipates. So our acquaintances tend to … vanish. It’s quite upsetting. I’ve lost a number of friends that way. Other ghosts, I mean. Dissipation is hard on our … um, relationships.”
“Your relationships?” said Alma.
“Isn’t that what you call it, these days? Or do you still say ‘having lovers?’ People said that for quite a while. You’ll forgive me. I slept through half of the nineteen sixties. The residents of this apartment in the 70s were—what do you call it again? Pot heads. Boring.”
“Ghosts have … relationships?” Alma remembered her metaphysical poetry class from New Paltz. “The grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace,” she said.
“Oops. Guess I mentioned death again. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
Bart chuckled. “Oh, that’s fine. Andrew Marvel. Good. Very good. ‘To His Coy Mistress.’ He was utterly wrong, of course. About embracing. Of course, it’s a bit … challenging for us, but hardly impossible.”
Alma shook her head. She’d finished her omelet, and put her plate in the sink.
“Please,” said Bart. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you for months and months. Why don’t you finish your wine in the living room? I’ll turn over the record. I’ve been enjoying the music. Both sides of that album are really very good. I like ‘The Fountains of Rome’ too. We couldn’t have imagined Respighi during my days in the flesh.”
“You’ll turn over the record. Oh, because you…”
“I do like to keep up. Who poured you wine from the … refrigerator? Although, I don’t understand why people of your age prefer it so icy.”
Alma followed Bart into the living room, still wondering why things didn’t seem odder than they were. She remembered the Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoons she’d seen as a little girl. This ghost was acting—well, perhaps a bit more flirty than friendly. He only glowed a bit as they walked through the dim hallway that connected her rooms. You can hardly even tell he’s translucent. What had he seen of her, though? She was glad her frustrating night with Sid had been at his place.
As Bart bent over the turntable and flipped the record, the reading lamp by her couch highlighted the silver buttons of his coat. She curled up on the couch and put her wine glass on the glass-covered orange crate she’d turned into a coffee table.
Bart sat beside her, suspiciously close. He put an arm over the back of the couch, and Alma shook her head again. That’s the old sneaky-arm trick—like a high school kid. It’s kind of cute. She pulled her legs up under herself, and they quietly listened to the music.
“You’re right,” she said after a few minutes. “‘Fountains’ is really good, too. I almost never listen to that side.”
Bart made a quiet harrumphing noise.
Do ghosts clear their throats? Apparently so.
“Dear lady,” he said. “Although I do try not to snoop, as you would say, I have indeed observed your solitude. Let me assure you, your life will soon be happier.” He slid even closer to her.
Okay. Now the ghost is absolutely coming on to me. This is really happening. Oh, hell—why not? He’s not bad—for a dead guy.
“Um, Bart?” she said. His eyes really were a startling color—almost bronze… “You can’t actually be…”
Bart set his fingertips on her cheeks, looked into her eyes, and sighed. Then he smiled. “You think this is a ridiculous situation. It’s not ridiculous,” he said. “Not at all. Allow me to demonstrate … with your permission, m’lady.”
Somehow, that was funny, and Alma giggled. “Granted.”
Bart’s hands were impossibly soft and gentle—and his touch had some of the same fire-and-ice buzz that she’d felt before in the kitchen when he’d tried to get her attention. He guided her lips to his, and gave her what would have been a tiny peck—from anyone else. It shot a bolt of fire straight through her.
“Oh,” she said. It took a minute to get her breath. “Wow. That was… Do ghosts usually have relationships with—I don’t know how to say this without getting into it all again … people who are still alive?”
“No, actually. In fact, I’ve never heard of it. Ever.” His hands were in her hair now, and urgent.
Evernight Publishing: http://www.evernightpublishing.com/the-chef-and-the-ghost-of-bartholomew-addison-jenkins/
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