C.C. Payne is the author of “Something to Sing About,” “Lula Bell on Geekdom, Freakdom & the Challenges of Bad Hair” and “The Thing About Leftovers.” The following is a complete transcript of her interview with Cracking the Cover.
Why do you write for young people?
It’s what I’m meant to do and I LOVE it! In fact, I’m so excited to get to work in the mornings that I can’t even be bothered with dressing for the first few hours—I start in my pajamas!
Where did the idea for “The Thing About Leftovers” come from?
I hate to make myself sound crazy—okay, craziER—but Fizzy’s voice popped up talking about leftovers while I was writing my first middle grade novel, Something to Sing About. I wasn’t ready then, as a writer, or as a stepkid. Even so, Fizzy stayed there in the back of my mind, talking. She’s been trying to tell her story for years . . . and I finally gave in to it.
“The Thing About Leftovers” deals with divorce and its effect on children. How did you approach the subject?
Very carefully, but honestly, and with a lot of humor and hope—I hope! The interesting thing is that even though all the characters in the book are different and they all go about it in different ways, they all want exactly the same things—the same things we all want: love, belonging, family.
Food, recipes and cooking are laced throughout “The Thing About Leftovers.” Do you like to cook? What is your favorite thing to make?
I cook daily and I don’t mind, but I don’t love it like Fizzy does—Fizzy loves cooking like I love writing.
My husband, Mark, would say that my best dishes are my lasagna (a recipe I’ve developed specifically for him over the years) and banana pudding (a recipe passed down from my stepmother’s mother). My daughter loves my skinny beef stir fry with rice noodles and my lemon cake (both from Pinterest).
But my favorite thing to make is always something I’ve never made before—it’s exciting because I don’t know how it’ll turn out—sometimes not so good! (I only cook new recipes when we have a fridge full of leftovers, so that everybody has a Plan B meal they like—and this is one reason that I LOVE leftovers!)
Along those lines, how much did you know about the Southern Living Cook-Off prior to writing your book?
Only what I’d read in the magazine, so there was a lot of imagination involved!
How did Fizzy’s character develop?
Like I said, Fizzy’s voice popped up nine years ago, talking about leftovers from the very beginning. Getting to know a character is a lot like getting to know a friend. You spend time with them, in your mind. You listen. You ask questions. You take their hand and let them show you around their lives. By the time I actually sat down and started writing Fizzy, I’d spent so much time with her—years—that in some ways, I knew her better than I knew myself. Both she and her voice were very clear to me.
What do you hope readers come away with from “The Thing About Leftovers”?
I hope kids know they aren’t alone; they aren’t unworthy or unlovable, and that things will get better!
I hope the book inspires honest conversation between primary readers (kids) and secondary readers (parents and stepparents).
Finally, I know what a huge impact a special teacher or librarian can have on a kid and I hope this book helps them to see some of these “leftover” kids a little more clearly, and have an even bigger impact on them.
What are you working on now?
All of my books start out in messy spiral notebooks that I take everywhere with me, writing down characters, details, ideas, what-ifs, in no specific order—I call this “playing” and I love it because there’s no structure, no rules and the possibilities are endless (creative juices flow more freely for me here, without rules or judgment). So right now, I’m just playing and hoping that my playtime will lead to serious writing in the fall.
Is there a book from your own childhood that still resonates with you today?
I still love The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. My family and I read it aloud together every Christmas. (And whenever I encounter someone who hasn’t read it, I give it to them for Christmas!)