Leah DeCesare is an author whose personal experiences have been reflected all throughout her writing. Although she is the mastermind behind the insightful Naked Parenting series, it’s her most recent fiction novel that has shown her true creativity.
Forks, Knives, and Spoons is considered Leah’s debut novel. The novel explores “three kinds of guys: forks, knives, and spoons.” The main character, Amy York, is sent off to college with this in mind. Set in the late 1980’s, Amy and her roommate Veronica are on a quest to meet their “perfect steak knives.” While on this quest, the two young women end up learning more about themselves than they ever realized they could. They learn to believe in themselves and to never settle on any aspect in life or love.
I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Leah and learn more about her debut novel, her personal writing process, and how her family has inspired her to follow her dreams. Check out the interview below!
Q&A with Leah DeCesare
Just to start, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom and a writer and I’m living the dream. My kids are 19, 17 and 14 and I was a debut novelist at 47 years old. I’ve been married (to my steak knife!) for almost 24 years, he’s incredibly supportive and encouraging. I’m so grateful to be doing what I love. And I get to play tennis, practice yoga, travel and read a ton. As much as I read, that stack of books to read never seems to get shorter, but I could have worse addictions.
What were you up to before you became an author?
I’ve taken a rambling career path studying advertising, marketing and French at Syracuse University, then I worked at Lord & Taylor in New York city in buying and then PR and event planning. When our daughter was born, we were living in Connecticut and it was way before the work-from-home days and I’d always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, so I left my job to be home with the kids.
During that time, I got certified as a childbirth educator and a multitude of certifications followed as I practiced as a birth and postpartum doula. I loved that time, but I always knew it would be temporary. My current project draws on that experience and features a doula and the family who she gets too close to, crossing boundaries.
I’ve also recently done a lot of event planning, fundraising and leadership development training as a consultant and as a volunteer.
What inspired you to become a writer?
It’s simply something within me that was always there. A couple of years ago, my mom was clearing out their attic and she brought me a box of my childhood artwork. In it we found a drawing from when I was about seven or eight under the heading: “What I want to be when I grow up…” The picture was of me at a vast and very tidy desk; it had a plant (I always have flowers in my office and home) and I was sitting, writing with an enormous pencil. (A friend pointed out its disproportionate size as being symbolic of the value I placed on writing.) I wrote poems and short stories and kept journals for decades. Finally, in my forties, I re-prioritized my life to pursue that thing I’d always envisioned doing.
Your first book, the Naked Parenting series, “approaches parenting in an honest, direct, and realistic way.” Can you tell us a bit about those books and how you were inspired to write them?
They were both an experiment and a response to client requests. In 2010, while I was deep in the birth world, I began blogging, which got me writing regularly. Then, as my doula babies grew, parents began reaching out with questions. My younger brother’s friends called me for parenting advice and people encouraged me to write a book so I did. I wanted it to be easy to read and to refer back to. I wanted to empower parents to own being parents, to feel confident in making decisions that were best for their family and in line with their values. I loved that time and still occasionally present or teach about Naked Parenting.
You now have another novel out called Forks, Knives, and Spoons. Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for it?
The inspiration for Forks, Knives, and Spoons comes from a real life talk my father gave me before sending me off to college in 1988. I wrote the scene of Tom York telling his daughter, Amy, based on how I remember my dad telling me.
I’ve carried the central idea of this book with me since that dinner with my parents. Then, at Syracuse, when I shared this system with my college friends, it took off with everyone adding descriptions for new utensils and talking as if it were an understood concept. For example, “I met this complete fork last night.”
That idea sat with me for decades, but there was no real story around it, so when I finally sat to write this book, I had to build the characters and their arcs and let the Utensil Classification System (the UCS) become a backdrop and an organizing idea serving the characters and their growth. In the end, I had a story about friendship and learning to believe in oneself.
You are a mom with a busy family! Has your family inspired your novels at all? Have they encouraged your writing in general?
I’m so lucky to be able to do this writing thing and my husband really set the example of support. He’s definitely in the book in little ways and I used each of my children’s names or nicknames somewhere in the story as a little secret wink to them.
The kids have been encouraging while still being kids and when they need their mom, they need me without regard for if I’m working or not, so I learned to write between carpools and loads of laundry. As they got older, they understood better and I was increasingly able to travel for writing retreats and conferences.
A funny story is how my oldest daughter, while in the I-oppose-everything-about-Mom phase, resisted reading the manuscript despite me practically begging her to read it: “But your mom wrote a book!” Finally, as a consequence of being late one night, she not only lost the car, but she had to read my book too. I told her: “And it’s not even a punishment because it’s a good book.” She read it in a couple of days and became my biggest fan. She was adorably impressed with her mom and said she missed the characters when it ended. So ultimately, after being kind of neutral, she became encouraging too.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How do you like to create?
I love being able to go away for a few days with nothing else expected of me, just to write. I pack up easy-to-prepare meals and I’m able to get myself deep into the flow where I can be crazy productive and I’m living these characters and their stories along with them. After one of my binge-writing weekends, I come back charged up and able to keep that momentum going.
Is there a fun fact about yourself that might surprise our readers if you were to share it with them?
In 1978 I kissed Tony Orlando when he brought me up on stage during his show. I was only eight and swooned for weeks. I still feel a special connection to his songs.
Who inspires you the most to write?
Both of my parents and my husband have been amazing cheerleaders. That unwavering support inspires me to write and to make them proud. I’d also say that when I read a book I love, and there are so many, it inspires me on a craft-level.
What do you want people to gain the most from your novels?
I want women to believe in themselves, to find their confidence and self-worth. In considering my patchwork of a job history, I took some time to ponder what connected my various positions and I came to the thread of empowerment. I want women of any age to have faith in themselves and to banish negative self-talk, I want them to seek and find a way to be comfortable with who they are and to love themselves.
For many readers, the book has been a fun return to 1988+ and I recently had someone share with me all of the benefits of nostalgia to our health and well-being. I love that connection. It turns out that reading Forks, Knives, and Spoons is scientifically proven to be good for you!
What advice would you give to struggling writers out there who are trying to accomplish their dreams?
- Read like a writer. Study how renowned writers structure a story, a scene, a sentence.
- Take crafting classes and read blogs and books on craft. There is so much free advice out there from established writers.
- Use a reputable structural editor, this will help you make the story stronger and better.
- Know that you’re not even close to done after you’ve gotten a draft out on paper. Celebrate briefly then get back to the hard work of writing.
- Be patient. This whole gig moves at a glacially slow pace.
- Study craft, but also study the publishing industry and how to promote and market your book. Even with a publisher and publicist, authors have a great responsibility to promote their books.
- Believe in yourself! If you want it, learn, study, listen, push yourself, and be open-minded.
Where do you see yourself going from here?
I want to be on a cycle of writing and promoting my books. I love both aspects: the internal, isolated work of creating and the outward, interactive process of getting my book in front of readers. I have found my tribe. The windy path of my life has led me here and as an older writer, I’m able to draw on experience and observations of humanity to enrich and inform my work. It’s never too late to follow your dreams!
Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?
I often hear that readers don’t realize how important reviews are to authors. We’ve become a world in which consumer feedback is highly accessible and valued and reviews matter for far more than just a reader deciding whether to buy a book or not. They matter to agents, publishers, media, reviewers … those darn little stars really matter to authors! So, on behalf of all writers, thank you for reviewing a book you loved!