Summer is beckoning. Have you lined up your beach reads yet? Whether you’re parking your chaise and cool drink next to an ocean, a lake or the family swimming pool, Jenn Bouchard’s debut novel, First Course, is a treat which will leave you hungry to see what this talented author serves up next.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Your journey as a first-time novelist has taken the path of a 20+ year career as a high school social studies teacher. What made you wake up one day and decide the time was right to become a full-fledged author?
A: I had just finished a major volunteer position; I was the president of my college’s alumni association for two years. I absolutely loved it, and when it was over, I had a big hole in my life. One day at the end of the summer, we were at the beach. I turned to my husband and said, “I think I want to try to write a novel.” It took me 2.5 years just to write the draft of First Course and to begin to learn about the business of publishing. I’ve been teaching the whole time, and I do much of my writing during the summer.
Q: Were you a voracious reader when you were the same age as your students? If so, what titles might we have found on your nightstand and bookshelves?
A: I’ve always been a reader. Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders were two of my favorite books growing up. My mom gave me her copy of Heartburn by Nora Ephron to read as a teenager, and I loved it. It was a huge inspiration for me in writing First Course. Cooking can be very therapeutic when working through tough times in our lives.
Q: Who or what has had the greatest influence on your style as a storyteller?
A: Jennifer Weiner is probably my greatest influence. She has been a champion of telling women’s stories for most of my adult life. I finally got to meet her last summer! I drove through torrential thunderstorms to see her at an event in Newport, Rhode Island the day after First Course launched. I was exhausted and running on adrenaline at that point, and it was totally worth it. She was funny and amazing.
Q: The physical setting of a book oftentimes becomes as much a “character voice” as the humans who people the actual plot. What governed your decision to use coastal Maine as the backdrop for First Course and what feelings do you believe it evokes in your characters as the story unfolds?
A: Maine is very special to me. I spent four years in college there, and it has been a place my family continues to return to. I knew I wanted a place that was coastal, beautiful, and with multiple destinations for my characters to spend time. They are mostly set in Cape Elizabeth, but they venture to Portland, Freeport, Peaks Island, and Camden. For my readers who know Maine well, they love reading about places they’ve been. For those who haven’t, many have told me that they want to visit now. I’m glad I was able to capture it well.
Q: Am I chatting with a fellow foodie? Food-centric themes have been growing in popularity with today’s readers, and First Course is no exception. What inspired you to bring this culinary element to the table in your debut novel?
A: I am an avid cook. I love the process and the sensory experience of cooking. Food brings people together, and it most definitely serves that purpose in First Course. There are food-related memories that the characters have as well as favorite things to eat that are healing during a challenging time. When I am writing, I spend more time in the kitchen trying things out. I use this to decide what I might want to include in the next book or story.
Q: All right, let’s say you’re inviting your favorite characters in this book to breakfast, lunch or dinner at your house. What are you serving and why?
A: It’s got to be the meatball subs. Everyone who reads the book tells me it made them hungry, and many have specifically mentioned a craving for meatball subs. I gave tips for these in my most recent newsletter (another reason for people to sign up–I talk food!).
Q: Tell us a bit about the secondary players in the plot and why you believe they are critical in either explaining backstory or moving the plot forward.
A: I loved writing the secondary characters. Kate Heathcliff was one of the most interesting to write. She works in the Development Office that the main characters must deal with in creating a memorial for their parents. She’s a walking disaster, literally falling over herself, spilling things, etc. She also has no tact sometimes. But she’s critical in moving the plot forward. And her mistake is the reason Janie meets Rocky in the first place.
Q: Plotter or pantser?
A: Plotter, 100%, but I am open to changes along the way. Sometimes things just aren’t working the way you think they will.
Q: If there is one takeaway from the book which you feel is important, what is it?
A: Second acts in life are totally possible and can surprise you! We never know where life is taking us. Be open.
Q: First Course has garnered quite a few awards since its release. Which one are you the most proud of and why?
A: The two Eric Hoffer awards blew me away. First Course made the short list and then advanced to the winners list, earning an Honorable Mention in Commercial Fiction. The company I keep in that list floors me. They also named me a finalist for their First Horizon Award, which honors debut authors. I am very appreciative.
Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?
A: I read the Publishers Marketplace deals every single weekday. I noticed that TouchPoint Press was making a number of exciting deals, and I loved the idea of being part of such a dynamic press. I have gotten to know several authors who have been published with them around the same time as me, and everyone is so warm and supportive.
Q: What surprised you the most about the publishing process?
A: Probably how many authors I have become friends with in my 2021 Debut group and through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. They have been so generous with their time and advice. Since traditional book events have been more challenging during this time, many of us have found creative ways to hold online events and to just support each other through the ups and downs.
Q: Best advice to aspiring authors?
A: Write your story. People want to read it! Learn about the publishing industry, and don’t let yourself get discouraged. There are so many different paths to publishing. And read a ton. Support other authors. Go to their events. Be a good literary citizen.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I am currently seeking representation for my second novel Palms on the Cape. It is another foodie novel, this time set on Cape Cod in the beautiful town of Dennis. I am getting ready to start drafting my third book next month once the school year is over. It is set at a fictitious boarding school on a little island off Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I don’t have a title yet, but if it’s like the first two books, I’ll probably come up with it while I’m doing laundry. I wonder what that says about me.
Q: How can readers learn more about you?
A: Please visit my website at jennbouchard.com. You can check out my upcoming events and sign up for my newsletter!
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Thank you so much for this interview, Christina! It’s been fun to chat with you.