Mon 27 Jun 2011
The Secret Ingredient (Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2011) is a follow-up to Schaefer’s first novel, The Teashop Girls. It chronicles what happens to Annie and her friends, Genna and Zoe, the summer before they all start high school.
As in the first book, much of the action takes place in Annie’s grandmother’s tea shop, The Steeping Leaf. When Annie’s not serving tea, she’s blogging about food, baking scones in hopes of winning a contest and trying to decide if kissing a boy in the tea shop’s stockroom meant anything.
Read, Write, Repeat is honored to have author Laura Schaefer on hand to answer important questions about the book, her writing process and life in Madison, Wisconsin where she, I and the book’s characters all live.
This book is about blogging, tea and scones. Of the three, which is your favorite? Why?
Of the three, I have the most knowledge and experience with tea. I’ve tried lots of different varieties. I’m currently drinking a lot of Pu-erh, which is a type of earthy tea from China. When I started writing The Secret Ingredient, I was a scone newbie. (Although I had eaten lots of them, I’d never baked them.) That changed in a hurry. Many a Saturday I spent in my kitchen working on new recipes for the book. I’m proud of how they turned out, and I think my friends enjoyed all the samples.
How much of Annie is inspired by you?
Quite a bit. She’s more gregarious than I was at 14, but I think we have a lot of qualities in common. She’s very loyal to her friends and family, she’s got that entrepreneurial streak, and boys confuse her. I could say all the same things about myself.
My favorite recipe at the moment is the apple toffee scones I invented for the book. But other than that, I can’t get enough of the lemon cream scones from Lazy Jane’s cafe on Willy Street in Madison. I honestly don’t know what they put in them, but I’d like to find out. They are gooooooood.
Yes, I went to London about nine years ago, after I graduated from college. I loved it. The city has such a rich culture and history. I adore the fact that the museums there are free. I really want to go back.
Annie has ambivalent feelings about Zach, but she does kiss him. What was your first kiss like?
Haha, I’ll never tell!
What kind of research did you need to do while you wrote this book? What was the most interesting thing you learned?
The research happened very naturally, and was driven by my own interests in tea and food. I tried a lot of new and interesting teas after The Teashop Girls came out at the end of 2008, and I found it very easy to weave references to them into the new book. One example of this is matcha, a powdered green tea that I adore. Cha Cha Tea here in Madison introduced me to it.
I had some things to learn about the local food movement and people’s efforts to get healthy local foods into school lunches. I spoke to the organization REAP to get some perspective on the challenges involved in getting local produce into schools. They do amazing work, and I’m grateful to them for helping me out.
I also turned to my long-time best friend Aimee Tritt, who is currently at work on a master’s degree in dietetics. She is a foodie through and through and really knows her stuff. She helped me to make sure all the produce I referenced in the story is actually in season during the timeline of the book.
The book is set in Madison, Wisconsin where you (and I) live. What favorite Madison landmarks were you able to include in the book?
I love writing about Madison. The book opens with Annie at the Farmer’s Market on the Capitol Square. I also reference Lake Monona, State Street and Vilas Park. There’s no place like Madison in the summertime. Our city shines right now.
Much of the action in both your books is set in Annie’s grandmother’s tea shop. Have you ever thought about opening a tea shop of your own? Is the shop inspired by an actual tea shop?
I haven’t really considered opening a tea shop of my own, because I’m too busy with my writing. But I love, love, love hanging out in them (and in coffee shops). The shop in the story is a mish-mash of lots of places I like to hang out, from Barriques here in Madison, to this place in Florida called Sherlock’s (now closed … boo!), to the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn, New York.
My daughter is starting high school this fall. What advice would Annie, Genna and Zoe have for her?
Great question! All three girls would probably have different advice. Annie’s would be something funny or friendly like, “Don’t forget hair products,” (she always struggles with her frizzy red curls) and, “Stick close to your best friends.” Genna would say, “Try out for a play … drama club is FABULOUS.” Zoe, ever the practical one, would say, “Don’t get behind on your homework and ignore Genna when she insists on finding you a boyfriend.”
What would I say? “Have fun, try different extra-curricular activities to find out what you love, and don’t take anyone too seriously!”
Is the book the end of the series? Or do you have more adventures planned for the girls?
I think there will be a TSG3 eventually, but I don’t have any immediate plans.
Several of your author biographies mention that you like to dance the lindy hop. Tell us more about that.
The lindy hop is a vintage swing dance invented in the 1920s. It’s really fun and athletic. I started learning in 2005 and I still try to go out a few times per month now. Some of my friends are truly awesome at it … they travel and compete. I’m a bit more of a spectator these days, but I love it. If you’re interested, we dance on Wednesday nights after 9:30 p.m. at the Brink Lounge, and you can find out about lessons at www.uwswing.com.
What other projects are you working on?
I’m working on a stand-alone novel for older readers called Notes to Self. I’m also in the midst of launching a line of non-fiction travel guides for kids aged 8-12 called Planet Explorers. These guides will be published in ebook form only, for kids to read on Kindles, Nooks or smart phones before they go on family vacations. I’m really excited about it. My first two titles are Chicago and Walt Disney World. Thank you for asking!
Thanks for stopping by, Laura!
If you’d like to know more about Laura, visit her website.
If you’d like to know more about illustrator Sujean Rim, visit her website.
And, finally, to read a teen review of Laura’s first novel, The Teashop Girls, check out this link.