Hi, I’m Claudia. Thanks so much to Open Skye for letting me share a little bit about my new (and my first!) novella, Place Setting. Sometimes people ask what parts of themselves a writer puts into their characters. I’ll be honest, I never really know what to say. I’m always wondering if I’ve been too superficial or too oversharing. I was wondering this too about Place Setting when I reread the excerpt below. In it, one of the protagonists – Gray, a chef – goes to the supermarket and while I didn’t set out to do it, I gave Gray a memory of something from my own childhood — the absolute compulsion to put my hands on everything bright and colorful in the grocery store! That was one of my first ways of trying to learn about food and find things I wanted to try. (or sometimes, in the cases of things like liver, things I really, really didn’t) And like Gray, over time walking through the supermarket aisles became a more peaceful process once I had a little experience under my belt, and I could take my time to get inspiration for my next project.
Cameron Dunlop has lived in the Lowcountry town of Summer Corners, South Carolina, his whole life. He loves his home, but his little town in the Deep South doesn’t offer much in the way of dating options. Chef Gray Callahan has enjoyed success in the kitchen, but his last relationship sunk like a bad soufflé. When plans for his sister’s wedding go awry, it provides the perfect excuse to pack up and go home, where he can help out as he decides how to start his life over. Gray’s path crosses Cameron’s, and he realizes together they might have all the ingredients to save the day—with maybe enough left over for something sweet just for the two of them.
He drove down to the big supermarket, or what passed for big without going all the way into Charleston. The drive reminded him of so many things he loved about the South Carolina Lowcountry, the way the tall skinny pines and Spanish moss draped oaks lined the road until you came around a curve and the trees stopped where the marshes began, the ribbons of water meandering through the tall green grass. He’d missed that view so much in Philadelphia that it ached sometimes. He’d once tried to explain to Matt, who’d just gotten huffy and accused Gray of hating on Matt’s hometown, which wasn’t what Gray had said at all. Philadelphia was beautiful, and he was very fond of it, but it didn’t draw him in like the Lowcountry did, didn’t feel like home.
Now he was back, and maybe for good. That had been the plan for a while, even if he hadn’t planned on going it alone.
“It takes an awfully good man to be better than none at all,” Mom had said when Gray confided that he wasn’t sure if he was planning to stay home now that the plan to open a restaurant with Matt had gone up in smoke. “If this is what you want to do, you can, Matt or no Matt, and sweetheart, no Matt sounds like a much better plan.”
He needed a plan for his own future, but the first order of business was to pull off the food for Jess’s wedding. That would be a boost, and it would be even better if he was able to serve it somewhere other than the Callahan family backyard.
As soon as he passed through the automatic doors of the supermarket, Gray felt better. He’d always liked going to the grocery, even as a kid, when he drove his mom crazy trying to put his hands on everything, asking what it was called and what it tasted like. He couldn’t count the times she’d had to help him pick up a smushed piece of produce, then explain to the lady at the check-out why they were buying it. Now he found grocery shopping soothing, especially when he wasn’t on a deadline or didn’t have a menu to plan, when he could just enjoy choosing what he or whomever he was cooking for liked to eat. One of his greatest pleasures was preparing something for someone and watching them savor it. That made thinking about the food for Jess’s reception fun, despite the amount of work. After his injury when he realized Gray he’d never play competitive baseball again, Gray had felt useless for a while because what could he possibly do to delight his parents in the way that he had playing ball. Luckily a good therapist had helped him through the worst of feeling that way, but learning to elicit smiled through his food, that was good too.
He’d do something easy and comforting for dinner, roast chicken with some vegetables. The asparagus looked good, so he grabbed a bunch. The herb situation wasn’t as heartening, but he’d make do until he found a local farmer’s market. He stuck his hand in his pocket to grab his list before he remembered he hadn’t made one.
He did have something in his pocket, though. He’d forgotten he had it. Cameron’s business card.
Claudia Mayrant has been exploring the world around her since she was old enough to get around under her own power. Her early travels took her on her bicycle “all the way to but not on the main road.” Happily, since then, she’s enjoyed visiting as many places as she can, from bustling marketplaces and enchanting castles to funky dives. She can’t possibly decide which she likes best, but details of her favorite people, places, and things usually get put in the fiction blender so they can make an appearance in her stories.
Claudia maintains that each new adventure requires the appropriate footwear, which explains her closet. Her passion for taking photographs of the things she sees, does, and eats far exceeds her skill with the camera, but no matter the setting, she has fun trying to get a good shot.
For all her love of travel, she’s most relaxed back in the South on a Gulf Coast beach with good friends, refreshing beverages, and plenty of sunscreen.
Her smartphone isn’t literally connected to her hand, but anyone would be forgiven for thinking so.
Author twitter: @ClaudiaMayrant
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