A few weeks back, I wrote a post on culinary romances and Amanda Usen was one of the writers featured in that post. We struck up a Twitter conversation and eventually I asked if she’d answer a few questions for Lady Smut. She was happy to and it was a joy to interview her. I hope you check out her books. And in the mean time, she’s doing a giveaway today. Answer her question and you’re entered to win a copy of one of her books. PLEASE make sure to leave your email address or we won’t be able to reach you. Dear readers, I give you Amanda Usen.
Liz: So, I thought your culinary romances were pretty hawt. And I still do. Yet, like you, I wouldn’t call them “erotic” romances. But you do paint some hot scenes. What is the line you don’t cross in your foodie romance? Does your editor help you with that? Or do you know the line and walk it, so to speak?
Amanda: Ah, the line! It’s there. I also write erotic romance, so I’m very aware of the difference between the genres. In my mainstream contemporaries, I generally stick to two people of opposite genders having Tab A/Slot B sex—with no props. (Well, there’s a vibrator in Scrumptious, but I used it for comic effect. In Luscious, the heroine blindfolds the hero with a drapery tie, but the prop isn’t the focus of the sex scene. It’s about the heroine revealing herself.) I had to tone down the heroine in Scrumptious quite a bit. Marlene loves sex, loves men and doesn’t apologize for it. However, we were afraid readers might not identify with her boldness. My editor helped me soften Marlene’s edges, yet retain her enthusiastic sexual identity.
For me, the heat in a sex scene comes from revealing more than flesh. Sex is rarely as uncomplicated as it seems in romance novels. (This was a big shock to me since I started reading romance novels before puberty.) Admitting desire takes courage. Going after what you want in bed, or even merely asking or explaining what works for you, can be difficult. Since writing a sex scene is basically writing a sexual fantasy for my characters, I try to make at least one of them be brave, even lawless. To me, brave is “hawt!”
Liz: So you are married to the subject of a lot of fantasies—a chef. What do you think is the most common misconceptions about chefs?
Amanda: The glamour. The perception that cooking is glamorous gives me the giggles! When my husband comes home from work, he smells like an onion ring. His fingers stink of garlic. His clothes are stained. He isn’t a line cook anymore but when he was, it was backbreaking, fast-paced work. There was a lot of swearing. A lot. Professional cheffing isn’t all beautiful plates, fine wines, and fancy dining rooms…at least not for the people cooking. It is fun, though, and I love being married to a man who shows his love through food. The salmon BLT Joe makes for Marlene in Scrumptious is one of my husband’s specialties, and he still makes it for me when he’s trying to get…loved.
Liz: To me food and romance seem like a natural pairing. But like you, I have a background in food. For me, it’s food writing and for you it’s hands-on culinary experience. I can see how it informs your writing. What do you think of the trend in culinary romances? I can always tell if someone doesn’t really know food, you know? I often end-up rolling my eyes, thinking “this person has never worked in a restaurant or bakery or whatever” and chucking the book. (Unless the sex is really hawt. I might stick around for that…heh.) I’m wondering if this happens for you, too.
Amanda: I think those moments happen occasionally no matter what the subject. The only time I’ve stopped reading a book was related to a sex scene. I didn’t think the act happening on the page was physically possible. (It was a Tab A and Tab B in Slot C.) I know, right?! A few years later, I saw a video in which I discovered I was wrong—learn something new every day…
I’m thrilled by the trend in culinary romances. Dare I hope it sells our books? That would be fun. Then we could write more! And eat more! And drink finer wines!
Liz: Back to the food and romance. What is the fascination? Why does it work so well? Is all about the primal needs for survival, for sex, love, and food being so twisted around each other?
Amanda: *Sigh* Oh, Liz! I am the worst person to ask about this. I write about food and love because I met my husband in culinary school. He walked by me at the gym, and I thought “I’m going to sleep with that guy.” (Please don’t judge me. He’s scrumptious!) After graduation, we moved down to New Orleans, a great food city, and got married. Since then, we’ve both been working in the food industry. I think about baking and writing all the time, and my husband thinks about sex all the time. Unsurprisingly, my first book idea was about a chef and a pastry chef falling in love, and I wrote Scrumptious. I sold it in a two-book deal, so Luscious was born. Luscious was challenging because I set it in Verona, Italy. Speaking of chucking a book against the wall—I’ve never been to Italy. I was terrified readers would shred me in reviews, but my inspiration for the book was Romeo and Juliet. I couldn’t imagine setting the book anywhere but Verona. I researched my ass off, and depended on my high school BFF’s mother-in-law to fix my Italian phrases. So far, so good! I came back to familiar ground for the new series I just sold to Entangled’s Indulgence line. I set the books in three cities I know well – New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles. Into The Fire comes out in June, and I can’t wait!
(I think you might be on to something with the primal needs, though. And it gives me a great idea for a giveaway. What do you look forward to more: your next meal or your next sexy encounter? My answer varies, depending on what’s on the menu!)
Liz: You are an extremely busy Mom, wife, writer, and cooking/baking instructor. I can relate. Sometimes I feel guilty about the time I spending writing. Sometimes I have to eke out the time to write along with all the other stuff. Do you have tricks and tips for those of us out there struggling in the same way?
Amanda: Guilty about the time spent writing—I have so been there! Family time often happens without me, especially when I have a deadline. If I force myself away from the computer when the muse is whispering, I am often distracted, which isn’t fair to my husband or kids. I wage an epic, daily struggle with balance. Writing, teaching, mothering, managing the household, sleeping, romancing…I’m going to stop now because I’m getting stressed out.
I remind myself that I write because I enjoy writing. Writing is important to me. It is part of my identity. I deserve to do the things that make me happy, and my family respects that. In fact, my husband pointed out that it is wonderful for our kids to see me achieve the difficult task of finishing a book. It’s also good for them to see me working so hard to do it. It teaches them that hard work gets results. I whooped out loud when I was offered my first book contract, and my eleven-year-old was the first one to hug me. She got it, and she was proud of me.
On the flip side, writing is not the most important thing in my life, even when I have a deadline. Everyone, even me, is happier when I try new recipes, spend time on lesson plans, go to yoga, pay the bills on time, vacuum the rugs, fold the laundry, snuggle the kids and do the six-thousand other things that add value to our lives. As for tips on how to maximize writing time, the only thing I have to offer is this: balance the other important-to-you aspects of your life as well as you can. That way, when you do have time to write, you aren’t feeling guilty. At least, that is what’s working for me…this month.
I’d love to give a book away! To enter, leave a comment telling me whether you want Scrumptious or Luscious…and whether you look forward to your next meal or your next sexy encounter. If you have and advice for me about how to find balance in the writing life or any advice for Liz about how to eke out time to write, please feel free to philosophize. Liz, thanks for having me on your site. I enjoyed pondering your insightful questions about my two favorite subjects—food and romance!
Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. She married him after graduation in a lovely French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, and they spent a few years enjoying the food and the fun in the Big Easy. Now they live in Western New York with their three children, one hamster, two guinea pigs, a tortoise and a new-to-them beagle. Amanda spends her days teaching pastry arts classes and her nights writing romance. If she isn’t baking or writing, she can usually be found chasing the kids around the yard with her very own hot chef husband. If you want to chat about romance, writing or recipes, please visit her at http://www.amandausen.com where you can find recipes for many of the yummy dishes in her books. She can also be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/amandausen and Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/AmandaUsen
Joe Rafferty is just as mouthwatering as the food he cooks. But if he thinks he’s going to waltz in and take over her kitchen, he’s denser than a thick slice of chocolate ripple cheesecake. Marly has invested too much of her life in Chameleon to hand off the restaurant to someone else—especially a cocky-as-all-get-out superstar chef. But there’s no denying the man knows how to light her fire. Question is: Can she have the sizzle without feeling the burn?
Eat, play, love
Plain old ice cream just isn’t going to cut it. To beat these blues, chef Olivia Marconi needs the good stuff: rich, creamy tiramisu gelato. And no place better to get it than Italy. But a fresh start is nearly impossible with Sean Kindred dogging her every move. She’s been burned by his too-hot-to-handle antics before. Though there’s no denying the man can still get her all fired up. Could a weeklong affair finally turn into something more lasting…or will it all go up in flames?