Issue 043 Author Interview: Alexandra Grunberg and “The Family Recipe”

Just in time for Halloween, we chat with Issue 043 author Alexandra Grunberg about her witchy, magical, and slightly ominous story “The Family Recipe.”

LSQ: This story has less of a plot and more of an ambling-through-time arc. What do you like about stories with no overt conflict? What can we get out of them?

Alexandra: After several false starts looking for a plot-like entryway, I decided to shift the focus from one specific character and their more traditional arc to the prop-focused story. The object itself remains, if not static, then constant, as the stories weave through and around it. I think that stories that follow this type of ambling timeline have their own kind of conflict that stands outside the narrative. It never materializes because the characters themselves do not realize what they are dealing with, if there will be repercussions, and how their actions play out in the wider world outside their immediate family’s experiences. I hope that this invites a playful experience for the reader, as they reckon with the family cookbook in a way the characters never realize they should. The ambling storyline then sits parallel to another, much darker story, that forms in the reader’s imagination. As a reader, I enjoy stories that let me act almost as a detective or explorer, taking on an active role when the story has room for various readings and interpretations.

LSQ: The idea of a family cookbook being passed down, enjoyed, and added to through generations is so wonderful. Where did you get the idea for this story? What made you add in a dash of deviousness? 
Alexandra: I got the idea for the story while cooking with my flatmate. We have very different approaches to recipes – I follow guidelines exactly (I’ve even googled how much a ‘pinch of salt’ actually is) while my flatmate ‘lets the ancestors guide her’ when it comes to measurements and cooking times. It made me think of how personal cooking is and how much it is tied to the methods our families pass down to us, while also reflecting our own personalities through our approach to recipes. I liked to think that there could be that same casual, familial, and fun relationship to magic recipes. The ‘dash of deviousness’ surprised me – I thought I was writing a feel-good family piece. But in exploring the history of the family in relation to the cookbook, I remembered that magic books have their own histories and legends as well.

LSQ: What was the most enjoyable part about writing this story and why? The most difficult?
Alexandra: The most enjoyable part about writing this story was reaching the end, discovering for myself the true ties that connected the family to this book and each other, and how that realization colored all the memories and moments that came before. The most difficult was going back and justifying the ending without (hopefully) making it too obvious and maintaining the dark surprise.

LSQ: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?
Alexandra: I am currently a postgraduate student in the DFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Glasgow. I am working on my dissertation, a novel that is a post apocalyptic retelling of The Merchant of Venice.