Sci-fi writer Barbara Chepaitis turns to kitchen for novel idea |
SCHENECTADY - In July, not long after her first novel, "Feeding
Christine" was released by Bantam Books, Barbara
Chepaitis got an e-mail.
"Are you by any chance related
B.A. Chepaitis who writes science fiction?," the reader wondered.
"That's my evil
twin," Chepaitis wrote back.
Chepaitis, who has developed quite a sci-fi fan following with
her paperbacks featuring intrepid
futuristic female crime fighter Jaguar Addams, creates a more
gentle, contemporary world of food and females with "Feeding
Unlike Addams' hard-boiled urban prison environment, the novel
is set in
the warm-hearted kitchen of Teresa DiRosa, where tomato sauce is
always is simmering and thick wads of bread
dough are kneaded to opera music.
"This is one side of me, that's another," says Chepaitis.
"Memory, tradition and family are the ingredients for a tale
about how food can save the soul...a fine debut," Kirkus
Reviews wrote this summer, and on the book jacket, "Feeding
Christine" (hardcover, $23.95, 244 pages,
ISBN:0-553-80165-1) is compared to "Like Water for
Chocolate" and "How to Make an
Besides DiRosa, the gastronomic group includes friends
Amberlin and Delia and niece Christine, a food-fearing wisp of
woman with man troubles and a serious case of depression.
Chopping vegetables, nibbling at ginger trout and baking fancy
Italian cookies, the women share their troubles and deal with a
dramatic turn of events in Christine's life.
"Jaguar doesn't cook," Chepaitis jokes about her sci-fi
she sits barefooted, in a gauzy green dress, at her
kitchen table of her Schenectady home, long dark hair
flowing around her shoulders.
The idea for "Feeding Christine" began with the Snickering
Witches, the women's storytelling group that Chepaitis
has directed since 1990.
Lale Davidson, Cindy Parrish and SuEllen
performed with Chepaitis at the Mid-Atlantic
Storytellers Festival and the Kleinert Arts Festival
in Woodstock as well as local venues such as Caffe Lena, had
often talked about writing a play about women and food.
Food for thought
"Conversations and writing contributions of the women went into
the pot, and I stirred and stirred, melding their flavors into
the stock," Chepaitis explains at the back of the book.
"I did the writing, but they are very much a part of the book,"
If there is a link between Jaguar Addams and Teresa DiRosa, its
in the strong relationships that develop between women.
"I think there's a certain rawness to women's lives, a
primalness," she says.
Chepaitis cites the book "You Just Don't
Understand," in which author Deborah Tannen claims men think
that the purpose of conversation is to exchange information and
establish order and women think of it as a way of
Although science fiction readers are primarily male,
Chepaitis believes many of her readers are female because they
are attracted to Addams, a 30-something woman who "colors way
outside the lines."
An "empath," Addams reforms criminals by
reading their feelings and helping them get rid of their
fears, the source of all evil.
In DiRosa's kitchen, where the only high tech is in the heating
elements and utensils, feelings are passed along with the
braciole in green sauce and fried squash blossoms.
"Feeding Christine" is sprinkled with Italian phrases Chepaitis
learned from her mother, Teresa, a first-generation
Italian, and her grandmother and aunts.
"They come directly from my childhood," says Chepaitis, who is
also a passionate cook.
Chepaitis earned her masters degree in English literature and
her doctorate of arts at the University of Albany, where she
teaches in its Presidential Scholars Program,
an interdisciplinary course of study for first-year
In the last nine years, Chepaitis has won four awards for
screenwriting, fiction and poetry, and her short stories
have been published in several journals and
Ace Books has published two Jaguar Addams titles, "The
Fear Principle" and "The Fear of God," a third, "Learning
Fear," is due
this winter, and there are five more in the works.
Chepaitis has never had a problem with writer's block,
and when she gets going on a project, she writes all night,
sitting on the floor in front of her computer in a small
"All writers have places
where they get terrified," she says, and her scary moment is
when the book first comes out.
Chepaitis' friends learned long ago that anything they tell her
could end up in her book.
"I'm a vampire, everything is material," Chepaitis says.
"I'm fascinated with the abnormality of normal people's lives."
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