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Arts & Entertainment
10/03/00, D3

By KAREN BJORNLAND , Gazette Reporter
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 to the 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 Christine."
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 American Quilt."
Besides DiRosa, the gastronomic group includes friends Amberlin and Delia and niece Christine, a food-fearing wisp of a young 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 character as 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 Hamkins, who have 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," she says.
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 connecting.
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 college students.

Prolific writer

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 anthologies.
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 upstairs room.
"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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