Her articles on parenting have been featured in The Huffington Post, the International Doula, and The Key, among others. In 2008, she cofounded the nonprofit Doulas of Rhode Island, and in 2013 she spearheaded the Campaign for Hope to build the Kampala Children’s Centre for Hope and Wellness in Uganda.
Get to know Leah with the below Q&A where she talks story inspirations, the idea for the Utensil Classification System, importance of setting in her book, key takeaways from the story and much more!
Q: What are some of your favorite novels?
A: I read so much but never allow myself the time to go back and re-read some of these books—but I would love to. First favorites that come to mind are: Rebecca, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Red Tent, The Kite Runner, Cutting for Stone, and The Language of Flowers. Oh — and Calling Me Home (Julie Kibler has a new book out next year. I can’t wait!), The Namesake, East of Eden, The Help, Silver Sparrow, and The Space Between Us. I need to stop or I’ll come up with more.
Q: When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
A: As long as I can remember. I wrote poems, stories, kept journals, and always considered myself a writer, even when I was only writing for myself. We recently found a drawing I did when I was about seven or eight. Beneath a printed heading, What I Want To Be When I Grow Up, I drew myself at a long table writing with a huge pencil. When I thought of being a writer as my profession, I thought of novels. So even though I’ve published two parenting books based on my work as a doula, birth and postnatal educator, and a mom of three, I often “forget” about those when talking about how many books I’ve written. To me, the question is really: How many novels have you written?
Q: What inspired you to write Forks, Knives, and Spoons?
A: The initial inspiration came from my father. I’ve carried the central idea of this book with me since 1988 when my dad sent me off to college with the advice that my character, Amy York’s, dad sends her off to Syracuse University with: There are three types of guys: forks, knives, and spoons. That tidbit was true and when I shared this system with my college friends it took off, with everyone adding descriptions for new utensils and talking as if it were an understood concept. For example, “I met this complete fork last night.”
That idea sat with me for decades, but there was no story around it, so when I finally sat to write this book, I had to build the characters and their arcs and let the Utensil Classification System (the UCS) become a backdrop and an organizing idea serving the characters and their growth. In the end, I had a story about friendship and learning to believe in oneself.
Q: Were any of the characters in the book based on real people?
A: I definitely used some real-life boys and old boyfriends in portrayals of several of the utensils. In developing the cast of characters, I had images in my head for some of them to begin with, but they quickly became their own people and through revisions and the development of the characters, they ended up not resembling those people at all in the published version.
Q: I loved the book was set in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it seems to be a simpler time compared to now. Did you always set out to write a book to take place in that era?
A: It was a conscious choice to set Forks, Knives, and Spoonsin the late eighties into the early nineties for a few reasons. First, it’s a period I know and could realistically convey the college culture at that time, but I also wanted to show some timeless truths about growing up, coming of age, and seeking love despite cell phones and technologies. If it were set in present day, some of the incidents could have unfolded differently – or not at all. Certainly, today, handwritten letters and phone calls on the hall payphone are extinct, and finding someone in a crowd outside at a fire drill or at a party is easy by comparison.
I mistakenly thought it would be “easy” to write a period I had lived, but it took a lot more research than I expected. I had to be sure not to have anything out of chronological order, for example, my editor found that a Sega video game I mentioned in the book was in the right year, but my characters were playing it in April when it didn’t actually come out until September that year. Because I had intertwined that game into the scene, I had to rewrite it with another game to fix it. Overall, I found it really fun to revisit old fashions and music, and to return to a time pre-Internet and pre-Always-Accessible.
Q: What do you hope are some of the key takeaways from the novel?
A: I think girls and women of all ages need more positive messages and encouragement to believe in themselves. That is the key message of Forks, Knives, and Spoons.While the characters seek their ideal guys, the story is ultimately about friendship and learning to believe in yourself without tying your value to a man.
Q: I’m so curious what happens next for Amy! Do you have plans for a sequel?
A: Thank you for your excitement about the story! The book was written as a stand-alone, but I’ve heard from so many readers who have asked for a sequel. I played around with a lot of story ideas and ways to revisit these characters who I loved hanging out with, but at this moment, I’m letting them be. The story I wanted to tell is complete, but they are young when Forks, Knives, and Spoons ends, so maybe they’ll bug me with another story to share one day.
Q: Can you give any hints regarding your next book?
A: I’m excited about this next book (still to be sold) about a doula who crosses ethical boundaries, getting too close to one family and wanting everything her client takes for granted and may not deserve. She puts all she has left—her career and her integrity—at risk. I’m really proud of it and can’t wait for it to be out in the world.
Q: What books are you currently reading and what’s on your to be read (TBR) list?
A: I’m constantly listening to one book and reading one or two. I’m in three book clubs and I do a lot of reviewing, especially for BookReporter, so often, that dictates what I’m reading when. I’m active on BookBub, GoodReads if anyone wants to follow my recommendations and reading lists, but at this moment, I’m listening to Bridge of Clay, I just finished Sing, Unburied, Sing, and am starting Ann Hood’s new book, Kitchen Yarns to review. She’s an amazing woman and a fellow Rhode Island writer who I’m lucky to know. My TBR list —like yours— is ENDLESS! My wonderful new wall of built-in bookshelves is completely full and stacks are starting again at their edges. I keep acquiring but also share tons of books with my mom and friends, and I do giveaways on my social media accounts to share books with other book lovers.
Stay tuned to my Instagram account @bookclubchat for a book giveaway of Forks, Knives, and Spoons!