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Q&A with Liv Stratman, Author of Cheat Day

Q&A with Liv Stratman, Author of Cheat Day

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Liv Stratman is the author of Cheat Day, which was just released in paperback.

Liv Stratman is a writer from New York. In 2014, she earned an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was the recipient of the August Derleth Prize for short fiction and The Jerome Stern Award for excellence in teaching. During her time at Madison, she also served as editor-in-chief of the online journal Devil’s Lake. 

Her writing has appeared in Boston Review, Witness, Cutbank, and the Cincinnati Review. She has received scholarships from the Vermont Studio Center and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. 

Cheat Day is her first novel. Here’s the synopsis:

Kit and David were college sweethearts. Now married and in their thirties, they live in Kit’s childhood home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. While David has a successful career, jetting off on work trips to exciting destinations, Kit is stuck in a loop. She keeps quitting her job managing her sister’s bakery to seek a more ambitious profession, but fear of failure always brings her back to Sweet Cheeks. Kit finds a fraught solace in cycling through fad diets, which David, in his efforts to be supportive, follows along with her. Their latest program is the Radiant Regimen, an intense cleanse, and Kit is optimistic about embarking on a new chapter of healthy eating and self-control.

Hungry in more ways than one, she soon falls into a flirtation with a carpenter named Matt who is building new shelves for the bakery kitchen. Unable to resist their mutual attraction, Kit and Matt soon begin a passionate affair. Kit suppresses her guilt by obsessing over her diet, pushing herself in greater extremes. Told in precise, intimate detail, Cheat Day is “an incredibly likable novel of hungers controlled and liberated, and marriage’s gray areas” (Booklist) that explores monogamy versus monotony, deprivation versus indulgence, and limitations of modern wellness.

Let’s get to know Liv as she talks favorite novels, what inspired her to write Cheat Day, key takeaways and much more!

What are some of your favorite novels?

I like novels about smart women with problems of their own making, or family problems. Most of the books I love the most are also quite funny. I love books that include stories about food and themes about food and how people gather and come together around food. My favorites are Heartburn by Nora Epron, The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury, Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore, A Fairly Good Time by Mavis Gallant, and All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews.

When did you know you wanted to become an author?

I’ve been a story-teller my entire life. As a little kid, I was obsessed with my Sylvanian Family (these are woodland animal figures with soft exteriors and cloth clothing–they are sometimes called Calico Critters in certain parts of the US) toys, in particular a family of racoons. I had a little plastic house they lived in and spent countless hours on the floor, play-enacting elaborate psychodramas involving my little racoon family. The stories often revolved around a picnic gone wrong due, food poisoning, or one of the racoons being “sent to jail.” I think a lot of writers discover their storytelling instinct before they can even read, through play, drawing, and imaginative games. As I got older, I developed a love of reading and books. The first time I articulated a desire to write books, I was in first or second grade. So, I guess the short answer is: I’ve always been a storyteller, and became a writer once I learned how. 

What inspired you to write Cheat Day?

I knew I wanted to write a novel about an affair–I had a writing teacher in school–the wonderful novelist Leah Stewart–who could tell I was struggling to draft a cohesive, propulsive plot in my fiction. She suggested I choose to write about either a murder or an affair. She pointed out that those two situations kind of contain a built in plot, and that if I scaffolded my characters with a big issue like that, it would likely be easier to pace and move the story forward. Eventually, Kit’s dieting came about because of the setting. Sweet Cheeks, the bakery that provides the setting for Cheat Day, is based on the Little Cupcake Bakeshop in New York, where I was working when I started this novel. I love to write about work–especially the service jobs I’ve held most of my adult life–and I loved working at that bakery and wanted to put my characters there. 

Oftentimes, readers throw out the terms ‘likable’ or ‘unlikeable’ when describing a protagonist. What are your thoughts on that? Did you instead focus more on relatable when it comes to Kit?

I’ll be honest, I don’t care about a character’s “likability” at all. I’m interested in complex characters who make complicated choices. When readers complain about a character being annoying or unlikable, I take it as a compliment! If my characters weren’t believable, readers wouldn’t have strong reactions to them. I don’t think the point of writing a novel is to invent characters who’d be easy to know in real life. That bores me, and I find the reaction against “unlikable” characters a little childish, frankly. Good stories revolve around tension, and difficult characters make that tension feel real.  

What do you hope are some of the key takeaways from the novel?

I hope readers laugh at the funny parts, cringe at the cringe-y parts, blush at the sexy parts. Ideally, readers will treat themselves to an indulgent and comforting meal or snack after reading this book. 

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I am rereading all of Tom Drury’s novels, which are so subtle and funny. There are 5 of them and I’m going through in chronological order to their publication date, which is not the order I originally read them in. I think he’s so masterful at humor. I’m on the second one right now–The Black Brook–which is a dark, droll tragicomic about a crooked accountant named Paul Nash. He’s a awful guy: a liar, bad with money and broke, sneaky, and the plot is a total trip. It’s been fun to just let myself reread things that inspired me when I was younger. On my TBR shelf:  I’m looking forward to reading Chantal V. Johnson’s debut novel, Post-traumatic, which comes out in April, and Alison B Hart’s The Work Wife. That one comes out in July. 

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