Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Author Meredith Mileti: Creating Characters And A Giveaway

MeredithMileti_1170It’s my pleasure today to welcome ‘new-to-me’ author Meredith Mileti as she tours blogdom with her latest release, AFTERTASTE: A NOVEL IN FIVE COURSES.

Here’s a brief description of AFTERTASTE: Ruth Reichl meets Nora Ephron in AFTERTASTE, a funny, sexy and appealing debut. Mira Rinaldi lives life at a rolling boil. Co-owner of Grappa, a chic New York City trattoria, she has an enviable apartment, a brand-new baby, and a frenzied schedule befitting her success. Everything changes the night she catches her husband, Jake, "wielding his whisk" with Grappa's new waitress. Mira's fiery response earns her a court-ordered stint in anger management and the beginning of legal and personal predicaments as she battles to save her restaurant and pick up the pieces of her life. 

Mira falls back on family and friends in Pittsburgh as she struggles to find a recipe for happiness. But the heat is really on when some surprising developments in New York present her with a high stakes opportunity to win back what she thought she had lost forever. For Mira, cooking isn't just about delicious flavors and textures, but about the pleasure found in filling others' needs. And the time has come to decide where her own fulfillment lies - even if the answers are unexpected. 

Thanks to Meredith and Darlene, I have a print copy of AFTERTASTE to giveaway to one lucky visitor who comments on this post between now and 8 p.m. (EST) on Thursday, Dec. 8. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Be sure to leave your e-mail address if it’s not included in your profile.

Now, Meredith is here to tell us “In what order do your characters come to life—name, physical description, personality? Of these three elements, which one is the easiest to develop and which is the hardest?”  

I definitely start with personality. Maybe it’s an artifact of my having been a developmental psychologist, but I usually start with a certain character and then see how they develop when faced with various challenging life circumstances. 

When I was writing AFTERTASTE, my protagonist, Mira Rinaldi came to me pretty fully formed. She interrupted me one afternoon when I was minding my own business eating my lunch and proceeded to nag at me until I told her story. I know some writers do in-depth character studies and analyses, but I feel like my psychology training and experience gives me an advantage there, especially in terms of how the different characters are likely to react to their circumstances.    

122328611For example, in AFTERTASTE it is clear that Mira has to have an intense personality—she’s a chef, so she’s a creative type to begin with and perhaps because of the intensity of their work lives chefs are often prone to flares of temper—when was the last time you prepared dinner for 200 people without losing your cool? You’ve got to have a strong emotional constitution to be a chef. You know what they say –if you can’t stand the heat... So what does she do when she catches her husband in flagrante delicto with the mâitresse d’ on the restaurant office couch? With that opening scene, we were off and running.  

Physical descriptions also come pretty naturally. I’m a visual learner, so as the character is forming in my head, I usually have a pretty clear picture of what he or she looks like, not only physical attributes like hair and eye color, stature and body type, but often even the kind of clothes he or she might wear. Some writers I know think of their characters in terms of actors or actresses, which I suppose is handy if you are ever shopping the movie rights to your book. 

Recently my agent and I were discussing the possibility of shopping the movie rights to AFTERTASTE and she asked me to come up with a list of actresses who I thought might resemble Mira. It’s been a fun exercise—and it’s been interesting to hear which actresses other people seem to think would make a good Mira. Some of them have been surprising to me—petite blonds when I’ve written Mira as tall, dark-haired and a little on the voluptuous side. But that kind of thing happens all the time in movies. I understand that Tom Cruise is now playing Jack Reacher in an adaptation of one of Lee Child’s novels. In the books Jack is 6’4” and well over 200 pounds, and his size and stature are important to many scenes, but I guess they think that Tom Cruise-- despite being only about 5’7”-- is a good enough actor to make it work.

For me, the hardest of the three elements are the characters’ names. For a charity event, I recently auctioned off the naming rights to a character in my next novel and it was quite a relief that I had one less character to name! I’m notorious for changing names multiple times mid-way through my stories and it can be a real hassle when you have to go back make a change like that. 

In the beginning I tried to come up with a system. There are name books out there that list traits associated with particular names, but you also have to make sure that you don’t have names that are too similar to each other and invariably, I’d find that if I changed one character’s name, I’d end up changing more than one.   

I also try to avoid using someone’s real name, although this happens inadvertently all the time. Shortly before AFTERTASTE went to press for the final time, I was leafing through my college alumni magazine when I saw, to my horror, that one of the characters in AFTERTASTE had the same name as a guy I went to college with. I hadn’t known him personally and had apparently forgotten his name over the last 30 years. It wasn’t like he was an ax-murderer in the story—in fact he was one of Mira’s love interests in the book. I called up my husband, who is a lawyer and asked him if I could get in trouble. He then cross-examined me to confirm that I really hadn’t known this guy in college. I ended up changing that last name anyway—on the off chance that this guy reads my book I don’t want him to think that I’ve been nursing a secret crush on him for the last 30 years!

Meredith, thanks so much for guest blogging. Naming characters would be hard. Books where all the characters have similar names is difficult to get through. I love the story about the guy from your college days. 

When asked about your background, Meredith had this to say: “Since pulling my first (tiny) batch of gluey homemade brownies from my Easy Bake oven, I've loved to cook. Was it the taste that got me hooked? Probably not. (Hasbro isn't known for its recipes and, let's face it, the little light bulb didn't exactly make for a piping hot eating experience.) No it was, as much as anything, for the blissful look on my little sister's face. I still love cooking for my family and friends. Every meal is a reason to celebrate.
I'm an adventurous and eclectic diner and appreciate any well-cooked meal. It can just as easily be from afriggitorie in Naples or a beachside lobster shack in York Harbor, Maine as a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris; best yet, anything cooked by my friends Kathy, Grant and Holly and shared with them and the rest of our gang over a great bottle of wine (or three).

I am a reader, writer, cook, wife, mother, eater--not necessarily in that order. As priorities shift, the order or emphasis may change, but that's pretty much me. Best is when I can combine all of them. Hard to top sipping tea and eating digestives (McVities are the best!) in bed, while pouring over a cookbook and jotting down notes for my next dinner party for family and friends. "Next up: Food from the South of France." Saturday night.

I live in Pittsburgh, which is, to the surprise of many, a terrific food city and dining destination. When I'm not in active pursuit of my next meal, I can be found in my office, where I am probably writing about food, trolling my favorite food blogs, and planning my next meal.”

For more on Meredith and her writing, visit her website at

Do you enjoy books that combine food in the storyline? As a reader, do you want the author to go into great detail about the characters’ descriptions or leave a little for your own imagination? Thanks so much for stopping by today. 


  1. Meredith, thanks again for guest blogging. I enjoyed learning how your characters come about. Wishing you much success.

  2. Aftertaste would be memorable and enjoyable. What a wonderful and unique story. A book that combines food with a plot and chracters that are realistic makes the book an experience that lasts. many thanks. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  3. I enjoyed your informative post today. Your talent in producing lovely meals is evident and to be admired. Aftertaste sounds extremely appealing in everyway, the character Mira, the story and the food are all a pleasure to read about. Yes, I enjoy digestives as well and have for many years. It is one of my few indulgences that I permit myself. best wishes. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  4. I do enjoy stories where the author goes into detail to let me see the story whether it is a meal or a city.
    mce1011 AT aol DOT com

  5. Mason, thanks for hosting me on your delightful blog and thanks to all who contributed to the discussion! I know I should be writing, but it's a cold, rainy day in Pittsburgh and I'm baking bread and cooking up a big pot of soup. Hope wherever you all are, you're warm, well fed and happy! Cheers!

  6. I really enjoyed this interview. I love that your husband cross-examined you about who this fella was.

    I would think that an occupation would push a personality type too. We've all heard about those chef-types. ;)

  7. What a wonderful post from a new to me author as well! I love the cover they chose for your book, it's very appealing! Always like a little food in a book--that way I don't eat the whole time I read!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.