I first heard of J. Ryan Stradal and his debut novel KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST through our mutual editor Pamela Dorman. I fell in love with KITCHENS, the story of Eva Thorvald, a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, as did the rest of the world! KITCHENS is a New York Times bestseller, is the 2016 Indies Choice debut book of the year, and received made many best book of the year lists from press across the globe! J. Ryan has been such a wonderful support and friend during my debut year process. I am so happy to have had the chance to talk with him about his own debut year.
Do you have a favorite memory from your debut year?
I think the highlight was reading at the library of my hometown, Hastings, Minnesota. There was an extremely surprising turnout — more people came than I had time to talk to. I may have been more nervous about that event than any other — for some reason, I find it far easier to read to rooms full of strangers than to friends. But I’ll be reading in Hastings again on July 3rd and I’m looking forward to it.
Are there any funny stories from your debut year you would be willing to share?
During one of my stops in Chicago, I was able to introduce my friend Tony Grazioso to Malort, a Swedish wormwood liqueur that’s popular in Chicago and pretty much nowhere else. If you ever get the opportunity to introduce someone to Malort, it’s worth your time. Google “Malort Face” and you’ll get the idea.
What was the most surprising thing about being a debut author?
I’m still completely amazed when I walk into a bookstore and I see my book on the shelves. I’m also still amazed and blown away that it’s read by complete strangers.
Anything you would have done differently?
I read in thirty-three bookstores and libraries during the hardback tour, and I think I could’ve added a few more. Now, I was exhausted, and I had a due date on a second book, so I had to stop sometime, but in retrospect I kind of wish I had hit a few more places. I could’ve mustered the energy, no problem. Time was more of an issue.
Has the experience of writing your next book felt different now that your debut is out in the world?
Yes, in that I’m completely consumed by the new book. Going out on the road and talking about Kitchens feels like talking about my high school classes while I’m in college.
What advice would you like to offer to those writers at the very beginning of the debut novel process?
Meet booksellers and librarians! Meet book clubs! Tell book clubs you’ll Skype into their meeting if you read their book. Get yourself out there as much as possible. You only have this one chance to build a foundation — not that it can’t be expanded later — but now’s the time to meet as many new people as possible.
Any debut novels coming out soon that we should be on the lookout for?
So many. Three recent favorites are Jade Chang’s “The Wangs vs. The World,” Margaret Wappler’s “Neon Green,” and Natashia Deon’s “Grace.” Already out earlier this year are Troy James Weaver’s “Witchita Stories” and Debbie Graber’s extremely funny “Kevin Kramer Starts on Monday.” Excellent books all around — please, please buy these books and support these authors. They’re going places.
GIVEAWAY: RETWEET on Twitter, and/or SHARE on Facebook by noon (EST) Friday, July 8th to win a copy of KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST (US only). We’ll select and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
J. Ryan Stradal is the author of New York Times bestseller Kitchens of the Great Midwest, which won the ABA Indies Choice Award for best debut novel of 2015. He lives in Los Angeles where he works as Editor-at-large at Unnamed Press and as the Fiction Editor at The Nervous Breakdown. He likes root beer, wine, books, and peas. Here are links to his website, twitter, and Facebook .