Meg Donohue writes like a baker in her sweet debut about friendship and trust between a spoiled, sophisticated young woman and her family’s cook’s free-spirited daughter, in How to Eat a Cupcake.
You write about the professional and personal problems involved in starting a cupcake business. How did you learn about the culture of bakeries?
I’m not a baker, but I’m a very avid cupcake eater! I came up with the idea for the book in part because I feel like I’m surrounded by cupcakes. I had a year-old daughter when I started writing and was pregnant with my second daughter, so between birthday parties and playgroups and play dates—and adult functions—there were a lot of cupcakes. From there, I started to do a little research. I had a friend whose sister is a pastry chef, so I invited her over, and we baked cupcakes and talked about the culinary scene. I quickly learned it’s a very small and incestuous world. I also learned about the hours that you have to put in to running a bakery and the number of people who would be in the kitchen and what relationship they would have to each other.
What piqued your interest about the differences in best friends Julia and Annie?
My interest, in part, came from having a nanny who was from Colombia. She had several daughters she would bring with her to play with my daughter. That helped me think about the relationship between these girls. They’re just having fun as children, but what would happen if they grew older and kept—or didn’t keep—in touch, and how would their lives be different? I’m interested in writing about friendship, and how women come together and fall apart over time. I’m more interested in that than specifically the class differences between Annie and Julia, though that was a part of their relationship, too.
You take a hard look at the “mean girls” culture of high school, and do a great job of showing how Julia transforms into one, then grows up and grows out of it.
I think that’s definitely a part of my interest in female friendships and how they change over time. There’s this bubble of high school where things can get complicated, and as girls get older and more secure, some friendships fall away, and some last forever. I think my own friendships with various women in my life have always been really important to me, and it’s important to write about what interests you. Friendships make good fodder for stories. My friends are constantly trying to see which of the characters are based on them. I drive them crazy because I won’t tell them.
How do you account for the huge growth of the cupcake culture?
There’s a lot of nostalgia around cupcake eating. There’s a comfort food element to it. The cupcake shops started sprouting up in the late ’90s, but they really took off 10 years later. Maybe it was in response to what was going on in the world.
How did you keep from gaining a ton of weight while researching and writing this delicious tale?
I sort of had a double whammy: being pregnant while writing was a blessing and a curse. If I wasn’t craving a cupcake, the baby was.