In conversation with Liv Stratman
IN CONVERSATION WITH
I'm so thrilled to welcome the wonderful Liv Stratman to AD In Conversation With today. Her delicious debut novel, Cheat Day, won the hearts of readers everywhere when it was released last year.
Heartwarming, witty, and well-written, the book has recently been released in a gorgeous new paperback edition — which I gobbled up again as soon as it hit the shelves.
Believe me when I tell you, Cheat Day is one of those books that'll get you up and out of that reading slump and have you Googling others just like it when you've finished.
So, with a book that appetizing, I was keen to know the baker.
Liv and I connected over email, where she shared the inspiration for her protagonist, her thoughts on toxic diet culture, and some of her favourite spots in Brooklyn.
|Liv Stratman by Savannah Lauren|
You worked at Books are Magic before writing Cheat Day. What was it like working under acclaimed author Emma Straub while you penned your novel?
I actually began writing Cheat Day in the spring of 2015, two years before I started as a bookseller at Books Are Magic, so I was in the process of revising and rewriting while I was working there. I loved being a bookseller—I still do, in fact! I'm currently a manager and "booktender" at the lovely and unique Book Club Bar in the East Village, which is the perfect fit for me, combining my longtime experience in service with my love of reading and talking about books—and Emma was an enthusiastic supporter of burgeoning writers; most of my coworkers at BaM were writers, as well.
You also previously worked at a bakery. Did your job as a baker inspire any of your protagonist Kit’s personality?
I wasn't a baker—I wish I had been! I worked and managed the counter at a few places, but most formatively at Little Cupcake Bakeshop, which is family owned and has three locations in New York. I was primarily at the Bay Ridge location, and while Kit's personality is rather separate from the setting, Sweet Cheeks, the fictional bakery she runs with her sister and cousin, is based on Little Cupcake and is located in the same neighborhood.
I got the idea for Cheat Day while I was at work. I had been writing a short story about a woman who is having an affair, and I thought, wouldn't it be funny if she worked at a bakery like this one, which is such a comforting place, and one where others come to indulge? Kit's fad-dieting and body image issues came about in the writing process, as I was playing with themes of pleasure, fulfillment and satisfaction.
|Little Cupcake Bakeshop (courtesy of @molly.royce)|
It’s clear Kit is struggling with disordered eating, stuck in a cycle of fad diets, cleanses, and healthy eating. What do you think of diet culture?
It's super toxic. I don't think societal pressure to be thin or eat "clean" brings anyone much real happiness or self-confidence, and I'm very suspicious of vague claims, like that a person can "achieve health" through restrictive or intense dieting or "wellness goals" that involve limiting food and/or extreme exercise. Health is not an achievable goal, like paying down a debt or saving up to buy a house, and so commodifying our health is dangerous and implies a kind of cruel prejudice toward those who are ill, and to fat people (body size has no proven correlation to health).
I think of the Radiant Regimen as a kind of parody—a mashup of all the most (in my opinion) bizarre diets, things like Whole 30 and the macrobiotic diet, which make specious, pseudo-scientific claims about nutrition. In the course of the book, the only thing the Radiant Regimen does for Kit is cause her to lose weight. As her size decreases, she only becomes more neurotic and less stable—being thin, it turns out, is pretty meaningless to her quality of life.
How has your life changed since the release of Cheat Day?
The main difference is now I sometimes get the opportunity to discuss my work with strangers—before Cheat Day, I'd only published a small handful of short stories in magazines, so I'd only discussed my writing with people I knew, professors and workshop classmates and friends who were kind enough to read and offer reactions. Because I work in a bookstore, I've probably had more conversations about my book and writing than many debut novelists. That's been really special.
|Cheat Day vibes (courtesy of @livrstrat)|
You live in the best city in the world. What’s an ideal day out in Brooklyn look like? Tell me some of your favourite coffee shops, restaurants, and bookstores.
A perfect day in Brooklyn is in spring or fall, sunny and between 60 and 70 degrees, and includes a lot of food. I ride my bike down the Shore Road Promenade, which south Brooklynites still call the "walk the bay," under the Verrazano Bridge and then up Fourth Avenue.
I stop for coffee and a croissant at Little Cupcake, hoping to see my old boss and say hello. Then I stop in the cute indie bookstore in Bay Ridge, The Bookmark Shoppe and browse, probably buy a book even though I always have too many and can't keep up.
I love a late lunch at Tanoreen, which is a legendary Palestinian restaurant, and my favorite place to eat out in New York. I'd probably order the vegan baked eggplant; I'm not vegan but it's so good, you don't need to be vegan to crave it. It's layered like lasagna, with thin potatoes and grilled tomato instead of sheet noodle in between marinated eggplant. The other menu item I love to get—when I have someone to share with--is the Sayadiyya, a big, fragrant dish of fried red snapper, caramelized onions and sliced, spiced almonds sauteed over rice. You get a new variation on the flavors in every bite—lemon, smoked paprika, cumin, and hints of tahini. Just thinking about it, my taste buds activate.
Afterwards, I'd take a different route home, and bike west on Bay Ridge Parkway (75th Street) to 18th Avenue and the heart of Bensonhurst's old Italian enclave, which is smaller but still very much alive. I'd get pistachio gelato, or, if it's close to Easter, a pint of sanguinaccio (it's a bloodless variety!) from Villabate Alba. If my bike basket isn't too full, and it isn't too late in the day and I have the cash (they don't take cards!), I'd double back a block for olive loaf from Il Fornaretto, and stop in Golden Bun Bakery on 86th Street on my way home for rice flour sesame treats. Bensonhurst is full of Cantonese treasures, and if I could have two perfect days and/or an unlimited appetite, I'd go to Mama's Noodle House for hot pot and basil shrimp ho fun before heading home to my cats.
Having worked in a bookstore like Books are Magic, I’m sure you met your fair share of authors. Which author has had the most impact on your life and why?
This is an interesting question, but I think it's difficult to answer within the confines of my time as a bookseller in Brooklyn. I met a lot of authors at Books are Magic, but during those encounters I was always working, and the events at the store in its pre-Covid, early years were often packed and hectic: I was selling books and merch and corralling long signing lines and trying to get people safely and smoothly through the space, whether it was in the store or one of the big ticketed, offsite events we hosted with local venues. There wasn't much time for me to rub too many elbows.
So the authors I loved meeting the most when I worked there is easy: Zadie Smith, David Sedaris, Wesley Morris, Sally Rooney, and Mary Beth Keane—but the authors who've been the most important to me came from other, earlier avenues in my writing life; I studied with my favorite living writer, Lorrie Moore, in graduate school, and my undergraduate writing professor Leah Stewart was the most significant writing mentor I've had—she gave me so much attention and time.
I also worked closely for an academic year—in 2013-2014, during my MFA—with writer and cartoonist Lynda Barry, who taught me the most genuine, useful, and generative practices for my writing practice, and whose kindness and encouragement changed my life.