Kim Barnouin Interview

A Conversation with Kim Barnouin

You are the coauthor of a series of nonfiction books, including Skinny Bitch and Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook. What made you decide to write a novel this time around?

I was sitting on the beach two summers ago with my mom and son in La Jolla. I looked around and saw women reading chicklit types of books, “summer reads” as I like to call them, and I thought, “I would love to be a part of that.” It just kind of hit me in that moment that it could be a great experience. I incorporated my love of food and veganism in the novel so it would stay within the Skinny Bitch brand. And if you’re a foodie like I am there’s something fun about reading a book with mentions of food scattered throughout the book. It’s a nice addition I think. It gives the book some flavor, so to speak.

How was the experience of writing Skinny Bitch in Love different from that of your previous books? Did you prefer one over the other (fiction vs. nonfiction)?

I loved doing the novel but I must say it was harder than nonfiction! I love doing research and I love cooking, and that’s the basis of all my previous books, and those are easier for me to tie into a book. But it’s nice to stretch yourself a bit and try new things.

Did you use any particular methods for organizing or planning while writing this novel? Did you end up having a favorite—or least favorite—part of the writing process?

I had to take a step back and look at the story as a whole first, to see what I wanted to include and where it should go. Filling in the story with the little details was fun, but the dialogue part was not so fun. That was the trickiest part of going from nonfiction to fiction.

How has being a blogger impacted your fiction writing? Are there any particular websites you draw inspiration from?

Having a website has definitely helped with the writing process, it keeps you working constantly. I am a big fan of Goop and Daily Candy. I love how blogging has gotten so popular; we have so many resources for food, fashion, home and beauty. I still love buying books, but there is great stuff on the web.

You are obviously passionate about vegan food and healthy living—were you always a vegan yourself? Did you ever want to be a professional chef?

I didn’t grow up vegan or vegetarian. I grew up with junk food! And because of the way I ate before changing my diet, I can truly understand the challenges of making changes and stepping away from foods that provided a form of comfort and happiness growing up, but finding out that most of what I loved was really bad for me! I have dreams of becoming a professional pastry chef and having a little bakery—that’s how much I love baking. I love to cook in general, but my heart lies in desserts.

Are any of Clem’s experiences (big or small) drawn from moments in your real life?

Yes, definitely! Mainly the more subtle experiences and relationships she has. I think many of the characters in the book are from a time in my life that was meaningful. I wish my parents had a big farm in Northern California though; that was more of living vicariously through Clementine. I also lived in Santa Monica for a long time and really loved every minute of it, so it was fun bringing my old stomping grounds into the story.

Can you talk a little bit about how you came up with the “skinny bitch” moniker, and the message behind it? Obviously, “bitch” is often used as an insult, or in a negative way—was it your goal to turn that around, make it something positive?

When the book was first conceived in 2003, vegan diets were not really talked about that much, it was mainly a diet for hippies I thought. And the goal was to bring veganism out into the mainstream and make people talk about it and make it cool and hip! It’s much easier to sell a book with a great catchy title rather than just slapping “How to Be a Vegan” on the cover. It was totally a marketing ploy; it was meant to get people’s attention so they would get the book, then be hit with tons of information about our food, presented in a way that would make people laugh. The B word is used in a positive way here, just to be funny and sassy, not to put women down in any way.

Is there a character you particularly identify with in the novel? Any character that surprised you as you wrote?

I was surprised how much I liked Zack! I felt like I was really rooting for him all the way, despite the differences between him and Clem. I like opposites-attract relationships; I think they can really work. I really identify with Clementine. I put a lot of myself into her character and I feel her passion for wanting to work for herself, and doing something she loves and believes in. I also felt strongly about her starting her business and café on her own, and not having the rich guy swooping in to save her and pay for it all. In my world you work hard for what you want; you don’t get handouts!

Clem reflects a lot on love and relationships throughout the novel; what’s your take on the idea of an immediate spark or sizzle versus the idea of giving someone time to grow on you? Did you always plan for Clem to end up with Zach rather than Alex?

I am such a sap when it comes to love! I believe in love at first sight all the way. But that’s just the way it happened to me with my relationships. I love the idea of two people looking at each other and electricity flying around them; it’s so romantic and it’s a great feeling. However, one of my best friends started a long-term relationship with someone and it took time to grow and blossom. I wasn’t always sure who Clementine should end up with, but as the story grew I felt more strongly about Zack. He brings something extra to their relationship.

Clem comes up with several new vegan dishes for various restaurants throughout the novel; were these dishes inspired by your own favorites? Is there any one vegan recipe you’d like to share that you recommend your readers try? Is there a story behind it or a particular memory it conjures?

I wanted to tie in some of the recipes from my cookbooks with this novel so if someone reading the book sees some dishes they like, they will be able to find it in my books. Not all of the dishes mentioned are in my cookbooks but many are. It’s like watching a cooking show—they always make me hungry and I go searching for the recipe. A few favorite dishes of mine are the Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce, Vanilla Chai Cupcakes, Indian Seitan, Cherry Pie, and Lemon Glaze Cookies. I like a variety of foods so these dishes are just some of my favorite flavors. Go make yourself some of my cookies and curl up with Skinny Bitch in Love!

What advice would you give someone who is considering going vegan but is afraid to take the plunge?

I get this question a lot! I say go slow and ease into it. There’s no need to change everything overnight, which is what many people try to do. It may last a few weeks but then people hit a wall and realize they don’t really know what they are doing and don’t know what to eat. I transitioned to being a vegan slowly. I took out beef and chicken first, and did research on alternative forms of protein. Then after a few months I gave up something else, but added in new things. You need to bring in new food when you take away the old food you are giving up. Learn about what foods you should be eating. There are so many free resources on the Internet now as well as recipes and menu ideas.

What do you hope your readers to take away from your novel?

I want readers to get lost in my book, and to feel like they are a part of Clementine’s life. That’s what I love about books and movies—they take you away from your own life for that short time and it’s such a fun feeling getting caught up in a great story. This isn’t Shakespeare. It’s meant to be fun and entertaining.

What other authors do you admire? Were there any books that you looked to as you wrote Skinny Bitch in Love? Do you have an all-time favorite novel?

If there’s one thing I wish for is more free time to read. I am constantly doing research or burying my head in cookbooks, so I need more fiction in my life! I am inspired by Candace Bushnell who wrote Sex and the City. I like the way she tells a story, and, let’s be honest, she got a ton of women in America and beyond hooked on those four amazing women she wrote about. When I was young I loved thrillers and read tons of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. But now I like stories that bring you into different walks of life and different countries, like Three Cups of Tea.

Can you share any info on current works in progress? Are you planning to return to Clem’s world in your next book, or do you feel like her story is finished?

I am really happy to be working on the next edition of Clem’s world! The sequel, Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched, is coming along great and I can’t wait to see how it develops—it comes out in May 2014. I hope to carry on with fiction for a while, it’s such a fun experience. I have a baking book called Skinny Bitch Bakery coming out as well, and I hope to continue to do more cookbooks!