December 23, 2009 / 4:34 AM / 8 years ago

"Magpie" Katharine Weber explores family dynamics

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - You might not be able to judge a book by its cover, but with a proliferation of fiction on the shelves, American writer Katharine Weber says it is important to have eye-catching artwork to get your work noticed.

Weber's latest and fifth novel, "True Confections," has a cover that resembles a bar of chocolate which is fitting for a story about a family owned-and-operated candy factory struggling to compete with the corporate giants.

Weber, a New Yorker whose debut novel was published as she turned 40, is now writing a memoir which includes her memories of her maternal grandmother, songwriter Kay Swift.

Since Swift's death in 1993, Weber has been a trustee and the administrator of the Kay Swift Memorial Trust, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting her music.

Weber spoke to Reuters about writing:

Q: So people do judge books by their covers?

A: "Yes. If they pick it up and walk with it to a counter there is a chance they will buy it. The thing about a novel is that you only publish every two or three years and you drop it into the stream that goes past at that time. I don't think a great cover could save a horrible book but a beautiful cover that has the right sensibility for a book is a wonderful advantage."

Q: Why a chocolate factory?

A: "It is really the story of family business and family business dynamics. It is the first time that something in a previous novel ("Triangle" from 2006) has sparked off the next. Generally my books are very different from the next. My previous novel was about a fire in a factory and ... undocumented children died in that fire. I am only a novelist but my delving into the topic made me believe that children are still dying in factory fires today, where we make cheap goods for our use. In this era of safety regulation we don't lock children into a factory where they will die in a fire but we outsource to countries where people will lock children in a factory where they could die."

Q: So the novel started from child slavery?

A: "It was the starting point for something. It is not the center of the novel but an element of a novel. It starts you thinking about the moral dilemma, about where your stuff comes from and at what human cost."

Q: Did you know much about chocolate?

A: "In my research I read extensively about chocolate and I became fascinated with what makes good chocolate and what does not. Madagascar became of interest. It began to feel like an interesting setting. I do have a bit of a magpie approach when I am writing a novel. I like to have a map and go off the map over and over again."

Q: You mentioned family dynamics.

A: "I had to focus on business practice and family business dynamics. There is the saying blue collar to blue collar in four generations. I was very interested in the next generation in a family business when you have wealth and success."

Q: Will you stick to this theme?

A: "I don't think I will write about it again for some time. The next novel I want to write is about a grisly murder in a home invasion and the one after that is about a monkey keeper and then about the Amish."

Q: How do you decide on the topic of your novels?

A: "It could be something I read somewhere or something I read in a novel or overheard on a train. It is a situation. Sometimes it is the adjacent piece to the news story. I like the "and then what" and that is the question I want to answer ... Most of my novels are about more than one thing. There is always something else and something else."

Q: Will you continue to write a book every 2 to 3 years?

A: "I just turned 54 and I am getting impatient with myself. I don't want to take up so much time with the 'not writing'. I don't want to waste time but for me a lot of my writing process is the 'not writing'."

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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