Reality Bites - Book Review and Author Interview with Amanda Zieba
On a snowy Wisconsin evening with just a smidge of the remaining holiday chocolate at my side, I cozied up on the couch to read Amanda Zieba’s latest romantic, candy-inspired story, Champion Chocolatier: Reality Bites. Zieba’s writing has a wit that comes through in both the dialogue and creative plot, hooking the reader (me included) immediately. I had to laugh at the trials of Emmy (the main character) as the candy-making contest she is part of turns vicious and she’s contending with others who do not play fair. I thoroughly enjoyed Emmy in Champion Chocolatier and thought it was so fun to be able to see what happens next in her life. Zieba skillfully references some of the not-so-great moments Emmy experienced in the earlier story, reminding us just how far she’s come! I loved the ending—and I’m not giving anything away. But let me just say, pick up a copy as a sweet treat to yourself for Valentine’s Day.
Purchase in paperback today from Amazon.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Emmy Dawson is in over her head. This time she’s not just trying to convince herself she can run a successful chocolate business, nor is she cooking to impress a stuffy board of directors. This time she’s competing in a reality candy making championship and is trying to win over all of America.
The Vanderbilt Valentine’s Day Candy Making Competition, held at the famous Biltmore Estates, will host eight talented candy makers – all with jumbo sized hopes and dreams… and egos. Emmy wants desperately to win, and to prove to her tiny town she is more than a stay afloat business owner and just the girl who dates Eddie Edwards.
Even though the North Carolina weather makes for easier winter driving, Emmy’s road to victory is paved in potholes. A snarky producer, a real-life baker Barbie, and a talented pool of candy makers, not to mention a healthy dose of stage fright, stand in her way. Being filmed for Prime Time TV in sunny North Carolina might sound more glamorous that Duluth in February, but Emmy is about the learn the hard way that, sometimes, reality bites.
In this sequel to Champion Chocolatier, readers will find all of the sweetness and fun they fell in love with in the original. New locations, new characters and new challenges thicken the plot and will have Hallmark lovers and reality show junkies begging for another round of foody fun and delicious disasters.
Today, Amanda Zieba joins me so I can pester her with questions about her writing world. Thanks for taking the time to hang out for a little while. Amanda, can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself and the types of books you write?
Hi! I consider myself a word nerd through and through, and so I fill my days with reading and writing. I am currently a part time instructor at Western Technical College and am lucky enough to spend the rest of my time writing. I have written several books including titles for all ages in a variety of genres. Middle grade, science fiction, writing workbooks, adult novellas… I’ve done a little bit of everything.
You’re incredibly busy! How do you approach your writing time and project scheduling to keep everything humming?
I make my world work through lists. Whatever is due next is at the top of the list and once it’s done, I move onto the next. It sounds overly simplistic, but it works. Rather than spend my time stressing and worrying about how it’s all going to get done, I just take things one at a time. I also use every available minute. Don’t procrastinate or wait for big chunks of time to be productive. Those big chunks of time won’t come as often as you’d like. You can write a social media post in ten minutes or edit a few pages or read a blog post on craft.
As you’ve been writing for a few years, what advice do you have for a writer who is just starting out?
Find word nerd friends. Writing can be a lonely business, but friends, in addition to making the writing life more fun, can also offer you advice, support, and encouragement. I was lucky enough meet writing friends in my hometown through a local organization (www.wwink.org) and all across the state thanks to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Sometimes we critique for one another or road trip or share each other’s blog posts to help them gain more attention. We definitely pick each other up after disappointments and are the first to help them celebrate even the tiniest of milestones. My best advice is to find writing friends.
I’m curious if you were already thinking of a second book with these same characters when you were writing the first book? (And then I need to know if there’ll be another book to look forward to because, personally, I really want another one.)
I was not thinking about a sequel when I first wrote "Champion Chocolatier," but several people, after reading it, asked for more. Emmy’s world is such a fun one that I didn’t mind jumping back in. I knew that I needed to keep the competition element of the series going and when a friend went on a national cooking show, I had the perfect insider scoop to help me write the story realistically.
I will also answer this question through lens of business person, because as authors, that is also a role we need to play. I have gotten more positive feedback on "Champion Chocolatier" than any other book I have written, and so it made sense to write another one! And yes, I plan to write (at least) one more book in the series!
I always appreciate a story that includes real places that people can recognize on the pages of a book. Did you spend some time in Duluth and at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina to get the details just right? (I know that with the internet you don’t necessarily need to go somewhere to describe it well for your readers.)
It was easy to write about Duluth because my husband’s family vacations there often. I have been to all of the touristy places and have the scrapbooks to prove it. It was so much fun to share these places with readers.
On the other hand, I have never been to North Carolina, let alone the Biltmore Estates. The Glensheen Mansion was such an important part of the first Champion Chocolatier book that I wanted to have a grand and fancy place for the second book as well. To get to know the place I did google image searches and watched a few YouTube video tours as well. (You can read about that process in this blog post.)
I was also gifted two great books by a family member (Thanks Tina!) who lives in North Carolina and loves to take visitors to the Biltmore. Combined, these resources helped me create (I hope) an authentic representation of this magnificent mansion, the largest privately owned home in the United States.
I've never been to either place, but your descriptions felt very authentic to me! Can you tell us about the different jobs you’ve had? I always like to ask authors this, mainly because authors always seem to have had interesting job histories.
As an adult I’ve only had two jobs, a teacher and a writer. But as a teen I did a wide variety of odd jobs. I coached gymnastics, worked at Marshall Field's and also did some nannying.
What sort of books do you like to read as an adult and what were some of your favorites as a child?
As an adult I still read a lot of kid's books. My sons and I are currently reading Harry Potter aloud (we are book #2!). I also love anything by Maggie Stiefvater and Jennifer A. Nielsen. In the adult category I have recently been attracted to female power house memoirs. My favorites have been "Scrappy Little Nobody" (Anna Kendrick), "From the Center of the Oval" (Beck Dorey Stein) and "Hungry Heart" (Jennifer Weiner). As a kid I loved "The Babysitter’s Club" and books with great female protagonists like Matilda and Heidi.
Before we move on to the Super Six list, is there anything else you want to tell readers about yourself or your books?
I love meeting readers and writers! If you would like me to visit your books club or school, please reach out! You can learn more about my presentations on and author visits here. Sharing my passion for words is my favorite thing to do!
Fav Pizza Topping: Pepperoni
Book You’re Reading Now: 'The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise' by Dan Geminehart
Coffee, Tea, or Both: Does latte count as coffee? (YES, it does and since this is my blog, what I say goes. - Valerie)
Fav Activity as a Child: coloring
Most Interesting Place You’ve Lived: I’ve only ever lived in Wisconsin, but the La Crosse area is my favorite!
Best Place You’ve Vacationed: I don’t travel a ton (two teacher salary household!) but last summer my parents took us to Bermuda and it was AMAZING!
Where can readers discover more about you and your work?
My website - www.amandazieba.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/amandazieba/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/wordnerd_amandazieba/
Thanks so much for visiting us! I can’t wait for your next books!
Thank you for having me!