I recently discovered The Last Suppers and fell in love with Mandy Mikulencak’s writing. The story is deeply moving and there’s a mystery as well… In addition, the setting is fantastic: Louisiana in the 50s. Thank you so much to Mandy for answering my questions.
1. Tell me a bit about your most recent novel The Last Suppers. How did you come up with the idea? It’s a very unique concept.
A good friend of mine mentioned she’d seen a website listing real-life requests from death row inmates. One request – for just Frosted Flakes and milk – got me thinking about the psychology behind such requests. Then, I wondered what would happen if a prison cook became obsessed with preparing meaningful last meals. I didn’t have anything else to go on when I first started writing. Everything just flowed from that original premise. I thought it would be interesting to set the book in the 1950s because of the prevalent social issues of the time period like racism, poverty and prisoner rights. The characters are a product of the environment in which they live, which added more depth to the story.
2. How has your life changed since the publication of your first book?
It hasn’t changed dramatically. However, I do spend more time on social media and on promoting my books rather than the actual writing process. Expectations are also different. When I wrote my first book, I didn’t have a timetable or deadline. Once I got an agent and a couple of book deals, I had to treat writing as a job and not a hobby.
3. While reading your novel, I thought it would make a great movie. Would you like that? What director/actors would be your dream choices?
I think every author hopes his/her book is developed into a movie. While it’s extremely rare, it’s always fun to envision! When I wrote The Last Suppers, I pictured Josh Brolin as Roscoe Simms, the warden. A secondary character – Dot, who works in the kitchen with the main character, Ginny – is absolutely Octavia Spencer. I have a harder time envisioning who would play Ginny, so I’m open to suggestions from readers! My picks for director would be Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Taylor Sheridan (Wind River) or David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water).
4. What are your hobbies?
I live in Colorado so I love to hike. I’ve also been an avid baker since I was a little girl. Both my grandmothers were Czech and they instilled in me that love of baking. My research into the foods and recipes featured in The Last Suppers was a fascinating process. It’s the reason I decided to include a recipe index in the back of the book.
5. What are some of your favorite recent reads? And an all-time favorite?
I recently read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult and Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. Picoult had a very accessible writing style even if she tackles tough subjects. John Irving is my favorite writer so I tend to read anything he writes. My ALL-TIME favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. What I love about Irving is that he can find humor in the perverse and tragic. His work shaped how I started to think about the duality of the human condition; that we can experience joy and hope in the face of great pain and tragedy. There doesn’t always have to be a happy ending.