Friday, April 10, 2009

Special Guest, Sybil Baker, author of The Life Plan

Sybil Baker spent twelve years teaching in South Korea prior to accepting a position as an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga after earning her MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. During her extensive travels throughout Asia, she became increasingly interested in the allure and alienation of American travelers and expatriates, and this has heavily influenced her writing. Her fiction and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including upstreet, The Bitter Oleander, Paper Street, and Alehouse. Her essay on American expatriate literature appeared in AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle in September 2005. Her website can be found at

Sybil's most recent work is The Life Plan, a novel featuring a female attorney whose jobless husband has suddenly decided to deviate from their life plan.

Q) In The Life Plan, Kay goes to Thailand with her husband. Although it starts out being his journey of self-discovery, it turns more into Kay's journey. Are there life lessons you'd like the reader to take away from The Life Plan?

A) If readers take away some lessons that’s great, but I mostly hope they enjoy the novel. I’ve had people who read the book tell me they appreciated the main theme of the book, which is that sometimes the best thing you can do is let go of the expectations you had for your life, and instead appreciate the life you have. Another aspect I explore is the tension between freedom to do what you want and the responsibility you have to others—that is more an open question I pose in the book than a life lesson.

Q) After reading The Life Plan, I have no desire to ever go to Thailand. (They lost me when you described their lack of Diet Coke, which is one of my life sustaining staples.) Although Kay detested it at first, she grew to love it. How does Sybil feel about Thailand?

A) I love it, which is one of the reasons I based much of the novel there. Thailand is a relatively easy place to travel, caters to upscale and backpacker crowds alike, and offers beaches, ruins, city life, and jungles. Thai food is some of my favorite, and it’s cheap, delicious, and obviously in abundance there.

The last time I was in Thailand was 2002—since then Starbucks has appeared on the very street Kat spits out her instant coffee. Who knows—maybe Diet Coke has “upgraded” as well!

Q) You've traveled so much. In keeping with one theme of this blog, how have your world travels affected your cooking? Do you now implement spices or dishes into your cooking you might never have tried otherwise?

A) I lived in Korea for twelve years, so now I do go to Asian markets when I can. I eat kimchi and dried seaweed—something I never would have done before I went to Korea. I usually cook traditional American food at home and then go out for international food. My husband is South African so we do have things in the cupboard that are more British, like the three Ms--Marmite, Milo, and Matzos. And my husband calls ginger ale Gemmerlim, the Afrikaans name for the drink.

Q) Do you have a particular recipe you'd like to share with Fatal Foodies readers?

A) I love Thai food, but I usually eat it in a restaurant because it requires so many specialized ingredients. In the novel Kat teases Dan for ordering Pad Thai for breakfast and later she jokes that her cottage cheese legs are like Pad Thai (“Fat Thigh”). I think the best website for fast and easy Thai food recipes is at Here is a link for their chicken Pad Thai, which, despite the detailed instructions, is fast and easy to make.

Hope you enjoy it!

Q) What's next in Sybil Baker's "life plan"?

A) In May I’ll be visiting South Africa for a month—my first time there! I’m looking forward to eating lots of my mother-in-law’s wonderful cooking while we’re visiting. I’m also looking for places in June and July to read and finding people who are interested in reading my book for their book club. I can make an appearance if it’s within driving distance, if not, I can visit the club on Skype or answer questions by email.

Thanks for the Q&A!


Sybil said...

Thanks for having me!

Gayle said...

Thank you for being part of our blog! :-)

Ruth J. Hartman said...


Your book sounds so interesting. I'm always interested in reading about places/cultures that are different from my own. Best wishes with your book!


Cathy C. Hall said...

I like Sybil's theme in The Life Plan, but I wonder if that's an age thing...when I was young, I thought the world was more black and white and plans were important. Now that I'm "not young" it doesn't seem so.

Except for Coke. THAT'S always important in my life plan :-)

Gayle said...

I'm with you on the Coke, Cathy! ;-)

Sybil said...

Ruth, thanks for your comments and glad to hear you like reading about other cultures--me too!

Cathy, I agree--I'm 45 and my character Kat is 29--an interesting age for women when they seem to feel that pressure to get everything done in a certain time period. I think life makes you mellow out as you get older--thank goodness.

Lisa Hall said...

Sybil, your life seems fascinating. I'm sure your book is too!