Melissa Senate’s latest novel, due in bookstores Tuesday, is about a 30-year-old woman who has yet to find her place in the world.

Unlucky in love, Holly Maguire turns to the mystical guidance of her grandmother to help her navigate the pitfalls of romance. Many years ago, Nonna told Holly that the true love of her life would be the guy who could stomach an Italian delicacy known as sa cordula, featuring stewed lamb intestines.

When Holly tempts her current boyfriend, he spits the dish out in his napkin, leaving Holly in a sea of tears. So begins “The Love Goddess’ Cooking School.”

In the book, Holly packs her belongings and returns home to New England. Within days of her arrival, Holly’s grandmother dies, and Holly takes over Nonna’s famous island cooking school.

As the novel unfolds, readers are treated to a series of terrific recipes as Holly navigates a new romance. Along the way, she and her students find that their quest for exquisite food serves as an apt metaphor for their own journey toward happiness and bliss.

Senate lives in Yarmouth, and set her book on the fictional Blue Crab Island in Maine. She has written 10 novels. She’s best known for “See Jane Date,” which was made into a TV show. 

Q: Tell us about Blue Crab Island. Where is it, and what is life like there?

A: Blue Crab Island is fictitious. I wanted to create an island that was a combination of my two favorite islands nearby. One is Cousins Island, which is across the most beautiful bridge in Yarmouth. The other is Peaks Island, which is so bustling with shops and activities and requires a ferry across the bay. I wanted to create the bustle of Peaks and combine it with having to drive across the most beautiful bridge to get there.

Q: The characters in this book are a mismatched lot, but they come together nicely. Where do you find your characters?

A: They spring from my imagination fully formed. It’s one of the most interesting things to me as a novelist, where characters come from. I do not base them on real people. Mia, the 12-year old girl in the book, just burst from the pages. She just seems so dynamic and full of life. Her problems seem so real to me.

Q: Was she you when you were 12?

A: She’s really not. I take the motivational aspect of experiences I have had, and that helps inform the characters. But I do not use real situations from my own life. I take nuggets from them, experiences. I did not grow up with a single father, for instance. My mother did not abandon the family. 

Q: Where did you grow up? 

A: In the boroughs of New York City, and as a teenager in New Jersey. I moved to Maine in 2004. My then-husband basically said, “We should move to Maine. It’s the greatest place to raise a child. Let’s just do it.” And I said, “OK,” so we moved to Maine. I love it here. It is a great place to raise a child.

Q: Do you like to cook? 

A: I never did like to cook. I never was much of a cook. When my son, now 8, was around 6, he got interested in helping me in the kitchen. He liked to help me scramble eggs. His little face was in such concentration, and he was so proud of himself. One day, while scrambling eggs, he leaned into the bowl and said, “Please let mommy get me a mouse or rat for my birthday.” He was so cute.

That wish stayed with me and inspired the book. The idea of wishing into the food, and the process that involves, really formed the basis of the book. I have become a better cook. I have mastered the recipes in the book. I spent months in the kitchen doing everything while I was writing.

Q: What role did moving to Maine play in inspiring this book?

A: All the pieces of the book came from so many different parts of me, and a lot of what informs my writing is the fact that I did move to Maine six years ago. I came from a city of 8 million and now live in a town of 8,000. It was a very different experience, and it took a while to feel like I belong. A big part of the book is feeling you do not belong and do you belong in your life. Food is such a big part of life. It all melded together for me. 

Q: I presume you feel like you belong now. What do you like about living in Yarmouth?

A: Oh, I do love this town. I live in Yarmouth village. The houses in my neighborhood are so much fun to walk by, the people are wonderful. The little downtown is tiny, and I enjoy walking to the library and the little corner store. It feels like a happy nice town. I think it’s special. 

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

A: I knew specifically in sixth grade, at PS22 in Flushing, Queens. I remember being assigned having to write about personification, and I wrote this little story about this tea bag. I knew when I wrote this one-page story that this is what I wanted to do. I set my sights on it from that day forward. It was a feeling of “Wow, I feel like I am good at this.” I had fun doing this. It didn’t feel like an assignment. It felt natural, and I felt good about it, and I didn’t care what anybody thought about it. I won a little ribbon for being the best creative writer in the class.

But then in my early 20s, I took a writing class at NYU taught by one of my favorite literary writers. She hated everything I turned in. I was very discouraged. It wasn’t until I was 34 when I started writing my first novel that I started to get my confidence back. Discouragement can devastate a person. 

Q: Your bio describes you as a former romance and young adult editor. Are those days behind you?

A: Well, I worked at Harlequin Books for 10 years as an editor. From day one until now, I have never stopped working them in some capacity. I wrote some novels for them, and now I am a freelance writer and editor for them. 

Q: What is your writing routine?

A: I’m one of those morning larks. I wake up at 5 a.m. every day. My son gets up around 7 or 7:15, so I have those two hours when I do my best thinking and my best work. I get an amazing amount of work done in those two hours. Otherwise, I now have seven hours of a day when he is in school to do my work. A lot of writers are night people, and stay up until 3 a.m. But I have never been able to do that. 

Q: Who is your audience? 

A: The genre is called women’s fiction, but I have never thought that a man wouldn’t enjoy reading a book that’s labeled women’s fiction. That means it’s usually a book centered on a female character and her life. But men can be interested in that, too. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: [email protected]