Tembi Locke is the author of the New York Times bestseller (and Reese Witherspoon pick), FROM SCRATCH, an absolutely stunning memoir chronicling the time she spent piecing together her life after her husband’s death. Set in the beautiful Sicilian countryside, she discovers the healing powers of food, family, and grace in her darkest hours.
Off the Shelf was able to ask Tembi a few questions about her experiences, writing process, and a few of her favorite books.
What was your inspiration for turning your story into a memoir?
This story had been swelling in my heart for years. Some of it even before Saro passed. I understood that there were aspects of our love story that were rare and beautiful. However, three years after his passing I was seated in Sicily with Zoela and across from us was Nonna. We were at the dinner table at the end of what had been like the perfect summer day. And I had a thought: How did we get here, especially given where we started AND given that the only person connecting us is gone? That question felt like the makings of a book. Yet it was another two years, actually the fifth anniversary of his passing, before I felt ready to write it. I needed to build up my bravery to tell the story.
How long did it take you to write?
I had been working on parts of From Scratch for years without really knowing that what I was writing would become a book. Once I sat down with the intention of completing a book-length memoir, I wrote my first draft in eight months. I spent the next four months rewriting, restructuring, revising and editing that unwieldy draft into the book it is today.
Was there anything surprising you learned —about yourself, about art, about emotion— while writing the book?
Writing a memoir is about being with yourself, your past, your emotions (expressed and unexpressed). You embark on a deep dive of exploration and constant excavation. It is about turning over the stones of the past and asking “why?” From that point of view, I was surprised by how much self care it required for me to get across the finish line. From the point of view of craft, I was surprised by the amount of research a memoir requires. Memory is tricky. So, for me, research was essential.
What was your favorite part about writing it?
My favorite part of writing From Scratch was reliving the joyous tidal wave of new love that I experienced in my first days in Florence. Rereading my college journals as well as letters from the era was transformational. I was reintroduced to my younger self. For the first time, I saw a young woman who, even through her confusion and insecurity, had a great willingness to follow her heart.
If there a memory or moment you’re most fond of, or you feel is the most powerful, that you knew you absolutely had to include?
The memory of the night Saro stood in the rain was something that I knew I had to include. But it wasn’t until I was writing the book that I realized we had a symbolically parallel experience on our last day together. The realization that those two experiences were connected as kind of bookends in our relationship was poetic. Discovering that connection eventually made me understand the book and my life in a whole new way.
What are some of your favorite books?
I always return to the works of Louise Erdrich, Isabel Allende, and Toni Morrison. My sister, Attica Locke’s, book, Heaven My Home, holds a special place in my heart because of its East Texas setting and lost history. Wild and The History of Love inspired me to write From Scratch. But across the decades, the writer I keep coming back to is James Baldwin. He’s like an old friend who keeps meeting me at different stages of life and always has new wisdom to impart.
If you could choose one lesson or
message for readers to take away from your book, what would it be?
If I had to choose only one (which is hard), I would say to activate a brave heart in how we love and how we connect.
What’s your favorite place in Sicily that our readers should mark on their literary travel list?
Palermo for a unique city experience and the Aeolian Islands for absolute adventure and the gorgeous sea.
What is your favorite recipe in the
That’s like asking me to pick a favorite friend. I love them all. However, I will say the one you can find most often in my house is the classic Sicilian tomato sauce. When in doubt, a plate of pasta will do you good.