When Leah DeCesare left for college, her father educated her on the three "types" of men she'd encounter; forks, knives, and spoons. The prodding jerks were deemed the "forks," nerds the "spoons," and nice guys with potential the "knives." She brought that lesson with her to Syracuse University, and it never left her mind.
The "Utensil Classification System" (or UCS) grew "very organically" at Syracuse when she attended, DeCesare said. If men didn't fit into one of the basic categories, they'd be put into subcategories like "steak knives," "slotted spoons," "sporks," or "butter knives." The utensil comparisons became a normal part of everyday conversation for DeCesare and her floor mates.
"They would meet somebody and go 'oh, he's such a fork,'" she recalled.
Years later, DeCesare made the ever-evolving UCS the groundwork for her novel Forks, Knives, and Spoons, set for release in April 2017. Early reviews praise the book, with author and New York Times Well Blog columnist Dawn Lerman calling it full of "Imagination, highly relatable characters, and witty dialogue," and author Nicole Waggoner describing DeCesare's writing as "simply delectable."
The book follows budding journalist Amy York, her roommate and best friend Veronica Warren, and all the people they encounter beginning with their freshman year at Syracuse. Amy and Veronica guide each other through young adulthood, sharing everything from dorm rooms to sorority bids to heartbreak caused by the "forks, knives, and spoons" they date.
Forks, Knives, and Spoons obviously sounds geared toward readers who fit the bill of its young, female protagonists. But what's fun about DeCesare's book is that it's set in the late 1980s (one of her younger agents apparently considered this "historical fiction"), making it identifiable for readers across generations.
"One of the cardinal sins is that you write for too many audiences. Then it's too broad and doesn't get anywhere. I just wrote the book that was in me without necessarily pinpointing that," DeCesare said of the novel's mass appeal.
There's a bit of a personal angle as well as DeCesare's oldest daughter is about to head to college herself. Though it wasn't presented as life advice, DeCesare said she had hoped to create an "honest portrayal" of what college-age women experience for both her daughter and others who read it. Above all, DeCesare hopes readers will learn to believe in themselves the way her characters do throughout the novel.
"I think the underlying theme was having young and older women alike to be able to believe in themselves. That's the theme and the lesson that I hope rings true," she said. "[The book] is framed around this fun system of finding a great guy, but I also think the greater lesson is in valuing yourself."
As a wife and mother of three, DeCesare typically has to put these empowering messages and ideas to paper when she can find the time - but when she can take a weekend to dedicate all her time to writing, she can do so for more than 15 hours at a time. Her inspiration comes not only from experiences, but from locations as well.
Bits and pieces of Rhode Island, where DeCesare has called home for more than a decade, are in the book as Veronica hails from Newport. Scenes in the story depict the girls traipsing around the city's beaches and visiting Providence. DeCesare enjoyed putting Rhode Island into her work as there are many things she loves about it including the “neighborliness,” the tiny size, and the beaches - she also counts the Pawtuxet Village as a spot she enjoys visiting.
"I always say it's a small state with a quirky personality, and I say that with all fondness," she said.
DeCesare is originally from neighboring Connecticut, which will be the setting for her next novel. Though she said she's taking a much different approach (and hopes this book will take less time than the roughly three and half years she spent writing Forks, Knives, and Spoons), her beliefs in self-love and confidence remain the same.
"I really believe that women do need to believe in themselves, and I too often see women doubt themselves," she said. "I just feel like that was such a gift that my parents gave me. I've been able to believe in myself, and I think that allows me to step out into the world with confidence and to be able to accomplish and pursue things that I want and care about. That's the message I really wanted to share with this book."
Forks, Knives, and Spoons is available for preorder now through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Target, Books a Million and IndieBound. DeCesare also notes that it's helpful for authors when readers rate books on Amazon or GoodReads. Aside from Forks, Knives, and Spoons, she has also authored Naked Parenting: Guiding Kids in a Digital World and Naked Parenting: 7 Keys to Raising Kids with Confidence, written for other outlets, co-founded Doulas of Rhode Island, and spearheaded the Campaign for Hope to build the Kampala Children's Centre for Hope and Wellness in Uganda. More information on DeCesare and her "random and wacky work history" can be found at leahdecesare.com.