Johns Creek debut author Susan Sands grew up in a small Louisiana town where the food was rich and the stories were large.

“I’m a Southern belle originally from Negreet, Louisiana, a tiny town in Northwest Louisiana near the Texas border where the cows, horses and chickens all roam together and everybody lives on ‘land.’ There aren’t any neighborhoods to speak of, and our address back then was a rural route.”

While Sands’ debut novel, “Again, Alabama,” is set a couple of states over, as the title suggests, the Deep South location is just where she likes it. Her heroine, Cammie, has overcome some tough stuff to get out of her small hometown only to be manipulated back by her large, raucous, but well-meaning family. Coming home is a failure of sorts after a very public humiliation in her career.

“It involves a hair fire lit during a nationally televised crepe Suzette cooking demonstration. Long story,” Sands said, laughing. “But Cammie’s family fails to mention that the former love of her life, Grey Harrison, is back in town with his 9-year-old daughter. He’s the same guy who got her best friend pregnant 10 years ago and married her. Yeah, that guy.”

Amid her nutty family, her notoriety in a small town, and a journey of forgiveness, Sands’ main character realizes that home holds her heart, much like the author herself.

“Sadly, I got out of the country as soon as I could in the way young girls looking for more will do. I got a degree, married and moved on. But my small-town values linger.”

She is nostalgic when it comes to her roots. And her rue.

“My own love of food and cooking inspired my choice of professions for my character. No matter what kind of stress or angst I have ongoing in my own life, I can cook and create in the kitchen. One of my grandfathers was a chef and the other was an organic gardener years before it became all the rage. He subscribed to the Organic Gardening magazine, ordered vitamin supplements from catalogs and made his own potions for all that ailed us. He was a true inspiration out in the middle of nowhere. My mom and both grandmothers were extremely talented in the kitchen. My dad fished in nearby Toledo Bend Lake, so we always had fresh fish, fruits and vegetables.”

Sands’ jambalaya recipe was voted “The Today Show” website’s Home Chef Challenge winner several years ago.

“It’s authentic because I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana. If I don’t qualify that, I’ll be attacked viciously. Cajuns are very picky about who is allowed to claim their dishes. (Of course, then you get into the whole Creole-dish argument).”

Sands is hoping she got it right when telling a story of going home. She hopes her readers will enjoy the journey. “I’ve lived in the Atlanta suburbs for 20 years now, and still miss my grandpa’s garden out back where all good things grew. I miss so much of what was, and how things used to be. Do I sound like my own grandparents? That would be an incredible compliment.”

Learn more about Susan Sands at her website www.susansands.com.■

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