Insisting on a Life Well Done

Margie Zats writes her first novel at 82.

It’s not hard to see St. Louis Park author Margie Zats in Alexandra, the main character in her debut novel, Alexandra the Grate: Who Insisted Life Be Well Done. Zats, who was 81 when her novel was published last year, uses three words to describe her protagonist: guts, audacity and resilience, the very qualities Zats exudes as she relates her life’s journey over iced tea and impossibly tender sugar cookies in her artistically decorated apartment.

Zats was born in an era where “women were expected to just look pretty and be charming,” but she has always been a groundbreaker. After her father, a publisher of medical journals, invited her brothers to join the family business but excluded her because she was female, Zats traveled to Paris to study French cooking at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine. After classes, she spent hours writing at Les Deux Magot, a café that was one of Ernest Hemingway’s regular haunts, visualizing Hemingway’s spirit radiating from the walls and infusing her own work. Zats' culinary training led her to Byerly’s Cooking School, where she was one of the original instructors. After 10 years teaching French cuisine and chocolate dessert-making, Zats launched her own business, Margie’s Marvelous Munchies, a gift-basket company featuring handmade pastries.

Zats had published several cookbooks during her time in the culinary world, but it wasn’t until many years later that she felt she had reached the level of maturity to write more intimately.

“I wasn’t ready to show the world what had hurt me and what I had triumphed over,” she explains. Having experienced the pain of a divorce after 30 years of marriage and being faced with rebuilding her life at the age of 49, Zats wants to help other women in similar circumstances prevail over self-doubt and achieve “a short-cut to peace.” Says Zats, “If I can help any woman feel better about herself and grow on, I’ll have done my job.”

Zats has a disciplined writing practice, working for three to four hours almost every morning. Zats writes longhand, favoring yellow legal pads, and employs a professional typist. “I work until I’m exhausted and my eyes burn." Ideas come to her at anytime— when she takes walks, as she falls asleep or as she listens to songs on the car radio. Her advice to aspiring writers: “Write what you know best so it can come from the heart, and don’t let criticism deter you.

 Find your center. Don’t be afraid to grab it and go!”

In addition to her successes as an author and in the culinary world, Zats is also one of the founders of Groves Academy, Minnesota’s only school dedicated to teaching children with learning disabilities, which she helped start in the 1970s in response to the lack of local options for her son, who had dyslexia.

Zats stresses the importance of remaining vital and creative. She says, “It’s imperative to keep my mind active and continue to think. There’s no excuse not to keep growing forward.” A sequel to Alexandra the Grate is in already in the works.

Purchase Alexandra the Grate and Margie Zats' other books at amazon.com.