Why it’s the Amateur Gourmet who’s stopped by my blog for a little Q&A on his book tour:
Adam Roberts explains what the book is, why it is, and most important, offers words of advice to other bloggers out there who want to move into the book world.
Michael Ruhlman: Welcome, Adam, thanks for agreeing to this. I know I wasn’t on the original list, so I appreciate your letting me fill in for the maternal Megnut and gracing me on your Virtual Book Tour.
Adam Roberts: Please, it’s important to focus on the little people too. And I firmly believe that given some time and a little more work in the prose dept., your blog might turn into something worthwhile.
MICHAEL: Right, well, thanks. Have you always had this kind of ego?
ADAM: Ego?! What you call ego, I call an awareness of my own majesty. I’m sure you wouldn’t understand, but I just had a BOOK published.
MICHAEL: Please, tell us what it is.
ADAM: It’s called The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, And Table-Hop Like a Pro (Almost). I took the title from a Keats poem. It’s an elegant tome meant to inspire the young, the food wary and jaded old people, such as yourself, to charge into the kitchen with great gusto and cook. In all seriousness, though, I wrote it to make money. Please tell your readers they can buy it here, and here, and here!
MICHAEL: All right, enough shenanigans, Adam, settle down. I’m actually REALLY interested in the process of how a blogger becomes a book writer (as I’ve done it the other way around). I do like your blog I read and even blurbed your book because I can happily recommend it (no matter how insufferable you can be when you’re in the limelight).
ADAM: I’m sensing a little bit of jeal—
MICHAEL: As you write in the book, you started blogging after a resounding conversation ensued following a review of Charlie Trotters in Chicago. I’d very much like to know how the book came about, how you made the transition from blogger to book author. You and I first began emailing when you wrote to introduce yourself and say that we shared the same agent.
ADAM: Our agent, Elizabeth, wrote me an e-mail and said that she found my blog and had I ever considered writing a book? It was that simple. And though I hadn’t yet considered the idea of turning my blog into a book, I already knew I wanted to make writing my vocation so the timing was perfect.
MICHAEL: Was it easy to write? You’re obviously a facile writer with a unique and genuine voice. How was book writing different from your work blogging?
ADAM: The challenge of writing the book was conceptual: with my blog, I usually honor every whim and caprice–if I want to write a song about ice cream, I do. With the book, I knew that pages couldn’t be wasted with nonsense, that each chapter would have to be purposeful, that it would all have to add up to something. So in that way it was difficult but also way more rewarding.
MICHAEL: One of the biggest obstacles for people who are developing independent writing careers is learning to manage time. Describe how you managed your writing time for both the blog and the book?
ADAM: That’s very true and it was definitely difficult, at first, to get into a routine where I could write effectively every day. Now I do as follows: I wake up and I work on the blog for a bit, I’ll do a new post or edit the one I did the night before; I do e-mails, which takes up way more time than you might think; I read like 30 or 40 blogs just to stay current (and that also takes a great deal of time, but I think it’s important) and then I eat lunch. After lunch, I make myself leave the apartment and I go to a coffee shop where I do my "professional" writing. I find this incredibly effective–by making the coffee shop my office, I manage to churn out way more work than I would at home where I would continue to surf the web and waste time. For the book, I made a rule that I had to write at least 1000 words a day, usually 1500. Since the contract said the book had to be 40,000 words that meant I could have a first draft done in 40 days. And that’s how it happened. Once the first draft was done, I worked on the revision, and so on. Chapters died, new ones came in, my editor made me re-conceive three or four: all of this happened while sipping an iced latte. After working on this "professional" work (and I still do this routine, working on new projects, etc.), I make a trip to either the farmer’s market (on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays) or the grocery store and plot dinner. Then, after making a dinner (hopefully something I can blog about) I load the pictures on to Flickr and do some more posting. And then I go to bed.
MICHAEL: What you describe is the single most important practice an aspiring writer can learn. It is, literally if you will, the make or break fact of the aspiring writer’s life: you either have or do not have the capacity to maintain a daily writing routine—same time, for the same amount of time, producing roughly the same quantity of words. You do, thus your book. …What was the hardest part of writing this book?
ADAM: The hardest part about writing the book was keeping myself reigned in. I wanted to travel the world, to write intricate family histories, to translate each recipe into Anicent Greek. My editor (Philip Rappaport) was fantastic at keeping me focused, reminding me that people would read this book because they’re interested in food, not in the 18 cats raised and bred by my Aunt Gladys. (I don’t really have an Aunt Gladys.) But in all seriousness, while my blog often meanders, this book stays on subject and that was a great experience for me to have.
MICHAEL: Another thing I wonder about as bloggers move into authordom is sales. Why should we pay $25 (or $16.50 plus shipping) when we can frolic along with you on your blog for free?
ADAM: I’d like to use a food metaphor: think of my blog as being a chef’s house. People have spent time at my house and eaten the little snacks I’ve prepared in the afternoon while watching "Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure" on DVD: that’s my blog. My book, on the other hand, is my attempt at a four-star restaurant. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph has been picked over, adjusted and positioned to elicit maximum pleasure. The stories in the book are all BIG stories–too big for a blog; they’re also stories I’ve had two years to mull over and consider, to render them with maximum care and skill. Plus the book is shiny. My blog isn’t so shiny.
MICHAEL: Part of your blog persona relies on your being the regular guy on the street, the everyman. Which works great in blog form. Isn’t it then presumptuous to expect to become a Famous Author. Is there a certain amount of hubris required to move with “maximum care and skill” into this new territory?
ADAM: Well here’s the thing: anyone who’s a writer growing up these days has one of two options–they can hold themselves high and write lofty essays about obscure Gallic poetry in leather-bound journals that they will attempt to parlay into a career, or they can start a blog. The drawback to the second option is that there’s a blogging stigma: people think blog and they automatically think "My sister got a pony and I wanted a pony and it’s totally unfair and I hate my life" instead of acknowledging that writing on a blog is still writing and it can be good writing, just as good as writing that’s done anywhere else. So I don’t think it’s presumptuous for a blogger to write a book: I think it’s the future.
MICHAEL: Something that bothers me is the word gourmet. It sounds fey, it sounds so pinkie-in-the-airish. Gourmand I like the sound of a little better, but it’s still got the same problems. What’s your definition of gourmet?
ADAM: A true gourmet is a person who has a real appreciation for and understanding of food. For many, that implies pretension or elitism, but for me it’s an indication of a deep consuming passion; a real zest for living that was best embodied by our greatest gourmet icon, Julia Child. She was a true gourmet.
MICHAEL: Why should we aspire to it?
ADAM: Unlike stamp collecting or model airplane building, we all eat–we have to eat to survive. Anyone can eat to survive, though. What separates us from the animals is our ability to truly appreciate and understand what we’re eating. For example, my old roommate’s girlfriend had a dog and that dog once made a feast of my cat’s kitty litter. That dog’s inability to discern that what it was eating was literally crap is not that different from our own inability to discern that what we’re eating is crap. Once we start caring, though; once we make a decision to care about this simple thing that we do every day, life starts to change. We appreciate things more. Not only that, we begin to realize how bountiful this green earth is and how many GOOD things there are to eat and then we hit ourselves on the head and wonder how we ever ate bad things. And then we go to therapy and talk about our mothers.
MICHAEL: Thanks Adam for taking the time to talk about your work. I trust you’ll stick around for the rest of the day to answer questions if people have them?
ADAM: You bet.
MICHAEL: One last question.
MICHAEL: Who is this Gini Anding character?
ADAM: Any meaningful questions?
Michael: Is that really you on the cover?