Archive | Conversations Over Coffee

Conversations Over Coffee with Andi Cumbo-Floyd

 

One of the biggest blessings of managing Modern Creative Life is the opportunity to connect with fellow writers and creative souls. And, if you’re lucky, those connections grown and develop into friendships that feel loving and nourishing. I met Andi Cumbo-Floyd through her online writing community where she serves as a beacon of light for those of us playing with words (and wanting to publish them in some form) and am grateful to call her a friend, colleague, mentor (and sometimes editor).

That’s why I’m thrilled to be “talking” with Andi Cumbo-Floyd about life, writing, and her latest book (with a pictorial peek into farm life!)

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

Well, since we live about 45 minutes from the nearest coffee shop, why don’t we meet at my dining room table in the farmhouse?  I’ll have a cup of chamomile tea and some shortbread, and of course, I’ll have enough to share.

For those readers not familiar with your work, can you give us a quick synopsis and background on your new book Love Letters to Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling.

Love Letters to Writers is a collection of 52 letters that I’ve written over the past two years to members of the Writing Community I coordinate.  Each week, I write them a letter that is drawn from my own experience, from a question they ask, from something I’ve read, or from a random member – like the time I stuck my finger up a horse’s nose.  Each letter is about the writing life and is written with the hopes that it will give these writers support and the feeling of camaraderie on this writing journey.

I decided to select some of these letters because one of the Community members, Amanda Eastep, suggested that they should be read by more writers, and so, here we are.

Why IS it important to write if you feel the call?

Here’s the truth as I see it – in an ideal world that was free of oppression and injustice, we would all get to do what we loved all the time, and so for those of us who are called to write, I think the world needs our words – and we need them, too.

Each person’s stories – be they fiction, nonfiction, poetry, blogs, news articles, etc – speak of a truth that is unique to that person, and so the world is made richer and brighter when those of us with this particular vocation step into it as fully and completely as we can.

You write several genres: books for writing, fiction, non-fiction. How do you maintain your writing voice across the genres or does the genre influence your writing voice?

Sometimes I wish I could vary my voice more in the different genres I write, but by grace, I discovered the voice of my heart some years ago and now write – as best I can – only from there, even when I’m writing in the voice of a character or exploring history instead of writing.  To be consistent in that voice, I need to stay in touch with my heart because that’s where the truest aspect of my voice lives.

Reaching my heart on busy, hard days is a challenge, but through a ritual of writing that gets me to the page most days, I find that I know how to slide into that space fairly easily. For me, it’s more a matter of listening than producing, listening to what my heart has to say and just following those words.

Are there any threads that consistently run through your work no matter what genre you’re writing?

I’m constantly drawn to the idea of bringing light to injustice. Whether I’m writing about slavery or about the way women are underrepresented by publishers and publications or about the way racism lives in the city I know best, Charlottesville, Virginia, I want to always be trying to show people truth in a way that they can see it.

In what ways does real life inform your writing (and vice versa)?

Well, since I write mostly about the two things that most imbue my days – writing and history – it informs everything I write.  In practical ways, the places I spend time – places where people were enslaved – inform the topics of my writing. And because I make my living as an editor, I spend most of my waking hours considering what makes stories or poems or articles work well and what doesn’t.

In terms of how my writing informs my life, I think the biggest thing there is that writing is how I come to understand my truth about things. It teaches me to see more deeply, to stretch for understanding, and that work makes me, I pray, a more compassionate, loving person.

Most creative folks I know are full of ideas. How do you decide “what’s next” and which idea deserves your attention?

I’d like to say I have some high-minded ideal or publishing plan that determines these things, but honestly, it’s often about energy – what project do I have the energy to complete well in the midst of all the other things I’m working on?  I’m not one of those rare authors who makes their living through book sales, so I always have to think about client projects as well as the work of literary citizenship I do to say connected to and support other writers.

In addition to writing, you also work as an editor. As an editor, what would you like writers to know before sending you their book?

I could fill pages with my answer to this question, but here’s are the two biggest pieces of advice I can give to anyone hiring an editor:

  • Be sure you’ve done everything you can to make your book as strong as possible before you bring someone in to edit. If you already know what to do, it’s a waste of your money and my time. But when you’ve exhausted your know-how, then hire someone to help.
  • Don’t even think about sending your book to an editor if you haven’t read it through, cover to cover. I get so many books that have clearly been piece-mealed together, and a simple read-through would show the writer some of the big weaknesses in their books.

While attending a writer Q&A at my library recently, the writer was asked for some writing advice in a nutshell. She shared this snippet: “Finishing and publishing a book is 20% talent and 80% discipline”. Do you agree? What is it that we all need to know about that double-edged sword called “discipline”?

Oh, I think that writer is totally right there.  The most talented writers I know got to that place by writing regularly and as often as possible. Writing – like most things – is something that requires practice, and so the more we have the discipline to sit down and practice – even without a product in mind – the better our work will be.  So I’m with her there.

But I would also say that burn-out is a real thing for writers, too, especially in our “write more faster” culture, so we have to be wise to build a practice of writing that is life-giving, not draining. And that practice differs from person to person and moment to moment.

What’s your best three pieces of advice for folks that write?

  1. Guard your writing time and space. Treat it as sacred. Don’t give it away unless absolutely necessary.
  2. Finish things. Finish book drafts and blog posts. Finish articles. Finish the books you read. The process of finishing creates a sense of accomplishment and teaches you discipline.
  3. Love on other writers. Share their work. Review their books. Like their posts. It doesn’t take much to help another writer get some traction in the public eye.

And your best two pieces of advice for writers that want to finish and publish?

  1. Set a date by which you will publish and then work back from there to figure out what you need to write when.
  2. Don’t let marketing scare you.  You can try to do everything and get overwhelmed, or you can do what you feel good doing and trust that they people who need your book will find it.

What myths about being a writer (and the writing life) would you like to bust?

Oh, so many.  Fundamentally, though, I’d just like to destroy any of the legends that say every writer has to do any one thing. Not all of us can write at 5am. Not all of us can write with a fountain pen on unlined paper. Not all of us can write well in a coffee shop or in utter silence or at the end of an airport runway.

Every writer is different, and we need to own and love what works for us and do our work there.

Your book is a series of Love Letters, so to speak. What’s you most compassionate advice for when times get discouraging? (Our friends are getting book deals, folks are publishing left and write and we’re struggling, etc.) 

Oh, this is so hard, and I’ve struggled with jealousy and discouragement in some big ways this year.  Here’s what I do: I let myself feel those feelings. I don’t berate myself for being petty or ungrateful. I just feel it.

Then, I celebrate with my friends, even if some of that celebration is an act of hope rather than genuine joy.

Finally, I get back to my work, the words only I can write, the stories only I can tell.  Usually, by the time I reach this point, I remember that it’s the writing that I love, not the accolades.

As we’ve recently discussed and I shared recently here at MCL, though I was “finished” with my next book, I decided it wasn’t ready to publish. How do you make the determination that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to abandon a project – or put it in cold storage.

For me, that decision is usually based on energy. I don’t abandon many things completely, but I do put them aside for the time being. If it feels like I simply cannot get this right with the time and energy I have, I put it away because laboring over something when I’m not able to give my best to it is frustrating and can make me hate the work.

What do you know now that you wish you knew at 32?

Oh, that’s a beautiful question. At 32, I was at the end of a sad but silent divorce after a sad and largely silent marriage. I had just gotten my first full-time job as an English professor, and I was already finding myself overwhelmed by the work that job entailed.  I was pretty sad and lonely, and I was trying to do all the things that I thought I should do – speak at conferences, write academic papers, serve on all the committees.

So I wish I could tell myself of a decade ago, “Lean into your love, Andi. Trust it.  It’ll lead you well. Don’t try to hard. Just be you, and it’ll come together. It really will.”

About the Author: Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives on 15 blissful acres at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 6 goats, 4 dogs, 4 cats, and 22 chickens. Her books include Steele Secrets, Charlotte and the Twelve, The Slaves Have Names, and Writing Day In and Day Out. Her new book, Love Letters to Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling is now available.

You can connect with Andi at her website, andilit.com, or via Facebook and Twitter.

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Conversations Over Coffee: Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe

Everyone has a story an that’s one of the reasons I love reading memoirs: to get to know the events that lead to creating a life. Especially when recovering from difficult life experiences: coming out as gay, the death of a first love, the loss of a beloved family member. After reading her memoir First Signs of April, I couldn’t wait to know more about the author who shared such challenging experiences with a sense of love, grace, and hope.

Here’s a “sit down” with Editor in Chief Debra Smouse and author Mary-Elilzabeth Briscoe

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

At the moment I am in Vermont, so we would meet at Café Gatto Nero and I would enjoy a Mocha, perhaps iced.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I first realized I loved writing stories when I was around twelve years old. I also began journaling at that time and have never stopped.

For those not familiar with your work, tell us about your memoir First Signs of April.

The First Signs of April is my story of healing. The narrative weaves back and forth in time telling the story of my own coming out, losing my girlfriend to suicide at eighteen and then caring for a dying aunt as an adult while preparing for my career as a psychotherapist.

Its about healing, and finding your voice and living an authentic life without shame.

When you wrote First Signs of April, you “ran away from home” and spent a year in Ireland. What led to that decision?

I wouldn’t say I “ran away from” home, rather I ran toward home. I have visited the Dingle peninsula for twenty years and have always felt like I was home while there. My spirit aches for the place and its people when I am gone for long and on a recent holiday with my sister we decided that we’d like to try and live there for a year, and then see what happens. So, we did. Why wait and think about doing it in retirement or some other time? It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

The First Signs of April was nearing completion when I left and I spent my first few months finishing, editing, and querying.

What did you learn about yourself during your time in Ireland? As a human and as a writer.

I rediscovered my authentic self. I learned that being an empathic, sensitive, medium was a gift not a curse nor something to be ashamed of.  I learned that I am a writer and am willing to honor that by actually writing.  I learned that I am blessed with an amazing sister and friend.

The rest of what I learned and how is actually my next book so I’ll let you wait for that one for more.

How do you manage the balance of real life and creative work?

That’s something I’m working on. One way is that I try to honor my writing as sacred time. I am no longer working as a psychotherapist, rather I offer intuitive healing to include Reiki, guidance or medium readings, which allows for writing to be my primary focus.

I am not willing to do anything that doesn’t feed my soul and I think when you make decisions like this the universe opens doors that allow you to continue on your path.

First Signs of April dealt with some heavy topics: coming out, death, grief…how do you keep yourself centered when diving into darker days of your life?

Good question. You do relive all the moments you are writing about and it can be very painful-and its cathartic, healing in itself. Writing is very therapeutic after all. It also helped to have good self -care treats if you will following a day of writing for example. Anything from dinner out-or more likely take out, a silly movie perhaps a long walk with the dog or a motorcycle ride to clear all the days work from my thoughts and feelings.

This is our Light & Shadow issue of Modern Creative Life. How do you find ways to seek to and look to the light and joy?

First I have to always find the light in myself, which I do through meditation, Reiki, writing. I’m not always the best at that and at fall into the darkness a bit. I seek time in nature to remind me of the joy and light in the world and I spend time with people who feed me rather than starve me. I look for their light and joy.

What’s typical day like in your household?

The typical day in my house changes daily-depending on whether I’m at home in Vermont, Cape Cod or Dingle. One consistent is coffee-that’s first no matter where I am.

Then it’s a walk with my dog, feeding him, and then it could be any number of things that follow. I might write for a few hours, meet with the post graduate students that I provide clinical supervision to, have an intuitive healing session, go grocery shopping for my elderly parents, walk on the beach or sit at the lighthouse. It really does depend on where I am.

I am not someone who can tolerate traditional brick and mortar types of jobs, or anything so structured. I have to have space and time and freedom to breathe and create and be my best self so my days aren’t all that structured.

What do you wish you knew at 25 that you know now?

I wish I knew that I didn’t have to feel shame around being my authentic self.

What’s your advice to other writers and creative souls?

This is the then you are waiting for. Don’t wait for someday when everything lines up perfectly to follow your path. Make the path and everything will unfold as it should. Have faith and take the leap and never lose sight of your own light and all that you have to offer the world.

About the Author: Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe

MaryElizabeth Briscoe is a licensed mental health counselor currently on sabbatical from her private psychotherapy practice in northeastern Vermont. She currently spends her time between Cape Cod, Vermont, and Ireland. She has a masters degree in clinical mental health counseling from Lesley University and is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and a Certified Trauma Professional. She has been a lecturer for Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies St. Johnsbury, Vermont campus. She has contributed to Cape Woman Online and Sweatpants and Coffee magazine. This is her first book.  Visit her website, her Facebook, and on Twitter.

Her memoir – First Signs of April –  is now available.

Conversations Over Coffee: Sue Hallgarth

I have to confess: there’s nothing I love more than a great mystery wrapped up in the world of a favorite author. So, when I read Sue Hallogarth’s mix of Historical Fiction with Mystery in her book Death Comes, I was hooked. Once I saw it in black and white, who couldn’t imagine Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Willa Cather being a great amateur detective?

I wanted to know more about bringing a real person to life in fiction…and the woman behind it. Here’s a “sit down” with Editor in Chief Debra Smouse and author Sue Hallgarth.

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

Where and what would I order?

My favorite coffee shop is Satellite Coffee on Alameda Boulevard, part of a local chain near our home in Corrales, NM. My drink of choice: white chocolate mocha latte.

For those not familiar with my work, information about my Willa Cather and Edith Lewis series.

My Willa Cather and Edith Lewis series consists of entertaining mysteries that give readers a glimpse into the life and work of Willa Cather, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, and Edith Lewis, her talented life partner.

In the first one, On the Rocks, set in 1926, Willa and Edith are staying in the cottage they built as part of a women’s summer colony on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada, where Willa is writing Shadows on the Rock. In the second, Death Comes, set in 1929, Willa and Edith are in Taos, New Mexico staying with Mabel Dodge Luhan while Willa works on Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Both mysteries are located in places where Willa and Edith actually stayed and feature people they really knew. And in both, Willa and Edith help to solve fictional murders. Since Willa and Edith did a great deal of traveling, the possibilities for additional mysteries in the series are many.

Where did the plot ideas come from for Death Comes?

Willa and Edith return for a visit to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s pink adobe in Taos, New Mexico. Luhan is well known for surrounding herself with writers and artists, and several are there at the time. Willa is working on Death Comes for the Archbishop, Edith is sketching Taos Pueblo and hoping for a visit to the nearby D.H. Lawrence ranch, which Luhan originally traded for the manuscript of Sons and Lovers.

The previous summer Edith and Willa had stumbled onto a women’s body. Now the headless bodies of two more Mexican women add to the mystery. The authorities seem only mildly interested, so Willa and Edith take it upon themselves to encourage action, which takes place in Taos and at the D.H. Lawrence ranch, twenty miles away.

When I started Death Comes, I was certain of the locations and characters based on actual people, but I had no idea of the plot or what was behind the crimes. The characters took care of that. Each day I sat down to write I would think through them—what would they say, do, see, think; who needs to be where doing what; who do I need to invent?

I just followed through and enjoyed the writing.

What piqued my interest in Willa Cather and stoked my passion about her as a human being and a writer?

I first got interested in Willa Cather in 1983 when I attended a week-long Willa Cather International Seminar in Hastings and Red Cloud, Nebraska.

That particular seminar happened when I had a small research grant to examine primary materials at archives and pioneer sites in the Plains states for a project on pioneer women in fact and fiction. It was a difficult project. No one had yet thought to catalog archival papers under the names of females, only under their husbands’ or family names.

I also read a lot of fiction about women on the frontier (very few women’s diaries had then been published), I did a lot of driving to locate archives, and I spent a great deal of time searching through archival papers to find diaries and records by women. The Cather seminar seemed like a godsend: here my research would have already been done by others and several hundred people would have collected to talk about it.

The seminar was great fun, and like a good academic, I prepared by reading all of Cather’s novels and the suggested criticism. By the time it started, I knew Cather and loved her. Seminar leaders took us to see Cather’s childhood home and showed us all the relevant sites around Red Cloud where Cather grew up and held fascinating discussions about the assigned critical and biographical material. But something was missing: the Willa Cather I “knew.”

These were the days of pre-feminism and homophobia among Cather scholars and biographers.

Cather herself had forbidden publication of her letters so those that were available could only be read (and not quoted) in research archives. Several letters were actually housed on microfilm in Red Cloud, but when I read them, I found only one letter from Cather to her partner of forty years, Edith Lewis. And that letter had lines oddly distorted and rendered undecipherable. Edith Lewis was also omitted from discussions about Cather or represented dismissively as her secretary or “companion,” never as the editor and advertising professional she actually was. The only evidence of their relationship available then was Edith Lewis’ memoir, Willa Cather Living, and that was dismissed as much less reliable than another memoir by Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, a journalist and former friend Cather had not seen in years.

So here was a mystery: who was the real Willa Cather? What was her relationship with others, especially with Edith Lewis? And how should we understand her fiction? I began to find the answers by doing research and crafting papers on Cather’s novels to present at professional meetings.

But once I was convinced of her actual relationship with Lewis, I realized I needed to do a biography of Cather before I wrote another word. That started a ten-year project, reading everything Cather wrote, including her letters located in archives across the United States. I found she was exactly the person I “knew” back in 1983.

By 1987 Sharon O’Brien had officially “revealed” that Cather was a lesbian, but for O’Brien and other biographers, Lewis was still Cather’s secretary or “companion.”  Cather, one biographer claimed, was “too dedicated to her art” to have time for any of “that.”

There was more work to do. I continued to do research and in the 1990s discovered that for twenty years Cather and Lewis had been part of a women’s summer colony on Grand Manan in New Brunswick, Canada.  But academic journals and even feminist scholars shunned my articles because I questioned (indeed challenged) O’Brien’s analysis that Cather herself was homophobic and as a result became reclusive and depressed. Their rejections led me to write my first piece of fiction, a mystery about Cather and Lewis on Grand Manan titled On the Rocks.

Then I left academia, started another line of work, moved to New Mexico, and put On the Rocks on the shelf. It stayed on the shelf for twenty years until I joined a writers’ group and found that I had an interesting manuscript in a changed world, so changed that even The New Yorker now has acknowledged Cather’s greatness as a writer and celebrated her partnership with Lewis (see most recently the wonderful article “A Walk in Willa Cather’s Prairie” by Alex Ross, October 2, 2017).

How did I decide to use Willa Cather as a character in not just historical fiction, but a mystery series?

For me the question was how to interest readers, not just academic scholars, in what I had to say about Willa Cather. I could have tried historical fiction, but I wanted a “hook.”

It so happened that I was standing front of the real Cather/Lewis Cottage at Whale Cove Cottages on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada, when it occurred to me that someone might easily fall off a nearby two-hundred foot cliff into the Bay of Fundy. In my mind’s eye, I saw a body plunge over the edge and plummet into the rocks below. That image determined Cather and Lewis would become my fictional sleuths.

How do I blend my fictional world with characters based on real people, and how do l stick to facts and blend my own creation in with it?

I start with facts and real people, then ask “What if?” I already know a great deal about the facts, the people, and the places, so my answers to “What if ” take care of my own creation.

There continues to be speculation and denial about Cather’s personal life and sexual orientation. What is my take on her life and why folks are still so curious about what goes on behind closed doors?

Cather was a professional writer. She and Edith Lewis were career women at a time when concepts about the “New Woman” made it possible for them to have careers but not for them to be unmarried women sharing a household if that also meant sharing a bed. They did what they could to earn their living and to be respectable, successful, and respected.

These things—earning a living and being respectable—did not always go together. But for them, they did. It was not easy, but they “closed their doors,” and while their closed doors may have invited curiosity, they revealed nothing.

Closed doors always invite curiosity.

When did I first know I was a writer?

I’ve always written off and on—poetry, academic papers, a few stabs at short stories—but I began to think I might be a writer of fiction when I wrote On the Rocks.

How do I manage the balance of real life and creative work?

Not well or I’d have written more and sooner. I have a full life and a good one. I’ve had several “careers,” which means I’m right in step with my time. These days everyone should expect to have at least three “careers,” not just jobs but actual careers. I live in Corrales, a beautiful New Mexico village near Albuquerque, where I participate as much as I can in community affairs, and I am happily married (my wife and I have been together thirty years now) and take care of our five dogs, two horses, miniature donkey, and ten chickens. When I can, I slip away into my other world and write.

A typical day in our household?

I get up and feed the dogs and barnyard animals, then I sit in my lounge chair, read the news, snooze, and sometimes think about what I will write. Then I do more chores and sometimes write. By six p.m. I’m interested in dinner and a little television—Rachel Maddow and something after that that I don’t have to think about—then bed. Not very interesting, perhaps, but then I’m retired. Sort of. The only important variation these days happens when we take off in our Roadtrek camper van. Even then I find I can write when the story is ready. Otherwise the scenery is always lovely.

What do I wish I knew at 30 that I know now?

To relax. At fifty, I realized I didn’t have to live my life by other people’s expectations. Since then I have confirmed the truth in that. Freedom is wonderful. You can do all kinds of things you didn’t know you could do, even write a novel.

What advice have I for other writers and creative souls?

For writers, always be curious and read. Read everything. Learn all you can. And write. Write as much as you can and don’t be afraid to show other writers your work. Then pay attention to what they say. Pick your readers well. Don’t do everything they tell you to do, but pay close attention. The same goes for all creative souls. Learn all you can from those doing what you want to do, then do it, do it as well as you can, and keep doing it.

About the Interviewee

Sue Hallgarth is former English professor. She has written scholarly articles on Willa Cather and Edith Lewis, and this is her second book of fiction featuring the two of them. Her first book in the series On The Rocks, set in 1929 on the island of Grand Manan in New Brunswick, Canada. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico.

Conversations Over Coffee: Pre-Orders, Reviews, & More by Daryl Wood Gerber

I asked a few of my author friends to answer a couple of questions about publishing. Hopefully their answers will enlighten those of you who are, or aspire to be, authors. I think you’ll see a trend.

The authors who participated include (Editor’s Note: Links go to each author’s website) :

Why are pre-orders important? 

Jenn: Probably, there is a very specific answer that I’m unaware of, but I think they’re important because publishers track your sales and all pre-orders get counted up the week that the book goes on sale. Big numbers mean your publisher will pay attention and your books will get better placement, bigger print runs, more publicity – basically you’ll stay employed!

Kaye: Because they are sales, and sales mean income. If you’re with a large publisher, they can help to push your visibility for them.

Lucy aka Roberta: Pre-orders demonstrate to the publisher that the book will have an audience, and that is a good thing, as they are more likely to get behind it with their own publicity.

Hannah: I like to say that pre-ordering your book is akin to the importance of sales taken at the box office for the opening weekend of a Hollywood movie. Pre-ordering a book creates buzz and hopefully shows the publisher that readers are eager to buy your book i.e. is the print run big enough for the demand? The other thing, too, is that if the publisher believes your new book is going to be popular, they will want more in the series.

Krista: Most authors dream of making bestseller lists, and pre-orders can give you the boost you need. Pre-orders count as sales during the release week when a book usually has the most sales. Add pre-sales and first week sales together, and that week is your best chance of selling enough books to make a bestseller list. In addition, pre-orders tell bookstores how a book might sell. If there are a lot of pre-orders, it signals an interest in the book to bookstores and book chains. They may even increase the number of books they order to accommodate the interest in the book. And when bookstores increase their orders, it can even kick your book into a second printing, which will make the author and the publisher very happy. It doesn’t stop there. If you have a lot of pre-orders and a second printing is necessary, your publisher will take note and it can have an impact on how your publisher treats your next book.

Some retailers will use a book to draw customers by lowering the price. I see this a lot with Walmart. Retailers have bots that search online prices so they can match or beat them. I’m only guessing, but if your book is getting a lot of pre-orders, it will be a more attractive book to discount, which means more sales.

Daryl: I can’t state it better than what my pals have stated. I believe pre-orders help bookstores know what is hot and what is not. They are all “sales” in the long-run, so they help those first week’s numbers, but the buzz in the industry comes from pre-sales.

Why are reviews important? 

Kaye: Because many readers rely on reviews. This is more important if your books are not in bookstores since browsers can’t pick up the novel and leaf through it.

Lucy aka Roberta: Reviews help potential readers and librarians and bookstores decide to give the book a try!

Hannah: To be honest, I have mixed feelings about reviews.  Five star reviews (especially on Amazon) do something exciting with the algorithms meaning that your book pops up as a must-read. Starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal are highly coveted. But others … well … so much depends on the source.

Jenn: This I have to answer as a librarian. Bottom line: reviews tell readers whether they’ll like the book or not. Even a bad review will get me to buy. For example, if the reviewer hates something – quirky characters or a small town setting – that I love, their review will likely make me buy the book. Also, the more reviews a book gets, the more attention people will pay to it. Win-win.

Krista: I do a lot of shopping online (don’t we all?). And I put a lot of weight on reviews. This isn’t rocket science. If I’m interested in a dress and everyone has given it one star, I’m going to think there’s something wrong with the fit or the fabric. When I order cat food, I look for five-star reviews. Everyone knows how finicky cats are. If everyone’s cats like it, maybe my picky puss will, too. Of course, everything is subjective. I may love a book that someone else dislikes. I think it’s trickier to rely on reviews of books because tastes in books vary widely. Having said the obvious, I’ll now go into the rocket science part of the importance of reviews. Amazon sells more books than anyone. Their algorithms are not a mystery. There are plenty of articles about them and most mention that the number of reviews impact ranking. I’m told (and my experience seems to be consistent with this), that the more reviews a book has, the more advertising the book gets from Amazon. I assume the number of stars plays a role here.

Daryl: I think reviews help readers know what is good and what isn’t. I think some reviewers can be petty, but savvy readers can discern that. My big belief regarding reviews is that the publisher is excited to see what readers are saying about a book – it helps them get excited about a book, especially a new series. In addition, I agree with Krista, that the algorithm that works on many of the online sites, due to reviews, really drives up how that site will promote the book. You know those little suggestions that, for example, Amazon comes up with when you buy a book and you see “people who ordered this book might like this book”  (and then you see a string of mini book covers)? I believe reviews drive those types of marketing tools.

What’s your next project?

Kaye: The Vintage Sweets cozy series set in Fredericksburg TX, from Lyrical Press, 2018

Jenn:  Currently, I’m working on the 9th Library Lover’s Mystery, A FINE DAY FOR MURDER, coming Nov 2018!  DEATH IN THE STACKS comes out this November. And my romance, BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE, is just out.

Krista: I have three projects in progress. For dog and cat lovers, NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING will be released in November. COLOR ME MURDER, the first book in my new Pen & Ink Mystery series comes out in February. And you can color the cover! Finally, the Domestic Divas will be back in June with THE DIVA COOKS UP A STORM.

Lucy aka Roberta: Next project is the eighth book in the Key West Food Critic mystery series featuring Hayley Snow, 2018.

Hannah: I’m excited about a new series that is set in the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish mainland (Poldark fans will know where this is). I’m also thrilled that the Vicky Hill Mysteries (four books) will be re-released in the USA  by Hatchette in 2018.

Daryl: Next up for me is the first in the French Bistro Mysteries, A Deadly Éclair, which debuts November 7.  In 2018, I will have two new books coming out. The second in the French Bistro Mysteries, Soufflé of Suspicion (July) and the sixth in the Cookbook Nook Mysteries, Pressing the Issue (May).

Wishing you all good writing and great reviews!

About the Author: Daryl Wood Gerber

Agatha Award-winning Daryl Wood Gerber writes the brand new French Bistro Mysteries as well as the nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries. As Avery Aames, she pens the popular Cheese Shop Mysteries.

A Deadly Êclair, the first French Bistro Mystery, comes out November 2017.

Daryl also writes stand-alone suspense: Day of Secrets and Girl on the Run. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, and she has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!

Connect with Daryl (and her alter ego Avery): Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Daryl on Twitter | Avery on Twitter

Living Out Loud with Lawrence Davanzo

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
–Rabindranath Tagore

When my husband retired four years ago, he heard the same chorus: “You’re going to be so bored!” I suppose I could see their point (sort of) – my husband was stepping away from a forty-year career, during which he’d built his own company, served as President of another, and was so respected in his industry that when he returned to work after a larry1three-year hiatus in 2004, he hired nearly a dozen former employees within two months. My husband’s identity is fueled first and foremost by his role as a father, but as far as making his mark on the world, it was his career that steered the ship.

So for those who knew him primarily in that universe, it shouldn’t have been terribly surprising that their reaction to the news of his retirement was an assumption that he would turn the corner away from his work life only to find a barren stretch of land where nothing more than a few lone tumbleweeds bounced by from time to time. My husband was driven, ambitious, and successful, so how on earth was he going to find fulfillment once he had all the time in the world?

Here’s the thing about my husband that might have surprised those who couldn’t imagine him living a happy life without his suit, tie, and title – work was never his number one thing. It was never all-consuming. It wasn’t even a part of him I knew much about during the first two years of our relationship because he was on a sabbatical when we met. I heard stories and saw glimpses, but it wasn’t something I experienced firsthand until he returned to work.

Even then, and over the course of the ensuing eight years before he retired for good, I never saw my husband as a workaholic. larry2Aside from travel and the occasional business dinner, when he came home at the end of the day, he was home. When we went on vacation, we were on vacation. He never brought his laptop to bed and he never spent a Saturday on a golf course with clients. So when someone proclaimed he would end up being bored without his work, we both laughed, knowing these comments were more likely a reflection of what the prospect of a life beyond work and career would mean for them rather than what was true for my husband.

Four years later, we’re still laughing – and slightly gobsmacked – to find he is not only not bored, but more active than ever. He has continued to do the things he could only do on the weekends while he was working – bike riding, playing violin, reading – and now has the time and space to dive deeper into other passions and interests that he’s had for most of his life. He isn’t merely taking more photographs – an interest that first took hold when he was given a camera as a ten-year old – he attended a photography workshop in Berlin, had a solo show in Los Angeles, and goes on photo shoots with Santi Visalli – one of the most renowned photographers of celebrities and public figures of the last four decades.

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My husband is also on the phone a lot. Friends and former colleagues call him frequently for advice, guidance, and encouragement. He coaches and advises his son and son-in-law – both entrepreneurs with their own businesses – on everything from cash flow to employee relations. It also isn’t unusual to hear him perusing the pages of his favorite larry3cookbook while chatting with his best friend – a chef who helped ignite my husband’s passion for cooking.

Here’s another thing my husband (well, most of us, really) hears a lot: life is short. My husband happens to think the opposite is true. In his opinion, life is long. At first, I thought he had it backwards. Life isn’t long, I’d think, Life whizzes by faster than I can keep track of. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate his way of thinking. It might seem like the entirety of my life up to this moment has traveled along at warp speed, but when I stop and take a closer look at all the adventures I’ve had, I see how much is there. How could I have experienced as much as I have unless life were, in fact, long?

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Boredom is simply not in my husband’s vocabulary, and because his approach to life is that there is plenty of time to do the things he loves, he has been able to find that elusive balance between exuberant creativity and much-needed, well-deserved downtime. In between his bike rides and photo shoots and music gatherings, he writes letters to his granddaughter and reads at least one book a week. He takes naps. He plays with our dog. He loves washing our cars. He is the same man he’s always been – curious, engaged, and eager to live out loud.

Learn more at www.lawrencedavanzo.com.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who just completed Moving Water, a memoir about the spiritual journey she’s taken with her family.

You can follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

Conversations Over Coffee: Rochelle Vincente Von K

Conversations Over Coffee with MCL

Interacting with talented human beings doing delicious things in the world is one of my greatest joys and pleasures. Add a healthy dose of chocolate and it’s a treat like no other. I remember the first time I encountered Lover Chocolate; I had to know more about the story behind this “shamanic heart food.”

I think you’ll find this Conversation Over Coffee as luscious as the chocolate. Meet Rochelle Vincente Von K.!

Tell us about your background… how your childhood affected your choices, your training, how did you come to choose music (and food) as your profession, etc.

I was born in Austria and grew up in Australia. Even though I was in Australia my parents spoke German at home and I didn’t learn English until I went to school. My parents stayed in touch with all the Austrian traditions so I grew up as an Austrian Australian. Fully immersed in both cultures!

I had an awesome brother, Herbert, who was born healthy, vaccine, injured and became severely brain-damaged and autistic; this all happened before I was born, he was my big brother. We had an amazing relationship and looked after each other, but there was always an incredible amount of pain in watching him suffer so deeply. I still carry that.

When I was nine,  I decided I wanted to contribute to the world and suggested to mum I ask the shop down the road if I can dust their shelves!!! My mum suggested if I want to work, then perhaps I could do something where I earn a little more per hour!

I was enrolled in a modelling school as a test to see if I’d like it, and then won Miss Junior Victoria! I started in a kid’s agency but was then accepted as the youngest child model in an adult agency in Australia, and from there I was off and away! … Vogue, Harper’s Bizarre, Elle Magazine, etc.

Through castings,  I got acting gigs, and started working as a professional dancer, and then went into singing after Femi Taylor (Oola from Return of the Jedi) wanted me to audition for her band while she was off to England for Christmas. She asked me if I sang, I said ‘Yes, in the shower”. I auditioned and to my surprise got the gig.

It really was just rolling from one thing to another, it kinda chose me, and I never went to school to learn it, I just had great classes and workshops on weekends when I wasn’t working or at school. I studied with the best singing teachers, acting coaches, dance teachers, etc. in my down time.

When I think back now though, I am surprised because it came so naturally. I already knew what to do; they were simply fine tuning me. And even when I was off track, such as working for Virgin Cinemas in Brighton, UK in-between gigs, that popcorn chick job led me to touring with Dubstar and The Lightening Seeds.

Same with the food, coming from an Austrian household it was normal to cook quite extravagant things… so while I was living in England, because it rained so much, the thing to do was experiment with food. I had health issues and I needed to create more interesting things to eat with my limiting diet… and long story short, that is how my raw chocolate company was born.

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What fascinates us even more than the any facet of your professional world, how you nourish your craft as a musician and actor….tell us about that.

I try to look after myself. I am deeply inspired by nature, snow, hot springs, but I also love galleries, movies and parties. I try to live as intuitive to my nature as possible.

I got very overwhelmed when I started to realize, in life, that the more you know, the less you actually know, so I stopped beating myself up about that ! I’ve integrated my art into my life and who I am, but then, I did start when I was 9! So in a way it’s all I’ve ever known.

Can you tell us more about your music? How do you produce your unique electronic sound?

I have always been inspired by electronica. I love everything, but English and German electronica spoke to me to my core as a kid. So I moved there and got busy!

It depends on the situation. Sometimes I will program up my own beats, chords and then write the lyrics and melodies over that, give it to a producer and he can work on the music programming side. Or I’ll collaborate with a producer where he gives me music to write over. I prefer to collaborate with people than write on my own. Now I have a band with a guitarist, Nazim Chambi, and drummer, Ryan Carnes, I haven’t worked with a drummer for a long time, so it’ll be really interesting to see how we write together !!! I’m excited to see this new era unfold.

Writing music is another thing I fell into.

My boyfriend in Australia (at the time) and I decided to record some music. I thought he was going to write songs for me to sing, and he turned to me and said ‘no, I am giving you the music, you are doing the rest!’ I nearly fell off my chair, talk about tough love! I asked how he thought I would do that and he said ‘You’ve heard a song right? Go listen to some songs you like!’ I was SO mad at him !!! The funny thing is, the very first song we wrote was chosen by a famous Australian artist for their album, but they wanted to take my name off it and put theirs on, so I’d be a ghost writer. And I said no.

In what way did the beat of the waltz call to you? And how did you shift to your ethereal sound after earlier working with a more “punk” style of music?

It was another case of falling into it… I was working on some songs with the amazing music producer Stephen Hague, and in my down time I started working on this other project. I essentially wrote 2 albums at the same time. So much music was coming out of me that I was literally looping beats in Logic Audio, writing AND recording the lyrics and melodies in real time. Most of the waltz album is first takes as I was discovering the songs myself. It was a magical time, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that again !

My band with music producer Marc Adamo, Product.01, was song based but thrown into the dance world, so we were quite different to everything else going on at the time, and I’m not sure we ever really fit in but that’s the world that adopted us. It was a fun ride!

My vocals have always been naturally ethereal thou so this feels like the logical next step.

Your music videos are so full of nuance, beauty, and edginess.  Tell our readers more about concept of music to recording to creating a video.

Thank you for saying so, it means a lot. We didn’t have a budget for the music video. So we were limited but it was a fun process. For myself personally, the music video process is the same as any other creative process in my life. I wait for the signs and I go with them. I wait for the music to tell me what it wants. Sometimes I’ll have an idea but then as it evolves it’ll lead to a completely different place. Then working with the director Jeff Skeirik was a beautiful process because he’s great at putting a story together.

My brain explodes off in a zillion directions. I love music videos that don’t necessarily make sense as I’m a very visual person and I fall in love with the little things…And Jeff would help me reel it in. I have never in my life lacked creativity in any area, but I do wait for the impulse and then it’s more about pulling it back.

When I first moved to LA I was taken to the Day Of The Dead festival at Hollywood Forever and it had a deeper impact. I love the way Mexicans celebrate rebirth. Jeff was with me that day, which is interesting, as at the time we had no idea that some years later we would be making this video!    (Here’s a link to the video for Blazing, Directed by Jeff Skeirik)

With my next single Deal Me In, I hadn’t even thought about the music video for it, but this week it started speaking to me, life started putting things in my path for it, and I’m listening!

And how is it recording VS live gigs?

I love both. I find studio work more inner, and live is very outer.  Studio is a quiet process for me and live is loud! I have never liked being on stage to be honest. What I love is connecting with the band and going into that place together, and then the audience feels that and joins us. Music creates a remarkable energetic connection, especially when you are playing at a music festival surrounded by nature. You have nature, sunset or stars, music and people all vibing together. Magic!

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You are a singer, a songwriter, an actress, a dancer. How/when did you find yourself entering the world of Lover Raw Chocolate?

It’s a challenge. I had a car accident and had to pull back from everything in order to heal from a brain injury, and it forced me to restructure everything, because I couldn’t do anything! I am in talks with a manufacturer regarding taking Lover to the next level. It’s physically impossible for 1 person to do everything … the chocolate started as band merchandise, instead of t-shirts, super food chocolate! I never imagined it would take off as it has!

Tell us about your Reiki work.

Another accident I stumbled upon! My band way back when was in the countryside in England at a friend’s cottage, and his mum happened to be teaching a Japanese Reiki Level 1 course.  It was already full but we crashed the course! I was very skeptical at first, and almost sarcastic about it… but it very quickly showed me whose boss, I was whipped into place! As it turns out I was lucky to learn from one of the best Reiki Masters in England, who knew?!

Then I figured since it’s free energy, and you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube, you can’t unlearn what you learn,  so since that weekend I have done my daily practice and never skipped a day since 1999…  and let’s just say, it’s accumulative ! Additionally I certainly never planned to be a Reiki Master Teacher, have clients and students around the world, and a Reiki App called 97 Reiki Tips! (Which is for entry-level students, before they begin).

I was actually a closet Reiki person for many years but after some unquestionable life saving miracles I knew I had to share it. So, it’s been quite the unexpected journey!

How does your Reiki work influence your music? And how has it influenced your Lover Chocolate recipe. Be as detailed as you like here. I think our readers will eat this up!

I do my daily practice so that keeps me healthy and energized, and clears out anything that shouldn’t be there, but also I have had rare situations where I have been sick and needed to sing that evening. I remember one particular time Product.01 had a live performance on a TV show in Manchester and my throat was so sore I could barely swallow. We caught the train up from London and I was terrified! I kept my hands on my throat and did a treatment all the way up and by the time we got there it had cleared and I was so much better, and could sing!

Since everything I do tends to dovetail somehow, I formulated the Lover recipe based on the hara energy points (from the traditional Japanese Reiki system), known as The Three Diamonds! The Three Diamonds correspond to the energies of Earth; our base hara – Maca, Heaven; our Pineal Gland – Purple Corn Extract, and Oneness of Heart – Raw Chocolate!

What are your personal chocolate eating habits?

Gosh! My chocolate habits have always been pretty crazy. Ask my mum about having to hide chocolate from my brother and I in all corners of the house, hiding it so well she didn’t know where she’d hid it, and we’d still find it. Or it’d end up dripping out from under a deck chair she forgot about and was sitting on. I would be able to inform my friends which shops were selling the freshest chocolate that week! So nothing has changed, it’s just now I eat wild heirloom stoneground super food chocolate with no refined sugar or dairy. My breakfast consists of a green juice and raw chocolate. Always!

Would you like to tell us about your music and how that intersects with your love of chocolate?

It doesn’t really come together like that. I was having serious health problems in England and had to get creative, as I am a foodie to the core. So when I needed a break from the studio I’d be in the kitchen doing some raw chocolate wizardry. It was also great for touring because often you arrive in a new city and shops are closed, there’s nothing to eat, so it would keep me going. In that sense I guess the raw chocolate would fuel my ability to perform on the road.

Italian Vegan product shot

You have a lot of chocolate accolades on your site. What are you most proud of?

Doing the Academy Awards dressing rooms and green room year after year has been exciting. Especially when you hear of certain actors calling The Academy specifically requesting they have my chocolate in their dressing room again! I make this chocolate for everyone; the success it’s had has been an organic process (pardon the pun)! But any acknowledgement from someone who has positively influenced my life means a lot.

Will you tell us about your production process for your chocolates (and where is it made)?

I currently make the chocolate myself, yes really, it’s artisan madness! But that’s changing, because otherwise it can’t reach all the people constantly complaining that they can’t access it easily, so I’m really excited about that. The rest will have to remain a mystery for now!

How about the name? I think our readers would love to know more about “the lover”!

So many reasons! Raw chocolate is a shamanic heart food, abundant in nutrients; vitamins & antioxidants, with over 300 compound minerals. I joke about eating it a lot but I actually don’t advise that for most people. I have always been able to eat large amounts of it as I had a magnesium and iron deficiency and it healed that amongst other things. Most people should only really have 2-3 hearts of Lover Raw Chocolate a day. It’s raw, it doesn’t have fillers, it’s infused with other super foods, and it’s potent.

Raw chocolate opens the heart due to the magnesium (back in the day doctors used to inject a property of it into heart attack patients to revive them!), it releases bliss chemicals in the brain.. also vanilla (which is cooling when consumed) wraps itself around cacao trees (which is warming when consumed) in the rainforest, so they are literally lovers.. Cacao trees sustain rainforests and the wildlife within it, plus the more trees the more oxygen for us, so the more consciously sourced chocolate we eat the better it is for our planet. And I wanted to see the word love on billboards around the world.

We all need more love. It’s just one big LOVE fest.

We certainly loved our conversation with Rochelle Vincente Von K!  Connect with Rochelle on her website.  You’ll also find her on YouTube  | Instagram | Twitter . Learn more about Lover Raw Chocolate here.

Photos by Alex Huggan

About the Interview: Sue Ann Gleason

Sue Ann GleasonNourishment guide, SoulCollage® Facilitator, and ‘wise business’ strategist, Sue Ann Gleason is a lover of words, a strong believer in the power of imagination, and a champion for women who want to live a more delicious, fully expressed life. She has been featured in Oprah and Runner’s World magazines and numerous online publications.

When not working with private clients or delivering online programs, Sue Ann can be found sampling exotic chocolates or building broccoli forests in her mashed potatoes.

You can connect with her in a few different places. Delicious freebies await you!
nourished living | wise business | instagram

Conversations Over Coffee: Mario Batali

Conversations Over Coffee with MCL

 

In November, 2008, I had the great pleasure of interviewing one of my favorite celebrity chefs, Mario Batali for All Things Girl. Our phone call was only about twenty minutes long, but he talks even faster than I do (people who know me will be impressed by this), and we covered a lot in a relatively brief time.

We’re re-running this piece today (with a few edits), because it’s one of our favorite pieces, and because all of us on the editorial staff here at Modern Creative Life love to play in our own kitchens, and believe that cooking is just as much a creative pursuit as writing, art, or music.

Enjoy!

Mario Batali

First, tell us a bit about yourself: How did you get into food? How does someone from the West Coast end up in New Jersey?
I grew up in Seattle to a half-Italian half-French-Canadian family. We were always into food. Everyone in my entire family: my uncles, my aunts, my cousins, my brother, sister, mom, dad. Everybody I know knew how to cook and was interested in food from the inception of picking something or growing something, picking things wild or harvesting them, or shooting birds or fishing and doing the whole thing.

My grandfather was actually a game guide in British Columbia, and brought home lots of moose and elk and all sorts of weird stuff for us to eat – so it was always part of our lives.

When I was fourteen, my family moved to Madrid, Spain. My dad worked with Boeing, so we had some kind of foreign brat lifestyle over in Madrid, which was delightful. And when it was time to go to college, it would seem to me that it would be easier to get to the east coast than to anywhere else, and I had never been to the east coast, let alone anywhere east of Idaho, for that matter.

Oh, wow. Was there culture shock?
You know what? I fell in love with it immediately. I don’t know that my brother or sister would have been ready for it, but after I spent a year there, my brother came and went to Princeton, just down the street. (I went to Rutgers.) I fell in love with New Jersey. I liked the idea of being close to New York without being in New York at that early age, and I went to school to get a degree in Spanish Theatre of the Golden Age and in finance, or economics.

I did that, but while I was doing it, I worked at a place called “Stuff Yer Face” which is a Stromboli and pizzeria in New Brunswick, and fell in love with the immediacy of a dinner rush and – kind of – my ability to actually react well under pressure and cook very quickly as well as making something delicious, so that’s really the start.

Food was obviously a big part of your family, as you’ve said, and you mentioned growing it as well, which brings me to my next question: The concept of “slow foods” and buying local and eating local is very popular right now. What are your thoughts on that?

Long before it was considered a “carbon footprint massacre” to ship things around the world, I have always been a fan of local produce, and for one reason only – a very selfish reason: it’s easier to make food taste delicious if it hasn’t had to travel very far.

Understanding seasonality is something that is born into Italian people’s mentality, when they’re in Italy. Americans have been able to eat asparagus on Christmas Eve for as long as I’ve been alive, and that’s one of the tragedies of successful commercial farming is that in fact it removes seasonality from things. It also removes the kind of high points that you can get when you eat something that is in season, so I’m all about eating seasonally, eating and buying locally, and supporting farmers whose names you actually know.

And what you’ll capture is: when you’re tasting something in Parma, on a Thursday afternoon in October, and it’s either right in the middle of, or right before or right after the grape harvest and you taste a plate of prosciutto – nothing more, just a simple plate of prosciutto, maybe with some bread on the side – you can smell in the food everything that’s going on around you in the atmosphere. You can smell the way the – kind of – wind smells, and the flavor of the localness, and if you can capture that in whatever part of the country that you’re at, then you have done a great job as a cook, and understanding and working with that kind of local flavor is something that is so unique.

What happened a lot of times in the fancy restaurant world of the last twenty years is that a luxury item became the item that everyone wanted to have, so they had caviar and they had fois gras and they had all this stuff that had really nothing to do with the place that you’re at. What I’m looking for – when I go somewhere traveling, what I’m looking for is something that is geo-specific, something that tastes like it could only be had here, and that – in Texas – could be any kind of barbecue; it could be any kind of crazy onion; it could be any kind of good chili. It could be made by anybody and it doesn’t have to be fancy, but what it has to do is represent that local flavor.

You’ve mentioned living in Spain as a teenager. Did that experience have anything to do with the decision to make your show On the Road Again: Spain [PBS, Fall 2008]?
Yes, well. When I started to talk about the producer – about us doing TV – and he said, “Well how about doing something on Spain which is an undiscovered jewel?”

And I said, “Well, that’s a great idea. I would love to go back to all my old stomping grounds,” and as it turns out, I was at a dinner party and Gwyneth [Paltrow] was at it and we’ve been friends for about ten years and I was talking to everyone at the table about this kind of new show idea that we were working on, and she demanded to be let in, and it was – I thought she was just being polite.

About two months later, when she heard it being talked about again by somebody else, and I wasn’t there, she called me and said – to make sure that I didn’t cut her out – and that kind of worked. So she also spent some time in high school as an exchange student in Talavera de la Reina, I think it was, outside of Madrid.

And so, the whole Spanish thing is to go back and see how it’s changed – I lived there when [Generalissimo] Franco just had died – and to see how it has come a thousand miles and become the forefront of molecular gastronomy, in addition to being still very much its traditional –kind of – old world self was an easy layup for me, and traveling around, I think it looks like we’re having fun, because in fact we are having fun.

Let’s talk more about Spain. What typifies the cuisine of Spain, as opposed to other Latin countries? We in America tend to think of Latin food as primarily Mexican.
I would say that when you talk about European food, it isn’t really Latin. I would say it’s Mediterranean at that point, and that kind of adds a component to it. Clearly like a lot of southern French cooking, like a lot of northern African cooking, and like all Italian cooking, it’s really based on the lipid of choice and olive oil, of course: number one.

So you have that kind of olive culture to it, which is, for a lot of people, something that tastes exotic, but for most people that I know, that’s something that almost says “home.” It says you’re where you should be, and the olive oil being kind of pervasive in all of the dishes, if there’s another flavor that I could put my palate on, there’s almost a smoky component to a lot of the things that they cook, and even some of the things that are raw. And they are not afraid to bring things to the edge of nearly burnt or very dark brown and letting that be kind of the extension of its ultimate caramelization.

And when you taste these things, and even – sometimes the ham and sometimes even the wine, or like a soup, a bean soup – it will have just lightly scorched on the bottom and on purpose. I’d say that there’s something almost smoky to it and whenever anything gets in touch with that magnificent paprika they call pimento, then that also becomes a real kind of intensive part of the flavor – kind of – portfolio.

You mentioned the term molecular gastronomy. Can you explain that a little bit?
Ah, well that is where food preparers, cooks, guys like Ferran Adria (perhaps the most famous member of the molecular gastronomist club) – they choose to provoke people by changing the texture or the appearance of food into something that it never was before while still trying to retain its essential flavor.

So you’ll have caviar that’s made of green apples, and it’ll have that same kind of pop-y texture, and what they’ll use to do that is some form of sea algae that they mix into a liquid and then they add a different kind of algae to the original substance – say, you took a puree of beans and you mix it with this one product and then you drop it into a water solution that has another product and it will sphere-ify the actual item – the whatever-you-dropped-in-there and then it will allow it to be stable for twenty-four to thirty-six hours. So then you’ll make like a little – some kind of a soup, and then you’ll put something that looks like a little glass ball in it, and in fact it tastes like another kind of soup. Or it tastes like salmon. Or it tastes like… whatever.

So they mess around with the basic tenet of very simple products, and yet they don’t – they do it in a way that will make you feel more intellectually stimulated by something that was already very physically stimulating.

And if they get lost it’s – sometimes it’s just like it’s too abstract. You know, there’s something that doesn’t have any connection, and because the food wasn’t very well prepared, or wasn’t very good when they got it raw, it’s wrong, but that doesn’t happen in all of these restaurants. Generally they’re pretty smart about it and it’s very…provocative…to eat in some of these restaurants. And it’s very much fun. But that said, sometimes it loses its way.

Fun seems to be an important element for all really successful chefs. Do you think fun is important?
Above all, fun should be important. And childishness is superior to adult-ness. And there’s a certain whimsical-ness that is what makes really good meals taste really good.

Sometimes you’ll sit down in the fanciest of restaurants and they have removed any of the fun from the experience in the name of creating high art, and that is when, suddenly, it’s no longer interesting to eat.

I like things to be fun. I like them to be unexpected if possible, but most importantly if the cooks are having fun and making things with really good natural products, odds are possibly with you that it will be delicious and fun to eat as well.

Do you think that a chef’s joy in what they’re making transfers to the end product, when a stranger is tasting it?
Absolutely. As in all art.

I mean, there are the members of the “tortured artist” school, and they work their world, and they do it, and they can still come up with great things, but certainly if something is loved and enjoyed by the person who is making it – you know – I mean, when you see a great rock ‘n’ roll band play, they are having fun on stage because they’re doing what they’re supposed to do and they really dig it. Like, REM on tour is one of the greatest bands you’ll ever see ’cause they’re great at it, and they know what they’re doing, and they have a blast and it’s that same way in food.

Comedians are often expected to be “funny” on command. Do you find yourself being “volunteered” to cook? Do you mind?
No, I’ll happily – at the drop of a hat, I’ll cook any time, all the time. Being funny’s a little different because you have to have an intellectual component to it. You could cook silently, and still make delicious food, even if you were not necessarily in the mood. The techniques of the purchase, and then the actual heat transfer is something I enjoy all the time.

That said, being funny’s a little harder.

True confessions time: Do you ever resort to having Chinese food delivered in a plain brown bag, after midnight?
Of course I do. My kids love delivery Chinese food. I wouldn’t want to cut them out of an essential part of New York Culture. I believe they had Chinese food here last night. (I wasn’t here, but I think they did, last night). It’s from the local Grand Szechuan. They make these soup dumplings that are to die for.

You have a wonderful television presence, but you don’t fit the conventional “handsome actor” television host model. How did someone like you become one of the coolest chefs on TV?
You know what? Being in front of a camera for a long time only makes you more like what you are naturally. You can’t really practice to become relaxed, it just eventually happens to you, but I think that my reliance on the traditions of the Italian table and the obviousness of it being merely my interpretation gave me a certain platform or a soapbox to talk from, and in the end, I didn’t really have to invent a character. I really just interpreted the great things about the food that I love. And that, I believe, is what makes it evident.

It doesn’t look like I’m trying to be a performer. I’m just doing what I do. And in that way, there’s no kind of strange colored glass that everyone looks at you through because you’re trying to do something that maybe is like trying to memorize someone else’s play, which is what actors do all the time.

I could never do that. I could never remember lines. But if you can give me the idea, I can kind of espouse what that is, and that’s really what I’ve done. I’ve taken really good Italian cooking and just kind of shown people where and how it came from. And my reliance during a show, if I ran out of things to kind of show you, I just talked about the history, which I already knew because I pay attention. I’m a student of that game.

In your career, you’ve been involved with the design of a specific kind of rolling pin. Is there any kitchen gadget that you’d love to re-engineer, or any that you think should be eliminated?
You know, tools are something that are very personal. There’s things in each one that I find I’m very excited about but there’s nothing I would say should be absolutely removed except for the syringe. I don’t think anyone needs a syringe. But that’s – you know – if you need to marinate your turkey and you want to do it that way then you’re going to put it in there, but other than that, I think that all tools are very personal, and once you discover a way to do it, everyone should use whatever they’re comfortable with. There should be no dogma.

Do you have a favorite tool that you use? Are you a knife guy or is it the wooden spoon for you?
I like… you know my favorite tool is, I have this – in my kitchen there’s a giant (well, not giant, it’s probably ten feet by four feet). It is a marble slab. We do our – we live our entire lives on top of this piece of marble. We do homework there, we make pasta there, we roll out dough, we – tonight, for example, there’s a bake sale. My kids are doing a bake sale tomorrow for something called the Imagination Campaign, and everything we’re gonna do from now – they’re just walking in right now, from school – until everyone goes to bed, we will live our lives on our marble counter.

Connect with Mario

Follow Mario Batali on Twitter (@MarioBatali) and check him out on Eataly NYC‘s #TakingRequests.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Conversations Over Coffee: Jeni Britton Bauer

Conversations Over Coffee with MCL

I believe that ice cream is the solution for many of life’s problems. Even on our worst days, a scoop of creamy-delicious goodness can bring smiles to our faces, and on our best days, celebrating with ice cream only heightens the positive experience.

But there are so many brands out there? Which one deserves my love, my loyalty, and my willingness to spend money for an indulgent treat?

If you’re me, that brand is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (especially their Whiskey & Pecans flavor). Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream combines the best locally sourced ingredients, dairy, and produce with fair-trade enhancements, resulting in interesting, original flavors that tickle the palate and tease the imagination.

In Summer of 2013, All Things Girl was lucky to interview the founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream: Jeni Britton Bauer. Not only is Jeni the founder of my favorite ice cream, she is also the author of The New York Times best-selling Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, which earned Jeni a 2012 James Beard Award (the Oscars of the Cooking World).

This is a re-run of that 2013 interview (which is no longer available online). I can’t think of a better first interview to feature here at Modern Creative Life as we kick off our “Conversations Over Coffee” series.

When it comes to living a creative life, I think you’ll find that Jeni epitomizes everything about it. I hope you are as inspired as I am as you get to know the Woman behind the Scoop.

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Some folks (fortunately not me!) may never have heard of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. First of all, tell the readers about Jeni, the woman behind Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

I’ve been working with ice cream ever since a day at home in the mid ’90s and ice cream occupies my whole life. I pretty much devote every waking minute to thinking about ice cream and how to make the best-possible ice creams in the world. I like to think I haven’t met a wall I can’t get over or through.

Can you tell us the story of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams?

One day in the early ’90s in a figure drawing class at Ohio State University, a model walked in who I didn’t like to draw. I’d been messing around with ice cream and that day I decided I just wanted to go home and make ice cream. So, I stood up and walked out, leaving everything—my portfolio, my art supplies. And I quit everything else in my jeni_7_300life—school, other jobs—and started my first ice cream business within six months.
That business didn’t work.

So, then I took time off, learned about customer service (namely that it’s a great idea to be consistent in the flavors you offer repeat customers), traveled, lived, and learned more about ice cream. In 2002 in the historic North Market in Columbus I opened Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. It was there in that amazing place where I learned from farmers, producers, and mongers everything I know about ingredients. It is also where I learned about how a successful business is run, customer service, product display, and signage. Now, we have 12 shops, our pints are in more than 750 grocery stores coast to coast, and we ship ice cream to any address in America. It’s been a blast and it continues to be.

I think I remember hearing that you began creating ice cream in your home kitchen. Where did that spark of passion for ice cream begin?

It began one day when I mixed cayenne essential oil into regular store bought chocolate ice cream and let it melt slowly on my tongue. It was cold, tasted like chocolate, and about 5 seconds later it burst into flames in the back of my throat. No joke, it was like the sky tore in two, light enveloped me for a moment and I knew right then that ice cream would occupy my whole life. I didn’t know how I would do it, how long it would take, how many people, how much money (of which I had NONE), but I knew it was my path. At that moment, I realized that I had found what I was looking for—a place where art, perfume and culinary collide, and I set sail. I began to make ice cream constantly at home.

What advice would you give to other small business owners to create and maintain a top-notch company and retain quality employees?

We didn’t set out to make the best ice cream in Columbus, or the best ice cream in America, or the world even. We set out to make the best ice cream we could imagine.

This means that we make better ice cream today than we did yesterday, and we will make better ice cream tomorrow than we do today. My advice is: don’t build a better mousetrap, build the best you can imagine. That will keep you on your feet, moving forward. That will keep your team inspired. That will keep you proud of the team, because what you can imagine is always better than what already exists.

What is your first memory of creating something in the kitchen?

My first memory is eating raw scallions, parsley, and cucumber peels from my Grandmother Bette’s garden. We were making salad.

When did the passion grow to a point that you knew you wanted to be a chef?

I don’t think of myself as a chef. For me, ice cream is where art, pastry and perfume collide. That is the craft of our ice cream. You can tell stories and transport people through flavor, texture and scent.

In what ways did your childhood and family influence your choice to follow a career in food?

My grandmother is an artist and she and my grandfather owned a large forest where we would frolic every weekend. We had honey bees, tapped our maple trees for sap which became syrup, and tended gardens in every spot where the sun shone through the trees. We also foraged for wild berries, mushrooms and other edibles.

As an artist, my grandmother taught us to be aware of our senses in the woods. The smell of the forest floor in every season is a vivid memory to me, the air there, the bubbling stream where we would swim in the summer and the sounds in the vast and mysterious space beneath the canopy of trees in each season were unique. If I close my eyes I am transported back there as if I never left.

It isn’t about food for me. It’s about scent. It’s always been about scent. Layering and balancing ingredients to unfold slowly top, middle and base notes. As in music, or perfume.

There is no other food like ice cream. The fat in cream holds and carries scent to your nose. If you add vanilla Jeni Britton Bauerto a cookie, for instance, and then bake it, most of the vanilla will evaporate in the hot oven. In ice cream, you steep ingredients and fuze oil-soluble scents to the butterfat. It gets locked in when the mixture is frozen. The fat in cream is special because it melts perfectly at body temperature. Other fats don’t do this, so when you lick an ice cream the warmth of your tongue releases the scent from the fat in perfect timing. This is important because if it has to stay on your tongue too long to warm up, then you swallow it before you ever taste it. A good way to illustrate this is to freeze a high quality dark chocolate bar. You have to chew it and hold it on your tongue for a long while before you can taste it. It has to come to body temperature before it releases its scent. This is because cocoa butter melts at a higher temperature so it takes much longer to melt on your tongue.

All of this is to tell you that learning to be aware of my senses and to remember them and to connect emotionally with what I hear, see, smell or taste or the way the wind feels on my skin is what I learned as a child and it’s why I make ice cream today.

When I say that fresh watermelon sorbet tastes like a broken concrete sidewalk and sunburned cheeks, this is an emotional connection that I have. It’s bigger than the watermelon, the experience of eating it becomes transcendent. It’s because I was raised to be aware of life going on around me. It started at the woods, but it went everywhere with me.

Part of our goal here is to slow you down enough to enjoy that ice cream deeply to bring you into the present and maybe connect you with someone, a farmer who grew an ingredient or the friend you are with. To give you something to think about and talk about while you are eating the ice cream.

It’s more than a passion for food that my grandmother gave me. It’s a love of emotion and of people. I explore that through ice cream.

And beyond food, how did your upbringing influence you as a person?

I had a very casual upbringing. Full of exploring and alone time. I moved almost every year growing up – to another neighborhood, another school. I’ve always embraced change maybe because I got used to it. Though I was painfully shy, it never bothered me to start again. To make new friends. To start new clubs in the neighborhood. To roam around barefoot, climb on the tops of roofs, and cause a bit of trouble. I never felt that the rules were there to hold me back, but to support me. So, I felt that they were optional.

I believed, and still do, that if you are mostly a good person you can break the rules here and there (read: whenever you want to). I was encouraged to do this by my mother. She never did anything she didn’t want to and encouraged me not to do homework. She believed that when we were home, it was family time and time to learn from what we did at home. And we did.

I barely remember school. My after school life and weekend life was rich. I daydreamed and doodled the whole day in school and couldn’t wait to get home to do whatever I was working on there. There were always projects, like creating a new business, writing and producing a play, trying to raise money for a charity, or running one of my many clubs. This was how my sister and I played. It was very productive, high output.
Jeni Britton BauerThere were hard times, too. And those made my sister and me fight even harder to get over the fence. To build security in our lives. To find safety. We both did. And I don’t wish anybody hardships, but you have to find a reason to become a fighter. You’ve got to own it. And to learn to hustle. I mean work every single resource you have to move forward, even when it seems like you have nothing.

Speaking of . . . We’ve all heard of the person who “started with nothing” and built a great big business. I’ve always thought that was stupid.

Nobody starts from nothing. We all have something. Even if it’s only our hands, feet, eyes and brain. The person who wins is not the one who started with all the right tools, but the one who learned to live without them and made up for them in persistence and the endurance of a slow and steady pace. You start where you are, put one foot out, and take the step. You surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. If you feel comfortable, you’re not going anywhere. You’ve got to take risks, fail, get up. I mean you have to forgive yourself immediately for looking like an idiot, which is hard sometimes. Most of all, you’ve got to stick it out when it gets difficult, when it gets boring, when you loose, when you burnout.

The concept of “slow foods” and buying local and eating local is very popular right now. And I know you source quite a bit locally. Can you share why you are so passionate about sourcing your dairy and produce local?

The first answer is for flavor. But, it all stems from my experience at the North Market where I started my first ice cream business in 1996 (I started Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in 2002). I would often trade ice cream for ingredients to make other ice creams. And the merchants began to seek out new and exciting things for me to use in ice cream.

My relationship with them was what made the ice creams taste so good.

It’s about people. When you know your suppliers, you often get better flavor. We think of our company as a community where we all support each other. From our growers and suppliers to our team and customers.

For dairy it’s important because there is absolutely no question that grass-pastured milk tastes better – particularly the butterfat. If we exist to make the best ice creams we can imagine, then we’ve got to start with the best dairy we can find – and not ruin it when we get it — ie: minimally pasteurized, and only once.

What can the average person do to eat more from local sources (and why?)

In Ohio, we are blessed with incredible soil and different growing regions. We grow lots of food, in lots of varieties and have an abundance of innovative growers/farmers. Local is something that we do here because we’ve always had farm markets and farm stands all over, and just outside, the city. It’s part of our culture, not simply a trendy thing to do. We are lucky for that.

Eating healthfully means nourishing your mind, body and spirit. We can incorporate more variety when we eat from jeni_9_300local and regional sources, but without question, the most important thing we can do is to eat more fresh vegetables—wherever they come from, local or not.

Tell us about “Local Matters” the non-profit you helped found.

Local Matters exists to make our food system more secure, just, prosperous and delicious. We do these amazing classes for Kindergartners that have a profound effect on how they eat. My daughter’s school does the program and she is so much more aware of what she eats now. I have seen first-hand how it can affect a child. We also work to get fresh foods into neighborhoods that don’t have them, and to create demand for our local growers.

Let’s talk more about ICE CREAM! You have some unique flavors. Where do you get your inspiration?

I always start with what’s in front of me. In a way, ice cream is how I encounter the world.

Sometimes I will taste something new and get an inspiration, or a grower or producer will bring me something lovely and I will make ice cream with it. I always start with classic combinations and then branch out from there. There is always a thread that begins to form and that leads to the flavor.

So, if I taste some really sweet beets, I’m thinking: beets are like carrots, carrot cake…spice, cream cheese icing. Beets are hot pink, what’s hot pink, what’s red? Red velvet cake roasted beets and chocolate. Beets….I had them in Brooklyn with lemon, mascarpone and poppy seeds – a classic Northern Italian combination — these ingredients work in ice cream.

Or . . . I may see a 1973 lemon yellow trans am and think what flavor is that car? Maybe it’s a crunchy, hard, lemon scented candy, crushed and and layered into lemon cream? Should there be licorice there? What about salty lemon crackle? Reminds me of preserved lemons or a really tasty margarita. Could work for ice cream, let’s try it. (and now I really must)

The world is full of flavor.

Fun seems to be an important element for all really successful chefs. Do you think fun is important?

I think being an optimist is a nice way to go. Being impatient. Curious. I don’t know about fun, like I don’t know Jeni_1_650about passion (which I also get accused of). Sure, things like fun and passion are a part of it, but you have to work really hard to get there. You have fun when you build a team that is challenged, secure and excited about the future.

Most importantly, you have to be a good team leader, it doesn’t have to be fun, but it does have to be inspiring on some level in order to build a team that can perform together.

I think you make the most of all the things you are committed to. I would have fun wherever I go. Whatever I was doing. . . Because I commit myself fully to whatever I do.

Do you think that a chef’s joy in what they’re making transfers to the end product, when a stranger is tasting it?

I think the chef’s commitment and pride transfers to the end product. Making something beautiful, seeing a person enjoy it. And that brings her joy.

I’m sure ice cream isn’t served 3 meals a day in your house. What are your go-to meals for your family?

We always eat together for breakfast and dinner. For time, and health reasons, we eat simply and meatless most of the time: a sliced tomato or avocado on hearty bread, sauteed mushrooms and kale stuffed into a baked potato for lunches or dinners.

On Sundays I might make roasted chicken with super-crisp and salty skin and a green salad, then make stock with the chicken bones. Or, I might make street tacos with pork or fish and accoutrements, hopefully with plenty of leftovers for lunches. We do not have ice cream very often at home—maybe twice a month.

Speaking of family, how to you manage to balance it all – parent , run a successful business, be a good partner in your marriage?

I don’t. I have a lot of help and the best partner/husband anyone could ask for. I do not believe you can “have it all” through management and control. You just have to steal it. Enjoy the chaos. Roll with it.

When I travel, I try to fly there and back in one day so I can put the kids to bed and wake up with them the next day.

If my afternoon opens up during the week and I find myself with some time, I will go pick up my daughter and son and go to the park – I know that everybody else is at the office or kitchens working, but I also know that I will more than make up for this stolen time later in the evening or on the weekend – I almost always work some part of the weekend.

My husband, Charly and I will stay up late talking at least once a week — it’s usually a weekday and then we are tired the next day, but it’s worth it. Being tired sucks, but being a robot sucks more. I need the time to connect with him.

So I steal it. Best I can describe it. I don’t want to sacrifice anything. I don’t want to miss anything.

What next?

To fit in as much as we can in the short time we have to do it. To grow, learn, create, build, and make even better ice creams than we did yesterday.

Visit Jeni’s Website  (Buy Her Books & Ice Cream!)

Jeni on: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, author and life coach. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not eating ice cream, you’ll find her reading and plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life.

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