extraordinary

Usually I write about the ordinary stuff of life. You know, stuff like doing the laundry, baking a pie, or changing a diaper. It’s in the ordinary living that we find our connections to one another. We are all trying to make our way in the messy business of life. And as a writer, I enjoy exploring the mundane and giving it an extraordinary quality. But this first post in my blog is the opposite of my usual writing. It’s about the extraordinary twist my life and writing have taken.
A few years ago, I embarked on the writing of a biography. The woman I wrote about was Mildred Rowe, owner-operator of Mrs. Rowe’s Family Restaurant and Bakery in Staunton, Va. Her life story is a compelling, modern Cinderella story, full of heartbreak and hard work, set against the backdrop of harsh, but beautiful, Appalachains. The biography was going to be published by the restaurant.
About a year after I began the project, Mrs. Rowe died. I was quoted in several local newspapers about what an incredible life she had. The next thing I knew, I received emails from all over the country. I was surprised to find the Mrs. Rowe’s “fans” were a national group, not just regional. They are hard-core diners that travel to eat and eat to travel. After speaking with the owner of the restaurant, Mike DiGrassie, who is Mrs. Rowe’s son, we decided to shop it around to see if there was any interest from national publishers.
I attended the Natiional Symposium for Professional Food Writers at the Greenbrier and met an agent who took on the book. At first, it was a struggle. We were getting a great deal of positive feedback, but ultimately most publishers thought it was too quirky. They also thought it would not fly because Mrs. Rowe had died and would not be around to promote it. One publisher had an interesting vision of what this book could be. Afterall, Mrs. Rowe’s son and grandson are still heavily involved in the restaurant, why couldn’t they promote it?
Ten Speed’s vision of the book was not what I had in mind, though. The biography only had a few recipes in it. They wanted a cookbook with stories about the restaurant, Mrs. Rowe, her family, and food. At this point, I had already vested two years of my time and heart in the book and was up for anything. It turns out that Ten Speed was exactly right. This is the kind of book it needed to be.
After having lived through one not-so-good book publishing experience a few years ago, and listening and reading about other folks bad experiences, I was prepared for almost anything. I have been pleasantly surprised, though. I have a dream of editor and a soft-spoken, polite, smart agent. As if this were not enough luck for one writer, the most extraordinary thing has now happened.
A few weeks ago, Ten Speed’s marketing department reviewed the book to start planning promotion. I was not expecting much–afterall, there is a new cottage industry now geared to helping writers do their own publicity because publishers just don’t do much anymore. It turns out that marketing department was so impressed with the book they decided to upgrade it. It was going to be a soft cover, black and white, with one color throughout. Now, it will be hard back and gorgeous color photographs will grace the pages. In fact, the publisher is sending a photographer and art director THIS WEEK to Staunton, Va. to take pictures of the restaurant, the food, and so on.
So, while I am living my life as a freelancer and stay-at-home mom, tending to ever-increasing piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and juice stains on the carpet, I am also discussing photo shoots and book tours with publisher and editors. How strange and cool is this? The coming year promises to be a culmination of years of hard work and dreaming, even though I had never specifically dreamed about a writing a cookbook. A novel, a book of poetry, perhaps. It just goes to show that you never know where dreams can lead you. I will continue to update as things progress. Check back soon.

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