Sweet Inspiration: How Food Network Helped Jumpstart My Writing Career

Can you believe it? It’s me, writing a post on my own blog.  Going to try to do it more often from here out. I’ll write about my new book, The Good Neighbor, about writing, about life. They all intersect on most days, so why not? 

Grab a cuppa and tell me about your first or most unusual inspiration in the comments!

Amy xo

Sweet Inspiration: How Food Network Helped Jumpstart My Writing Career

on-plate

I’ve read the Sunday paper on and off my whole adult life. Lucky for me, in September of 2006 my reading stint was “on.” I stood at my dining room table, sorting through sections for what I wanted to carry to the sofa. Full disclosure—I hate the feel of newsprint—so the fewer pages to turn once sitting down, the better. Then, while still standing, a column caught my eye. I don’t remember the title, or the byline, but I do remember it was about kids’ soccer games and soccer snacks.

Something bold crossed my mind. “I could do that.”

Naiveté can be a beautiful thing.

Through some research I discovered the author of that piece was the editor of the Perspective section of my Sunday Chicago Tribune. By that time I’d had a popular “slice of life” or “mommy blog” for six or seven months. I had a background in journalism. I had moxie.

I also had nothing to lose.

The worst that would happen was that I’d get no reply.

I emailed the editor and introduced myself. I asked if they ever used freelance writers for Perspectives. I explained why I could write columns that would meet their needs and I attached links to my most popular blog posts.

And she wrote back the next day. She told me that there would be a new editor for Perspectives and that he’d be in touch. He was. Then for two months we talked and brainstormed. He wanted my first piece to really hit the mark. I emailed ideas for columns very similar to things I’d blogged about—life as a Jewish single mom in the suburbs. None of my ideas bowled him over. I remember him saying we’d find the right idea at some point, and that I should think about writing something about the holidays. It was November. I wracked my brain. I made lists. None of them were any good.

Then one night while walking through the family room en route to somewhere else, I passed the TV, which was on. This is normal at my house. Also normal at my house is Food Network. So, the TV was tuned to Food Network and there was a commercial for a show about baking cookies. I stopped in front of the screen.

Everybody loves cookies. I said it out loud. Then I said it again. EVERYBODY LOVES COOKIES!

I ran right to the dining room table where I kept my laptop, next to all the homework papers, backpacks, and folders. I wrote my column about holiday cookies in record time. Then I rewrote it. Then again. I researched some holiday cookie names. Then, after my kids went to bed, I pounded another column about the differences in speech from Philadelphia (where I was born and grew up) to Chicago (where I was raising my own kids), and I focused that piece on some of the words associated with Hanukkah. I was up until midnight, which is not my m.o. If you know me well, you know I’m in bed by ten.

The next morning I emailed both columns to my editor.

On December 6th, 2006 All-Purpose Treat Brightens Every Holiday Tradition was published in the Sunday Perspective Section of The Chicago Tribune.

On December 17th, 2006, At Hanukkah, How You Pronounce Latke Makes A World Of Difference was published.

After that I wrote about ten columns for Perspective over the next 2-3 years, until the Trib stopped publishing that section.

I believe that first column set in motion everything that has happened since.

That experience took me back to my journalism roots, somewhat, as this was part of the newspaper, with headlines (not titles) determined by space, not by cleverness. Although these were more essay than article, I worked with a seasoned newspaper reporter who was the interim editor. He showed extreme confidence in me. He explained every edit, talked through every change. He pushed me farther in my writing than I’d been pushed in fifteen years. He even encouraged me to link my blog to my columns. In retrospect, I should have. But at the time my blog was anonymous, just like the blog in The Good Neighbor, penned by Izzy Lane. The difference is that I wanted to be anonymous so that I could tell the truth. The truth about my meeting my ex’s girlfriend for the first time, the truth about the guy who met me for lunch wearing a wrinkled trench coat and didn’t even buy me a Diet Coke, the truth about life in the suburbs. In The Good Neighbor, Izzy is anonymous because she’s lying.

But just like Izzy, I realized there was only one way to go and that was forward, onward, upward. Life was no longer about being a blogger — this was about being a published freelance writer. Those Chicago Tribune columns were often picked up by other Tribune newspapers around the country. I pitched other publications and was published in them. And the very next year, I decided to try writing fiction. And we all know how that turned out. 😉

It’s true I took action that day in September when I read the column about soccer snacks. I could have just thought “I could do that” and not emailed the editor. But I did. (I could have said I wanted to write a novel, too. And not done it.)

But—walking through the family room and being hit with the inspiration for the story about cookies from a TV commercial? That was good timing. That was being open. That was realizing if I didn’t try, I’d never know.

That was sweet.

The 10 Books On My Ideal Bookshelf

It’s almost one year since the launch of THE GLASS WIVES and one question I’ve been asked many times at readings, signings, and events is: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?

This is a question I not only hesitate to answer, it’s a question I can’t answer. I don’t have a favorite book, yet this answer seems uncomely for an author. So I say: “Whatever I’m reading at the moment.” And that’s true. I only read books I like and I only finish books I really like, the ones where I can crawl inside the pages and make a momentary nest away from everything else.  I knew books that were meaningful to me—but I didn’t have a list of favorites. Nor would my favorites necessarily be ones with scribble-worthy titles and trips to the book store. It was never important to me to have a list of favorite books. Not for myself or anyone else. There were just too many.

Then, for my fiftieth birthday I received a gift that changed that. The gift was that I could choose ten books and have a custom painting made of these books on my ideal bookshelf. Here’s a link to the artist’s website: http://www.idealbookshelf.com/. I had never heard of or seen anything like this before. And amidst a bevy of amazing birthday celebrations and gifts, this one was unique. And it was going to be hard work! I had to choose TEN books.

Perhaps someone else could ramble off ten, but I could not. I wanted these ten books to be meaningful to me in some IT’S-MY-FREAKING-FIFTIETH-BIRTHDAY-AND-PAINTINGS-LAST-FOREVER kind of way. I wanted these books to not impress anyone but me. Books that didn’t inspire anyone but me.

It took me about a month, maybe more, to decide. It was a serious charge, choosing these ten books. Not only did I want to do right by myself, I wanted to do right by the person who gifted this to me. This was not some willy-nilly point and pick. I wanted to have no regrets. Not to ever look at the painting and wish I’d chosen different titles. I made lists. I thought thoughts. (If you know me, neither of these surprise you!)

Now, a few months later, I can you, it was worth the effort, the lists, the pondering, the waiting. The photo doesn’t do it justice (plus it’s sorta sideways and complete with reflections). It’s 8″x10″ and I can see every brush stroke. I look at each book and know why it’s there, for me. The books might not be on anyone else’s ideal book shelf, but that’s what’s awesome. They don’t have to be! They don’t have to make sense to anyone else either, because to me, they make perfect sense!

ideal book shelf

Here are the ten books on my ideal bookshelf:

On Writing by Stephen King: This is the book that showed me my writing isn’t about me, it’s about the story. Huge lesson. Moved my desk into the corner, let the story come find me there. I can still picture the exact moment I realized this.

A Walk On The Beach by Joan Anderson: I mention this book in the back of THE GLASS WIVES. It’s my non-self-help, self-help book. It’s the only book I’ve ever read, cover-to-cover, more than once.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood: I read this book in the 80s and it reminded me of myself. I never forgot what it felt like to see myself inside a book.

Good In Bed by Jennifer Weiner: Though published to much acclaim in 2001, I didn’t read this until 2007 when I started writing fiction. There is a plot twist mid-book that grabbed me by the throat and spun me around in my writer pants. I hadn’t seen it coming yet everything made perfect sense. That’s what I want to do, I thought. It changed the way I saw fiction. It was my ah-ha moment.

The American Heritage Dictionary 1976: In 1977 as I graduated 7th grade from my elementary school (K-7) I was given the English Award. The principal said something like “There was no doubt among the teachers who should receive this award.” Then they called my name. And I received this dictionary.

The Glass Wives by me: Duh.

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss: I read this book to my brother (6 1/2 years younger than me) and then to my kids. It was the book I used to hook my daughter into being a Seuss-lover like me!

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I always wanted to be Beth. Yes, Beth. Plus, there is a character named Amy. I have read the whole book once, but portions of this book dozens of times.

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton: Like the Weiner book, Clayton’s book had a direct impact on my fiction writing. I read the Wednesday Sisters when it was published and just wanted to be one of their friends. The characters stayed with me for a long time after each time I read a few chapters, then again when I finished the whole book. I knew that I wanted to try to write a book that evoked exactly that feeling in others. I was not only inspired, but challenged. No book since has had the same level of impact.

Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder: What is there not to love about this entrance into the world of the Ingalls family? It was and remains my favorite of all the Little House books. I wasn’t able to pass on my love of Little House to my kids, but I can still see those illustrations in my head.

Which titles would make it onto your ideal book shelf? 

 Amy xo

 

 

 

 

 

Four Authors Walk Into A Bar

Okay, it was a restaurant, but still.

Renee Rosen, Me, Amy Hatvany, Nicole Lynn Baart

Renee Rosen, Me, Amy Hatvany & Nicole Baart

Last weekend I attended the Heartland Fall Forum in Chicago, an annual trade show where Midwestern booksellers get to check out the latest books from big, small, specialty and regional publishers and meet with authors. That also means that authors get to spend time meeting those booksellers and talking about books.  And as you can see, authors also get to hang out with each other.

The lessons I learned at Heartland are lessons for any writer who wants to be out and about talking about his or her book, either now or some day.

Four Lessons I Learned At Heartland (Before I Got To The Bar)

1) Wear comfortable shoes. My shoes were very comfortable when I walked around the house, got in and out of the car and went out for dinner, but hoofing it all over a conference hotel was a different story. I also learned that Band-Aids in hotel gift shops cost about 50 cents a piece. And are worth every penny.

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