The Next Big Thing

What is the title of your book?

The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Stories of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Cassoulet is an anthology of original essays about family food and why it matters–even beyond the table.

What genre does your book fall under?

Creative Nonfiction/Food

Where did the idea come from for the book?

For years, the title “Learning to Eat” had been kicking around in my head. I knew that I wanted to write something about how eating is something we all learn to do: from breastfeeding, to first solids, to new foods…but how and what we eat is anything but clear.

I met Caroline Grant through Literary Mama and her first anthology, Mama, PhD, and one morning, it popped into my head:  it’s an anthology! Co-edited with Caroline!  I knew she cared about food in some of the same ways that I did, and I knew she had experience with anthologies, so I called her up and said, “This probably isn’t the best timing, but…”

We started the blog, and the book followed…

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Caroline and I started soliciting essays and pitches in 2007, and sent out our first proposal in 2008. As is the case with most proposals, it didn’t sell. But we were stubborn and believed in our idea and the stable of writers we’d cultivated.

In the months that followed, we thought hard about the shape of the book. We reworked its structure and focus, streamlined the sections and made the overall arc clearer.  We sent it out again in 2011, at which point it was acquired by Shambhala Publications.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

First, watching my kids figure out how to eat–literally–then seeing how they developed their own preferences and aversions over the years. I found their exploration of food interesting, frustrating, maddening, and joyful. Kind of like family life in general.

As essays and pitches began to come in, the book took on its own, incredible momentum.  We realized we were sitting on a gold mine of material. Food matters in every family’s life, but not in the predictable ways. We wanted to shape a book that would change the conversation about what real food means in real families

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Cassoulet is represented by Elizabeth Evans, of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, and will be published by Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Press.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

The range of food stories in Cassoulet mirrors what you’d find in the annual Best Food Writing collections, though our book is more tightly focused on family food. I’m a fan of books that speak to both food and larger issues of family and culture, like Kate Moses’ beautiful memoir Cakewalk, Donia Bijan’s Maman’s Homesick Pie, Gabrielle Hamilton’s, Blood, Bones, and Butter, and we hope readers will find the kind of plain talking, irreverant, and revealing humor you get in writing by someone like Anthony Bourdain. But what’s new in our book is that all the stories are by real parents, cooking real food, for real families.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I’d make my husband create an animated short.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The recipes!

Now I get to point you to some other writers with new projects in the works:

Jen Larsen, whose beautifully written new memoir, Stranger Here, is already garnering rave reviews

Melissa Clark author of Swimming Upstream Slowly, has made the bold move into self publishing with another witty, insightful novel, Imperfect.

Cassie Premo Steele, the prolific poet and writer whose new book is about the interactive poems she’s been sourcing on Facebook

Lana Dalberg, has new forthcoming anthology, Birthing God, about women’s experiences of the divine

Josh Mohr has a new novel, Fight Song

 

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Banned Books

I don’t usually think of my kids in relation to freedom of reading and banned books. I generally think of that as an issue for older kids who are more likely to be confronted with content issues (language, sex, race) in books by writers like Twain, Nabokov, Gordimer. Then I realized that my kindergartner was not only reading banned books, but they were his favorites.

Which made me think of everything he would have missed out on if I had refused to read him stupid silly books. This made me think of all the times I wanted to say no to a how-to, or science book, encyclopedia, or media-tie-in, and then didn’t because a long time ago, Lewis told me not to. It’s true, sometimes we read the same book over and over and over. And it gets tedious,as last spring’s firestorm suggested. But these things pass. We don’t read those books every night for ever. Soon they get boxed up and put away and kids move on to other stories. And while curling up with the Daring Book for Boys or the Dangerous Books for Girls is not really my idea of a bedtime story, it is, sometimes, my kids. So I read it to them, whatever they want. They other night, my daughter read her novel then had me read her a Halloween Spooky tricks book. The novel that I wanted to share with her she told me–in no uncertain terms–was hers. Okay, I said, and I learned how to make my third finger float in the air before me, which was not un-fun.

I realized this: Sure, I don’t ban any reading from my kids. If they can read it, they can read it. But freedom to read is just as important for younger kids, too, maybe especially emerging readers.  We shouldn’t be saying no to those books that annoy us, or that we think aren’t up to their grade level, or that have too many pictures.There’s more to a literate life than fiction.

The new post is up at HuffParents today.

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Blogging at the New HuffParents Site: What Political Protestors Taught Me About Parenting

Last spring I published an Op Ed about hate speech and its ramifications for parenting. I’ve been thinking about arguing and compromise a lot lately, and what the debt crisis and the terrible behavior of legislators means for my children. My husband and I have been alternately horrified and disgusted by the events unfolding in Washington, and neither of us believes that legislators have the people’s or the nation’s best interests at heart. It feels to me like one big power grab, and as a parent it also seems to me like there is something fundamentally wrong with how communication functions in Washington.  So what does it mean for my children and their economic future? I don’ t really know, but I suspect it’s not good. What does it mean for my parenting? I can raise my children to be educated and insist on fighting with integrity.
In this light, I’m happy and honored to join the new conversation over on the brand new HuffParents site–just launched today!–with a blog post that tells the story behind the story of that Op Ed.  You can read the full story here.

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Vacation: The Numbers

We are back from our family vacation, which was more of a California Adventure than any of us had planned for.   Here’s how it broke down:

 

15 days

1 4-door sedan

2 parents

2 kids

5 hotels

4 theme parks

1 beach

1 spa

2 reunions with childhood friends

7 pools

1 castle

45 restuarant meals

15 California Missions

and 1 epic comic book convention–which was where this whole, crazy trip started in the first place.

 

I have lots of things to say: about falling in love with California, a sublimely terrifying drive over the Coastal range, why the Missions may be too interesting for 4th graders, and how a family can live in hotels for 2 weeks and manage not to kill each other, and, of course, how to surivive so many meals out with young children.  But for now, we’re all trying to stay quiet and do as little as possible.

It was good to be gone, and now it’s really good to be back.

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The Boy Lives: Portrait of a Reader as Young Fan

 

To: J.K. Rowling
From: Another Muggle Mother

Dear Ms. Rowling,

Because of you my nine-year-old daughter knows she is a muggle. (So does my son, for that matter, but that is a different discussion). To temper her perpetual disappointment at having to live in the nonmagical world, she has collected two wizarding robes, Hermione’s white oxford shirt and gray wool skirt, a Gryffindor tie, a fuzzy brown wig, and a lovely, sleek wooden wand that was purchased at some expense at a Victorian fair (true, it has turned out to have a lot of play value). These days, when she’s not in her soccer gear, she wears her Time Turner in the same way other little girls used to adorn their wrists with brightly colored rubber bands—constantly and with great pride. Her loyalty to your books is unshakeable.

By the time you read this, the final Harry Potter movie will have been released, and Ella will have seen it.  But I suspect that even though this signal event is at the center of her small life right now,  it will not signal much of anything to her. Her adoration of and desire to live in the world shows no sign of abating. Three times she has read from The Sorcerer’s Stone right through to The Deathly Hallows only to begin again immediately on The Sorcerer’s Stone. At this writing, she is nearly through The Order of the Phoenix and fully intends to continue looping infinitely through your magical world.

Don’t get me wrong: I find nothing wrong with the series. Her father and I love these books, too. What I worry about is the intensity of her devotion, the addictive nature of fandom, and the way obsession can overtake a young mind. Sometimes, I worry she should be reading other things. Sometimes, I worry her brain will get stuck in a rut. Sometimes I worry that her passion runs too hot. What is unhealthy? Where is the line between passion and addiction? This worry, generally speaking, is one of the most constant of my motherhood. Is her love for your magical world a simple, generous thing, like Hagrid’s love for Buckbeak? Or does it mask something more sinister, like Professor Quirrell’s turban?

I have been assured by parents much more experienced than I that her obsession is okay. I have been assured by literacy experts that reading and rereading—even being an ardent fan—is a very fine thing for a young reader, no matter the text. And in fact, I tell my own graduate students this very same thing: they must read and reread their most beloved books if they are to understand them fully. Many years ago, one of my graduate school advisors put it this way: “You need to be dipped, over and over again, in great literature. Like a candle.” I have quoted her many times. So I just keep telling myself, my daughter will be okay.

And I concede that your wizards and witches have given my daughter many things: a richly detailed fantasy world; a profound sense of good and evil; an expansive embrace of power and possibility; and a bevy of extraordinary female characters—both good and evil. Who can rival Hermione for brains and bravery? Or Bellatrix Lestrange for pure wickedness? Or Ginny Weasley for her extraordinary ascent from starstruck little sibling into outspoken young adult? There’s Luna Lovegood’s powerful eccentricity and Angelina Johnson’s athletic ability, and there are the grown women, too, who I wish I had in my life: the fierce and loving Mrs. Weasely; the steely wisdom and fairness of Minerva McGonagall, the defiant Tonks…there is so much here for a girl to love (which is so utterly unlike the fantasy fiction of my girlhood.)

Most important, Ella knows full well that you, J.K. Rowling, are also a girl. This was one of the most exciting revelations of second grade, and I think it cemented her loyalty.

So while many of us are lamenting the end of the era, my daughter—like many other young readers—continues to be richly immersed in it. Great books will always be new. Many parents credit you for bringing their children to books and literacy. But I think I must thank you for something else. In spite of my dark, and nagging, and yes, very muggling concerns, I do recognize something greater at work. Thank you, Ms. Rowling, for giving my daughter the difficult work of her imagination, a place where is she both author and actor of her own story. This is, really, all I ever wanted for her.

 

 

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