photo by Pupil Photography
photo by Pupil Photography
Last June I found myself "inconsolable" when the hard drive to my laptop crashed. Aside from losing years worth of photos, the single most valued possession contained within that processor was a food memoir we'd been working on. Having previously been contacted by a fancy (yet-totally-down-to-Earth) agent from New York, I was determined to get a book proposal and writing sample wrapped up and sent out to the other coast ASAP. In a span of six months I had become convinced that perhaps my childhood dream of getting published wasn't so far out of reach after all. As our families would say, "as with all things Ali and Evan, a scenic back road will be likely be taken."
Admittedly the process didn't come naturally to me, especially in comparison to the ease of writing a blog post. When writing for the book I struggled getting anything down on the page. I felt like I fought for every one of those sentences. To help us write, said Agent encouraged us to have a clear audience in mind, as well as a focus. Would this book be conventional? Used in the kitchen? Or pretty? Put on a coffee table? While I had the audience part down (ahem- I was hoping that would be all of you), Evan and I still weren't sure what the book was about. It felt weird thinking about writing a "Little Red Bike Cafe Cookbook," especially because at 1.5 years old, our cafe's story had yet to unfold. We knew we wanted a book that was beautiful, contained recipes, pictures and diagrams, but had stories, too. We wanted some depth to it. Perhaps a little fluff. We basically wanted to tell the story of us, and about where our journey thus far in life, and specifically with food, has taken us. While it seemed awful narcissistic to think others would care to read (let alone purchase) a book containing such information, we did feel confident that we had something to say, and more telling, a desire to try. Through our interaction with our customers and our blog readers, we also thought it was worth taking a chance to see if we were right. We decided to shoot for a food memoir; in our hearts we were hoping for something between the beauty of the perfect coffee table book, the functionality of a beloved edged-stained cookbook, and the heart-warming nature of a good read you keep by your bedside. This memoir contained bits and pieces from Evan's and my history, this blog, and recipes and stories from home, travels abroad, and our cafe. I was four months into my writing project when the hard drive seized and I lost everything. Every single word I'd written.
I was devastated. At the time I felt that "this is perhaps the most overwhelming thing that can happen to a writer." Eight days after I typed that sentence my mom suffered cardiac arrest, twice, and survived with her life after a 5% chance. Five percent. I'll never forget when the doctor made a number out of my mother's existence. Needless to say, I had a major shift in perspective. Losing my hard drive was nothing in comparison to the thought of losing my mom. As the months rolled by, the focus was on the health and well-being of our family and business. We threw everything we had into getting lost in the moment, and any thought of a future book was fleeting, and every memory faded. We bought a new hard drive and continued telling our story on the blog, despite how censored our writing had become due to formal courtesies and endless legal peacocking from an opposing team's side. Truth be told, I've always preferred writing on the blog, mostly because it feels...safe. I rarely feel harshly judged by my audience, and I have the pleasure of using the "delete comment" button if I completely disagree with your tone or point of view. Writing on a blog platform allows me so much more control than if I were to try and actually write an entire book. After the tanked economy, the cafe's flood, and my mom's cardiac arrest I just felt lucky that we had all survived. I didn't feel up to the task of trying to rewrite anything, and more so, I didn't want to take the risk of failing in a pursuit of getting known, of doing something more, or going after the success I desired. P.S. This is not a way to live.
Yet throughout this time I carried a nagging feeling that a story was developing, and had been doing so all along. Though I wasn't prepared and I was too anxious to tackle writing at the time, this didn't stop the story from continuing to grow and build, eventually creating the momentum that got us through those very last days of our business. It's the story that made our ambition of opening up a cafe successful, despite the loss along the way. I know I like writing this blog. But there is more to it: I enjoy being the storyteller, or how I see it, the voice of the story. Life changed when we closed the doors to the cafe. For one, we no longer had venue to outsource and exchange our creative energy. We do miss and crave that interaction but ultimately accept that leaving that building was in the best interest for everybody involved. We feel as though we were meant to start our business there, and were meant to end it there, too. But as with all things that we have experienced so far in life, we know that's not where our story ends.
It was this notion that motivated Evan to call the long-lost-agent in New York and spark her memory of a couple who owned a little cafe located on a peninsula on the other side of the coast. Despite the year long break in communication, she remembered who we were, and again encouraged us to explore the possibilities of writing a book. Furthermore, she suggested we look beyond the confines of just Little Red Bike Cafe's customers as our sole audience. We were all in agreement that while the cafe was surely an important chapter in the history of our lives, the book would still need to resonate as a page-turner after this fact. In other words, the show must go on even when the cafe's future remains uncertain.
I feel really blessed to have the insight of this agent, we'll call her Agent K., because she is extremely gifted at filtering our ideas. Much like a flour sifter, she's able to refine the thought process into what will eventually create the tastiest product. I'm keeping her anonymous because right now we're just in the beginning stages of courting one another, seeing where this leads. That said, her input during the process has been invaluable, and she's the very reason why I'm writing this blog post today. Agent K. reminded me that not everybody who reads the blog ate at the cafe. She went on to explain that there will have to be something else that draws our readers in besides the sheer existence of the food establishment. It's a voice; a picture; a story; a connection. Quite obviously, I feel it is my duty to tap into this connection so that you may enjoy reading and experiencing food from our perspective, as much as we enjoy relaying it. My goal over the next three months is to sit down and produce a writing sample for a book. As before, more food memoir than just cookbook. This would not be a recreation of what was lost, but instead will be a completely new attempt. I'm excited about the potential of this project because it no longer feel like a task or a risk to write. This time around it feels more like a redemption--quite simply, the time has come. There. I wrote it. We have officially put it out there: we're working on a book.
In writing the outline I'd like to enlist the help of the blog readers. Specifically I'm dying to know what your favorite cookbooks are. For starters think about the best cookbooks, coffee table books, and food memoirs--what makes them your favorite? What are some lacking? What do you consider essential about a cookbook? Are you a person that just wants to look at the pictures? Stretch your minds even further, try to imagine that you've never heard about us, seen our pictures, or read this blog (what a sad world that would be). What would make you pick up a book about us, if you didn't know us? Basically what I'm asking here is, if Evan and I are setting our sights on writing a cookbook: "What would you want to know? See? Taste? Feel?"
I know that seems like an awful lot to chew at but we'd greatly appreciate your participation in this excercise. I know there are many readers who don't often comment (or comment at all), don't like public comments, or don't understand how to correctly leave a comment (hi Mom!), so I encourage you to send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions, thoughts, and ideas regarding your thought on the substance of a great book. Please do not hesitate to voice your opinion. I ensure you we will read and discuss every one thoughtfully and together. Thank you for indulging us. We can't wait to read the responses.