The Research Draft

In an effort to explain (and define) my process for writing a book, I'm going to document what I do when trying to get to a recognizable end result. 

The first 'draft' isn't really a draft. It's akin to note carding, where one takes a slew of notes and write them on note cards, and then determine the narrative from the facts that one has uncovered.

I do something similar, but instead of note carding, I use Scrivener to collect notes and digitally do the same thing that posting the note cards to a cork board will do.

At this point, I am a sponge. I take in and consider most reputable pieces of information, even those only tangentially related to the topic of the book. This will go on for months. 

Once I get a fair bit of data, I look for a narrative. This narrative is never set in stone. When new data is uncovered, it has the potential to update and even upend the flow of the story I think should be told. 

Once the narrative is found, and once I feel confident in the story the book should be telling, I establish this as the baseline of the book. This is the research draft.  Once it's established, I spend the next several drafts tearing it apart. 

The Right To Ignore

Back when blogging was in its infancy, I held the belief that everyone had something interesting to say. Therefore, the blogging platform was a revolutionary piece of technology that removed some of the gates that used to prevent people from being heard.

That's changed somewhat over the past few years. Or rather, my perspective has become more nuanced. 

While I agree that people have the right to speak their mind, that's not the same thing as the right to be heard. No one has the right to be heard. To put it another way, I still have the right to ignore whatever speech I deem inappropriate, rude, untrue, or simply uninteresting. 

The frustration is that many people wish to circumvent the latter point - either through SEO, or even virtually shouting on the Internet. This gets tiresome quickly, and seperating the wheat from the chaff of ideas becomes more and more of a challenge.

What Am I Working On?

There are two paths I want to follow - traditional publishing, and then self-publishing. I do this mostly because one of the topics I want to write about is in a historically over-saturated marketplace - Guidebooks.

I'll fill you in on the details as they are discovered and/or created and then evolved, but I wanted to write a travel guidebook that I'd be interested in reading fully, rather than the 10% of the value I typically get from most. I have a rough outline of what this should look like, but it's still a rather new concept, so...stay tuned? You've seen bits and pieces of this idea already on this site, but it's time to formalize the concept. 

This will be the self-published book, in case you haven't yet guessed.

The second project I will try to sell to traditional publishing houses - and it's about the history of Apple Pie.  What makes this different is the approach I wish to take.  

Like the guidebook, it's still a relatively informal idea that I'm still toying with in my head.  The book proposal will need a fair bit of work, and I believe I want to get a majority of chapters in place before I write the proposal, a tactic different from my previous approaches.  

I'm writing these down now as a formal commitment to these ideas, as immature as they are.  I'll bring y'all in on the bits and pieces of them when appropriate to do so.


The Tipping Point - Puzder

I suppose a fair many of us did a bit of reflecting after the election of Hair Furor. The line that was crossed for me was his (now-failed) nomination of Andrew Puzder to be Labor Secretary. 

First off, anybody associated with fast-food management is a dubious choice to defend the labor rights of individuals Puzder was more so,  because, as CNN Money puts it:

CKE (Puzder’s Company) agreed to pay $9 million to settle three class-action lawsuits involving overtime pay. Puzder told the Orange County Register in 2014 that CKE had spent $20 million on overtime lawsuits in California over the previous eight years, and that the company had reclassified managers as hourly workers as a result.

They overworked their salaried managers, they then refused to pay overtime, and had to have the government intervene in order to make things right, 

Fast-food franchises have built into them a questionable approach to wages. A "livable wage" is something that just isn't in their vernacular (with a few, very notable, exceptions). Putting a Fast Food CEO in charge of the labor department was nothing short of an insult to workers everywhere.

That was my line. I didn't know it at the time, but I do now. 



The Balance of Food Writing

Another one of the challenges that I have run into in writing about food is that there are two major philosophies:

  • Reality-based: These are food topics that address things such as hunger, nutrition, economic impact, environmental impact, cultural impact, etc., etc.
  • Lifestyle-based: Lifestyle based, one where the consumers of this media are instilled with the desire for products or unique experiences. This is the Food Networks entire schtick.

These philosophical approaches represent two points on a spectrum when it comes to food media. My challenge is that I see value in both of the points. This, at times, makes me feel wishy-washy, and you can see this awkwardness play out in the candy book, where on one page, I talk about the slave trade and the following pages where I had written light-hearted reviews of candy bars. This is the textbook definition of mood whiplash.

Ignoring this spectrum is treacherous if one wishes to straddle it. And dismissing one out-of-hand ignores the larger system in which it resides - culture. That's where this conversation about food gets interesting to me. That's one aspect that I need to bring into the conversation, but the trick is knowing when it is appropriate.


At the moment, I am still laying a bit low. I have ideas, but they require a bit of money as well as infrastructure. The two are most certainly related. I decided that if I am going to do this, I'm going to do it as much on my own terms as is reasonable. That means ensuring I have the right environment, tools, and training/knowledge that is feasible.

This blog is included in that. It has been on the tool/stream of content that has been the most motivating to me, in ways that I have yet to understand. I like the immediacy of the blog and the informality that comes with it.  But I also think now that some of that immediacy and informality doesn't translate well to other mediums. 

But really, the point here is that you won't see a lot of immediate change, other than blog posts. Everything else will be, hopefully, much more measured and intentional than in the past. I will bring y'all into the loop on these topics when it makes sense to do so.



To get to know anyone, ask about their childhood because all of a person's neuroses and ticks will invariably come from some aspect of their youth. Obvious, I know, but still important to state.

I mentioned in a previous post that I wasn't prepared for the step after being published. I should clarify that. 

After the reality of the publishing world becomes known, a writer faces a choice - should I make a go of it? Or is there something about the risk associated with becoming a writer which is too steep to overcome?

(Some of you may have already caught the error in the above questions - namely that there's not a binary option available to writers at that point. The options are up to the writer to determine. But that's not the main point of this post. )

I didn't have a very secure childhood. Divorce and depression had affected my parents substantially but to different degrees. They provided food and shelter to their kids, but at some points, only just. Living for a few weeks without power in the backwoods of Western Pennsylvania wasn't optimal, but transitory. Going to school in clothes chock full of holes and shoes that were falling part, less so.

Did that affect me in adulthood? Absolutely. When given the option to:

A. Pursue a writing career that would require a fair amount of effort to both get better at my craft, and learn and leverage the business surrounding it, but for low wages.

B. Keep my well-paying engineering gig, but put up with varying degrees of politics, business competencies, and fulfilling other people's vision. The odds of remaining there was great (and still is, if I'm honest. I'm still at the job).

When push came to shove, I chose B. I didn't just choose it, I committed to it. And that's when my interest in writing as a career waned, and my productivity nearly zeroed out.


I'm not just writing it that way for effect, but to specifically call it out. It was a mistake. And I made it for the name of security. There are other variables at play here, but all trace back to the desire to ensure food and shelter. Yes, I was aware of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I ignored it. The need to ensure stability was so prevalent that I stopped doing something I enjoyed doing.

Not surprisingly, I'm not happy. If pressed, I'll cop to being content, at least on my better days. But for the most part, yeah, I haven't been happy with the results. The depression that I thought I had left behind me showed up on my doorstep, and me, like an idiot, welcomed it right in.

So the challenge is now to get back to the point of "happy". But for that to happen, I needed to do some honest assessments. Those assessments resulted in some interesting insights. I will be sharing these with you in the next few weeks and months as I implement some solutions that I have discovered.

The first? Professional writing isn't a binary choice. As with nearly everything else, there are degrees of one's engagement to both the craft and business. We, of free will and drive, have the ability to determine which degree works best for us.

So...stay tuned!


Getting a Book Contract: #1

This will be a first of what I hope to be a series of posts, with me detailing what I think one needs to do to be a successful book writer.  This post belongs to a subset of that topic - How to get a Book Contract.

Rule #1: Convince a publisher that you have an idea worth selling. 

That's it. Everything else is really an offshoot of that premise. What's "worth selling" is ambiguous enough to account for the goals of any reputable publishing house. Sadly, I have to qualify whether a publishing house is reputable or not, because there are some that have a questionable relationship to ethics. I was lucky enough to avoid that.

That's not to say that I didn't have challenges. I did, and they were almost all of my own making. More on that in the future.

A Little Tidbit About My Past

No. Not that tidbit. That one, well...perhaps another time. This tidbit is far less salacious but may be interesting of note to a few.

Motivation for writing has to come from somewhere.  My motivation for obtaining a book contract was driven by a desire to find the most effective way to visit Europe on somebody else's dime. In fact, there may have been a bet between my friends and myself that could confirm this, if fifteen years hadn't dulled our collective memories. My friend remembers the discussion, but not the bet. Ah well.

Some context is absolutely necessary here, lest you think me boorish and overly privileged. This was roughly 2002, and I had just reached the other side of a physically traumatic health incident.  The costs associated with this had evaporated my savings, and I had just started a temporary job that I thought might lead to more long term employment (It didn’t). An lower-middle class, and yet uncertain future was directly in front of me.

My friends and I sat at a diner around DuPont Circle and pointed this out. “So. What next?” they asked.

 I thought for a moment and said, “I’ve always wanted to go to Europe.”

 It was pointed out to me that money and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

I likely shrugged and thought about it for a second or two. “I’ll write a book and use the advance to pay for it. Or the royalties. At a minimum, I could write off the expenses on my taxes.” The idea came out so sudden. I hadn’t shared that idea with anyone up until that point and time.

What my friends should have done was laugh me out of the diner. Either they found the premise reasonable, or if they thought if anyone could do this, I could. It was likely both. Regardless, I took their lack of concern as approval. After that point, I pursued this goal with a fair amount of thought and energy. I spent most of 2003 thinking of a plan, and then implementing it.

This blog was the first step of that plan. The book contract offered in 2007 wasn’t the ends that justified my means. It was the airplane landing in Dublin, Ireland in 2008 that did that. The books published in 2009 and 2012 were almost incidental.

I now hear a few of you groaning to yourself. I get it, I do. I make it sound like this was some sort of lark on my part. I pursued a book deal, not by the need to get words out on the page nor the desire to see my name in print. I pursued a book deal in order to see Paris. It’s perhaps shallow, but it is true.

This is the part where I think I learn my lesson.

First, I learned how much I enjoyed the process of writing. Not the promotion, not the reader interaction, not even the business itself; the process of researching, finding something interesting to say, and then have an 80,000 word product of that effort is immensely satisfying, more so than anything else I have done in my life. I’ve never had a high so much as the one seeing my book in finished format. And note that I have a variety of points of reference that illustrate just how blissful that event can be.

Second, ultimately I think it doesn’t matter what reason one uses to pursue a book deal. Saints and sinners all receive book deals, and ultimately it is up to the publishers to decide what they believe will make them money. Paris Hilton? Book deal. Donald Trump? Book deal. Guy Fieiri? Book deal.

With that being said, my final point is that the quality of my work was very likely affected by being distracted by the entire process, and benefits they afforded. I didn’t quite figure this out until the second book was published. But once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m immensely proud of the books. But I also know they could be improved upon to some degree or another.

This is what I wish to bring to the table on this go around. Call it “intent”, call it “self-awareness”, call it whatever.  But if the challenge here is for me to be happy, then this is most certainly a variable that should be accounted for.

Where I Am At Today

Some of you may have noticed that my creative output over the past few years could be optimistically called "sporadical." If I am to return to writing for people other than myself, I believe it prudent to explain where I've been, and what it mean beyond that point.

I love posts like these because they afford me the chance to navel-gaze a bit. This is a crucial point to the whole thesis of this post (and any future topic-related posts, and I promise you all nothing) - writing what *I love*. But more on that in a bit.

In the months leading up to the release of the candy book, (buy a copy today!) something happened to my mindset regarding writing, something that I wasn't able to put my finger upon until recently. 

If getting a book contract with a major publisher requires goal setting, a certain level of adaptability, and the ever required level of hard work, then so does shaping one's career after obtaining said book contract.  But here's the tricky bit: what worked during the stage in acquiring the contract would have to evolve in the stages afterward. 

I knew this, to a point. I knew that my writing would have to get better. But how I promoted myself would also have to change, as well as how I sold myself.  And when I compared the level of effort needed when compared to my time available - a variable heavily influenced by my possession of a full-time aerospace engineering job -  I decided to take the easiest path and focus on my already established career. 

My pocketbook welcomed that news. As anyone who has stepped into the professional food writing arena can tell you, as a career is not the most lucrative of endeavors.  There are rare exceptions, of course, but they are rare for a reason.

After this choice - which as formal as it sounds in this post - I pulled back from writing. The world, as it is want to do, moved on without me.

The problem that surfaced from this decision was predictable. My depression reared its head.

My work at the engineering firm was...fine. I wasn't truly overworked, unlike many in the aerospace industries are, and I was (and am) well compensated.

But I wasn't creating anything that could be defined as mine. I never really counted on that aspect of it. Hell, I never considered how much I depended upon that. There's  much to be said for setting challenges for oneself and then developing the processes needed to accomplish those challenges.  What isn't talked about quite as often is the joy and bliss one can find in successfully addressing the problems that pop up in the course of developing a writing career. Let me give you some examples:

Challenge: How does one go about getting a book published? Answer:  Sell them on an idea that the publisher believes they can leverage for a profit.

Challenge: What should a writer do in order to ensure a fair amount of income? Answer: Promote oneself as much as they promote the book. Seek out various forms of media, both pre and post the-dawn-of-the-Internet, and seek out new customers/readers.

Challenge: How do you make yourself happy as a writer? Answer:...

A couple of points on this last question:

  1. While I don't know the solution to this challenge, I do know how you go about accomplishing the first two challenges directly impacts that solution to the third.
  2. All three solutions should be in harmony with one another.
  3. My current theory is that the act of solving the third challenge is the actual solution to the third challenge.
  4. I may be wrong on point 3, but it might be fun to find out.

And this is where I am currently at. I want to see what it would take for me to be happy when pursuing a writing career. I want to challenge every assumption associated with it.