Home Book news Erica Bauermeister, an interview.

Erica Bauermeister, an interview.

by Louisa Klein
Our wonderful media coordinator Lucy Hannau interviews Erica Bauermeister, author of the international best seller “The School of Essential Ingredients”.

The School of Essential Ingredients” (Jan 2009), is a novel about eight students and their cooking teacher, set  in a restaurant kitchen. The book has received world-wide enthusiastic reviews, such as:
In this remarkable début, Bauermeister creates a captivating world where the pleasures and particulars of      sophisticated food come to mean much more than simple epicurean indulgence…Delivering memorable story    lines and characters while seducing the senses, Bauermeister’s tale of food and hope is sure to satisfy.”
Publisher’s Weekly

As exquisitely prepared and satisfying as the dishes Lillian prepares in her restaurant.”
Food Network fans will devour this first novel about a whimsical cooking school run by a gentle chef with a    fierce passion for food.”
People Magazine
A delicate, meltingly lovely hymn to food and friendship. Lillian’s kitchen, full of buttery light and gorgeous smells, is a place where the world works the way it should. You’ll want to tuck yourself into one warm corner of it and stay all day.”
–Marisa de los Santos, author of
Belong To Me
Exquisitely written and heartbreakingly delicious. It’s a luscious slice of life… you will enjoy every bit.”
–Sarah Addison Allen, author of
Garden Spells
Bauermeister’s non-fiction work includes 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She received a PHD in literature from the University of Washington and has taught at both the U.W. and Antioch. Her love of slow food and slow living was inspired during the two years she spent living with her husband and two children in northern Italy. She currently lives in Seattle with her family.
And now, let our interview begin!
1) When did you decide to be a writer? Was it your dream since you were a child, or did it happen ‘by accident’? What made you feel you were ready to write?
I have always loved books and reading, and I wanted to be a writer from the time I was small.  I read constantly and studied literature in college, and then graduate school.  I taught literature, I wrote reader’s guides to books (which meant I read thousands of books to select a far smaller number).  All of that taught me a great deal about the beautiful machines that are books – their parts, the connections between them, the stroke of magic or imagination that brings them alive.

I think the reason I waited until I was 43 to start writing fiction, however, was that I knew from the time I was in college the kind of book I wanted to write – and that I wasn’t mature enough to write it yet.  I wanted to write books about the small, “unimportant” things in life – the ways we interact with each other as parents and friends and lovers and spouses, those subtle moments of miscommunication and grace – and I knew it took a lot of life experience to see those things with a perspective that could take those small moments and make them universal.  I was beginning to think I would never be grown up enough to write what I wanted to write – but finally, I was.

2) Italy: how did you end up in Italy? What major cultural differences struck you when you were there? Did you know anything about Italy/Italians/Italian before going or was it a total surprise?

Moving to Italy was one of those “growing up” experiences that helped me to be a writer – honestly, I don’t know if I would have written fiction if we hadn’t lived there.  We relocated for two years because of my husband’s job, and I simply fell in love with the country and culture.  Still to this day, when I return to Italy I am happy in a way I am nowhere else.  It was not just the food or the sensuality of the language or the kindness I saw among family members – although certainly all those things were eye-opening for me.  I think the thing that struck me most was the feeling that the people around me were taking on only as much as they could truly take care of  – the farms we saw, the houses, the families.  People took care of what they had and they didn’t overextend just to prove they were important.  As a result, there was a peacefulness and beauty there that I find missing in the United States.

3)Tell us a bit about your agent: when did you find her and how? Was it a long and painful process or was it easy?
Finding my agent was a very serendipitous experience.  I just happened to be invited to dinner with an author who is very well-connected in New York (although I didn’t know that at the time).  She heard about the idea for The School of Essential Ingredients and said she knew exactly whom I should send it to.  With her help, the manuscript got in front of the eyes of a wonderful agent.  I know so many incredible authors who have tried for years to get representation, and I know how lucky I was.  So when aspiring writers ask me what they should do, I tell them “say yes to everything” – every conference where you will meet authors and agents, every opportunity to meet other people in your field.  You never know who will end up opening a door for you.

4)Your opinion about self-publishing and the ebook revolution.
I am a complete addict of the real thing – I love the textures of a book in my hands; I need to feel when the end of a book is coming by the shifting weight of the pages in my hands.  So for me, an ebook will never replace a real book.  That said, I think anything that gets people reading is wonderful.  I talk with people who say “my mother is reading for the first time in years because with an ebook she can make the type large enough to see” or “my son finally loves books.”  I think that is great.  I also think it’s wonderful that authors who can’t or don’t want to go through the traditional publishing route can see their work in print.

But we need to be very, very careful not to lose the independent bookstores in the process.  They are the curators of interesting books that will change your life, and the lifeblood of the books that aren’t blockbusters – without those stores we would be reduced to reading the same ten books that you see on the tables at the big box stores and on-line.  Especially with the overwhelming influx of books that will occur with self-publishing, small bookstores are more important than ever and we have to make a concerted effort to support them.

5) Nowadays most writers need to self-promote themselves online, even those who have signed with a reputable publisher. How much of your time do you dedicate to social media and blogging? Do you feel like it slows your writing down, would you prefer to concentrate on the writing alone, or do you really enjoy keeping in touch with your readers?
When someone tells me they want to be a writer, my first question always is “do you want to write, or do you want to be a writer?” because those are two different things. Both are wonderful, but in today’s book world, they require different qualities.  To be a writer these days means to spend roughly half your professional time NOT writing books.  You are blogging, traveling, meeting readers, tweeting, doing Facebook posts and interviews, talking with book clubs.  You have to like talking to people, in groups and individually.  And if you’re going to be successful, you have to be good at it – you can’t just get up at a podium and mumble your way through 3 chapters of your book.  It’s a very tough climate out there and publishers will expect you to have a marketing platform.
I’m lucky because I have two parts to my personality – the quiet, reclusive part that loves nothing better than to spend a week in total silence with my characters, and a more public part that enjoys interacting with readers.  For me, the two balance each other out and keep me sane.  Too much writing alone and I go a little stir-crazy.  Too much promotion and I lose track of the intricate beauty of the written word.  So, it really helps to have a healthy sense of perspective and balance – something I am learning over time…
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