by Maria Schulz
Now available on amazon.com
As many of you know, I published my book last month. This was the result of many years of hard work, tons of encouragement, some great advice, an equally large share of criticism and disappointment, and yes, perseverance.
In many ways, writing a book is a lot like pregnancy. Other writers love to tell you how hard it is to accomplish this, and they also really enjoy telling you the myriad ways you will experience pain. Despite this, they also say that they would do it all over again. You hear them but you never really believe them until you’ve gone through it yourself.
Having said that, the part I am still figuring out is how to get people interested in my book and how to market it. Yes, I’m a writer and I know my way around an advertisement. But…that doesn’t mean I’m a marketer. Learning how to promote my book is a work in progress, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an adventure too.
So, to begin the process, I’ve decided to make this post a Q&A forum. I’m going to answer some of the questions that my very loyal readers have asked me about the book, and hopefully, you will all be interested enough to check it out for yourselves.
Just for laughs, imagine that my interviewer is Oprah Winfrey, and Tales From a Hungry Life: A Memoir with Recipes is her next book club pick.
How long before I’m on the cover with you?
Oprah: What inspired you to write this book?
Maria: For years, I have used stories about my family to break the ice at social functions like cocktail parties, weddings, Sweet Sixteen’s, or work events where I have to talk to people I barely know. Usually, by the time I get to the fourth or fifth story, people may laugh and/or choke on their bacon-wrapped scallops. Afterwards, they thank me and say helpful things like: “You are so funny! You should write a book.” So I listened.
Oprah: Seriously now. I thought it had something to do with your mother?
Maria: You are right, Oprah! Of course you’re always right. That’s why I’m so glad you’ve chosen to market my book through your wonderful magazine and book club (do you still have a book club?) and to the millions of people who adore you.
Oprah: Stop sucking up and just answer the question.
Maria: Okay. Well, without giving too much away, my mother battled Alzheimer’s disease. When I realized that our memories were disappearing with her, I decided to bring together the best stories of our lives together, and include some family recipes.
Oprah: Are the recipes in this book her recipes?
My Mom was so pretty
Maria: Yes and no. I always thought I’d have more time to get recipes from my mother and grandmothers, but I was wrong. So, I took what I already had (like recipes for spaghetti sauce, arroz con pollo, sausage bread) and added some other recipes from family members (torrone, manicotti, linguine and eggplant). My relatives were excited about the book and were always happy to tell me stories.
Oprah: How would things have been different without the focus on food?
Maria: Well, for one thing, I probably would’ve been writing about a different family. When it came to us, if there was food, there was a party.
Oprah: Why did you choose these particular stories?
Maria: Some of the stories in the book still make me laugh just thinking about them, so they had to be included. Some of the other stories clearly illustrate the amazing characters that populated my little world—yes, I have six brothers, but they are all very different people. So the stories that I chose about each of them should give readers an idea about each very special person.
The opening story, about the fire, actually happened two years after I started writing this book. Of course, at the time I didn’t think there was anything funny about it. But in retrospect, it seemed like the perfect way to talk about my family: our past, present and hopes for the future.
Oprah: What was the most painful story that you chose not to include in this memoir of joyful tales?
Maria: Are you trying to make me cry? I’m not going to start weeping or jumping up and down on your couch like Tom Cruise.
Oprah: Answer the question, please.
Maria: Probably the story about how my mother looked at me one day while we were watching your show and said, “Look! There you are.” I looked at the screen and all I saw was you, Oprah.
Oprah: She thought you were me?
Maria: Yes. For some reason, she thought I was Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah: And how did that make you feel?
Maria: Obviously, I was kind of upset that my mother, the woman who gave birth to me, couldn’t tell us apart. But I got over it when a movie came on later that day and she said: “Look! I star in this picture.” She thought she was Olivia De Havilland. That’s when I learned not to take her Alzheimer’s personally. But that’s a whole other book.
There’s my mom. NOT
Oprah: Did anyone in your family get mad at you because of the stories you chose?
Maria: Not really. My father felt I failed to show how much fun he could be when we were growing up. He thinks I focused on him being the bad cop while my mother was always the good cop.
Oprah: Was he any fun?
Maria: No. (Just kidding!). Actually, my father came from a family of bonafide comedians, and he could hold his own with any one of them. Of course, he was the bad cop when it came to keeping us all in line. My mother never thought we did anything wrong. My father thought we were wrong before we even did anything.
Oprah: Can you give me an example?
Anything but mite boxes.
Maria: If one of our Catholic school teachers called to tell my father that we’d been disrespectful, failed a test, or didn’t get our mite boxes in on time, you would PRAY, PRAY, PRAY that my mother answered the phone. My mother might have asked for our side of the story. My father would have started screaming and then told us to stop having a story.
Oprah: So do you think that’s why you are all fine, upstanding citizens now?
Maria: As my father likes to say, we all survived and none of us ended up in jail. So, yes.
Oprah: Do you have a zany story about your father?
Maria: Sure, I have a million of them.
Oprah: Well? Spill it.
Maria: All right, here’s one. When I was dating my first boyfriend, my father and mother would go to bed and leave the two of us in the living room, on opposite ends of the couch, watching TV. One night, while we watched Johnny Carson, my father came running out from the back bedroom. He was wearing nothing but his sleeveless undershirt and boxers, with his comb-over to the side of his bald head. He proceeded to wing a golf ball at lightning speed at my very skinny boyfriend’s stomach, which resulted in that young man being doubled over in pain. Then Dad said, “Goodnight!” and went to bed.
Oprah: Was your boyfriend mad?
Maria: I don’t know. I never saw him again.
Maria: No, not seriously. He just got the message that he had better be a perfect gentleman or my father could come running out of the darkness at any time to hurt him some more.
Oprah: Is everything funny to you?
Maria: Yes and no. While some of the stories here are light and frothy, there are a few that are poignant and tinged with loss. I don’t think you can have a story that’s about life and love without a little pain, although I tried very hard to keep the tone upbeat. The day of the fire was pretty heartbreaking. But even then, I could recognize some of the funnier moments in the middle of the devastation. However, I am not always laughing while sad things are happening to me. I need at least five minutes.
Oprah: Did writing this book bring you closer to your family?
Maria: In some ways it did. I got back in touch with lots of relatives I hadn’t seen in a while, and I’m glad because some of them have since passed on. I got to have a renewed relationship with my cousin Eleanor, who has been so good to me. She taught me how to make manicotti from scratch! I also heard from relatives and friends who were delighted to be “back in touch” with people like my Uncle Don, Uncle Sal, my parents, grandmother or brothers.
My brothers and father may not remember things exactly as I do, but they are happy for me and proud of me too. My husband, kids, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews have all been tremendously supportive and even made a toast to the book and me on Christmas Eve. I am very lucky.
Oprah: Will there be a sequel?
Maria: Yes, eventually. First I have to get the print version of this particular book out there. But there are still so many stories to tell. We are a big family filled with funny, good-hearted people who love to eat. The next book would include more stories about my husband, kids, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews.
Oprah: Tell me a little about your decision to self-publish. Why did you go this route?
Maria: After several years of trying to acquire an agent and/or interest a publishing house, one editor told me: “Look, you are not famous. You don’t have the selling power to attract a traditional publishing house. And the editors there won’t want to publish your book as is.” When I asked why, he said: “look at the books that sell: Glass Castle or Running with Scissors. They both have serious stories to tell. Your stories are too funny.”
Maybe the editor was right, but that made me pause. I didn’t want to write a memoir that focused on everything miserable and unhappy about family life. I also didn’t want my readers to feel like climbing into the bathtub and opening a vein when they felt prompted by the words THE END. The world had enough sad stories. I wanted my readers to laugh. I also wanted them to eat. It’s like a literary party: the book equivalent to Sunday dinner with my family.
It seemed to me that the only way for this book to come out the way I envisioned it was to self-publish, so that’s what I did.
Oprah: What was the best part about publishing your book?
Maria: I think, by far, the best part of this whole process has been hearing from the people who have read my book and enjoyed it. It’s been a tremendous thrill to go on amazon.com and see my book there, along with all those shiny 5-star reviews. You can find it here:
You can even download sample pages and read a little bit of it. Go to the page on amazon.com and you’ll find that feature.
You can also like my Facebook page for Coqui Press (the name of my imprint) here:
Oprah: Do you have any regrets?
Maria: Sure. I wish my mother could read my book. Of course she’d have to buy her own copy. (Again, kidding).
Oprah: What do you think your mother would say?
Maria: She’d probably say, “I forgot you were a writer!” No, seriously…she would probably say: “Remember that time I glued your father’s toupee to his sunburned scalp?” or “How come you didn’t tell the story about the time I used all of your father’s coins from his coin collection to do our laundry at the Laundromat?”
Maybe she’d even say, “I laughed and laughed. I love your book! Now let’s go get some White Castle.”
Worth the trip.
At least, I hope that’s what she’d say.
One of the questions that several of my readers asked me repeatedly was: what is your favorite recipe from the book? There are many contenders, but I guess my favorite is Quiche Lorraine. Just smelling it reminds me of our New Year celebrations from long ago, when my mother would get up early to start preparing it for the family and friends who would celebrate with us.
Recipe: Quiche Lorraine
9-inch single crust pie
10 slices bacon
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/3 cup diced onion
4 eggs, beaten
1-½ cups light cream
1/8-teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Place bacon in a large skillet, and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towels, and then chop coarsely. Sprinkle bacon, cheese and onion into pastry shell.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, salt, sugar, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Pour mixture into pastry shell.
3. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F, and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean.
4. Allow quiche to sit 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.
Here’s another recipe from Simply Recipes that features Gruyere cheese and chives:
So, Hungry Lifers…if you could ask me a question, what would it be? What do you think the sequel should be about? Have you read my book yet? Please leave a comment below and let us all know. Thanks!
Thanks to Dad, Chris, Christine, Paula, Joanie, Jane, Lisa, Lisa (not the singer in Prince’s band, although she’s welcome to ask me questions too), Joe T, Kathie and Kathie for those great questions–and for reading my book! Any questions that didn’t get used this time will be used in the future.