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Author Podcast: Sharon Boorstin

abstract:

Sharon Boorstin author of Cookin' for Love: A Novel with Recipes; iUniverse (2005) is a pleasure to speak with for three reasons: she is a self-made woman grounded in the values of food, family and friendship, (not necessarily in that order) who writes humorously about issues germane to women in their 40’s and 50’s, and has accomplished her goals by embracing technology in a creative way that you will enjoy reading about. 

article:

May 01, 2005

With a writing career as newspaper food editor, freelance magazine writer, screenwriter and now two-time novelist, Sharon's second book was inspired by her participation in the romantic adventure of a long lost friend who traveled to Malaysia to re-kindle a relationship with her first love, whom she had tracked down via a Google search.

In the tradition of Like Water for Chocolate and Secrets of the Tsil Cafe, Cooking For Love  combines fiction with food as a main character. (Included are 25 recipes that make this a great selection for Book Group dinner meetings.)

The story centers on Miriam Levy, a Beverly Hills cook book author and Kate McGrath, a former teaching colleague whose friendship Miriam wishes to rekindle. Once reunited, they organize an adventurous vacation to Malaysia in order that Kate have an opportunity to meet-up with her first boyfriend who is living there now, and whose unrequited love has over-shadowed both their respective marriages to others. 

We're classifying this novel into a whole new category; Boomer Chick Lit.

What is that you ask? It's what forty to fifty year-old women read in their spare-time—in between winding down their career and family obligations, and taking-up that new sport, exotic travel or long awaited hobby.  It's romance and adventure for people older than "GenY" 30-somethings. You keep it next to the ambitious classic you're reading, and in between the latest NYT bestseller and book group hopefull.

Now comes the technology part; so when Sharon completed a book speaking to this niche and was turned down by traditional publishers, she did what any woman with chutzpah would doshe went out and published the book herself using a self-publishing company linked to great distribution channels, and is rapidly on the rise to terrific sales. 

Click on the link to purchase the book, listen to the excerpts of our interview and follow along with the full transcript below.  We've divided it into several parts for easy download.  Enjoy!

 

The Interview            

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BookBuffet: Sharon we met two years ago in June when you attended, as invited author, our L.A. book group’s annual dinner meeting where we discussed your first book, Let Us Eat Cake, published by Harper Collins (2002) That was a fun evening.

Sharon Boorstin: Yes it was, it really was.  I remember that fondly.

BB: I remember we broke the cardinal rule of book groups by contributing personal anecdotes relating to the book’s theme of food and relationships (which I confess was as insightful as the entire previous 10 years’ monthly meetings put together—so much for rules) and of course, enjoyed the meal which featured food prepared using the recipes from that book.  That was great supper meeting!  

SB: Yes, Ann who was the host that time has read this book Cooking For Love and she wants me to come to the dinner meeting again in June and we’ll cook some recipes from the book.

BB: Fantastic.  Now you’ve done a lot of traveling and speaking to individual book groups and I wanted to explore your experience of discussing food and literature together as a genre.  I’ve created a whole new classification for you; I call it “Food Fiction” or “Boomer Chick Lit”. 

SB: Oh that’s fun.  The first memoir cookbook came out of the fact that I found a notebook that contained recipes from when I was a newlywed, and I was intrigued by the idea that women used to keep these kinds of notebooks of recipes given to them by friends.  It was sort of the housewifely thing to do. 

In Let Us Eat Cake I explored how women relate to food, how they bond together sort of the way men bond over sports or cars.  I wanted to see how women have changed over generations, and I think their role in the kitchen and with cooking has changed. 

When I was at your book group, I remember telling about this new novel that I wanted to write that grew out of the fact that because I had found this old notebook of recipes I [was inspired to] look-up via Google a woman I had not seen in twenty-five years whose recipe I found in that book.  Her name is Irma.  I found her and we became fast friends again. To make a long story short she was working in a book store, and she was explaining to a customer how Google works and she typed in the name of her first true love. 

He turned up [in the search to have become] the Danish Ambassador to Malaysia, but she had met him when he had been the assistant tour guide on the trip she took to Europe after college.  (In those days you went on a tour to Europe, because mothers wouldn’t let you go backpacking around Europe.) 

Anyway what happened when she e-mailed him was he wrote [progressively] back these rather passionate e-mails that built-up to “I’ve never met a woman like you who has made me feel so deeply,” etc.  

Eventually he invited her to come and see him in Malaysia. Now Irma, was in her 50’s and had breast cancer, a bad marriage and then she’d fallen in love with another man after her husband left her, and that man died.  So she had had some pretty bad luck, and she turned to me and said, “What am I going to do? This man wants me to come?”  And I said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do… you only live once.”  And she said. “Well I’m kind of scared to go, but I’ll go if you come with me.” 

BB: [laughs] So this became your Thelma and Louise adventure.

SB: So I thought to myself, “Hmmmm… There’s a story in there!”  And so I did go, and the novel comes from that. The whole beginning part is true.  In fact some of the e-mails that I quote are real.  The rest of it is pure fantasy. In the book, I made the heroine, the “me” character a “with” cookbook author—she is the one who writes the cook book for the celebrity and gets the “with” credit.

BB: Yes, yes right.

SB: She had been this “with person” all her life, enabling her kids to do things, enabling her husband to do things, she’s kind of a scaredy-cat and she finally grows-up in the book.  But she is always thinking about food because she’s a cookbook author, as a result when she goes on this adventure, there’s a lot of food stuff in the adventure and there are twenty recipes in the book that are from her experience.

BB: Right, exactly, and they have a Malaysian, South East Asian kind of feel.  What has the response been like to the recipes?

SB: I tested them all myself and there were some that I imagined that didn’t get into this book because they just weren’t good enough but I spent quite a few weeks just testing recipes and so these are all tried and true and there’s some really good ones in there. One of them is Katherine Hepburn’s Brownies and I’m telling you, you could eat them right out of the pan. There’s sort of a Jewish flavor—the Miriam character, the “me” character is a Jewish girl, the other one is not. I wanted to explain the part that Malaysia is a Muslim country and in fact they don’t even allow Israelis to travel there.  It’s pretty anti-Semitic.

BB: Is that right?

SB: I wanted to play on Miriam’s experience there, when she runs into some anti-Semitism there and she manages to overcome it… so that’s a sort of sub-plot.

BB: Well it is very timely with all that is going on in the world today.

SB: Yes and I keep on my wall an e-mail that my daughter sent to my husband when I told him I was going to Malaysia with Irma, and she said “NO daddy, don’t let mommy do something that could be so… dangerous; she could be kidnapped, something awful could happen.”  So, while this is what is in the book, I still wanted it to be funny; I wanted it to be about middle-aged women facing themselves at this particular stage of their lives. 

What’s interesting about this book is, you mentioned Let Us Eat Cake was published by Harper Collins, and I’ve had some non-fiction books published and I had an agent take this book around New York and they said “Well, we really like this book but the problem is these women in the story are too old, they’re forty-nine going on fifty. Nobody is going to buy it.  Chick Lit is for women in their twenties and thirties,” so what I attempted to do was find an independent publisher.  I went to IUniverse.

BB: Tell me how you chose that particular one.

SB: I looked and compared a lot of them on-line.  There were two to three that appeared to be the best, and this one had a program with a chance of getting into Barnes and Noble stores. IUniverse is owned in part, 25% by B&N, so I’m hoping this book will make it [into the program.]  There are three steps and I’ve made the first two.  The first step is to get a good review from IUniverse, which I did.  The second is to sell a certain number of copies, and now the next step will come in a couple of months when I can show that the book is continuing to sell a certain amount—you have to remember so far this is all by word of mouth. 

The first day it was on the market it made it to twenty-three on sales ranking.

BB: That’s incredible.

SB: Yes, I had sent the women who had read my first book an e-mail that said, “Women over forty are not too old to have fun!” And apparently they listened because the book has been selling very well and I’ve been getting e-mails from women who say it’s a lot of fun, it makes them feel young and they see similarities to the relationships between themselves and their husbands and their kids in this book.  And so I’m hoping that it will get into stores, and I must add that IUniverse is so happy with the book that they are putting a full page add into the New York Times in November.

BB: That’s wonderful. And of course you have your website as well.

SB: Well, yes, if people know about it. You can go to the site and see the two books. www.sharonboorstin.com

BB: I’m interested in the whole concept of the electronic world and people of “this vintage”, if you will, having a facility for it.  I’m actually finding, since I correspond with allot of book groups and am myself into technology in a very big way, that the publishing world may be behind the times with respect to women in terms of both their technology savvy and in terms of their interest and demand for books which address these issues, concerns and passions of this age group.

SB: One thing I was thinking about; Women in their twenties are worried about “getting a man” or someday having babies; Women in their thirties – pretty much the same thing, should they get married?  Women in their forties and fifties who have maybe done those things, maybe not, their main problem is confronting “getting older”.  It’s a shockeroo.  You want to continue to think that you’re young.

BB: Well I do think that women are aging better and looking after themselves. I look at pictures of my mother when she was at this age and women today look ten years younger and behave younger than they used to.

SB: Yes. What do they say “60 is the new 40”, or “50 is the new 30”, something like that.

BB: You have approached your writing from all these different perspectives – almost like preparing salmon in three ways; there is the screen writing, the food writing, and now fiction writing.  I wonder whether you’d investigated the genre of food writing and the incorporation into fiction, because it is very interesting to me. When book groups have their season wind-up meeting, which usually includes food, they look for a book with food in the theme, almost as a character in the book – I’m thinking of Tampopo, Like Water for Chocolate, Secrets of the Tsil Café. I wonder whether you started exploring this genre because it is such an ideal way to get to book groups?

SB: Well I didn’t know that or think of that.  I just wanted to write about a character that loves food… in a sort of sensual way.  I can really relate to a character that knows food.  My next novel will be another with recipes because I would like [to create] a character that is a caterer, which is a whole other thing from being a cookbook writer. She has to make things for 60 or 100 people and the metaphor there is: if she can do things for 60 people, can she do it for just one person? 

BB: Well Sharon I have a confession to make, I have a bit of a food background myself ...[having attended] a local French Culinary Institute that offered a full professional six month training course. 

When I graduated... coincidentally, the Vancouver International Summit [was taking place]... and I was fortunate to get as my first gig the distinction of cooking lunch for Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin [and 500 others] which was a great way to kick-off a resume in that industry.

SB: Oh my goodness. Well, catering is a whole other thing than being a cook in a restaurant, or certainly writing about food, or being a home cook because you’re cooking massive amounts.

BB: And usually in a location where there’s not enough electricity to run your [ovens and you’re blowing the circuits] or possibly there’s no place to wash the dishes except in the bathtub!

SB: Right, oh that’s funny.  Well so I think I really want to write again about food, and I can really picture the character.  Other people think about shopping – that’ s never been my thing, or sports, but I think about food.

BB: Speaking about food and your passion for writing passionately about it, have you got an excerpt from your book that you’d like to read for us?

SB: Yes, but it's not particularly about food, it's about what it feels like [when the two main characters, Kate and Miriam get off the plane at the Hong Kong airport in anticipation of meeting this man who Kate, has not seen for twenty-five years, and her feelings of insecurity.] 

Miriam is sort of looking like a slob; she’s got on drawstring pants, she has an enormous backpack that she has to carry. She’s one of those people who has to bring every medicine she can pack to a foreign country – her husband is saying to her on the way out to the airport in the car, “What are you doing with 100 Imodium? Why are you going to a country where you need 100 Imodium for diarrhea?” and she says, “No, it’s just to make sure…” she’s that kind of a person.

She’s not wearing any make-up because [it’s her friend who is meeting the boyfriend, she’s just there to blend in…]

Sharon Boorstin Reading Excerpt From, “Cooking for Love

 

In the Hong Kong airport bathroom I study my face in the mirror. As Kate’s facialist warned, drinking on airplanes makes your eyes puffy. Too bad I forgot accidentally on purpose to bring make-up with me. 

“Miriam, for heaven’s sake – the least you could do is put on a little lipstick”. 

Kate hands me the tube of soft corral lipstick that she just slicked on her lips.  I reluctantly smooth it on and rub my lips together. 

“It’s not much of an improvement.”

Kate spots my frown, “Come on, remember when you used to tell me in college, ‘If you weren’t so damn lazy, you’d look damn beautiful!”

“I never said ‘damn’,” Says Miriam.  I hand her back the lipstick. 

“OK, we’ve talked about the best case scenario with Eric, what about the worst case scenario?”

Kate glances at her diamond edged Mercier watch. “Gee, what a shame, no time, we gotta board in ten minutes.” She hurriedly fluffs up her hair and then stops, looking serious for a moment,

“You know what really scares me most Miriam?”

“What?”

“For the past couple of months emailing back and forth, it’s like Eric and I created this dream world where only the two of us exist.  What if it doesn’t translate into reality?”

“Look there’s only one way to go into this project with Eric and come out alive,” I say, thinking on my feet.

“Which is?” asks Kate, squinting and closing her mouth tight as she sprays herself with Joy perfume. 

“Well, you’ve got to live in the moment.”

“Hah, live in the moment! That’s the advice I get this from you, who won’t even take Yoga?”

“OK, so I’m not exactly what you’d call Zen.  But it works for some people.”

“Oh Yeah, like who?”

“Richard Gere?”

“Oh please, Richard Gere doesn’t have the guts to come out of the closet. How about Goldie Hawn? I remember seeing Goldie Hawn once at our temple on Yom Kipper in Beverly Hills. I nudged my daughter Lisa who was doing a slow ‘Why do I have to be here?’ burn beside me, “See, Goldie Hawn goes to temple,” I whispered to her. 

Years later when Lisa was in college she called me and said, “I guess you won’t be seeing Goldie in temple anymore.  I read in People magazine that she became a Buddhist.” 

“OK if Goldie can be Zen – and Goldie’s even older than we are!”

“Yeah, you gotta see this thing with Eric as a mad, passionate affair with no strings attached, don’t try to second guess the outcome.”  Seeing Kate perk-up I feel myself getting excited.  If things don’t work-out someday when we’re two old ladies in a senior assisted living facility… “Oh did I tell you?  We’re moving my mother to L.A.”

“What? What, what if it doesn’t work out with Eric?” Kate asks urgently.

“At least you’ll have some hot memories to keep your blood pumping.”

“But what if I get Alzheimer’s?”

“Write down everything that happens with you and Eric in that journal you have, and then whatever you can’t remember you can read about.”

“But I don’t want to be an old lady reading about being with Eric,” she whined, “I want to be the old lady being with Eric.”

I wag my finger at her, “There you go again. Live in the moment.”  

“Ok, Ok, ok.  I’ll live in the moment.”  Kate gives herself a once-over in the mirror. 

“The moment is all there is,” I continue, “You must not allow yourself to think of anything else.”  I catch my reflection in the mirror as I strap myself in my backpack, hunched forward under its weight.  I look like a Boy Scout embarking on a camping trip.  I face Kate and I hold up the first two fingers on my right hand the way my son Jake did when he took the Boy Scout oath in forth grade.   I wave my two Boy Scout fingers in the air.

“Kate, repeat after me”. 

“Huh?”

“Kate, repeat after me!  I Kate McGrath am going to Malaysia to have an affair, a mad passionate affair,” I continue. 

“Ok, a mad, passionate, erotic, obscene and totally debauched affair.”

“Let’s not overdo it,” I say.  I pick up her LV tote bag and hand it to her.  “OK babe, time to move out.” 

…END OF READING

 

BB:  [Cute!]  I can just see these two women primping themselves…

SB: I always picture Bette Middler and Goldie Hawn. 

BB:  Do you think that men have these insecurities?  When you were writing Eric in, did you get the perspective for his responses for this or is this imagined as well.

SB: I will say that I did see the guy and a lot of this is my response to that. I think I put in the book when Miriam meets him, (the two women had gone to Europe together) and so she remembers meeting him as a young man, twenty-five years earlier when he was sort of ugly, he had zits and he was gauky and tall and now he’s quite attractive.  So she’s sort of blown away by that but she feels the way a dad would feel when his daughter is about to go on a date with some guy.  She feels like she should grab him by the lapels and say, “Look you son-of-a-bitch.  If you do anything to hurt my best friend, I’m going to make sure“ …and so forth.  And so she’s very cautious about him. I won’t tell you what happens in the book, or what happened to my friend.

BB: Yes, we’ll have to leave them hanging on this. 

SB: If people want to e-mail me to ask what really happened, I’m happy to tell them. There’s an e-mail address in the book.

BB: We’ve touched on every element I’ve wanted to speak about with respect to the book. Is there anything you’d like to add, because you’re reaching out directly to groups?

SB: I think that [Cooking for Love is] a wonderful, fun thing to read for women in their forties and up because it’s really about women’s friendship, and getting older, and figuring out what choices you have in life at that point.  It’s a kind of love story between the two women because they are really good friends, and their friendship [transcends the] whole thing.  So, it’s about family and friendship.

BB: Family and friendship.  Sharon, thank you so much. 

 

Author Biography

Sharon was the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and has had articles appear in Bon Appetite, the Los Angeles Times, Playboy, More, Food Arts, Conde Nast Traveller (U.K), and Porthole. She and her husband, Paul Boorstin share writing credits on many TV shows, feature films and television movies. In addition she has two children and has lived in Beverly Hills, Ca for over twenty years, originally hailing from the Pacific North West, just outside Seattle, Washington.  Her first book was a food memoir, Let us Eat Cake Harper Collins (2002)

Sharon's Website    Sharon invites people who have questions about the book to contact her via email: sharonboorstin@aol.com 

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