I have a wonderful guest post today by James Beard Foundation award-winner Sheila Himmel, co-author (with daughter, Lisa Himmel) of Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia. David Kessler, MD, author of The End of Overeating and a former Commissioner of the FDA calls Hungry “An engrossing look at the power of food and eating … a deeply personal story about what happens when that power overwhelms.” Both the post and the book are touching, compelling stories that I know you’ll want to read. Sheila and Lisa are reading throughout California in August and September, too, including at Kepler’s, where I will certainly fill a chair. – Meg
I didn’t necessarily want to write a book. I wanted to have written one, like most people. At first I nurtured the commonly held dreamscape of the author’s life, in which she repairs to her simple but comfortable cabin on a mountaintop, with her head literally in the clouds and nothing but time on her hands. A book practically writes itself, everyone loves it, and she gets to do it again.
Then I grew up and met people who got books published. I was just a journalist and they were auteurs, but most of what they spent their time doing didn’t look like much fun. Fiction or nonfiction, their days involved fighting, selling, spinning, in addition to the lonely agony of writing. And then, perhaps, brief success ending in disappointment and heartache. The news business was a lot more fun.
Now that it’s true for me and my daughter, Lisa, with our book Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia, and early reactions are that it will be helpful to other families, I can say, “Of course, I knew all along it was a good idea.”
Here’s how it happened.
For ten years I had one of the world’s best jobs, restaurant critic at a major metropolitan newspaper. It was just before and during the dot-com boom, when Silicon Valley companies were having celebratory dinners at new restaurants all over town. Some of the recent zillionaires realized long-held dreams and opened restaurants of their own. My employer, the San Jose Mercury News, gave me a credit card and told me to include wine with dinner.
This was fabulous until Lisa started acting strangely around food, and by the end of high school had a very serious eating disorder.
As an editor, I used to love this kind of irony.
When Lisa seemed to be getting better, we wrote a front-page story about what we’d learned. The response was overwhelming. An author friend recommended his agent, Jane Dystel, whose clients include lots of food and health writers. She immediately saw a book. As did I, if someone else would write it.
Nothing happened for almost two years, when new owners began circling the Mercury News. Business in Silicon Valley was going bad. I had no idea how bad it would get for journalism, but with an agent, the germ of a book, and a husband with health insurance, I leapt at the newspaper’s offer of early retirement.
Now there was no excuse. I went into research overdrive, setting up interviews and reading everything about eating disorders, memoirs, anything about food obsession.
The onerous requirements of writing a non-fiction book proposal brought me back to earth. An outline and a sample chapter, fine, but a marketing plan? What is that about? Oh right, a book isn’t a vanity. As many dreamers were to find with their restaurants, that no matter how much they loved being big shots, they had to put butts in the chairs, the same went for a book. Who are the people who might read it?
Many months later, with lots of help from writer friends, I sent Dystel my proposal. We went back and forth until she was ready to put it out to bid, with a DVD of my appearances on television so editors would know I could speak in full sentences. Dystel and our editor at Berkley Books, Denise Silvestro, have been invaluable trail guides in a perilous industry. Lisa had a very bad relapse just as we were about to sign with Berkley, but Silvestro could not have been more understanding. Both have been accessible, knowledgeable and clear-sighted.
Whatever happens now, as Lisa said, “We wrote a frickin’ book!” – Sheila