Monday, September 23, 2013

Stephanie O'Dea--cookbook author/blogger stops by

by Elizabeth

We had a glorious weekend here in DFW, and sometime during the not-hot Saturday afternoon, I realized this was the beginning of fall. A few years ago I realized that October is my favorite month, really the heart of autumn. One big reason is it means wonderful stews, and for those, I love to turn to my crockpot. And for my crockpot, I turn to Stephanie O'Dea, a blogger I've followed for a number of years who is basically the crockpot queen. Tomorrow Stephanie has a new book coming out, and it felt like a conversation when I asked if we could feature her on the blog.

Here's what Stephanie has to say about her book:

My newest cookbook is available and arriving in your friendly neighborhood bookstore in September. This book took almost two years to write, and it was a definite challenge! It features 365 brand-new dinner recipes (only 10% are from the site, the rest have been kept top-secret!) – all made in the world’s best kitchen appliance: the slow cooker! This is my first cookbook to have color photos, and I am thrilled with the way they came out, thanks to photographer Tara Donne. Like my other cookbooks, the recipes are completely gluten-free, and even the photographed food is gluten-free! (If you aren’t gluten free, simply ignore my notes…) You’re going to love this cookbook!!

And here's what she had to say to me:

EL: We at WWW are all fiction writers, and though we've featured a few non-fiction authors, you are the first cookbook author we've interviewed at WWW. Can you give us a little history on how you came to get published and what the process was like for you?

SO: I have a literary agent. I signed with her back in 2006 or 2007 to help sell my Totally Together book. She was wonderful--we kept getting turned down but finally secured a book deal, only to have the publishing house decide at the last minute to not publish it because of the down-turn to the economy. I was so worried she'd dump me!

The slow cooker thing kind of took a life of it's own after I ended up being on the Rachael Ray show (I got on because I emailed the show through their website) and book publishers started to email. I had a few publishers interested and Alison (my agent) handled all of the negotiation.

EL: As I understand it, your books and appearances etc. all started with your blog back in 2008. What inspired the idea for it, and what was that year like both from a cooking and writing point of view?

SO: I started the blog because I needed a job. We had moved back to the Bay Area and I was teaching preschool but had to quit because my (then) 2-year-old was vomiting sporadically. I thought it was day care germs so I quit working, even though we really (really) needed the income. We found out that she has Celiac (she's fine now!) which at the time wasn't as prevalent as it is now; I didn't even know what gluten was!

After she recovered, I began working part-time for BlogHer at home and was also writing for Bay Area Parent magazine. I liked both jobs but could tell through my work at BlogHer that there were very (very) successful bloggers making a good living at home. I wanted that!

So I decided to blog --- but the catch was that I knew I wasn't interested in divulging too many personal details with the Internet. I liked the google-ability of food blogs and joked with my husband that since I didn't really cook, I only knew how to "crockpot," I should write about that. And that's how A Year of (CrockPotting) Slow Cooking got started.

EL: With fiction, rewriting is probably a bigger part of the process than the initial writing. Is that true for cookbook writing? How about "rewriting" recipes--what do you go through  with that process?

SO: I really like writing. I recipe test the ingredients part of the recipe a few times, but write and "write in my head" the Verdict or an Introduction to a recipe quite a few times before submitting. I am lucky in that my mom is a fantastic editor and she looks over everything I do before I let an editor see it. I went to school for English Lit and always thought I'd write "something," although cookbooks never (ever!!) entered my mind!

EL: Is there a recipe in the new book that's your favorite? 

SO: One of the recipes in the new book made a big splash online: the slow cooker matzo ball soup. You are more than welcome to repost it, if you'd like.

EL: I have two kids myself, and have been very aware of maintaining our family privacy when this blog was launched. As someone with a public presence, how do you balance privacy and exposure?

SO: I don't share anything in print that I wouldn't want EVERYONE to know. I don't have a personal facebook page, and I'm cautious about ever referring to the kids by name. But I am still exactly who I am. My friends in real life aren't surprised by anything because I'm not trying to  be someone/something I'm not. I might not share every last detail of my life online, but the stuff I do share is exactly the truth, and nothing but.

EL: That said, any fun "Aren't you Stephanie O'Dea?!" stories? Double points if they take place in an elevator; triple points for the ladies' room.

SO: No! Gosh, now I'm depressed!

EL: What's the best part of promoting a new book? What's the most challenging?

SO: It's very satisfying to have something tangible in my hand to show my children and parents. It's neat to be online, but there's something more legit about seeing your name on a piece of paper.

As for promotion, I try super hard to not over-promote online. It's hard, because that's what your publicists and editors want, but I grew this audience over a bunch of years and I don't want to take any of them for granted. If someone wants to buy a book, they'll do it. But nobody wants to get pitched at 24/7.

EL: Finally, what question do you never get tired of?

I never get tired of people asking for help with going gluten free. It was a tough realization for me that I'd have to overhaul our whole way of life, and if I can help anyone fare better than I did in the early stages, I'm happy to help.

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