Jun 122012

Lisa Fain in her Manhattan kitchen. (Photo by Jan Cobb.)

People hardly ever recognize Lisa Fain by name. But once she tells them her blog and book name, Homesick Texan, she’s blown her cover, suddenly a superstar.

Fain is a seventh-generation Texan who lives in New York City, hence the motivation for starting her blog. She is also the author of The Homesick Texan Cookbook, published last fall, and her writing has appeared in Saveur, Edible Austin and on SeriousEats.com. Her blog was named one of the top 50 food blogs in the world by the Times of London and the Best Regional Food Blog by Saveur.

During a recent conversation, she said she starts writing every day at 5 a.m. I wanted to know more:

Q. Tell me how your writing career led to the blog.

A. I graduated with a degree in English in 1991, and there were no jobs for anybody. I interned at the Houston Press and worked at Houston Metropolitan magazine as an editorial assistant. Then I worked for a textbook publisher for a while.

I always wanted to live in New York, and I moved here to write Continue reading »

May 152012

By now you’ve seen the announcements for the Oscars of food writing, the James Beard Awards for books, broadcast and journalism.

But have you read the pieces that won over the judges? I thought not.

I tracked down a handful of feature stories and explain why this is food writing at its finest. Here’s what it takes to win an award of this caliber, with links to writers so you can investigate who won as well:

1. Cooking, Recipes, or Instruction: Anna Thomas, Eating Well, for “The Soup for Life”

Here’s a sensuous look at how Thomas concocted recipes for green soups for her most recent cookbook, Love Soup. Her writing is full of action verbs (“a bitter wind was swatting down the last damp leaves”), evocative writing (“onions, slowly sizzling in the skillet, turned the color of Continue reading »

Mar 272012

Looking for a little inspiration? TED conferences (Technology, Entertainment, Design) cost $7500 per year to attend, but dozens of its speakers appear online on videos. Many are short enough that you can watch a few at a time.

Here are three picks for food writers based on storytelling, inspiration, and passion:

1. Filmmaker Andrew Stanton: “The clues to a great story.” Yes, the presentation is about animation (Stanton works for Pixar and includes some film clips), but his advice is spot-on for any writer. Plus, he opens with Continue reading »

Jan 242012

Has anyone not heard of David Lebovitz? He’s a super successful American food writer blogger living in Paris. He’s also a gorgeous photographer, author of five cookbooks and one memoir, and author and co-author of two apps.

I first met him on email in 2005, when he endorsed my book, Will Write for Food. Recently we spoke about his success and philosophy on food blogging, writing cookbooks, social media, and how he finds the time to get it all done:

Q. Why do so many people adore your blog? What is it about you and your subject matter?

A. It’s a combination of things. Part of it is I started a long time ago so I’ve had a long time to practice, to learn about blogging and build a site. Part of it is I live in Paris and that interests people. Plus I worked as a professional chef, which is part of the mix. People say they feel my blog is very personal; they know the person behind it.

My blog is largely about cultural differences because I’m a foreigner living abroad, and the longer you live somewhere, the more it gives you more credibility. And perhaps people can relate to being an “outsider.” Years ago I was more of a critic of certain aspects of French culture, but now I’m more of an observer and I try to be more neutral. The longer you live somewhere, the more you understand how people are and I’ve become more integrated, too, and understand the culture better.

Q. How has your blog changed since you started your website in 1999? What kinds of posts do you no longer do?

A. Now I microblog on Twitter (105,000+ followers) and Facebook (26,000+ followers). I used to do Continue reading »

Jan 172012

This guy is ready to interview. He's got his headset on so his hands are free to type. He's dressed up because the interviewee can see him on a Skype video chat.

Let’s say you want to interview a chef, restaurateur, farmer or author for a Question & Answer piece. Let’s say that person is famous and you don’t want to blow it.

You won’t if you follow a few rules:

1. Don’t waste the person’s time. Recently someone asked me to put aside an hour for an interview. I thought an hour was way too long, but I didn’t say anything.

I got what I deserved.

He spent the first half hour figuring out what to interview me about. I had to walk him through it, which irritated me, and that’s how we started the interview. Talk about starting on the wrong foot.

Most people who have an online presence have a website or articles written about them that you can find as easily as searching on their names. As you research, the content will lead you to write questions based on what would interest your readers most.

2. Do a ton of research. Sift through a mountain of information about the person, because that’s how you come up with the best questions. You can even review their posts on Facebook and Twitter and their bios on Linked In, if relevant.

3. Write questions that don’t lead to yes or no answers. Questions that start with “How did you feel about..” or “Tell me more about the time…” lead to great stories or quotes.

4. Set up a time to call or meet in person. State how long you’ll need and stick to it, then get ready. Yes, it’s easier to email a list of questions, but it’s not as good. People are busy and they might write one-sentence answers, or vague or uninteresting non-answers. Then you have to ask for Continue reading »

Jan 032012

Food writing students working on writing assignments in our beautiful Honolulu teahouse.

I met Hawaiian food blogger Mariko Jackson of The Little Foodie through this blog. A year ago she was a frequent commenter, and told her I wanted to come to Hawaii. I asked if she could help me set up a class. To my surprise, she said yes. Before this point, I had only taught classes for schools, bookstores, or conferences, so I was a newbie at planning my own event.

Our strategy didn’t go smoothly at first. I thought we needed a swanky restaurant lunch to attract food writers, because that strategy had worked well in Seattle. But it cost too much, and not enough people responded. Mariko lowered the price and dumped the restaurant, and to our delight, 20 food writers and bloggers signed up.

Lots of bighearted Hawaiians and mainland Hawaii lovers helped me get the word out. Hawaiians RT’d announcements of the class on Twitter; Amy Sherman of Cooking With Amy suggested some contacts; Catherine Toth, a prominent Honolulu food writer, interviewed me; the Hawaiian president of Les Dames Escoffier told members about the class and invited me to pupus (appetizers) at a trendy Continue reading »

Dec 202011

If you can get a sentence down, then a paragraph, then an essay, and maybe an entire manuscript, this is the season to be grateful. While 81 percent of the public says they want to write a book, most of them never get to that point. Because it’s hard.

At a workshop I conducted recently, one of the students said she hasn’t been able to write a blog post for the last four months. I have wrestled with my critic for more than 30 years of being published, and it is still a struggle. I can relate.

So this holiday season, I’m grateful I can produce the words. Being grateful, it turns out, is a mood changer. The other day I heard Continue reading »