Monday, November 13, 2023

TBR: All Things Edible, Random and Odd: Essays on Grief, Love and Food by Sheila Squillante

 TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe. 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


All Things Edible expresses the complexities of unresolved relationships, the importance of shared experiences, and how family and food make us who we are.


Which essay did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which essay gave you the most trouble, and why?


I had such fun writing “The Greenland Shark” because I borrowed the format from a Wikipedia entry and included much more research than is typical of my largely memoiristic essays.


“On Crying” was toughest to write because I was still raw from my mother’s death from cancer earlier that year. While there are many essays in the book about my father’s death, they were all written years later, when I had emotional and narrative distance. I cried through the writing of “On Crying,” and I cried the only time I’ve read it out loud.



Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


This book has taken 20 years to find a publisher. This is not an exaggeration. The earliest of these essays was written in 2003. When I began, I expected it would be what I was calling a “mosaic” memoir focused only on my relationship with my father, who died when I was in college, through the lens of food and the meals we shared (when it was hard to share much else). But the memoir market is fickle, and agents and publishers kept telling me it was too fragmented/episodic. Too much like a linked short story collection when it needed to be more like a novel in terms of development and arc. Well, that’s not and clearly never was going to be what this book is. While it was painful to keep getting told the writing was beautiful but the project unsellable over and over, in the end I’m glad it took the time it did to find a home because it allowed me to capture a much richer, more expansive portrait of my life. And most of it still through the lens of food. It’s a far better book for having been made to wait.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


“Don’t write what you know; write what you’re willing to discover.”—the poet Yusef Komunyakaa


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


Humor surprised me. I don’t think of myself as particularly funny? And certainly the subject matter throughout is pretty heavy. So, it was a nice surprise to find, and be told others found, moments of lightness or laughter.


How did you find the title of your book?


My publisher, Christoph Paul of CLASH Books, finally found the title, which is shared with the lead essay in the book, and which we both love. But, funny thing: it’s also the name of the blog I started when I first began writing about food and my father back in the early 2000’s. So, pre-destined!


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?


Oh yes! Come in hungry because we’ve got manicotti, meat ragu, fermented shark, lamb shanks, chana daal, Christmas cookies coated with Elmer’s Glue and at least three kinds of turtle soup. [See excerpt link below for a recipe within an essay!]













DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.