Recently I answered an interesting weekly question over at Eat Like A Writer regarding how the pandemic has impacted my writing. (You can read all the responses here.) Little did I realize I might meet a kindred spirit! Please let me introduce you to a fellow author who also loves all things cooking! Let’s take a quick peek at her bio and then I’ve asked her to answer some questions based on her own website, Eat Like A Writer. Ready?
Liz Barrett Foster is the editor of Eat Like a Writer (eatlikeawriter.com). She’s an award-winning journalist, editor and author. Hailing from Michigan, she lived in Los Angeles for 19 years before landing in the south. A journalism graduate from Cal State Northridge, she’s written for an array of food and beauty magazines, authored a nonfiction pizza book about pizza and self-published a children’s mystery book about peanut butter.
Betty: How did you learn to write? A mentor, classes, conferences, craft books, or something else?
Liz: English was always my favorite subject in school. I was on the staff of my high school newspaper, took creative writing classes, and even earned my bachelor’s degree in journalism. However, I don’t feel like I learned to write in school. I was taught the fundamentals of grammar, sentence structure, and the rules of good journalism in school, but it wasn’t until I was working my first magazine job that I finally started getting a real writing education.
I was working at a beauty publication called Dayspa in Los Angeles. My managing editor, Linda Kossoff, would go through my stories with a red pen, marking what needed to be moved and changed. We would then sit down together, before I made the edits, and she would explain why she made the changes to my work. It was in that job that I learned how to make stories tighter and words flow better. I still believe it’s important for editors to show writers what they change, and why, so writers can learn from their mistakes.
Betty: That’s a very good point. A good editor will explain the reasons behind the edits so that the writer can learn from them. It’s a conversation, in essence. So, what type of writing did you start with?
Liz: As a teenager, I used to write a lot of poetry, mostly about boys. You can imagine. Every time I fell in love (which seemed like every other day back then) I wrote a new poem. More poems surfaced with every new heartbreak. I saved most of the poems in a binder, and I pull them out every few years to remind myself of those early days of writing.
Betty: I think I have a folder around somewhere that has some early writings in it but I haven’t had the nerve to pull it out in years. So, good for you! Looking back can be a scary business. What do you wish you knew before you started writing/publishing?
Liz: That’s a good question. So much has changed over the years with social media entering the picture, etc. But, I think if I would have understood the benefit of creating a brand around my writing from the beginning, it could have opened a few more doors for me along the way.
Betty: Having a brand is supposed to help readers find you. So is having an established genre or field you write in so that readers know what to expect. What prompted you to switch from writing about the beauty industry to writing about food?
Liz: I wrote about beauty and food simultaneously for several years after I moved from Los Angeles to Mississippi. But, I started to feel pulled in too many directions. I enjoy both industries, but they are very different when working with public relations professionals, operators, magazines, etc. I realized that to focus my time and energy, I would need to choose one. Since I was the editor of a pizza magazine at the time and had established a lot of connections in the food and restaurant industry, I chose food.
Betty: I think I would have done the same, honestly. I love cooking and baking and tinkering with recipes. I’m curious. You’ve written two books to date, one nonfiction and one a children’s picture book. How is writing nonfiction different from writing a picture book? Do you prefer one over the other?
Liz: These two books were completely different in every possible way. I worked with a traditional publisher on the nonfiction book and self-published the children’s book. The nonfiction book went through many, many, many changes, edits, revisions, etc. There were also rounds of photo and recipe gathering, nondisclosure/permission contracts to sign from everyone included in the book, and generally a lot of fact checking throughout. With the children’s picture book, once I had the story written, it was mainly a back and forth with my sister about the illustrations, which she drew by hand. I enjoyed the feeling of control I had with the children’s book, since I was self-publishing, but it was also a lot of pressure to get everything right, all on my own.
Betty: What inspired you to write Pizza: A Slice of American History?
Liz: I used to be the editor-in-chief of PMQ Pizza Magazine, the nation’s No. 1 pizza trade publication (yes, there’s a magazine all about pizza). Working in the industry for several years, you get to know a lot about pizza, and you meet a lot of pizzeria operators. The pizza book kind of fell in my lap, as luck would have it. A pizzeria operator I knew had been approached by a publisher about writing a pizza book. He, in turn, suggested that they contact me. I had not considered writing a book, but was flattered, and, of course, did not turn down the opportunity.
Betty: When opportunity knocks, it’s best to answer! I’ve written nonfiction work-for-hire books years ago, some of my first nonfiction. But I always wanted to write adult fiction. You chose a children’s picture book as your next project. What inspired you to write The Peanut Butter Bandit?
Liz: The Peanut Butter Bandit was a story I had in my head for several years. My husband Benjy loves peanut butter. I was always finding spoons and forks in the sink with peanut butter on them. When I’d open the peanut butter, sometimes I’d find marks from a fork scraping the inside. I started calling Benjy the peanut butter bandit. Finally, I decided it would make a cute children’s book, with the kids wondering where the strange marks were coming from in the peanut butter. I teamed up with my sister Shannah Barrett for the illustrations and we released the book just before Christmas 2018. (Buy your copy here: https://amzn.to/3dhZtoy)
Betty: The Eat Like a Writer site combines food and writing topics. What is your goal for the site?
Liz: You always hear how you should write about what you love, right? So, I sat down and really thought about what I enjoy. I looked through my social media photos to see what I post about, looked through my book collection, etc. I started to see a theme. I enjoy food, writing, and how other people start/grow their careers. All I needed to do was blend those ideas together. I realized that writers don’t really get a chance to connect with readers (or other writers) in a personal way very often. Why not connect them through the universal language of food? Eat Like a Writer was born. My goal is to continue to showcase the world’s writers, giving them an outlet to connect with readers in a more personal way with travel stories, recipes, and exclusive recommendations.
Betty: What are you currently working on with your writing?
Liz: My mom calls me Bizzy Lizzy because I always seem to be working on something new. That’s the nature of this business. When the Coronavirus came to town, many journalists had to shift their focus. I lost a couple of my biggest clients. For a short while, I wrote about the pandemic and how restaurant operators were navigating the situation. Now, in addition to Eat Like a Writer, I’m contributing regularly to the National Culinary Review and two websites: the food-focused Mashed.com, and Stacker.com, which breaks down expert analysis.
Betty: What advice do you have for others who are debating whether to write a book?
Liz: I think that if you have a story in you that needs to be told, you should absolutely write a book. If, however, you are thinking of writing a book to make money or become famous, sleep on it. No matter how many gurus try to tell you otherwise, writing a book is not easy. I spent almost the same amount of time on my children’s book as I did my nonfiction book, neither of which made me rich or famous. They did, however, give me a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. I was able to send the ideas and stories that were swirling around in my mind for months or years out into the world. Ask yourself why you want to write a book. Be honest with the answer. Think about why you enjoy reading, and what you expect to feel when you finish reading a book. The answers to those questions will set you on the right path.
Good advice indeed! Thanks so much, Liz, for swinging by to tell my readers more about your fun and interesting Eat Like a Writer site! I hope everyone will visit and see if it’s a site of interest to them as well.
P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!
Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.