Read, Eat, Drink: William Zinsser on Nonfiction and a Wild Feast

Literary Agent Advice

Read:

How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal by Self-Publishing (Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed): “It’s not any easier to interest an agent or publisher when you’re self-published, and since new authors are more likely to put out a low-quality effort (they rush, they don’t sufficiently invest, they don’t know their audience), chances are even lower their book will get picked up.” As Jane puts it, “we have a serious epidemic of impatience.” The truth is that publishing a book is easy, but finding readers for a book is hard. More here on how to decide if self-publishing is right for you.

What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include (Maggie Langrick on The Write Life): “I now counsel all of our authors to build a relationship directly with their readers.” The wonderful thing about this Internet age is that no one can keep you from your readers but you. That’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also a lot of opportunity.

The Biggest Business Mistake I Ever Made (Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer): “My big mistake was ignoring my email list. I just didn’t understand why it was crucially important until a friend showed me the light.” From my data, there are tons of bloggers and aspiring authors who are making this same mistake. In fact, of the last 10 calls I had with aspiring authors over the past few weeks, exactly ONE understood the importance of building an email list. Guess which one I offered to represent.

The Art of Science Communication: William Zinsser on How to Write Well About Science (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings): The day William Zinsser passed away, I picked up my old yellowed copy of On Writing Well, and it pulled me back to my journalism days in college. I didn’t realize it then, but Zinsser, McPhee, Mitchell, and the whole crowd from my Literary Journalism class are the ones who dragged me, happily, into making a career in nonfiction. I remember picking up The New Yorker sometime in high school, spotting an article about UPS, and being so riveted I couldn’t stop reading. Good nonfiction makes even the most dense and mundane subject fascinating. As Zinsser says: “Writing is not a special language owned by the English teacher. Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly, about anything at all. Science, demystified, is just another nonfiction subject. Writing, demystified, is just another way for scientists to transmit what they know.”

Eat & Drink:

Before I jump into this week’s Eat & Drink, an important question: Does your diet consist almost entirely of chicken tenders, mac and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and other delicacies from the kids’ menu? If so, please avert your eyes. Things are going to get what you would consider “gross.”

For the rest of us, let’s talk about delicious, free-range, nut-fed squirrel meat. Squirrel is one of our native meats in North America, and it’s an incredibly lean, flavorful meat that’s very similar to rabbit. Squirrels are an abundant natural source of protein, and if we ate more of them we’d have less factory farms, less sick domesticated animals, and less humans who are sick from eating those animals. But now I’m starting to sound like Joel Salatin.

Anyway, two or three years ago I would have never considered eating squirrel (even though I grew up on my Spanish grandpa’s rabbit stew). But last weekend I found myself in a big barn kitchen in Michigan, pressing squirrel legs into flour and browning them in the world’s largest cast iron skillet. It was perfect.

We transferred the browned meat into the world’s largest cast iron pot (it’s good to know people with well-outfitted kitchens!), then we sautéed onions, garlic, peppers, and wild morels in the skillet, deglazed it with beer and wine, poured the whole thing into the pot, and popped it into the oven for a few hours.

Squirrel stew

To go with our local, wild meat, we needed some local, wild sides. Jarrett and his farm neighbor Brian had hunted the squirrel in December, so off the three of us went to hunt for wild asparagus and morels in Brian’s fields.

I can’t really put into words how gratifying it is when you spot and pluck your first spear of asparagus from a field. It’s almost as gratifying as when you push aside a pile of leaves under an old tree and spot your first morel. I may have shrieked. This is probably why I could never make it as a hunter of anything that has ears and can run away from me.

For someone who grew up in the suburbs thinking that food only came from the supermarket, it’s almost shocking to see your everyday, regular foods in their natural habitats. It’s like seeing a salt shaker growing on a tree. You can’t quite believe it’s just growing out there, free for anyone who wanders by. I felt a little sneaky about grabbing it without paying something to someone.

Wild asparagus

The truth, though, is that wild food is priceless. We picked at least three pounds of wild asparagus (probably with enough dorky Euell Gibbons references between me and Jarrett to make us terrible company), 6-7 large morels (it was the last gasp of the season), and then had ourselves a stew of better quality meat than can usually grace our table.

Asparagus and morel recipe
Wild asparagus and morel rafts speared together, coated in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and grilled. One of the best things I’ve eaten this year.

IMG_0546 (1)

Out where we live near DC, you can’t buy asparagus so fresh that the stems are still moist. You can’t just buy fresh morels, because they whither after only a day or two. And you definitely can’t buy, or even find, squirrel meat. You can’t go to a restaurant and buy a meal as good as this one, and you can’t buy the generous friends who let us be a part of that.

And if you’ll let me be sappy for just one teensy little second: I spent part of the drive back from Michigan thinking about how Memorial Day is about the things we can’t buy. The sacrifices, hard work, and generosity that allows us to live these happy little priceless moments. More goes into these moments than we can ever imagine.

On that note, I hope your weekends are full of the best little moments. We’ll be over in our corner of America, gorging on asparagus and enjoying these last few days of Spring!

3 thoughts on “Read, Eat, Drink: William Zinsser on Nonfiction and a Wild Feast

    1. Sorry for the woefully late reply–I missed this somehow! And sadly, I don’t have the recipe either. It was one of those toss-things-in-and-taste-often type of things. 🙂

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