One of my favorite scenes in Doughnuts for Amy is when the central character, a chef with a self-admitted "shoot first, ask questions later" management style, does something that perfectly suits his character and pulls off an ill-advised rescue of his love interest. He is rewarded not with a kiss but with a hard slap in the face and a biting rebuke. "You stupid impetuous idiot!" she screams, "Look what you've done!"
Well I suppose that in many ways that's me on the receiving end of that slap and I'm about to pay for my audacity and impetuousness with questionable reviews.
I love telling stories and trust me I've got plenty of them. Having grown up in and around New Orleans and being a professional cook since I was 21, I've had an interesting life. And I was always the guy that when faced with a challenge would say "sure thing, what do we have to lose?"
Strap a rocket engine to GI Joe? Houston, we have ignition!
Go alligator hunting? What time do we leave?
Take a 400 mile road trip with an hour's notice? We have a half tank of gas, let's go.
Open a restaurant with only $75K? Yeah I can do that.
Hit on Ellen DeGeneres? Yup, did that too, with the results as expected. Ellen, I still love you though, ok?
Race mountain bikes? Yes, and it's a great way to get on a first name basis with the nurses at your local E/R.
So about 15 months ago I decided that if I was going to be an insomniac, then I should at least do something productive with my time. We had closed our restaurant only a few weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers so I went looking for work and ended up as the Executive Chef at an enormous retirement community here in Greenville, where I would spend almost three years. I was there only a year when we went through a management change, after which my budget and available labor was slashed. We also got a new boss who after only a month asked her department heads to do rounds on a daily basis, just like a physician would, and once a week we should write her a quick note to tell her who we met. My eyes lit up at her suggestion although the other salary folks weren't nearly as thrilled. "Wow boss, that's a great idea!" In no time my rounds reports went from 100 to 500 word essays. In a retirement community, especially one as big as ours, there was never a dull moment so consequently I was rarely at a loss for words. After a few months of my reports she started telling me that I really should write a book and of course, I believed her. So in December of 2010 I approached my wife and asked her permission. I sketched out an outline about a Chef, Nick St. Germaine who sort of resembled me. He's from south Louisiana, he and his wife owned a restaurant in Greenville, he's fit and he happens to be a chef at a retirement community. Nick however, is a widower, having lost his wife in a traffic accident. He's moody, temperamental, full of self-doubt and suffers fits of depression yet he is also kind, compassionate and devoted to the octogenarians that are entrusted to his care.
My goal was to finish the novel, place the manuscript and query letters in Krispy Kreme doughnut boxes then send it off to agents, but the publishing world changed dramatically in the last year and I'm a shameless self-promoter that will try anything, because really, you never know what you're going to get until you ask, right? So I ended up skipping that part and going right into e-novel and doing my own promotion through my friend's restaurants. And after reading my novel several times over I'm past its charm and focusing on its flaws. Why didn't I describe my character's voices? One of my characters is in a wheel chair and uses oxygen, a common sight at a retirement community and that constant flow of fresh oxygen can really give one a watery note to their voice. Why didn't I build more flaws into Nick's son? The son is a six foot four high school senior with curly blonde hair, shimmering blue eyes and an athletic scholarship to the school of his choice. At 126,000 words is it too long? Is Nick too handsome, too muscular, too emotional? Should the cover be pink? And why did not I use more contractions? Why didn't I put more personality into some of the secondary characters? Ah well, as another novelist has told me, eventually you have to shove your children out into the world. I'm at that point now. Doughnuts for Amy will be available in paper in a few days and then it's off to beg and cajole the bookstores. I wonder if Ellen still remembers me?
Follow John Malik on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chefjohnmalik