In the gripping and hilarious novel The Junketeers, Marin Flynn has toiled for years as a food magazine editor living in New York City. For Marin, art lies in food. For example, she obsesses over salt. "If I could take only one thing to a desert island it would be salt. It improves the taste of every single thing," she explains. "I had half a dozen kinds of salt at home, using pinches of lavender salt or pink Himalayan or Maldon flakes, depending on my mood. I was such a proponent of big-grain salt that I'd thrown out my salt shaker, preferring to grind it."
Marin's real dream is to to be liberated from her cubicle, travel to far flung places and taste gastronomic wonders along the way. As she says, "I wanted to try duck tongues in China instead of Flushing, bulgogi in Korea instead of Koreatown, green-lipped mussels in New Zealand."
When Marin finds herself suddenly unemployed, she finally gets her wish. A series of freelance writing assignments have her zigzagging the globe: writing about vodka and perogies in Poland, covering an exotic sacred island in Pama Pama, Fiji, reporting on Scotch and castles in Scotland and penning a wine story in Argentina.
It's a fantasy-fueled life for Marin, but also filled with a fair share of hijinks. Marin is not alone on these dreamy trips. She travels with fellow journalists who are also on assignment. And the crew is motley one -- a mishmash of snobs, complainers, wackos, and know-it-alls.
And then there's the Countess.
Enter the ever stylish, chic and salty-tongued Countess Jacqueline de Beaumont who covers sex and wine for glossy magazines. Her edict? "Moderation? It's really overrated. My life has been about pursuing passion. If you practice moderation, how can you ever follow your heart?"
Earning her fancy title though a short, short tumultuous marriage, she's as bold as her perfectly lacquered blood red nails. Armed with a degree from Barnard and a knack for tying a pareo 35 different ways, Countess Jacqueline de Beaumont is always game for a good time -- especially when it comes to the local guys she encounters along the way.
A fearless veteran of some 70 trips for story assignments, the Countess takes newbie Marin under her wing. As the Countess declares, "I always follow my fantasy, creating my life like a novel." And hers is a page turner.
As the Junketeers unfolds, the two women traverse the globe with a series of hilarious, colorful--and sometimes insufferable-- wacky bunch of characters. Part Sex and the City, part armchair traveling, this work of fiction was co-authored by talented writers and story-tellers Julie Besonen and Sheri de Borchgrave.
Besonen talked to me about co-writing the Junketeers.
Q: Marin and Countess Jackie offer some biting and funny wisdom in the novel. What are some of your favorite quotes?
JULIE BESONEN: From Countess Jackie:
"Whining about your marital problems is the type of thing only your mother has the energy to listen to."
"Bright colors help keep people awake when they have jet lag."
"You can tell a lot about a man if he likes his mother. If he doesn't, he's not worth pursuing."
"To look younger than you are, buddy up with older people. You look younger by comparison."
"No man wants to hear the 'M' word at the beginning of a relationship, no matter the reference."
"Displaying framed photos of yourself with celebrities is equivalent to name-dropping."
"Garlic juice on my fingertips is perfume to me."
"'I almost had to wait,'...my favorite Louis the fourteenth line."
Q: I know this is a work of fiction. Are these wacky characters based on real people?
JULIE BESONEN: The characters are largely composites. We've traveled with some really brilliant, funny, successful writers. We've traveled with some people who were frauds and with some people who were just, pills - demanding, obnoxious and having diva-like behavior. It runs the gamut. But there are always some people on each trip who I've really enjoyed getting to know.
Q: How did the cuddle party make its way into the book?
JULIE BESONEN: For a long time Sheri was a sex columnist for Cosmopolitan Magazine and also wrote racy stories for other publications. She was asked to cover a cuddle party in Manhattan. Apparently people get together and hug and cuddle and roll around on the floor. But as soon as she got into the living room where the cuddling was to take place, she noticed that there was a snake in an aquarium in the corner and she just ran out screaming and never did the story. She's terrified of snakes.
Q: Where did you find your inspiration for the hilarious section about the island in Fiji?
JULIE BESONEN: Sheri went to a deserted island in Fiji and just assumed that there would be other journalists joining her. But it turned out she was the only person on this island, and it was haunted and she had to stay in a hut by herself. She had a man servant, but every day he was always trying to shake her down for cigarette money. The island was owned by a Fijian princess who was harassing her about the kind of story she was going to write.
Q: What inspired you and Sheri to write the Junketeers?
JULIE BESONEN: Meeting Sheri (who is actually a real-life Baroness and was married to a Baron). We first connected on a trip to Poland. I gravitated towards her because I thought she was so funny and so interesting. We would stay up late after the rest of the group had gone to bed and sit in the hotel bar. She told me one hilarious story after another. I started to tell her some of the stories of different journalists I knew and crazy and bad behavior. Then we realized we had something. We told the stories that made us laugh. When we sat down to write the book we would turn on a tape recorder and tell each other stories. If it really cracked us up then we knew it was something we wanted to put in the book.
Q: Tell me more about Marin.
JULIE BESONEN: Marin is a woman who's turning 30 and remaking her life from scratch because she's just been laid off from her job. She's trying to make it as a freelance writer and wants to travel the world, have a life of adventure and experience everything through food. She gets sucked into the world of the Countess who's much more sophisticated than she is and leads her down many wrong roads with her bad advice.
Q: Do you still travel like this for stories?
JULIE BESONEN: No, not for several years. When my writing career took off I had to stay home and work. And then a few years later I signed a contract with The New York Times that forbids trips, and I've honored that contract. Sometimes I miss them because there's this intense camaraderie that happens when you're traveling with a group of people and you start to have all these inside jokes.
Q: In the book, you talk about cocktail writers versus wine writers.
JULIE BESONEN: The cocktail writers were full of laughter and easygoing. They weren't picky about what they drank. They were cheerful, smart and liked the history of drinking and were very fun-loving people to be around. Wine people were more academic and disdainful of someone like me not having as great a palate. Their interests are more esoteric. They like to know the percentage of the grapes which are estate grown, how high the fences are in the field, the age of the oak barrels. I've never enjoyed that kind of information. And I got in a lot of trouble for not spitting. I was pulled aside and told I wasn't being professional because I was swallowing the wine. And I said, 'that's how I taste the wine -- by swallowing.' They even tried to teach me the proper method of spitting. But I really didn't want to spit. I wasn't driving and I really enjoyed the finish of the wine. I like to just drink the wine with food and say, 'oh, this is delicious.'
To learn more about the Junketters visit, www.thejunketeers.com.
(All photos used with permission.)