Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Accidental Author

Or how to write a book without really trying!

Of course you know that I am only kidding about writing a book without really trying. Writing is hard work, a very strenuous and taxing undertaking for anyone involved in such a venture. In my opinion, those involved should be rewarded and paid very handsomely, especially those that have written a book. And now, the rest of the story.

As some of you may or may not know I am in the process of having a book published. For me, that’s some pretty exciting stuff. Currently I write monthly columns in both the National BBQ News and the KCBS Bullsheet and have been regularly posting to this blog since December 2007. As a side note, I receive nary a penny for my monthly contributions to these fine monthly publications. My reward is knowing that the few people that read my monthly columns, find excitement, enjoyment, tranquility and inner peace each month from my written words. In other words, like all those big time artists claim, “I am not in it for the money, I am only in it for the satisfaction of knowing that others appreciate my work and for what I can do to further advance the greater good of all mankind.” Yup, that’s me, greater good of all mankind and all.

I didn’t really start out to write a book or to even write this blog, it all happened sort of by accident. What follows is the story, or what my failing memory can remember about the story on how I began. What I can’t remember, I will just evoke my literary license that I now possess. For those that are wondering, literary license means as an author, I can write the story any way I see fit. Sort of like a politician citing approval ratings, unemployment numbers or giving a budget report!

Wickipedia notes:
In summary, literary license is:
• Entirely at the writers discretion
• Intended to be tolerated by the reader (cf. "willing suspension of disbelief")
• Useful for filling in gaps, whether they be factual, compositional, historical or other gaps.
• Used consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally or in tandem.

Not bad huh? Now, that is a license worth having!

Some of my regular readers will recall that my friend and BBQ mentor Steve Farin is the guy I have to blame/thank for my current BBQ addiction. Well, he is partly to blame/thank for this excursion into BBQ story telling that I currently find myself. Back in December of 2007 Steve was launching a blog site. He was going to include stories and pictures from all around the BBQ circuit.

Steve sent me an email asking for information or stories to post on his blog. Things were a little slow around the office at the time due to the Christmas Holiday season so I thought it might be neat to write a short story on how our team was started. I banged out the story and attempted to follow Steve’s instructions on how to add it to his blog. Being the internet and computer wiz that I am, I promptly went to the blog server page, opened a new blog account and posted my newly written story onto its own blog page. I never even got close to Steve’s page.

I was now a blogger and didn’t even know it. I sent Steve a note to tell him I posted my story on his blog and to see what he thought. To which he replied that he has not seen the story and has no idea where I could have posted it. A few more e mail exchanges and I realized what I had done. The simple solution would have been to go in and delete the new blog site, post on Steve’s site and be done with it. But, anyone that knows me would know I am not one to take the simple way out. I had some time on my hands, so why not scratch out another post or two, this could be fun. I could be a blogger. The beginning of the end is what it was!

I started to tell the story of how I came to get involved in competition BBQ cooking complete with suggestions and guidance to others that might be thinking of getting started. Back when I was planning on starting a team I searched around on the internet for available information for the nuts and bolts of starting a team. I found some information scattered about, but no concise one stop shop with the collection of pointers and info that I needed. I thought, while writing my blog, that I would give the readers, (both of them), a complete ‘how to’ guide on starting a BBQ team.

The posts would cover information that I had discovered through my own experience as well as info I had uncovered through my extensive research on the subject. As I told the story I also included recaps, results and mishaps from contests that my team had entered during its rookie year. While the number of posts began to grow, a funny thing began to happen; I started hearing from folks that had actually been reading my stuff. Most of the feedback I was getting was very positive. (Of course, there was that one guy that chased me down the street, but that is a story for another day) I even had some folks tell me what I already thought I knew, “I don’t think there are any books out there that cover how to start your own BBQ team, you ought to write a book.” How many times have you heard that one? This time was different, this time it was sounding like a good idea.

Now, I have to tell you the thought of writing a book had never crossed my mind. But the further I got into the project and the more research that I did, it started to appear that I might be onto something. As little as I knew about writing a book, I knew even less about having a book published. I searched the web and was overwhelmed with information dealing with publication companies.

Ray Lampe, better known as Dr BBQ is an accomplished writer and author. He is also a regular visitor to several of the BBQ forums that I visit from time to time. I dropped him a note to see if he would have moment to speak with me on the phone about my project. To my surprise, he did, and in February 2008 we spoke. Ray glanced at my blog and offered some thoughts to a fledging writer/blogger/wanna-be author.
I continued to work on my blog and as time moved on, I kept thinking about the book idea. Maybe it would work; there wasn’t anything like it out there. So I combined some of my posts along with some other info together and sent it along for a friend to edit. What the heck, I had nothing better to do.

A couple of months later, I received the edited copy back and set about to make the changes to my original draft. Once that was complete, I read and re-read what I had. It was good stuff, very informative, just a bit dry. It was like, maybe it could use a little salt and pepper. Something was needed to wake it up a bit, maybe a dash of cayenne pepper wold help. I had a bunch of other stories that I had written, some with a touch of humor, maybe I could add a few of the stories that were relevant to the particular information that was being given and see how that looks. What I ended up with was a combination of helpful information along with what I am calling ‘the lighter side” of starting a BBQ team, it seemed to work well together. Now what do I do?

Red Todd is a friend, a writer, and a darn good BBQ cook. He helped me with introductions to both the folks at KCBS and the NBBQN when I was thinking about writing monthly columns. Last year he self published a book containing many of his favorite recipes. I contacted Red and was advised how to self publish using the same company that he had used. I contacted Kristal Shade of Sherman’s Computer Service, Beach Creek PA, and was on the way to being self published.

I received the first shipment of my books in late July. I then began to send copies around to anyone I had an address for, just kidding. I did send out copies to folks that I had come to know while hanging out in the BBQ world for the past 3 years, asking for their thoughts and opinions. I even sold a few copies.

One afternoon my phone rang with a number that I didn’t recognize, it was Dave Dewitt, the former publisher of Fiery Foods and BBQ magazine. Dave is an accomplished writer/author and has written the forward in the first two of Dr BBQ cookbooks. I had sent Dave a copy of the book about 3 weeks prior. We spoke briefly on the phone, he said he glanced at my book and thought I might have something. He said that as far as he knew, there wasn’t anything like this book currently on the market. He then asked if I was looking for a publisher. Dave had a publisher friend out in Albuquerque NM that he had worked with in the past and they would be looking at the book and would be in touch in a couple of days.

To say I was shocked would be a huge understatement. Maybe it was all a dream. I ran downstairs and told Jo my wife what had just happened. The news was greeted by a large yawn along with the question, “what do you want for diner?” Maybe it WAS a dream. (Truth be told, without using literary license, she was very happy for me.)

A week came and went with not a word from Dave or his publisher friend. Was this the classic, don’t call me, I’ll call you scenario? I know, I’ll have my girl call your girl. The trouble was, I didn’t even have a girl, except for my wife Jo, and I know her well enough that she AIN’T answering any phone calls for me, that’s a fact! Boy, I am in trouble, no girl for me, who would his girl call? Maybe Jo would let me hire a young secretary for phone call answering only, hmmmm, maybe not, wouldn’t hurt to ask though would it?

Maybe I’ll call him, nah, best to wait. You have no idea how many times I picked up the phone. Finally almost a week and a half later, the call came. Dave said they had looked over my book and wanted to publish it, but first he had a few questions of me. “What were my expectations with the book?” Dave asked. I then launched into a five minute dissertation about how I just wanted to satisfy my readers hunger for information and try to accomplish something for the greater good along with a bunch of other horse hockey that I myself didn’t even believe. I could tell I lost him just after the “satisfy my readers” comment. As soon as he had the chance Dave asked the next and probably the most important question, “You aren’t expecting to get rich with this project are you?” As soon as I said “no” he seemed very pleased and ready to move onto the next step, a contract would be sent out shortly. Welcome to the world of published authors.

The next day the contact arrived via e mail. I read it over, signed and sent it back. I am on the road to being a published author of my own book. Pretty amazing if you ask me. I am told that the book will be released this spring. I have found that things move very slowly here in the book publishing world, even with a literary license.

Dave thinks there is market for a book on this topic, I hope he is right. Time will tell. I am looking forward to marketing the book and I hope that some folks might read it and become involved in this sport/lifestyle called competition BBQ. That would make it all worthwhile, for the greater good you understand.

I see in the fine print on the contract I signed that I may have to appear at book signings if requested. I knew I should have read that thing before I put my name on the dotted line. Book signings, I didn’t see that before, besides, who in the world would want me to ruin a brand new book by signing my name in it; I guess time will tell us that one as well!

Meanwhile I have a few ideas for my next book that I want to run by you when you have a minute, or maybe I’ll start a new blog, if I could only remember how I started this one, hmmmmm……Now, where did I put that license?

My book, entitled Startin the Fire is a detailed 'how to' guide on staring your own competition BBQ team and is on schedule to be released this spring. It will be available at

Monday, November 16, 2009

JOS BBQ Cooking Class

Unadilla Georgia, here I come

This past weekend I traveled to Unadilla GA to attend a cooking class given by Myron Mixon of Jacks Old South fame. I flew into Atlanta Friday morning, had lunch in North Atlanta with an old friend, and then began the 100+ mile drive south to Unadilla. South of Macon, just off interstate 75, Unadilla is a sparsely populated town located in Dooley County Georgia.

After checking into my motel in Perry Georgia, I traveled another 10 miles south to Myron’s house located in Unadilla. Friday at 6 pm he had a ‘meet and greet’ on the schedule. I arrived around 6:15 and found the yard already packed with a large group of eager BBQ students from all over the Country. As soon as I set foot into the lighted area under the Ezy-ups I was greeted by one of Myron’s staff and the fine southern hospitality never stopped from that point forward.

Everyone was given a name tag and a goody bag while a few of Myron’s gang laid out a fish fry that really hit the spot after a long day of traveling. Myron made the rounds and greeted everyone personally, much of the discussion was centered on what you wanted to accomplish or learn in the next two days of his class.

After dinner and a few cold beers, I was ready to head back to the motel for some sack time as we were instructed to be back at 7:00 Saturday morning to begin to work on the whole hog. Most of the others were as tired as I was and also adjourned to their rooms to get some rest.

The following morning found all the students back on site, notebooks and cameras at the ready, as Myron and his team began to work on the 210 lb hog that was being readied for the cooker. From that point on, it was a full morning as Myron moved from hog to shoulder to the KCBS meats. We took a short break to eat some burgers and hot dogs before we began the afternoon session which went right up till dark.

As soon as the sun set, Myron’s crew spread out a low country boil for supper that was delicious. Not long after diner, folks started to drift off to their motels to get some much needed rest as we were told we had at least as much, if not more, material scheduled to be covered on Sunday.

As promised, Sunday morning we were right back at it as meats were finished and presentation boxes were made. During the entire session Myron was clear and very thorough with the information he was presenting. Many times adding in some of the famous ‘color’ that he has come to be known for around the BBQ circuits.

Myron Mixon is a 3 time World Champion that has won many contests in an assortment of sanctioning body’s all across the Country. He has been cooking competitively since 1996. With his trademark hairstyle and black shirt he has become one of the most easily recognizable figures in today’s BBQ World.

Some might say that he is not going to give up all his secrets to a BBQ class, whether he does or doesn’t, no one knows for sure. What I can tell you is this, he gives enough information to fill a spiral note book about ¾ full and that’s for a guy that is not a super note taker. He allows his students to take pictures and ask questions, appearing to hold nothing back. Myron will explain that teaching his students his current methods makes him work harder and get better in order to keep up with or beat the folks that he has taught. Makes sense to me.

The mix of people that were in the class ranged from complete novice non competition, never cooked BBQ before, to guys that have already won more than a few contest Grand Championships, and everything in between. If you ask me, hearing Myron Mixon give his MIM whole hog presentation was worth the price admission all by itself, not to mention sampling some mighty good tasting BBQ.

Overall, there was a lot of good information disseminated and a ton of questions answered. The information was presented and demonstrated in a clear and concise manor. Recipes, formulas and mixes were all given including all measurements and amounts. Sources and websites used to gather needed supplies and equipment was provided. Was information held back? I think not. Will Jacks Old South be doing their contest cooking exactly like presented next season? Maybe not, but I think it will be very close. Will Myron Mixon continue to work to improve his product each and every time out? Without a doubt, I believe he would be doing that even without giving the classes.

The huge question now is can I take any of the information and apply it to my competition cooks, only time will tell. What I do know is you could give 10 cooks all the same box of cake mixes, the same type of equipment, and you will get 10 different cakes, every time. I am hoping I can bake a cake somewhat similar to what I saw this weekend. I am looking forward to trying some of the things I was shown and plan to begin this Sunday. After all, there are only 150 days until Salisbury and I have a lot of work to do.

Additional note:
Be sure to watch December 3 at 10 pm on TLC for the new show called the BBQ Pitmasters. The series will be shown in 8 segments which includes BBQ contests from all around the Country. Highlighted teams include Jacks Old South, Cool Smoke, Woodchicks, Slap Yo Daddy and many more.