Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's Official

“It’s official.” 
I started this entry almost two months ago.
I got my damaged, useless, hard drive returned from the second of the companies who bill themselves as experts in retrieving information from damaged hard drives. 
It's official.  It is dead.  Nothing more they could do.
I feel so betrayed, by data doctors, the first company who sweet-talked me all the way through a month, my account rep Kelly cooing and reassuring me that “It looks good, they are sending out for more equipment.”  And “Looks good, starting testing.”
And so on. 
Just like someone nervously waiting and clinging to every word the doctor administers to the attendant family members while their loved one lays in the recovery room, I am fearful and at the same time, understandably hopeful. 
I hear “Looking good” as the constant refrain.  I hang on those words. That’s not surprising is it?
This goes on until I get a call on my mobile a hot afternoon in late July.  I recognize the Arizona area code by now. I’m driving so I pull over, foreboding.  When I hear a man on the other end, rather than my soothing Kelly, I know it is bad.  I should’ve hung up.

This new persona informs me there is nothing more they can do.  Dead. Morte. 
I say I can’t believe it.  Where’s Kelly?  Thinking she might be my rabbit’s foot, I resort to the known, the familiar.  This pronouncement of finality is more than I can manage. 

I refuse to believe there is nothing that can be done.  “What if there were state secrets on there? Or the cure for cancer?”  I had invented a litany of “what if “scenarios that could be most catastrophic and momentous to the world unless retrieved. 
To me, nothing was more important to me than my book.  And my pictures. 
But I was trying to appear more concerned with the welfare of the world and how a situation I describe could indeed happen and they just needed to take measures now to save the world.

Reality like this crash never really settles in. I had to ignore the “Why me?” explorations and blaming myself and wanting to turn back the hands of time…

I had already started to rewrite the chef’s profiles for the book, “Homegrown Long Island.”
I couldn’t let this disaster get in the way of publishing the book.
I owed it to the noble chefs, their farmers and gardeners and fishermen and herders and dairymen. 
And to my family and friends.  To my garden design clients. 
So many people had supported me throughout the process of the concept – securing the first publisher in 2002, getting the green light from Voyageur in 2008, the contract in 2009, the selection of New York City and Garden State and Hampton chefs in 2009 and 2010, and the change in direction or switch to expand the Hampton and to make the first book focus on Long Island. And to make the book about the New York City chefs, that was such a completed work by last November when the change was made, the second book. 

I’d come so far. I couldn’t let this crash derail the integrity of the project.
I had to complete the chef’s profiles for the book.

As I said, we did try another data recovery company and while they read to me from the same soothing script about doing the “testing,” “looking good,” blah, blah… I knew better than to be lulled.  While we had to try – figuring it is always necessary to secure the second opinion before declaring it terminal– it was useless. I knew. Dead is dead. 
(When this is all over, I swear I want to work with some techies to develop some way there can be a gas gauge kind of meter to alert the user that the hard drive is heading for the cemetery.  There must be a way.) 

Immediately, I had started writing from the very beginning.
Meanwhile, almost a month had passed since disaster struck. 
My wonderful, kind editor gave me an extension to September 15th.
I had 15 chefs to write about. 

The profiles offer an intimate look into what makes these sterling chefs the leaders of the local food movement.  And such outstanding cooks. 
The profiles chronicle how they doggedly got to the elevated, joyful, frustrating and rewarding position they are in today.  How they give back to their communities.  How they nurture and develop local food sources to meet their exacting standards. How they respect their terroir and their food relationships.  And oh, how they can combine ingredients to create such amazing, over the top culinary art. 
It was a very tall order to honor them.  Even with a lot more time to do it.  Now I had to crunch.

In terms of writing the profile, it is a four-step process for me.
From the notes I took for every chef interview I write the profile overview – a more fully- fleshed out outline, if you will. 
Next, I add to the overview draft from the digital recordings I made during the interview.  Whether on the phone or in person, the recordings help me capture the nuance that is part of a shared conversation. 
Plus my handwriting is so bad and I get so swept up in the interview that oftentimes when I return to the notes, I have to ask myself, “What does that say?” 

It’s a little like putting together a puzzle.  More so for step three, which is putting the text into some kind of order that makes sense – chronologically, mainly.

Then I have to think. Dream.  What makes this chef and his or her vision so unique?  Why are they leaders in the fork to table or fin to table movement? 
They offered me a very personal look into their culinary art -- what compels them to create delicious food that is full of local flavors – and to want to share their gastronomic alchemy.
The profile narrative has to be sweet to read.  So interesting for the reader to want to learn more about each chef and their unique story.

Then I write.
And write and write. 
It wasn’t always pretty… The process was filled with more drama and not a few frustrations.  I am hoping I will look back at the time and laugh.
It’s too raw to laugh yet….

It's Official also, that I can report the Manuscript is complete! 

I prevailed.  With help from family – mainly my talented, academy-award winning cousin Maryann who read through the profiles, offering input and support on the individual narratives, I made the September 15th manuscript deadline!  (Those email exchanges could be a book unto itself – the give and take and learning on both sides...) 

The profiles are now in the hands of the chefs for them to fact check. 

I am now rendering the gardens and farms into the watercolor art for the book and securing the plant lists and the four recipes from each chef.

Getting the manuscript written in time for the deadline was a huge, seemingly impossible task given the amount of time, or lack thereof, the work that had to be done for the extended photography sessions where we photograph the chef in their inspired garden or farm with their farmer or gardener friend, in the kitchen cooking, and of the plated food. 
And a myriad of other issues and things to tend to in this, the hottest summer on record in the northeast.

Now that the manuscript is completed, I can take the time to chronicle the making of the book. 
It’s been more than an adventure, I can assure you! 

So now I can start the Prequel.