Forking Good at the Quirk Books Booth at BookExpo!
A dear friend met me for coffee a month ago and gifted me with the mug pictured below; when I opened the box, I laughed long and hard in the cafe where we were enjoying breakfast–it was perfect.
When we started working on FORKING GOOD, I knew the deadline was going to be tight. I write pretty well under pressure, although it’s often at the expense of things like sleep, socialization, and self-care. What I was not prepared for was *cooking* under pressure—because this cookbook manuscript wasn’t just an exercise in writing clever philosophy lessons related to the sitcom The Good Place. It also required creating 30 tasty recipes that tied into those lessons.
As I have written before, I love to cook, and serving a meal to be enjoyed with people I love is one of my favorite things in the world. Most of the time, however, I’m a largely improvisational cook. I start with a recipe that’s new or familiar, and I adapt based on what’s in the pantry, what we have a taste for, who’s coming to dinner. I love that moment of adding new herbs and spices, and changing things up a little. I rarely note my changes, except in the general sense on a recipe card or page of a cookbook.
It will come as no surprise that this is not the way one creates a recipe to be shared in a cookbook. One must measure and record with precision and accuracy to be able to recreate a dish exactly. This was perhaps my greatest personal challenge in the process, making sure that I recorded and measured every pinch and dash and time change.
Most of the time we tried to make recipes in time for dinner to be shared with the kids (or a few guests) for taste-testing. They were amenable to the experiments; and for a few weeks, it solved the never-ending question of “What’s for dinner tonight, Mom?” However, time constraints due to the dayjob and deadlines meant that we spent many nights making versions 2 or 3 (or 4) of a recipe at 1am (which then were frozen for future leftovers).
Long days of working, cooking, cleaning up, and writing meant that I was certainly grateful for the cocktail taste-testing required by Stephen’s drink recipe cultivation, and by the time we turned in the draft of the cookbook to our wonderful editor, Jhanteigh Kupihea, I was ready to order Thai takeaway and have a glass of wine. For a week.
Enough time has passed that I’m back to cooking enthusiastically, and we’re so excited about sharing the book when it comes out in October! In the meantime, we’ve got photos and sneak-peeks to share along the way, and I’ll do that here and especially on our Instagram feed(s):
Last week at Book Expo, our publisher had a table and was giving away promotional BLADs (stands for Book Layout and Design, these paperback excerpts from the book are given to publishers and readers to promote advance sales.) Danielle Zimmerman of Hypable was there and got a copy:
After several people we know and love told us that we really should be watching NBC’s The Good Place, Stephen and I finally made time for it. We loved it and rewatched it with the kids in time for Season 3 to begin.
For those of you who are not yet familiar, the show begins with Eleanor Shellstrop, who wakes up dead one day, welcomed into “the Good Place” as a reward for living such a good life. She is given her dream home, a heavenly neighborhood, and a soulmate. The only problem is that Eleanor realizes there has been a terrible mistake. She is the wrong Eleanor Shellstrop. They think she was a noble, self-sacrificing activist. The truth is, she lived a selfish, morally questionable life.
Realizing that she does not deserve to be in the Good Place, Eleanor convinces her soulmate, Chidi Anagonye, a moral philosopher, to help her learn how to become a good person and hopefully earn her spot in the Good Place…so that she does not have to suffer an eternity of torture in the Bad Place. The show follows Eleanor and her new squad of dead friends as they try to navigate the experience of afterlife living in the Good Place.
The show has a big heart and a smart (and not mean-spirited!) sense of humor that is often peppered with puns, and not just clever puns…but clever food puns.
Those of you who know me, know that I love food—preparing it, sharing it, and savoring it. In many ways, food IS myphilosophy. (Another blog post on that soon.)
Those of you who know Stephen, know that the part of his brain that makes puns (just like the part of his brain that makes up song lyrics à la “Weird Al” Yankovic in perfect melody to match almost any situation) never stops working. Never. Puns are as central to his worldview as food is to mine.
One morning after watching a particularly funny The Good Place episode, Stephen and I were driving to work, and Stephen was making puns (as he does) inspired by the show. I groaned but joined in, and we tossed around several philosophy-pun-inspired recipe titles for food that fans of The Good Place would probably appreciate..
The light turned red, and we looked at each other and knew we had to pitch it to Quirk Books, our Geek Parenting publisher, because if a fan cookbook inspired by the show didn’t already exist, we needed to write it. We spent the weekend brainstorming, pitched it, and Forking Good was born.
The Good Place creator Michael Schur does a brilliant job of creating a vivid world and lovable, flawed characters. We intend for our cookbook to be a love letter to the show—to food, to puns, and to philosophy.
The show loves its characters, and so we grow to care about them too. Through three seasons, we cheer them on to become better, and perhaps along the way, it get us thinking about how we can also become better people too.
In a really wonderful New York Times story from last October, Schur is quoted saying, “We’ll keep trying as long as we can. We’ll keep trying. No one is perfect. No one will ever win the race to be the best person. It’s impossible. But, especially since starting this show, I just think everyone should try harder. Including me.”
Schur cites writer David Foster Wallace as a personal inspiration in several podcasts and interviews. he frequently references the following quote from a 1993 interview with Wallace. After reading it, I’ve printed it out and keep it posted nearby my writing space:
Look, man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.
We are so excited to bring you Forking Good with Quirk as our wonderful publisher (Just in time for Season 4!), and the whimsical art of Dingding Hu is going to be such a fun complement for our writing and recipes! We hope that you’ll watch the show, enjoy the book, make and share some recipes, and celebrate what’s human and magical in our world. Because no one knows what actually comes next; but right here and now, we have each other, and we can make art, we can make delicious food, we can make communities of people we love, we can make memories to cherish, and that’s what we want in our Good Place.