She is a former agent/editorial director for Baker’s Mark Literary Agency (the literary agency behind Boilerplate History’s Mechanical Marvel, Never After, and Comics 101) and current ghost writer and editor at Cogitate Studios. I “met” Gretchen online two…maybe two and a half…years ago when I queried her. Long story short, she didn’t become my agent, but we clicked, became friends, and kept in touch ever since.
Hi Gretchen, welcome to Pots 'N Pens.
Gretchen: *waves to everyone*
Let’s say a couple of your characters are raiding your fridge right now, what are they most likely to eat? Are they disappointed or excited about what they find?
My current solo (non-editing or ghostwriting) project is historical, so my characters would be confused—and probably very excited—to be in my fridge. I currently have quite a few nice cuts of meat and fresh veggies, not to mention cutting board turkey and puddings and honey yogurt, so I imagine it would be a heck of an experience for someone used to crusty bread with cheese as an entire meal.
Is there a food you’d love to learn how to cook or a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write?
I’d love to know how to cook Sichuan Chinese food. I’m a huge fan of this wonderful restaurant in
Ghostwriting and editing, as well as writing my own stuff, has given me the opportunity to work in a lot of different genres—at least to some degree—but one I devour and would love to write is thriller. I am completely infatuated with the Pendergast novels right now (by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child), and while I’ve edited mystery, I’ve never attempted to write any, let alone thriller, and I think it would be so much fun. I’ve always loved old-school suspense, such as Ian Fleming and John D. MacDonald, so I suppose it’s no surprise I’ve found a new special agent to love and would want to write those types of books.
What are three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen?
Hot sauce—I like to have about ten around to choose from. My favorites are: Nando’s Peri Peri Sauce (they have Nando’s restaurants all over
Garlic—both fresh garlic and garlic salt are used a lot in my house.
Milk—I love milk and would drink it most of the time anyway, but it also cleanses the palate, so it’s good to sip while cooking, as it gives you a fresh taste every time you check your flavors.
I didn’t know that about milk. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind. What’s your favorite kitchen accessory or appliance? How about a favorite writing accessory or reference?
I bought my partner, Henry, a professional-grade Santuko (a Japanese chef’s knife) that is the best cooking implement ever; you really don’t realize how much a properly sharpened and weighted knife makes all types of preparation faster and better.
However, as far as writing goes, there’s no way I could live without my laptop. I’m attached to my MacBook Pro in an unhealthy way, and my favorite references are Chicago Manual of Style online, which is immensely helpful when editing, and I’m currently loving What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew for the historical stuff I work on.
That’s awesome. The only kind of knife I have in my kitchen is a steak knife. Yes, I do need to upgrade. Anyway back to you….What is your A+, number 1 writing/editing/query-reading snack?
Cheese curds. I know that sounds weird but I’m obsessed with them. They make a lot of cheese in
Cheese curds, YUMMO! Girl after my own heart! *Ahem* If you could borrow one person’s zest for writing and/or life, whose and why?
I’ve worked with some really amazing writers whose spirit I truly admire, so to be as diplomatic as possible and not name one of my clients over the others, I would have to say that Kurt Vonnegut had a playful spirit, both in his writing and in life that I will forever be in awe of. I love his irreverence, eccentricity, and orneriness.
I'm still thinking about the cheese curds so will you please share one cheesy “writing is like cooking” thought?
Writing is like cooking because even with the perfect ingredients, execution, and presentation, it’s always more fulfilling when it’s shared, and enjoyed, with others.
What’s your go-to meal when you need to serve something quick and easy?
This may sound counter-intuitive, but bear with me. I tend to be the takeout-girl if I’m feeling dinner needs to be quick and easy, unless I have a bit of warning. My favorite, completely simple meal that takes no time at all is something that still needs planned a day ahead but the prep itself is ridiculously fast. I serve it a lot for guests because I can entertain without being stuck in the kitchen and still serve a great a meal.
Basically, the easiest meal I know is pot roast with potatoes, carrots, and onions. I’m originally from the
Sweet! That's my go to meal as well. If your book were a menu item, describe the restaurant that would serve it (e.g., type of food, atmosphere, music).
I think a traditional British pub would serve my book—a place that serves pints, where you seat yourself in wooden chairs and have to go up to the bar for service, where people talk over each other and everyone is having a good time, and where you can order bangers and mash but they don’t have the ingredients for cosmo.
Tell us about your edible specialty, and rate your skill in the kitchen: novice, not bad, or nominate me for a Michelin star.
I make chicken enchiladas that friends request sometimes, so I have to assume that must be one of the better things I make.
I like to consider myself ready for Master Chef but I know I’m not there; I’m more of an apprentice. I know how to make a lot of things pretty well, but there are some things I’d completely flounder when trying to attempt. In general, I can handle cooking when I know what ingredients I can use. My partner is the MacGyver of the kitchen, who can toss things together and make something awesome; I, on the other hand, need a plan. I pretend that this makes me a perfectionist and not a control freak.
Describe the best cook you know and something wonderful he or she has served you.
Oh, that one’s kind of hard, as I have a few friends whose husbands are chefs, and I’ve had some truly amazing meals made by them. If forced to pick, I’d say Henry, as I see him going MacGyver in the kitchen all the time and he’s created some seriously amazing food. He made six different kinds of quesadillas for my parents once with some leftovers and some farmer’s market purchases. It sounds simple, but he used some exotic and absolutely wonderful ingredients that took it to a whole new level; my parents still talk about whenever cooking comes up. It was amazing.
Fill in the blanks: Writing/Editing/Agenting books is like cooking for a group of strangers. You never know if what you’ve done is going to appeal to the masses—they’re both too subjective to accurately predict the results of.
Leftovers can be great, especially when the same ingredients are retasked into another magical meal. Name a book that you wish had a sequel (or another sequel) and what kind of story you think that literary remix would tell.
What comes immediately to mind is Dean Koontz’s Fear Nothing and Seize the Night which have this character Christopher Snow in it that I love (they’re called the Moonlight Bay series). The first book came out in 1998 and I was still in high school and my dad and I both read it and thought the sarcasm of Snow was great. We loved him. I think we were both disappointed to find out that Koontz was only going to do two books in the
There were a lot of apocalyptic storylines in it that I’d love to see wrapped up or at least fleshed out a bit more, plus I’d love to see Snow more. I love Koontz’s ability to combine the smart aleck observations of main characters with crazy horror and sci-fi elements.
Half-baked ideas: Not every idea is a winner. Written or not, what’s the most ill-conceived story idea you’ve ever had?
Oh dear. That’s why I decided to abandon it. It should never see the light of day.
Too much salt can ruin an exquisite meal, and the perfect dessert tempers earlier mistakes. What ingredients can destroy a book through overuse or salvage a book despite its flaws?
Too much description can slow a book down and feel a bit too much like the author is holding your hand, instead of letting you see, discover, and envision things on your own. In particular, the “and then he went here, and turned right, and went down a hall” becomes a bit too play-by-play and I lose interest. It’s important that a writer can see everything in his/her mind’s eye, but it can get to be way too much and leave the reader asking why it’s necessary to the story.
Tell about a time when food inspired your writing or a book inspired your cooking.
I have a group of grad-school friends who I’m in a book club with, and every time I host, I try and let the book inspire the food. Last time I hosted it, we had read Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, and because part of it took place in the Gers region of
If you could retell a book as a meal which book would you choose and how would you tell it?
I just keep thinking of food-oriented books, which makes me want to say The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. The girl in the story can taste the emotions of the person that cooked the meal, which is wonderfully magical and poignant, especially when she figures out what her parents actually feel through their food. I would simply recreate the meals in it, though hopefully not with the sadness.
If you could invite a character to dinner who would it be and what would you serve?
I can only pick one? While I want to say Jay Gatz, that may be depressing, so I think I’d probably pick Thursday Next from Jasper Fforde’s novels. She’s a literary detective who actually goes into novels to regulate what’s going on and to solve literary crises, like when characters go rogue—she also has a pet dodo named Pickwick, which tickles me for some reason.
I’d serve her toast, which totally makes sense if you read the books (otherwise I just sound lazy). Just to spice things up, I’d do Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for mushrooms on toast, instead of just plain toast.
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges......Burritos.
The library. There are so many things the human spirit can endure when it has wonderful other worlds to visit in books, and bland food is such a small thing to have to deal with in exchange for having wonderful places to travel to.