Recent Posts by Elatia Harris

Lists of Food Writers

Published by Wednesday, August 5, 2015 Permalink 0

Lists of Food Writers

Historical Food Writers

Archestratus

Apicius

J.A. Brillat-Savarin

Grimod de La Reyniere

Carême

Artusi

Escoffier

Historians of Food and Foodways

Rachel Laudan

Lizzie Collingham

Alan Davidson

Claudia Roden

Margaret Visser

Carolin C. Young

Michael J. Twitty

Waverley Root

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Understanding Your Type as a Food Writer

Published by Tuesday, April 28, 2015 Permalink 1

Is This You?

by Elatia Harris

No one is a pure type. But, as writers, we all correspond loosely or tightly to certain types. You are not alone, or utterly unlike all others, or without the ability to contrast and compare yourself to writers whom you resemble — if only slightly. The deepest and best reason to do this is to grow in self-knowledge, and in the ability to tell your own tent from the tents of others.

As a writer, do you know your type?

No type below will be 100% you, but one will be much closer than all the others. You will glimpse key aspects of yourself in two or three. You will feel a strong disaffinity for one or two.

Type 1 – The Literary Writer

Love of language gets this writer to her desk. No pleasure she can experience rivals using language to its fullest – whether to break your heart, deliver you the subtlest of foods for thought, shake the dust off you, or simply to knock you down. Not that she needs an audience – she writes to be writing. When she writes about food, it’s not about food, but about the language that conjures the food. Maybe the world knows her, maybe it doesn’t, but you’ve sized her up: She’s an artist, deep and true.

Is this you?

If yes, then your greatest strength is the quality of your gift. Obstacles you may meet include perfectionism, isolation, making deadlines, debilitating bouts of writer’s block, crises of doubt, and being too thin-skinned for the marketplace.

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Branding as a Writer, Rebranding as a Food Writer

Published by Sunday, March 15, 2015 Permalink 1

by Elatia Harris

The first of a series of articles for an upcoming book on writing about food

Getting Started

Pretend for a moment that this is you.

Over lunch, you and a friend discuss an important event. “I’ll have to go shopping,” you tell her. “My only outfit that’s perfect for the occasion has been seen too many times.” Your friend’s eyes sparkle as she replies, “Be sure to find something that expresses your personality and taste, and that sends the right vibe at a glance.” She’s kidding, of course – she knows that’s the only kind of shopping you ever do.

Is branding yourself as a writer this easy? Let’s anatomize the process.

Everyone is unerring about something — the can’t-fail baked pasta dish, the elevator pitch that always lands a meeting, the only words in the world that will comfort a desolate child. If you look closely at areas of your life where high competence and pure instinct lead you again and again to distinctiveness and success, then you will come face to face with your personal brand – nothing more or less than the way other people know you to be in the world, the keynote behavior they have come to expect of you.

Your personal brand does not deny the breadth or depth of your individuality. Rather, it introduces you to others in a way you can control – until you decide when and how to let them know you even better.

Good branding as a writer leads to your being enough of a known quantity that editors and publishers think of you when they have a certain type of assignment to hand out, and to your being counted on by a readership to deliver a certain kind of experience it craves. Your sense of your brand increases your writing efficiency, too, by making it faster and easier for you to know the difference between projects that are right for you and projects that are merely interesting to you. The difference between being appreciated as a versatile writer and being dismissed as “all over the map” is often a matter of branding, and this is a crucial consideration when you first set out to create a coherent body of work.

It’s never too soon to establish your brand as a writer. Here are 7 high-yield prompts to tighten your focus on branding, even before you begin to organize your writing life or choose the topic of your first piece.

  • Would you rather tell a story, or convey information in a non-narrative way?
  • Are you writing from expertise or as a generalist who can do the research?
  • Do you write for a specific readership, and know exactly what you offer it?
  • Which of these word counts is the most “you” – up to 750, 1000 to 1500, or 1500+?
  • Is your voice intimate and conversational, or do you favor a professional distance?
  • What’s unusual or even unique about you that will come through in your writing?
  • Once readers begin to know you a bit, which three words should come to their minds when they see your name?

Remember, a brand is not a label. Rather, it’s powerful knowledge that you have about yourself as a writer, and that you want others to recognize you by. They shouldn’t have to hunt for a label to do that. And the best thing about branding yourself as a writer is that it prevents others from labeling you first.

Expanding Your Brand

The time will come when you want to expand your brand. Life will deliver you a compelling new interest that becomes intrinsic to the writer you are. Or, after some time, your readers will know you well enough to welcome what they don’t necessarily expect from you, as you selectively introduce it to them. Journalists who know the secrets of telling a great story may turn to fiction, for instance, without losing readers. Food writers may move to another country, where food culture is different from what their readers usually seek information about, yet this new focus is an addition to their portfolio, not a departure from it. The key to expanding your brand is to do it mindfully and not all at once – just as you might include one unfamiliar dish, not five, in a party menu that already works beautifully.

Rebranding

If you are a writer shifting your focus to food and travel writing, but that’s not how people think of you yet, well – first, congratulations on already having readers who think of you a certain way. The chances are that you have written about food and travel before, even if tangentially, so this change is not coming out of left field. To be true to themselves, many artists and writers have had to redefine their mission, and do a lot of letting go in order to move faster in their new direction. This is risky and it takes courage, because a readership is a priceless asset, and no writer wants it to melt away.

Unlike brand expansion, rebranding is official business that a writer needs to take charge of unambiguously, if not with fanfare. You might start with the story of an experience you found irresistible, that led you straight to a new commitment as a writer. You are the same, only different – can you share the excitement about that? You have new vistas for your readers – you want nothing more than to pull back the curtain. If you suspect or know that your readers are not – particularly — gastronomes, then start with the story of how you came to develop this interest, one they can follow with pleasure even if they are not yet there. Readers may not care as much as you do about food, but they may be led to care tremendously about the cultures and the communities that food writing can open to them.

Owing to your new subject matter, you are hardly a different person as a writer – you are a writer whom readers already know, throwing open a new window onto the world for them. Aim, if you are rebranding, for the kind of continuity that underlies all shifts in subject matter – the continuity found in voice, tone and in the mission to connect.

To sum up —

  • If you are consistent over time, then you already have a personal brand that is very real to others. Do you know what it is?
  • Your brand as a writer enables readers to choose to read you, and editors to choose you for assignments. Now – what is it?
  • A sure sense of your brand will save you time as a writer by quickly steering you away from subjects that are “not you.” Now — can you see that body of work that is you in sharper focus yet?
  • Developing a strong brand as a writer will make it harder for others to either label you themselves or draw a blank when they see your name. Is there an image management problem for you to solve here?
  • Tread carefully and strategically when you expand your brand, or rebrand. If this is what’s next for you, have you crafted a plan?

 

Elatia Harris is a writer and consulting editor in Cambridge, Mass. She is most often at work on books and articles about food, wine and travel. Contact her at elatiaharrisATgmailDOTcom or via text at 617-599-7159.

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Women Who Eat Too Much — In Art

Published by Friday, March 6, 2015 Permalink 1

by Elatia Harris

Can minor masters be too cruel? Let’s take a look at that.

For even apparent cruelty, in painting, can be far less, far greater, and far different than it appears. A recent conversation about the small differences between gluttony and gourmandise made me want to find out if painting itself offered some answers.

 

Boris Kustodiev, The Merchants Wife, 1898

Boris Kustodiev, The Merchants’ Wife, 1898

The Glutton, by Ludwig Knaus, 1897

The Glutton, by Ludwig Knaus, 1897

 

Boris Kustodiev was a Russian artist and set designer who died in the 1920s. He confessed to being dedicated to expressing cheerfulness and love of life in his painting. His childhood was one of terrible hardship. His widowed mother rented tiny quarters for the family in a rich merchant’s home. Ever after, he would figure forth the bounty of that way of life, that he amply observed, but could not touch. “It was right under my nose,” he would say. “Like something out of an Ostrovsky play.”

The merchant’s wife, above, lacks for nothing, certainly not for the excess flesh that was then a sign of class, wealth and health. Is there satire in his depiction of the merchant’s wife? Sleek as an otter, idle as a carp in a Medici pond, she is surely being sent up by the artist, we might think. But click the image to enlarge it, and look at her face. She appears intelligent and discerning, as if she were truly tasting her tea. She is one of many such women in his body of work, living the good life among radiant colors and exquisite foods. Maxim Gorky had a great fondness for this type of work by Kustodiev, and Ilya Repin, a Tolstoyan figure among Russian painters, was his early mentor. Russians who love his work and know his life story, which ended in years of illness and disability, sense only a mood of radiant optimism in his themes and their treatment.

Ludwig Knaus was one of the best loved, best paid, busiest, and finally, most decorated artists in 19th century Germany. As a portrait artist, he was spoken of in the same breath as Lenbach and Winterhalter.  As a genre painter, all Europe knew him through engravings of his rural scenes. He died famous, in 1910. In our own era, he’s a case study of an artist whose message need not be heard.

The glutton, above, has a nicer title in German — Die Naschkatze, or, The Sweet Tooth. The very slender brunette of middle years is caught out enjoying a sweet from a paper cone, and not very decorously. One leg is thrown over the other, her mouth is full, and she’s in a condition of undress. Does the painter mean us to find this charming? The woman is pretty, and she’s enjoying herself, after all. But, we like her better than he does — don’t you think?

In 1878, Knaus participated in an important Paris expo with a painting with an unambiguously anti-Semitic theme, not his first. This is another. It’s in a private collection. I wish I knew whose. Suddenly, in this image of a perhaps hungry woman greedily sneaking sweets, there is cruelty too deep, lasting and harmful for words.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Elatia Harris is a writer and consulting editor in Cambridge, Mass. She is most often at work on books and articles about food, wine, and travel. Contact her at elatiaharrisATgmailDOTcom or via text at 617-599-7159.

 

 

 

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The TRE Quiz: Were You Destined to Become a Food Writer?

Published by Friday, August 15, 2014 Permalink 3

by Elatia Harris

Below you will find a spectrum of behaviors that are food writer markers in early life, as well as some behaviors that do not strongly associate to food writing. Say yes to all that apply. Attach a zero to behaviors that do not resonate with you. Each entry below, a. through e., is is worth points in ascending order — a. is 1, b. is 2, c. is 3, d. is 4, and e. is 5. So, the most you could accumulate for each division — (1,), (2.) and (3.) — is 15 points, for a total score of 45. My research and experience tell me that scoring higher than 40 makes you, hopelessly, a food writer. See that you think!

(1.) In childhood under 10, you

(a.) Ate what you were given, mainly, but thought over the texture pretty hard.

(b.) Wondered about the food in foreign countries. Was it better? Could you cook it just fine without going there?

(c.) Read carefully, rather than skipped over, the bits about food in your usual reading matter.

(d.) Sniffed from spice jars.

(e.) Were asked not to complain about the food, ever, even though you weren’t complaining, exactly. You were trying to help.

(2.) In early adolescence, you

(a.) Read and wrote well ahead of your grade level, regardless of other academic aptitudes.

(b.) Cooked with adults, for lack of interested peers. Cooked to get adults out of the kitchen.

(c.) Started feeling passionate about certain writers: they were writing for YOU.

(d.) Put out at least two issues of a newsletter about the food at school and at hangouts.

(e.) Sniffed wine, tried to taste it, daydreamed a lot, wanted to be older — at least 16.

(3.) Mid-adolescence through age 21, you

(a.) Worked to expand your food vocabulary because there were food sensations you experienced but had no words for.

(b.) Considered “year abroad” programs based on the food that might be involved.

(c.) Used more of your available funds to eat well than other students did, cut back elsewhere to afford it.

(d.) Sniffed fragrances, liked satin, drank wine.

(e.) Made lists of destination restaurants, and other things to experience for the sake of writing about them.

 

Elatia Harris is a writer and consulting editor in Cambridge, Mass. She is most often at work on books and articles about food, wine and travel. Contact her at elatiaharrisATgmailDOTcom or via text at 617-599-7159.

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Food Writing Prompts: Your Own Desk is a Prompt

Published by Wednesday, August 13, 2014 Permalink 2

by Elatia Harris

So many great writers need their writing rooms to meet precise specs. E.B. White preferred a rough-hewn, minimalist space, with nothing but a typewriter. Virginia Woolf needed lots of green around her, and took some serious kidding about it from her sister. I have noticed that a writing room is almost never gender-neutral, even when the writer is going for a low-key, orderly space that gives little away. There’s something I need, that I’ll give up things I like to get: a window. Looking at photos like the National Trust photo above, of Vita Sackville-West’s writing table at Sissinghurst, I always notice — does the writing table face a window, or a wall?

Which leads me to wonder — how much of a writing prompt is your desk itself? It has four corners, like the ancient Chinese idea of the Universe. Within that space, you can put anything you have that helps. When you look up from your work, are you still seeing with the mind’s eye? What could you arrange to see, physically, that would give you the most of what you needed to keep writing?

 

Elatia Harris is a writer and consulting editor in Cambridge, Mass. She is most often at work on books and articles about food, wine and travel. Contact her at elatiaharrisATgmailDOTcom or via text at 617-599-7159.

 

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Food Writing Prompts: A Brighter Kitchen

Published by Saturday, August 2, 2014 Permalink 2

by Elatia Harris

We value a bright kitchen for many reasons — ventilation, ease of cleaning, the unimpeded visibility of the food we prepare, and not least, the maintenance of the mood of the cook. The cook is almost always the owner of the kitchen, now. In a centuries-old kitchen, however, like this one at Townend in the UK (National Trust Photo), that was not the case. There were paid workers who lacked for light and fresh air, in the kitchen all day and into the night. In these circumstances, even a tiny slice of light makes a big difference. One candle, reflected in a glass bowl full of water. It was called a light enhancer, and it could bring deep joy.

 

Elatia Harris is a writer and consulting editor in Cambridge, Mass. She is most often at work on books and articles about food, wine and travel. Contact her at elatiaharrisATgmailDOTcom or via text at 617-599-7159.

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Food Writing Prompts: The Morality of Plenty

Published by Friday, July 25, 2014 Permalink 1

The Morality of Plenty

Splendid Food — Does it Have a Moral Dimension?

by Elatia Harris

In The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, Simon Schama tells of the sickening tensions produced in 17th-century Amsterdam when far too much in the way of material goods sat badly with an ethic that twinned virtue and thrift. The Dutch were suddenly able to have anything they could name, from anywhere in the known world. Immediately, they began ascribing sinfulness to certain new foodstuffs, candied fruit being high on their long list of gruesome luxuries.

Dutch painting of the 17th century illuminates a question familiar to us now: Has splendor beyond dreaming no moral dimension? Paintings such as this — Still Life, by Adriaen van Utrecht, painted in 1644 and now in the Rijksmuseum — both celebrate and condemn the expanding sensual world, full of the transient beauty that distracts without sustaining, but that so delights us. We too know that struggle, that makes it hard to think of the rarest and most wondrous foods without ambivalence.

For a writer, is it a matter of tone? Or one of content?

Elatia Harris is a writer and consulting editor in Cambridge, Mass. She is most often at work on books and articles about food, wine and travel. Contact her at elatiaharrisATgmailDOTcom or via text at 617-599-7159.

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Food Writing Prompt: Foujita, Wine & Blotting Paper

Published by Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Permalink 1

Food Writing Prompt: When Blotting Paper Gets Most of Your Ink

by Elatia Harris

This young woman, painted by Foujita in 1948, puts a pensive face on a harrowing dilemma — failing to make a good enough start on writing to have the courage to finish. Her blotting paper is the record of her distress, our deletions the record of our own. Looks like she’s hoping a second glass of wine will get her over the hump — the little saucers under the glass tell us, and her waiter, how many she’s had. My guess is that her heart is too full. What should she do? What would you do?

 

Elatia Harris is a writer and consulting editor in Cambridge, Mass. She is most often at work on books and articles about food, wine and travel. Contact her at elatiaharrisATgmailDOTcom or via text at 617-599-7159.

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Truly Effective Travel Writing

Published by Sunday, July 6, 2014 Permalink 1

It’s just a paint chip — prescott green. But longing and intensity are vividly present, and the writer’s sincerity is unquestionable. A scrap off the Internet that delivers — oh, man. What would you write on your paint chip? What color would it be?

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