For new Port Townsend resident, writing is essential
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Margaret McKenzie/Peninsula Daily News
Erica Bauermeister signs one of her novels for Jim Thompson of Port Townsend at the event Thursday at the Library Learning Center.

By Margaret McKenzie
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Writing a best-selling novel is no picnic, Erica Bauermeister, author of The School of Essential Ingredients, told several dozen book lovers at the Port Townsend Library Learning Center, even if the best-seller in question happens to revolve around food.

Instead, the new Jefferson County resident admitted at the Thursday night talk, it can take years of toil, doubts and more than a few rejection slips — in her case, several boxfuls — before that lucky break happens and you find the novel that began as a kernel of an idea is now your ticket to published authorhood.

In her case, Bauermeister said, it took six years to write Essential Ingredients, which she described as a group of interrelated stories about eight students at a cooking school whose owner, chef Lillian, dabbles in a bit of culinary witchcraft to help each one.

The reason the writing took so long was not only because Bauermeister was raising a son and daughter with husband Ben, a Seattle software inventor, but also because she was earning a graduate degree from the University of Washington.

All along, though, “I knew it was my calling,” said Bauermeister, a native Californian who took literature classes in college and was particularly inspired by the “lovely, quiet” short story “I Stand Here Ironing,” by Tillie Olsen.

More inspiration came during a two-year stint in Bergamo, Italy, but it all finally jelled when she took cooking classes in the Madison Park neighborhood of Seattle.

“I killed crabs with my bare hands,” said Bauermeister, who turned that daunting experience into a memorable scene in her novel.

Attending the class month after month with the same group of people was when the recipe for a novel hit her: blend a bunch of strangers, add a pinch of romance and a dollop of culinary expertise, and see what happens.

A lot of serendipity later — the first literary agent who read it accepted it, and when it was sent out to publishers, it was accepted within 12 hours — and Essential Ingredients is now in print in 23 countries.

It was followed up by Joy for Beginners, which was part of a two-book deal with Putnam.

The second book, by contrast, took Bauermeister only 18 months to write.

It shares a concept with Essential Ingredients — seven women are given life challenges by their friend Kate — but it is darker in that it deals with illness and loss.

Fans craving more cooking-school adventures needn't fret, however; The Lost Art of Mixing, a sequel to Essential Ingredients, is due out Jan. 24.

Until then, the Bauermeisters are busy moving into their Uptown Port Townsend home, which they bought in 2000 but had been renting out.

“When the renters moved out, I begged my husband, 'Can I have the house for a year?'” to write her next book, she said. He agreed.

With their kids off at college, Erica brought over a futon, folding table, two pots and two plates, and spent three days a week there.

With the view of Mount Rainier from her window, “you can't help but be inspired,” she said, noting that she often used the Wi-Fi at Aldrich's Market to do research, “though we have Internet at the house now.”

Speaking of the house, it's not only the Bauermeisters' full-time abode now, but also a leading “character” in Erica's next book, she told the audience.

After her talk, Bauermeister held a drawing for a free advance copy of Mixing that was won by Jim Thompson.

She said the sequel will bring in fresh characters, including a baby.

“But I won't tell you who the daddy is,” she teased. “You'll have to wait till January.”

Next up in the Port Townsend author series is Charlotte Gill, author of Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe, who will speak at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, followed by Jessi Bloom at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.

Bloom wrote the book Free-Range Chicken Gardens, and her talk is titled “What the Cluck?”

The Library Learning Center is located at 1256 Lawrence St. in Port Townsend. For more information, phone the library at 360-385-3181.

News Editor Margaret McKenzie can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5064, or at

Last modified: September 30. 2012 6:19PM
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