A book cover is a welcome mat. Cover art compels people to enter.

Once we had my book title, I knew exactly what I wanted on the cover. I arrived at the photo shoot with the necessary props: a bright blue piece of heavy paper for a backdrop and a miniature table set made of bamboo.

Lights! Camera! Action!

We spent the whole morning positioning the stools and decorating the table with impossibly small Japanese replicas of various foodstuffs. At one point the photographer gingerly placed items with tweezers, as if playing Operation. The photos were perfect. I breathed a happy sigh.

A few weeks later, I received the first round of covers from Dan Shafer, the graphic designer.







I dutifully provided feedback on each: yes to more of this, no to this, how about this?

Dan continued working his magic, but I something was missing.  I was seeking that click! of happy recognition when you lay your eyes on the book cover you want to hold in your hands.




Dan kept at it.


We were honing in but weren’t quite there.

Spring was shifting fast to summer, and the need for a finalized book cover was immediate. A placeholder was on certain online sites out of necessity. Bruce Rutledge, my publisher, was sharing advanced digital copies. In the final throes of the cover design conversation I was having with Dan, Bruce received a fateful email from a contact at Publisher’s Weekly who was enthusiastic about the book, but not the cover.

Bruce, Dan, and I convened on email. Bruce suggested a few tweaks based on the feedback. Dan agreed and offered to try some new ideas.

No more than 48 hours later, Dan had an email in my inbox. The first two attachments tweaked my original vision yet still did not sing. I clicked the final attachment and heard the aria I awaited.

My back bolted straight and I leaned into the screen.

That’s it!

We fiddled a bit more on details and there it was.



As soon as Dan was free from my vision, he had the creative space to contribute his own. That’s lesson that I’ll apply to any number of situations in the future: don’t hold too tight to an idea or you might miss the best one.

photo shoot

Photo By Josh Samson (
Photo By Josh Samson (

One rainy January day Dan Shafer and I collaborated on a photo shoot with photographer Josh Samson. I requested that the shoot capture a cover photo, as well as document letters, slides, and ephemera for Dan to add to the visual mix of the book. It was a day of gratitude for my pack rat sensibilities. Dan would add these new images to his growing collection of my sketchbooks and personal photos I’d already provided.

Josh’s home studio linked his camera to his laptop, so we could immediately see each image in greater detail. After staging my cover shot, we moved through my life one item at a time: old passports, party favors (photographed above), and a stiff section of Wisconsin birch bark were put under the lights. Dan frontloaded the process so that the most difficult shots were tackled first, with the easiest ones left for the end of the day.

Outside of a lunch break, we worked steadily. Dan and I arranged the items; Josh manipulated his camera and the lighting. Josh took multiple shots of each item until we all agreed we had a winner. Josh’s biggest coup was capturing slides illuminated through a light box he’d devised at my request. This required three exposures that he would later overlay in Photoshop. Huzzah!

I walked away that day with a new batch of memories in digital form and a cover. These visuals made the book feel more tangible and I was motivated for the homestretch of final drafts and layout.











Writing Room (Photo by A.V. Crofts)
Writing Room (Photo by A.V. Crofts)

I never imagined writing a book would be easy. I’ve written enough to know the agony (and utility) of multiple drafts. I’ve practiced shutting out the world so I could snatch words from my head and stick them to the page.

But it’s work! Every sentence. Every page.

The first draft delivered to Chin Music Press in September 2014 was, in hindsight, just a clearing of my throat. A food writer friend said as much after reading it. While she enjoyed my writing, she felt I only told half of the story and danced around the central character of each essay: me.

The challenge became not just writing about myself, but writing about myself honestly. Who was I really at 21? 37? 13? I wanted my essays to reflect who I was at those ages, not who I was when writing them.

My second and expanded draft landed in the publisher’s inbox in February 2015. By this point, Chin Music had assigned me an editor, Allie Draper, and her careful comments on the first draft had pushed me to be more descriptive and specific.

More revisions followed, and I turned a third draft around in November 2015.

By this time, the book was beginning to gel: 21 essays, ranging from my childhood to the current year. The manuscript had them unfold chronologically. We also lifted a title from one of the essays from China: “Meet Me at the Bamboo Table.” Things were slowly falling into place.

After submitting a fourth draft in January 2016, I met with Bruce and Allie to discuss the current state of the manuscript. We were fixed on a September 2016 publication date. Working backwards, we would need the cover design early 2016 and a final final final draft to Chin Music by early summer. These deadlines were almost a year away from the meeting and already weighing heavy on my mind.

It seemed like forever and also a blink. I was now well aware how long drafts and revisions took. Each draft was pendulum between personal narrative and the food experience. One more course correction was in order.

I produced a fifth draft in April 2016. We were so close. A few essays still needed tweaks, but I could sense an end in sight.

Soon, it arrived. I turned in my last draft May 2016. I was done! For now.

The next step? The files were shared with Dan, the graphic designer, who would start the process of laying out the book page by page.

I caught my breath and waited eagerly for the galley.

five minutes or five hours

(Photo by A.V. Crofts)
(Photo by A.V. Crofts)

I sat down to lunch with Bruce Rutledge and Chelsey Slattum not daring to hope that Chin Music Press wanted me to write a book. But they did. The combination of travel, food, and photographs appealed to them, as did the voice of my blog. Bruce encouraged me to use the blog as a springboard, creating new material in the same vein.

I left the lunch giddy and in disbelief. I told hardly a soul about the possibility for fear of jinxing the whole thing.

One month later, I met with them again this time with Dan Shafer added to the mix. Dan’s a graphic designer and instructor at Cornish College of the Arts who works closely with Chin Music on their book covers and layouts. This meeting built my excitement even more, as it was now clear just how seriously Chin Music took both the content and book aesthetics. We traded ideas about themes and homed in on a collection of essays ranging in length as well as locations from around the world. Conversational. Educational. Visual.

Dan captured the essence at this meeting: “It should be a book you can pick up for five minutes or five hours.”

We laid out a plan moving forward that sounded reasonable. I would start uploading photos to a Dropbox account for Dan to sift through and I would email Bruce a first draft at the end of my Maine summer.

Three whole months! No problem. How hard could it be to meet that deadline?




meet me at the bamboo table



I’m thrilled to announce that this September, Chin Music Press will publish my first book, Meet Me At the Bamboo Table: Everyday Meals Everywhere. This is a book about meals that spans 15 countries and three decades. It highlights how food anchors my memories as well as builds and strengthens my communities.

Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes, says that writing is like birthing a Volkswagen. I laughed when I read that but, having now been through the process, I think she has the model wrong. At least for me. Writing this book was more like birthing a Volkswagen bus.

What started in March of 2014 will be bound and in my hands in just a few months. Up until this point, my writing focused on the intersection of food and identity with me as observer (or documenter). This book places me smack dab into each essay.

Meet Me at the Bamboo Table also allowed me to dive back and swim deeper into stories that I first shared on this blog. Pieces about Wisconsin, or my love of pickles. I’ll be using this blog in the next few months to share parts of the publishing process and sneak peaks at the book itself.

I can’t wait.