About EAT, KNUCKLEHEAD! (PGP Sales & Stories Vol 2 of 7)
Today as part of my week-long series about books that I’ve put out with Publishing Genius (all of which [except two] are half off with the coupon code “backagain”), I thought I’d talk about Craig Griffin’s cookbook-slash-epistolary novel, EAT, KNUCKLEHEAD!
People often ask me, “Adam, what’s a cookbook-slash-epistolary novel?”
It’s a normal cookbook, with about 100 recipes for (mostly) vegetarian food—healthy snacks, entrees, desserts—and it’s broken down into sections, like food to make for a Superbowl party, or how to impress someone, how to make breakfast in bed. There’s even a chapter on cooking with weed, for you people in Colorado.
These recipes are all fitted into a narrative about a father who needs to teach his young son how to cook, otherwise the kid is going to eat fast food for the rest of his life. So the dad (who is unnamed, as is the son) sends him these letters, explaining the background of their family meals. In that way, you learn a lot about the family, and also about the kid as he grows up.
He graduates from college. Meets a girl and they date for a while, but then break up. They get back together (I think, but Craig Griffin told me that the woman is not necessarily the same person) and get married (I think, but Craig told me this also isn’t necessarily so). The guy learns how to cook a meal suitable to impress her parents.
He also learns a lot about his dad, who once charged across the field at Wrigley Park with his rowdy friends.
The reason I wanted to publish this book
The reason I wanted to publish this book goes back to Bukowski’s, a bar in Boston across the street from the convention center where AWP was going on. I was having lunch there with Michael Fitzgerald. We were talking about how valuable it is to be able to write well, and naturally. This conversation also led to my growing conviction that good poetry is extremely marketable (just look at the Old Spice commercials). We veered into what books are marketable and Michael pointed out that cookbooks are profit leaders for most publishers. I think he jokingly said I should do a cookbook. He probably remembers all this better than me. Because, like, AWP.
It wasn’t long after I got home that Craig Griffin told me about his idea for a cookbook, and that was that.
Working with the author
I’ve known Craig since college. We were writing partners for a while, and we did a series of impromptu plays for our friends called “Vicarious Lovers.” I always thought that, of the two of us, Craig is the better writer, more natural, funnier, with snappier sentences. I remember reading a story he wrote about all the times he’d punched someone and I laughed and laughed.
So Craig set about writing the story and working up the recipes. A lot of the dishes come from our mutual friends, who factor prominently in the book, though anonymously (Craig told me these characters aren’t our friends, but I know they are). I paid him a minuscule advance so he could buy ingredients for his test kitchen.
I’ve made a lot of the dishes in the book—not all or even half, but a lot of them. They’re great, and they’re meant to be simple, so any Knucklehead can make them. I like the vegetarian sloppy Joes.
Craig also illustrated the book, with elegant line drawings that show how to snap the ends off of beans, or how to boil an egg. The drawings are my favorite part.
Craig lived in a huge warehouse in Chicago when he wrote EAT, KNUCKLEHEAD!, and one time I went to visit him and saw that he had every page of the book hung up along the walls of his house. It was inspiring to see so much work done so meticulously. And when we had the launch party there during Pitchfork 2014, he painted a wall of the place to match the book cover.
One time we went to a bookstore to look at cookbooks and see how they’re made. Obviously cookbooks usually have a ton of production conventions, like big full color pictures, heavy and glossy paper, maybe some tabs distinguishing the sections. We decided that would be cost prohibitive, so instead we designed the book to play up the novel aspect of it. But it was also important to me that it be functional as a cookbook, so it’s really easy to use, with wide margins around the recipes, and a variety of typefaces so readers can tell what’s what at a glance. And there’s an index in the back that references the recipes by what kind of food it is.
You might notice that there’s no author name on the cover. Isn’t that weird? We did that to shine a light on the epistolary aspect of the book, I guess, since it just says “Love, Pa.”
One of our original intentions was certainly to hit it big with the book. It seems like the kind of thing that should be on “Good Morning America,” right? But then I told Craig that, because of the cooking with weed chapter, maybe it wouldn’t be appropriate for a morning show, and he said, “No, but it’s great for Letterman” (Letterman still had a show at the time).
Well, he hasn’t even been on Jimmy Kimmel’s show yet. Can you help with that? And if you can’t help with that, maybe you’ll want to buy a copy, and a second one for whatever knucklehead in your life needs to learn some kitchen basics?
If you do, use coupon code “backagain.”