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Writing a novel is easy as pie (if only pie were easy)

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KAYTE YOUNG: From WIFU in Bloomington, Indiana, this is Earth Eats and I'm your host Kayte Young.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: Preserved they don't burn, the bitterness softens, California has been burning for years. When I lived in LA, I drank water pumped from Colorado, lemons from my grandmother's tree to orbs turning in my hands. Under the faucet, clear cold unfiltered.

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show we've got poetry and pie. We hear from a poet who incorporates food imagery into her work and we talk with the authors of How To Write A Novel in 20 Pies, plus Daniella Richardson reviews a pod-cast that turns a critical eye towards the wellness and weight loss industry. That's all just ahead, stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: We're starting today's show with poetry. Melanie Tafejian is an award winning poet from the Pacific North West. She currently lives in Raleigh and teaches writing at North Carolina State University. She spoke with producer Josephine McRobbie about her use of food imagery in poems.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: When I was in grad school, I was bringing in all these poems for workshop and of course you start to see what your sort of obsessions are the more and more that you write and it was actually my, my class mates that were saying to me, "You write a lot about food".

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: My name is Melanie Tafejian. I'm a poet and writer and also a teacher. My writing and food have sort of grown together, my whole life, I've been interested in food. My favorite gift as a kid was the easy bake oven but I also have had a lot of food related jobs so I've worked on organic farms. I've worked as an oyster shucker, I've worked pressing juice and all of these things I was doing sort of in conjunction with also writing.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: I think a lot of writers write about food, especially poets, it's part of the every day.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: This one is, I won't explain it, I'll just read it. Oh, actually one thing I will say about this one, is that it's a sonnet so it's 14 lines and the end lines follow a sonnet rhyme scheme.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: Preserved lemons. Preserved they don't burn, the bitterness softens. California has been burning for years. When I lived in LA, I drank water pumped from Colorado, lemons from my grandmothers tree, two orbs turning in my hands. Under the faucet clear, cold unfiltered, painted lemons swirled across an aprons hem. I tucked the yellow wheels, sliced and salted into blue glass jars. All spring I pulled them from the fridge, fork skewered the gelatinous fruit, dripped them gingerly over cod, sucked meat from thin bones. Of course the pain is in the process absolute. Who decides any more what someone owns? I believe it all mine. I continue to fail, slicing more this winter, I suck my thumbs burning hang now.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: Two food poems that come to mind that I love, Blackberry eating by Galway Kinnel because it's so sonically engaging. You feel the sweetness of the blackberry but it's also, it's just a fun poem to read because it sounds great and then the other is Frying Trout While Drunk by Lynn Emanuel. Another one that's so rich in memory. It's about her mother frying trout while drunk and, you know, there's a lot of sort of visceral imagery in that poem that is in some ways devastating but also a way of looking at that mother character in a sort of complicated, loving but definitely far from perfect sort of way so those are two that come to mind.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: I went to Armenia in 2013 for the first time as a birthright volunteer so my other Grandfather who is Armenian and I was there for about eight months and during that time a couple of those months I lived in Shusha which is, now it has been taken over by Azerbaijan, but at the time it was part of Artsakh so I lived with a family there and then a few years later I was in the peace core and I lived in Albania.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: One of the poems that I'm gonna read is called On Occupation and it's thinking about, you know, who does land belong to and what sort of forces have occupied that land. Both of those places were under Ottoman occupation and so they have in common, they have foods that have been passed down from that time of occupation but then there is also a history of oppression based on that occupation and at the moment the road between Armenia and this disputed territory of Artsakh or Nagorno-Karabakh is closed and there is about 100,000 ethnic Armenians who aren't able to have food imported and a lot of homes it's things like bananas or potatoes or things that you think of as readily accessible that when it's closed off, then obviously it's a humanitarian issue as well. In addition to being, you want to be able to celebrate your culture and a big part of that is feeding each other.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: This poem is organized in sections, bread, salt and heart which are sort of tenants of hospitality that come from Albania. Greeting guests with bread and salt is also common in Armenia and a number of other countries so that's the sort of way that this poem is sectioned.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: On Occupation. One bread, all afternoon we crack walnuts, pick shells from meat, a pyramid of little brains, glossy yokes cradled in walls of flour, kneading sugar water on the stove, then the rolling and rolling the long stick and flick of the wrist, Baklava. In KrujaI don't want to write about the women when they jumped, how they held their babies to their chests, when whipping crumbs from their skirts, hair, I don't want to write about their tears or the silence after.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: In the apartment we watch crows drop walnuts from six floors up. Inside a grandfather cracks two in the palm of his hand, feeds the children. Two, salt. Before the wedding we fill white napkins with salt, twist and tuck them under bras for safety from the evil eye. We dance with pinkies linked, circle tables, twist hips, dodge young waiters hefting meat. Platter and platter, kebabs and pork steaks, we descent from the mountains each summer to bathe in the sea. The iodized whiteness keeps us alive.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: Three, heart. We eat in the butchers house. Outside dry persimmons hang like wrinkled worlds, an orange maze hundreds in the window as we graze off Russian china. I mistake the heart for brain, doused in red sauce, lost in ricotta stuffed cannelloni. The man refuses to speak a Turkish word in his house so we are lost when it comes to pickles or egg plant. An empty silence when asked to pass the............ or the.................... No-one can decide on Komshi so we say it anyway. Later we drink and tea made from wild thyme failing to find the word for thank you, we settle on grazie.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: This is actually an experience in Albania but similar in Armenia, there is some resistance to say words that are Turkish because you wanna hold on to your language right? A man was saying that he didn't wanna say this phrase that's really common in Albania which is avash avash meaning like, slowly, slowly. He was saying you need to say it the Albanian way and not the Turkish way. When you're learning a language and especially like coming from having the experience in Armenia coming into Albania, there was a number of words that I knew already because they were the Turkish word, in this example pickles and egg plant and so I was just thinking about being in a space where people are asserting to speak their own language.

MELANIE TAFEJIAN POET: I think in poetry, you are always trying to tap into, at least I am, as a writer, tap into the five senses and an easy way to do that is through food because food is sight and smell and taste and touch but its also memory and its also meaning right? Food can be a way of expressing love or a way of being sort of sexy or a way of connecting with romantic love or familiar love or a way of mourning, a way of celebrating. It's there in all moments that have to do with human life.

KAYTE YOUNG: Melanie Tafejian is currently working to develop a course on food imagery in poetry. Find more about her work on our website That piece comes to us from Producer Josephine McRobbie.

KAYTE YOUNG: Next we're gonna talk about pie. Regular listeners of this show know that pie is always a welcome topic for me but this time we're going to complicate things by also talking about writing. We're talking with the authors of the book, How To Write A Novel In 20 Pies, Sweet And Savory Tips For The Writing Life. Amy Wallen is the author and recipe tester and the book is heavily and delightfully illustrated by Emil Wilson.

AMY WALLEN: I'm Amy Wallen. I'm an author, editor, a teacher and baker and candlestick maker [LAUGHS].

EMIL WILSON: And I'm Emil Wilson and I'm an illustrator.

KAYTE YOUNG: I started our conversation by asking Amy a reasonable question, one that might be on your mind too. How did she come up with the idea to write a book about novel writing and pie making?

AMY WALLEN: Well it was a combination of, I guess two ideas that came together and maybe that's how pie works too but I was standing in front of a classroom and realized I'm telling the same stories over and over to this group of people who are looking at me as though as I have all the answers to how to write a novel and I wanted to write them down so I thought I'm gonna write all of those down. At the same time I knew that the story was gonna be about how to survive writing a novel, really because everybody takes a different journey and for me, the way I survived it was comfort food of pie. I've been a pie baker for a long time. I never really put the pie and writing together until I started realizing that that was what I would do when I got stumped or felt like this is never gonna end or I'm never gonna get a book written or a book published and I would bake a pie and eat it up and move on.

AMY WALLEN: It was a great way of realizing "Oh okay, I'm taking a break, stuff in my belly" and then feeling like I could keep going.

KAYTE YOUNG: Its not as much a book about how to write a book, I mean you definitely do include some lessons on craft but its more, it seems to me strategies for pushing through the difficult times and the torture of the book writing process. Would you like to talk a little bit more about that?

AMY WALLEN: The title is a bit of a [UNSURE OF WORD] way in how to write a novel. The surviving the writing life I think is really the truth of it. When I first starting writing it before Amil came along and was helping me with the visual part of it, I was calling it pieseverence because I really felt like that's how I persevered through the whole journey was, was through pie and so the how to write a novel in 20 pies is sardonic in the same way that the narrative of the book is also sardonic. I want people to have fun, laugh when they're having a really tough time, pick up the book, read a random chapter that maybe something about they are struggling with, like there's one chapter, the joy of rejection so you've been rejected, you know read that, maybe laugh about it, laugh about your own foibles, your own process or we can even cry together and then there is always a recipe at the end where you can make a pie after you've, you know, cried over all those agents that said no.

KAYTE YOUNG: Can you say anything about why pie is the focus and not just sort of baking in general or cooking in general?

AMY WALLEN: Well to me, pie is, my own personal story. I was a big chicken pot pie fanatic as a kid and grew up and that's actually why I ended up becoming a pie baker cause I wanted to make homemade pies. As I got a little older, the Swanson pies that came in the little frozen boxes we're not my thing and then it just kind of evolved into where people found out I made pies so they would ask me to make 'em a pie, or for a gift for a friend or things like that. I'd been doing this big bake sale every November. In the writing world, there's something called Nano Rhymo which is National Novel Writing Month and the goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month so you write every single day and I changed it to Nano Piemo and I bake a pie every day for the month of November and I auction them off and the money goes to the non profit where I work.

KAYTE YOUNG: I guess pie was just my life, you know. I do make cakes. I've been a big failure at bread, every time I ever made it but I do bake other things but I think is also just kind of fun. Pie is a really a comfort food more than say cake. You can't make a savory cake although I guess you could, maybe somebody's tried that, maybe somebody should. There are just so many different variations on pie.

KAYTE YOUNG: So you also talk about movement as a key element in the process of maybe taking breaks from writing and you talked about riding your bike or also gardening or walking and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what you learned about how the brain works and why we often find ourselves making insightful connections while doing other things?

AMY WALLEN: There is a little moment and I'm not any kind of scientist or sociologist or researcher but I was trying to figure out personally why does our brain suddenly make a connection to something as though our subconscious decides, "Okay I'm gonna give you this little secret tip now" or like sometimes when we're falling asleep and an idea comes to us or we're making a pie and suddenly the answer to that chapter comes along or riding a bike and you figure out how a scene is gonna work. It can be anything, it doesn't have to be about writing. I mean sometimes you figure out how to solve the problem with how your kids are getting along, something in your brain works and there is a theory to the chaos in our brain and how stepping away from it can settle and that gives that space for our subconscious to take the information and sort the files so to speak and so there is so much chaos going on in our subconscious but stepping away and getting physical, gardening in physical in one way and biking is another physical way but it isn't about going to the gym and being fit kind of physical but stepping away and moving around and letting ourselves be outside of our situation.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah I wanted to also say Amil the illustration that you have in this section is just brilliant. I think that any creative can relate to this. In the center it says "Times when great writing ideas happen" and then it's staring out the window, falling asleep, cooking dinner, in the shower, eavesdropping, grocery shopping, stuck in traffic and it's really great.

EMIL WILSON: All of that is very true.

AMY WALLEN: I like the eavesdropping the best.

KAYTE YOUNG: Well, just to talk a little bit about the illustrations, you don't go into a lot in the book but could you talk a little bit about the process of working together and figuring out these illustrations.

AMY WALLEN: Yeah I mean I'll just start by saying that, you know, I wrote the proposal first and then I knew I wanted something quirky and fun and I knew Amil's work because we've been friends and writing friends for a long time so I also knew he knew the writing world and what it was like to be a writer so I reached out to him. He sent me some examples of what he was thinking about and it was exactly what I felt. I felt like it mashed really well and then we did a brainstorming session on how to do the proposal but from Amil's side, let him explain.

EMIL WILSON: Well my background is in advertising. All advertising projects are done in teams of two people, an art director and a copywriter so that collaboration I was used to. I think I had done some illustration and some lettering as a side hustle and this was very much traditionally the kind of stuff that you do in illustration where somebody writes the text and they send it to you and when Amy would write a chapter I would put it in a big binder and then start trying to figure out what things to draw. The publisher had wanted this to be a very visual book so usually when you write an article you are looking for like the four or five things that you're trying to make illustrations about and in this book that bar was different because suddenly you had eight to ten illustrations per chapter and the challenges came when you didn't have as many opportunities to make illustrations.

EMIL WILSON: I think because it was always going to be a very illustrated book, that made the project both fun and at times challenging.

AMY WALLEN: Yeah there were over, I think it's over 200 illustrations right Amil that you had to do so it was quite a big job.

EMIL WILSON: And we knew that going into it, like that was part of the initial agreement to do the book and, you know, when you're like 200 illustrations sounds like, "Okay" and then when you start dragging your feet, well that's five, I'm done. [LAUGHS] Then you've got like 195 more to do so you're like "Oh well, I'll just try anything".

KAYTE YOUNG: So you have created a character who kind of stands in as the writer or the author, I mean not Amy necessarily but sort of the character of the author and also sometimes the baker and I was wondering if you could for our listeners describe what this character looks like.

EMIL WILSON: So I wish the story to this was more glamorous and creative than it is. So the character he's sort of like deviously weird people that are in animal costumes which sounds like I have no idea what that has to do with pie and you would be absolutely correct. There is nothing that has to do with pie and the reason for that was because the time that we were doing the proposal I was working on a project where I was drawing all these people in animal costumes and I just thought "Oh I'll use that for this". It seemed to kind of bring a tone to the book that felt quirky in a way that, you know, I knew I didn't wanna draw Amy and I knew I didn't wanna draw people because that felt like it might be a problem so I thought these characters kind of stood in for something that just felt a little bit more interesting.

KAYTE YOUNG: Okay so you see it as multiple characters to where I was reading it as just kind of one person and then there are some others that sort of show up but it's also true that like the tops of, it's kind of they're in animal pajamas or something.

EMIL WILSON: They're in animal onesies.

KAYTE YOUNG: Onesies yes.

EMIL WILSON: For your listeners they are like "What is this book that we're doing?" but yes they're all animal onesies.

KAYTE YOUNG: I did notice that some of had like short pointy ears and some of 'em had like longer more rabbit ears and some of 'em had horns also so I guess I can see now that it is more than one character.

AMY WALLEN: And I kind of think of them as they are all about comfort too, you know, that was how I saw them when Amil first presented the first set to me, as a set of illustrations because the other ones are to me sort of like, you know, that's what you wear when you're gonna watch the super bowl all afternoon right? I need a pie. [LAUGHS] A whole pie.

KAYTE YOUNG: And immediately it does bring that humor and a lighter tone to the whole project as soon as you see those characters. Could you talk, either of you about the role of humor and why you wanted this to have that kind of tone?

EMIL WILSON: Amy do you wanna take that first and then I'll--

AMY WALLEN: Sure, yeah because that was my intention originally because I knew like I said that this was a hard journey and I wanted it to be something that made people laugh so that when they're going through this, whether it's the writing or the agent search or waiting to hear from an editor or stuck on a chapter or whatever it is, I wanted them to know that it is hard and they should keep going but also stop and have some fun along the way and laugh, just like, I think pie is my comfort food, laughter is also my comfort zone, it's where I go. I wanna watch Seinfeld before bed as opposed to holocaust movies, usually.

EMIL WILSON: I think that for me, I wanted the drawings to kind of be a commentary on what was writing and I was worried that it would get too sweet and also there's an element to Amy's writing and Amy as a person that can be sarcastic and witty and I wanted that tone to kind of carry into the illustrations and I wanted there to be a perspective on the illustrations in the same way, like, Roz Chast's work, you sort of know beyond style, you know what kind of person Roz might be given how she writes and I wanted that to kind of come through in the illustrations that it was, you know, that wasn't a sweet process that this was kind of funny and quirky. I did kind of want it to feel a little unexpected. That's how I felt the humor could be touched up by the illustrations.

KAYTE YOUNG: That's Amil Wilson talking about the book he illustrated "How to write a novel in 20 pies" written by Amy Wallen, released in the fall of 2022 with Andrew McMeel Publishing. We'll be back with Amy and Amil after a quick break. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: You tuned to Earth Eats. I'm Kate Young. Let's return to my conversation with Amy Wallen and Amil Wilson, creators of the book, How to Write A Novel in 20 Pies". Amil I know even though you didn't identify this in your introduction that you are also a comic artist and there are some really, just full of comic strips in here or like full pages there's a spread for instance, a two page comic spread with the author character firing a cast of characters for the book once the author has decided to abandon an idea. Its really funny actually, it's so funny.

AMY WALLEN: That's the funeral pie right?

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes that's right before the funeral segment. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how your comic making skills inform your illustration for this project or just anything that comes to mind about that.

EMIL WILSON: Well interestingly we work on this proposal, I was in advertising for years and then about four years ago, three and a half years ago decided to take a hiatus to work on some comics work and I attended the center for cartoon studies in Vermont and so this proposal pre-dates going to school but then once I was in school and we were continuing with the pitch and continuing with producing the book, I wanted to bring comics into it just because I had done it so I was like, you know, can we find an opportunity for that to happen and as it was, I think that Amy was looking for a way to do different pies and so I had offered to do a funeral pie and the whole idea is a funeral pie is what you take to a funeral but in the case of this book, saying goodbye to characters that you're abandoning part of your book or abandoning the book in total and so there is a funeral for it and that just seemed like it was a really nice opportunity to do a comic.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah and I love it because then the next spread, the comic sort of carries over but then the recipe itself is highly illustrated and it's really beautiful, it's a really nice piece.

KAYTE YOUNG: I had one other question about the relationship with the illustrations and pie. You guys aren't in the same city or--


KAYTE YOUNG: So I'm guessing you didn't have pie together or bake pie together but did Amy send you photographs of particular pies or was it really just kind of going with your own interpretation?

EMIL WILSON: You know I think there's a, a hand pie, a Tibetan hand pie that she sent me pictures of because I didn't know how it was going to look and other than that, I made it up as I went along. I mean I come from a family that was very into pie and the mythology in my family was that my mother was forced by her mother-in-law to make a pie a day when my grandmother lived with them before I was born and even though that's a complete myth and a complete exaggeration, I knew my mother well enough. I felt pretty confident that I could draw pies and I too was a big fan of pie as well.

KAYTE YOUNG: Well yeah also the pies aren't particularly realistically rendered. They're just, you know.

EMIL WILSON: You mean pies don't dance? There's a lot of pictures of dancing pies so no they are not realistic.

KAYTE YOUNG: I just turned to the page of the lemon meringue as toppings as hats. [LAUGHS] That's really good. I had another topic that I wanted to get into a little bit which is saying more about how pie figures into really the structure of the book, you know sometimes its part of your own story Amy, like in the memoir aspects of the book, like what do you do with a freezer full of salmon after you and your salmon fishing husband have split up but other times it's about the process of book writing, like the funeral pie that we just talked about and sometimes its comfort food or symbolic for instance like the ice cream pie when navigating the world of agents when you're feeling like you wanna scream or the black and blueberry pie when dealing with rejection. I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit more about how you thought about that structuring and how you were gonna work pie into this.

AMY WALLEN: You know it's interesting, I actually, Emil and I bonded years and years ago over pie back when we were both writing books together and I think, you know, starting with that where I knew that there's something about when you are writing having that comfort food and that need for comfort food whether its macaroni and cheese or whatever and then writing this, when Emil and I did the proposal, you know, the first, is kind of like Emil and the illustrations, the first five pies were pretty easy to think about, like the black and blueberry for rejection was easy right? You're feeling a little bit beat up after all of that rejection so that comes together.

AMY WALLEN: Chicken pot pie was my favorite and my first pie so that's sort of like the cliché comfort food so that seemed like that's where we should begin so that seemed perfect so at that point then I knew I already had to have both sweet and savory and then that lends itself to also how writing can be both a sweet and savory experience but I also, you know, along the way, it became harder to try to figure out how the pie and the book were going to be coming together.

AMY WALLEN: There was another one, the warrior steak and cheddar pie was a little easier because I felt like "Okay you've got this steak and cheddar, it sounds like, you know, a warrior pie" and that can go in a chapter when you're really, you know, making things happen and working towards things and you gotta keep your, you know, spirits up and you gotta be strong and get through something and then it got, you know, more and more a little harder so then I started taking how I made a pie, like for instance the lemon meringue pie is a good example because I hate meringue, I still hate meringue and so I would not make a lemon meringue but everybody was asking me for a lemon meringue pie and I would make a meringue and it was lousy.

AMY WALLEN: So I have this pie guru that I go to her workshops all the time. It's actually her recipe that I put in here although I do change it up a little bit because I like to add some ginger and now it's a pie that I write about how you have to have teachers to help you out and you have to have a way of practicing and learning through stages from somebody that already knows how to do it really, really well so then I started looking at pies in that way, not just what they are called but how did it come to that pie? How did that pie become the pie that I was making? Like hand pies you share, so you take that to your writing group and I talk about writing groups and things like that.

AMY WALLEN: Emil had the great idea and he's like "Well we need something when, like, you know, what a chapter on when you like, you know, have to just let go of a book, like you're done, it's clearly, it's not working, you've gotta let go" and that's when the funeral pie, he's like "What about the funeral pie?" and that was his idea and I thought that was perfect but this is true, there are just times when you're like "This just isn't working" and I mean it's really, it's really hard. He did a fabulous comic that is absolutely hilarious about letting go where the characters are like "Wait, what, I was gonna, you know, I was gonna fall in love" and they're like "Yeah, no it wasn't gonna work out" [LAUGHS]

AMY WALLEN: It's just, you know, things like that, I think where I just started thinking about how the pies worked with the writing process, not just the name of the pie and that's where more of those came along.

KAYTE YOUNG: I also really liked how you talked about what some call the inner critic and how for you, your own inner pie critic helped you, helped to kind of push you to learn to make your own pie crust and I thought that was a real, that was really interesting because, you know, a lot of times we're trying to push the inner critic out so we can, you know, get something done but it can also be useful.

AMY WALLEN: Right, right, right. Yeah that was definitely a situation where I had to listen to my inner critic and learn how to make a pie crust right yeah. That was really the hardest thing for me in the early stages was the pie crust which it is for a lot of people but perseverance plays a part in that too so.

KAYTE YOUNG: You already spoke about this a little bit but I wanted to ask you about a couple of things. The savory salon series.

AMY WALLEN: Sure that was also as a teacher trying to figure out how to blend my pies and the writing because again I feel like it's a comfort food and so I started doing workshops in my home and manuscript workshops where people came and sat, not just short stories but more like you brought a whole manuscript and we read them in advance and we'd spend a weekend. Because it was such an intense workshop, I made pie and served pie at the workshop and that was part of it and then the salons, I knew because of working in New York and then also being in San Diego, I knew a lot of published authors and when you are an aspiring writer you want to meet authors and find out their story and how did it happen and how do you get there and how do you get to be you and so I would invite authors to come and spend a day in my living room and then invite, like eight to ten people, aspiring writers or even just readers to come and hang out with the author all day.

AMY WALLEN: You got to know them and there's something about eating because you get to know people so much more intimately over food than you do just, you know, in a conversation on the phone or something like that or even just a reading at a book store.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah that's what I thought was interesting is the including the pie, including the food in these intimate discussions about an authors work or a celebration of their work, that's awesome. You mention this but I would like to just hear a more thorough explanation about your nano piemo.

AMY WALLEN: Yes nano piemo. It started off as a personal challenge, just to see if I could do it, you know, there was this, like I said, nano rhymo which is national novel writing month and I was gonna try to do that and bake a pie. I can't leave well enough alone so I was gonna do, I think it's 1700 words a day you are supposed to do in order to reach the 50,000 at the end of the month. It's a big huge worldwide community that gets together to do this so I was gonna write and I was gonna bake a pie a day, you know, up the anti. Well let's just say that writing went off into the Netherlands but the pie making I kept doing and I just was having a blast.

AMY WALLEN: I mean at first I was kind of frantic and in fact I even broke my flour jar, like the first week because I was running around so fast but it ended up being, yes it was a challenge, I found at the end of the month, I knew more about pie, I felt more confident about my pie baking. I did it. I made 30 pies in 30 days, gave them away and it was kind of like a first come, first served, whoever wants to come by the house and pick up a pie, it's yours and I also just felt really, you know, like any challenge if you succeed at it, you feel really good and accomplished, just like writing a book.

AMY WALLEN: The next year came along and people were asking about it, are you gonna do nano piemo again? I was like "Yeah, sure why not, it was so much fun" so the second year I did it and that year, people started paying for them. I'm on my fourth year now but the third year I decided, I'm just doing it for fun for me so I started auctioning off the pies instead because I was like "Okay if people wanna pay for them, I'd rather raise money and do like a bake sale" and I worked like I said for this non profit so I started doing it as an auction and they thought "Oh, you know, I'll raise like 500 bucks" and I ended up raising over $2,000 so I was like "Okay well I'm gonna do the same the fourth year" and this year I did it and because now people know how it works and whats happening and they get excited and they start strategising on which pie on what day and I don't have anything planned.

AMY WALLEN: I don't even know when I'm gonna make a certain pie. It's like people want the savories and some people want the sweet, some people want the berry pie and some people want it, like it gets close to Thanksgiving, they wanna stock up with the Pecan and the chocolate pie before Thanksgiving so they start strategising and they outbid each other. They also figure out, just like a silent auction, like waiting until the last minute to send in their bids so they can get the higher bid and then outbid someone else.

AMY WALLEN: I ended up raising over $6,000 this year and I'm just making a pie so people were really into it. They have fun, you know and I'm exhausted at the end .

KAYTE YOUNG: The non profit that Amy raises money for is called Ocean Discovery Institute. We have a link on our website if you'd like to learn more. While Amy and Amil have a lot of fun with the pie recipes in this book, they are actual recipes like you'd find in a cookbook. I'm looking at the No Guarantee Peach Pie which is really completely illustrated. Amil has illustrated every step, you know, from selecting the peaches to getting the peaches peeled to finishing the pie and just as someone who does do a lot of baking, especially pie baking, I feel like the instructions are coming from someone who has made a lot of pies and who knows, like "Oh if you don't do this, then your crust is not gonna get brown all the way or if you don't add some thickener to this fruit, it's gonna be too juicy for your pie" so yeah it feels like there's a lot of attention to detail in a lot of these recipes.

KAYTE YOUNG: It is a book about writing but it is also a book about baking pie.


KAYTE YOUNG: What were you gonna say?

AMY WALLEN: I was just gonna give credit to Amil for that peach pie because this was his recipe.

EMIL WILSON: That specific pie is about every December there is a batch of peaches, there's a peach that you eat that's amazing and you're like "I love this, this is the best peach I've ever had" and that's the peach that you make this pie out of and more times than not you'll make this peach pie which is unbaked. The filling isn't baked. It's just fresh peaches and there have been too many times that I've eaten that pie and been like "Argh, these peaches are terrible" and it makes the pie as awful as you can imagine. It goes from being the most magical pie to being just like let's just toss this in the garbage can and that felt like a nice metaphor for writing because terrible peaches look like the good peaches so just when you bite into a piece, sometimes you're like "This is gonna be great, oh this is terrible" and vice versa and so I think that felt like a lot of the writing I do is where I think it's great and then start doing it and then it's, "Oh no, this isn't great at all" and vice versa.

KAYTE YOUNG: In conclusion, thank you both so much for talking with me but I was wondering if you could each say what your favorite pie is.

AMY WALLEN: It's always a hard one. Thank you so much Kayte, this has been a lot of fun. I'm saying thank you in order to stall so I can tell you which pie because I always have a hard time deciding but I think for me it is the salmon and portobello pie that the recipe that's in here. It was one I created but I also still love it. It's a favorite of mine.

AMIL WILSON: Yes Kayte thank you for having us. My favorite pie is a fresh apricot pie. My mother used to make a fresh apricot pie and there is a very small window between it being too tarte and it being too sweet and she always seemed to get it perfectly and its magic.

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Emil Wilson and Amy Wallen. Their book "How to Write A Novel in 20 Pies" came out in the fall of 2022 with Andrews McMeel Publishing. Amy Wallen's other books include the novel "Moon Pies And Movie Stars" and "When We Were Ghouls" a memoir in ghost stories. Emil Wilson's comics can be found on The Nib and the Gutter and we have links to both of these artists work on our website,

KAYTE YOUNG: Next up we have a review of the pod-cast maintenance phase. This review comes to us from Earth Eats Producer, Daniella Richardson.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Maybe you've fallen victim to a health fad or two. As both a young impressionable person and a fat person, I definitely can say that I have. What we've come to understand as quote, unquote health eating is often misguided health information and an insane amount of anti fat rhetoric, all wrapped up in a pretty bow. In a world where skinny seems to be the goal, the things we eat quickly can become sources of judgment from others and take on meanings that something like a sandwich probably shouldn't have and more importantly the lack of informed discourse on these health and wellness issues can get in the way of learning how to properly take care of ourselves.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: The podcast Maintenance Phase addresses this by, in their own words, debunking the junk science behind health fads, wellness scams and non sensical nutrition advice. The maintenance phase was launched in October 2020 by its co-host Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon. Hobbs is a journalist employed by Huff post and Gordon is an activist and author. Both write about the misinformation many of us receive about our health. The show brings a format that we don't often see in pod-casts. In each episode alternate roles. There is the teacher and the student so to speak.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: One person will thoroughly research the chosen topic and present those facts in depth while the other listens and offers insight, questions and commentary as they go along. The information is pretty easy to follow and they cite sources that allow the audience to follow along with the host as they unpack their chosen topic. The hosts often start off the show with an unbiased position. They simply present the facts to their co-host and the audience however as it continues and the topic narrows, their personal views on the subject matter start to become very clear.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: The conversational nature of their show makes it feel inclusive to its listeners. Many pod-casts can make you feel like you are observing through a window. The maintenance phase practically opens the door and pulls up a seat for you at the table. Along with this they are humorous in their delivery and relatable in their responses to the research they present. They offer vulnerable and personal perspectives when needed and find ways to lift the mood if it gets too heavy.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Essentially the show spends its time debunking the myths of diet cultures through story telling. For instance, in one episode they might expose the misinformation spread by a falsified weight loss program and in another they can pick apart the supposed health solutions offered by a celebrity owned brand. They appear to enjoy the process of their celebrity take downs but at the same time, they simply expose the lies and share the truth.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: A recent favorite of mine was their episode titled "Is being fat bad for you?" This episode dives into the years long battle of data between epidemiologist, Katherine Flegal and Walter Willett. Flegal conducted and published a study in 2005 that found being overweight was associated with a lower mortality rate compared to being a normal weight and being obese was associated with a higher mortality rate. Willett disputed Flegal's finding prompting an academic battle that lasted almost a decade.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Here is a short clip sharing a little bit of what Aubrey and Mike had to say about these events starting with Katherine's research.

MICHAEL HOBBES: So basically I mean the number one finding of her paper is that like people in the BMI overweight category are slightly less likely to die so a little bit of fat has like some protective effect on mortality rates. The other big finding is that skinny people are more likely to die so in the fattest category, like the obese category she logs 26,000 deaths. In the skinniest category, she logs 33,000 deaths so one of the quotes that goes around about this, this is sort of how it ends up in the mainstream media coverage of it is given current government guidelines, it appears the average person is better off being 50 or even 75 pounds overweight than 5 pounds underweight.

AUBREY GORDON: This is a thing that also gets sort of thorny right, its worth noting very thin people are more likely to die than very fat people and there is no cause for you as a lay person to then start talking to very fat people or very thin people about how they're gonna fucking die.

MICHAEL HOBBES: I like it when you stand up for thin people. I like it.

AUBREY GORDON: [LAUGHS] Won't someone think of the thins.

MICHAEL HOBBES: I like it when you say thin rights. There is all kinds of actually cohort studies that show the same pattern of like this weird spike for thin people, a little bit reduced mortality for people that are like a little bit overweight and then a higher curve for people that are like fat. They call it the U shaped curve, even though its like more like a Nike swoosh but its an extremely consistent finding in this kind of research.

MICHAEL HOBBES: There's now these two papers, both of which are from the CBC saying completely different things.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: From a political standpoint, the show is clearly left leading however it's much more than politics. They want to inform and help individuals grow and shape their opinions with the whole truth of what has been official or harmful to their health beyond what society thinks a healthy body should look like. As I said earlier, I myself am a fat person. I have been my whole life and coming across a piece of media like Maintenance Phase was a head turner for me.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: I've never had any particular media that devoted so fully to cracking down on the misinformation and harm that can come from the health and wellness industry. For reference I come from a generation where the film Super Size Me was an educational tool used in my health class and now as many of us know, that films message turned out to be saturated and a whole lot of bad science. Hearing the type of discourse that Maintenance Phase supplies provoked reflection for me.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: It made me think back to my early adolescence when any diet seemed like a good one as long as the numbers on the scale would just go down. No-one encouraged me to look into how the diets would serve my body or if they were even good for me at all. Maintenance Phase makes you stop and unpack the trends you decide to try and look further into the science and common sense behind them. They are the media a younger me wished she had had. Its important to remember that humans are diverse. We come in all shapes and sizes and what works for one persons body may not work for another. We ought to make health and wellness science reduce our everyday lives down to trying our hardest to follow the designated and often arbitrary quote, unquote food rules and those rules themselves can end up being harmful to us however food is meant to nourish us, not punish us.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Maintenance Phase reminds of us this.

KAYTE YOUNG: That's Daniella Richardson reviewing the pod-cast Maintenance Phase. Wellness and weight-loss debunked and decoded with hosts Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes. Daniella Richardson is a producer with Earth Eats through the Cox Legacy Scholars Program at Indiana University. She is also an Ernie Pyle Scholar at the IU Media School.

KAYTE YOUNG: That's it for this weeks show. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time. , Payton Whaley, Harvest Public Media and me, Daniella Richardson.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Earth Eats in produced and edited by Kayte Young with help from Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Samantha Shemenauer, Payton Whaley, Harvest Public Media and me, Daniella Richardson.

KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Josephine McRobbie, Melanie Tafejian, Amy Wallen and Emil Wilson.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Our theme music is composed by Aran Tobey and performed by Aran and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artists at Universal Production Music, our executive producer is John Bailey.

A book open on a countertop with an illustration of a spinner and a headline "what does your nove really need? Step right up and take a spin"

Emil Wilson's illustrations and comics echo the humor and wit found in Amy Wallen's writing. (Courtesy of the authors)

Preserved they don’t burn, the bitterness softens.

California has been burning for years. When I lived

in LA, I drank water pumped from Colorado. Lemons

from my grandmother’s tree—two orbs, turning in my hands

under the faucet—clear, cold, unfiltered…

This week on the show we’ve got poetry and pie. We hear from Melanie Tafejian, a poet who incorporates food imagery into her work. 

We talk with Amy Wallen and Emil Wilson, creators of of How to Write a Novel in 20 Pies.

And, Daniella Richardson reviews Maintenance Phase, a podcast that turns a critical eye towards the wellness and weight loss industry.

Novel Writing and Pie

Amy Wallen takes comfort in the practice of pie baking (and eating). As a writer, it's what she turns to when she is struggling with her work. She decided to write a book about it. How to Write a Novel in 20 Pies: Sweet and Savory Secrets for Surviving the Writing Life. She collaborated with Emil Wilson, illustrator and comic artist. The book includes sound writing and publishing advice, delightful illustrations and comics, plus recipes for sweet and savory pies of all sorts. 

Listen to our conversation in this week's episode. 

Amy Wallen’s other books include the novel, Moon Pies and Movie Stars, and When We Were Ghouls: A Memoir of Ghost Stories. She teaches, edits, leads writing workshops and works with the non-profit organization Ocean Discovery Institute.

Emil Wilson is an art director, illustrator and comic artist. His comics can be found on The Nib and The Gutter.

Music on this episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.

Stories On This Episode

Two food poems from Melanie Tafejian

Melanie Tafejian outdoor in front of a window with flowers behind her

Producer Josephine McRobbie brings us a piece featuring poet Melanie Tafejian who incorporates food imagery into her poems.

The podcast, Maintenance Phase turns a critical eye towards diet and wellness culture

logo with a pink apple shape and a blue pear shape and the words "maintenance phase"

Earth Eats producer Daniella Richardson describes the podcast Maintenance Phase as "the media a younger me wished she had."

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