Adam Glendon Sidwell is a Los Angeles-based animator/illustrator/character desginer, BYU grad and the author of Evertaster, a culinary-themed middle grade adventure novel. He and I talk about fiction and food below.
You can learn more about Adam’s book at the Evertaster web site. And today is its’ launch day on Amazon should you be interested in purchasing it — it’s available in both ebook and trade paperback form.
Let me start by saying that I was pleased to hear about your book. Gastronomic literature is something that I’m very fond of and plays a part in my own writing and reading. What made you decide to write a culinary adventure story for kids?
I’m glad we share that interest! For me it all started when I looked at a cookbook and thought about all the recipes ever made, all the cooking shows ever watched, and all the chefs who have ever tried to perfect a dish. I wondered, what are they all searching for? Is there an ultimate goal? In science, sometimes people talk about a Grand Unified Theory of Everything. The answer that would be so complete, it would change science forever. So I wondered, is there one taste that would cause all of those chefs to drop their wooden spoons in awe and give up cooking and experimenting, because the One True Taste has been found? The story for Evertaster is my best answer to that question. I naturally think of things in a young adult or middle grade setting, since it allows such freedom of imagination, so I started plotting and writing in that genre.
For our readers who haven’t heard of Evertaster yet, could you provide a brief synopsis?
When eleven year-old Guster Johnsonville rejects his mother’s casserole for the umpteenth time, she takes him to the city of New Orleans to find him something to eat. There, in a dark, abandoned corner of the city, they meet a dying pastry maker who tells them of a legendary recipe called the Gastronomy of Peace — a recipe created hundreds of years ago, shrouded in secrecy, and sought after by connoisseurs everywhere.
So begins a perilous adventure that will take Guster, his clever sister Mariah, and the rest of the Johnsonvilles on an adventure to ancient ruins, faraway jungles and forgotten caves, where they discover that their search is more than just a quest to satisfy Guster’s cravings — it is a quest that could change humanity forever.
What was the experience of writing the book like? What did you learn from it that will be of help for any future fiction writing you do?
I learned how to complete a story. This is not the first book I’ve written; I’ve made other attempts, but this one was different because when I began, I had a fairly good idea of what would happen to the Johnsonvilles along the way. I did not know exactly how it would end, and I think that was exciting, but I did know what I had to do to complete the story. The story sparked during a writing class I took from Orson Scott Card. We wrote our story ideas down — they had to fit on one notecard. I volunteered to read it to the class, and I got some pretty good laughs from everyone, so that was encouraging. I knew that to make the story ring true, Guster and his family would have to go through real danger and sorrow. A few months later I completed the contract jobs I was working on — the films were actually “I Am Legend” and “Speed Racer” — then quit my job and started writing Evertaster full time. It took me about 4 months to complete the first draft. After that, I revised it for 2 years with the help of my agent, Alyssa Henkin of Trident Media Group. She pushed me to bring the manuscript up to the next level, and with her guidance, I think it’s improved tremendously. I think that the most important thing I learned was the actual first-hand experience of building a story structure and character arcs. With my first novel I didn’t know where I was going. I just wrote. I think there’s a time to do that for a first-time writer. Now, going forward though, I know when a story idea spark has been fueled sufficiently and matured enough in my mind to begin writing it. I wrote another book last year, and just like doing a backflip or learning to bike, the first time is very scary, but then it gets easier because you know what will happen. My experience writing Evertaster helped me to know what to expect. Writing is something you have to learn by experience.
I know that this book has nothing specifically LDS to it in terms of content, but I’d like to talk a little bit about Mormonism and food. It’s a topic I’m interested in. [See, for example,”A Utah Mormon Tasting Menu“]. What have been your most positive and least positive experiences with foods in an LDS-related setting (ward functions, BYU, mission, etc.)?
Your Tasting Menu post is funny. I’m grinning as I think about the pairings. I think you hit on something there — the typical foods we eat become part of our tradition without us even knowing it. I think the Cannon Center at BYU was like falling into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for me. It’s not cuisine by any means — but it’s good, hardy, filling food and you can have as much as you want. As a college freshman, I and my dorm-mates whiled away many hours eating roast beast, recycled macaroni, pies on Sunday afternoons, and an array of fruit or donut smoothies we made ourselves there. Sometimes there were 20 or more of us at a time, pounding the table or spinning yarns as we ate. It was rowdy as a Viking banquet hall, and it was the food that brought us together. I’m still friends with those same brave and rowdy men today, all who left on missions that year.
As far as least positive experience, that might be as a missionary in Norway. My companion had booked 2 dinner appointments back to back. I was green, and he told me that I HAD to eat the spaghetti we’d been served. I stuffed it down, not wanting to offend the nice lady who’d fed us. But I was already stuffed from meal #1. I thought I was going to explode when we had to run to catch our bus afterward. I didn’t eat again for 24 hours.
I think what’s interesting is how linked our cultures are to food. That’s really what Evertaster is about on one level: clashing food cultures, and the story of the Johnsonvilles, a humble, macaroni and cheese family who sets out to find something more. Food is closely tied to adventure, whether it be in real life or in stories.
You are a BYU alumnus who works in the industry as a film animator, character designer, etc. What is it about BYU that produces such amazing illustrators and designers? ‘Cause I know a ton of them.
They’re a great bunch aren’t they? (Which ones do you know? We probably have mutual friends…). BYU has rigorous criteria for acceptance into the university. There are very few accepted into the program each year, and they are required to work together on a film. That mimics real world production experience, and that’s very valuable to a place like Pixar or Weta. BYU is full of people who are smart in addition to their artistic talent.
Tying things back together: did you do the cover art for Evertaster?
I did not. Goro Fujita, a really talented concept and visual development artist from Dreamworks did the art. He did visual development for Madagascar and Megamind. He’s very good.
If the funding were available, would you be interested in turning it into an animated film? Why or why not?
If lightning struck and funding did become available, I would love to make it into a film. People have talked to me about optioning Evertaster. I think though that the content of the book would work better as a live action piece with heavy visual effects for the more fantastic elements and scenes. Animation works better when you have a completely fantastic world where animals talk or the setting is mythical. Evertaster is set in the modern day. I can see the film looking more like “The Chronicles of Narnia” than “Ratatouille” for example.
Evertaster is the launch of a series. Will all of the books be culinary related? Or to put it more broadly: what’s the next project for you as a fiction writer?
Yes, all the books in the Evertaster Series will be culinary related. In fact, the second one is tentatively titled The Delicious City. The series will likely wrap up after 3 books. After that, I’ve got another book I’ve written for early teens about TV, technology, and a crew of tech savvy pirates. I can’t wait to let that book out and start that series.
Finally, what works of art — fiction, music, film, visual arts — are you digging right now and why?
I have a fascination rigth now with 8-bit art. I’m wallowing in nostalgia as much as I can before people start getting nostalgic about things I’m not familiar with. I just saw a set of paintings that look like they came out of the original Nintendo where George Washington is shooting lasers at Adolf Hitler from atop his dinosaur mount. It’s so amazing how the artist erased every last bit of subtlety from it. Occasionally it feels nice to indulge in pure awesome.