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The First Page: Friend of the Devil by Mark Spivak

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friend-of-the-devil-kindleTitle: Friend of the Devil
Author: Mark Spivak
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Pages: 325
Genre: Culinary Thriller

In 1990 some critics believe that America’s most celebrated chef, Joseph Soderini di Avenzano, sold his soul to the Devil to achieve culinary greatness. Whether he is actually Bocuse or Beelzebub, Avenzano is approaching the 25th anniversary of his glittering Palm Beach restaurant, Chateau de la Mer, patterned after the Michelin-starred palaces of Europe.

Journalist David Fox arrives in Palm Beach to interview the chef for a story on the restaurant’s silver jubilee. He quickly becomes involved with Chateau de la Mer’s hostess, unwittingly transforming himself into a romantic rival of Avenzano. The chef invites Fox to winter in Florida and write his authorized biography. David gradually becomes sucked into the restaurant’s vortex: shipments of cocaine coming up from the Caribbean; the Mafia connections and unexplained murder of the chef’s original partner; the chef’s ravenous ex-wives, swirling in the background like a hidden coven. As his lover plots the demise of the chef, Fox tries to sort out hallucination and reality while Avenzano treats him like a feline’s catnip-stuffed toy.

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The First Page

“The man’s here.”

The old Black woman delivered her pronouncement into the darkness of a back room—half in amusement, half in disgust. She then walked back across the front room of the cabin, her feet creaking on the wooden floor, to the place where the young man sat. A pot-bellied stove, streaked with soot, crackled in the opposite corner.

“He be wit you in a minute.”

“Thank you.”

The white youth seemed strangely comfortable in this shack outside Clarksdale in rural Mississippi. The year was 1947, at the height of Jim Crow, at a time when the races never mingled.

The young man had concocted an elaborate cover story and, with the confidence of his age, he believed he could explain himself if the wrong people found him here.

“What you say your name is?” the woman asked.

“Joseph.”

The woman laughed. “You a crazy-assed white boy, Joseph.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied in a deep baritone, guttural and booming. “That may well be.”

The old Black man shuffled out of the back room, moving slowly and deliberately. He was clad in overalls, and his silver hair framed a deeply lined and creased face. He glanced at Joseph and shook his head.

“Let’s go out on the porch, boy.”

They walked outside to the dilapidated wooden deck surrounding the front of the shack, and the old man settled in a rocking chair. He motioned for Joseph to sit beside him and regarded him with the same amusement his wife had displayed.

“You a long way from home, ain’t you?”

“I don’t really have a home, sir.”

“Everybody got a home.” The old man chuckled.

Interview

Welcome, Mark. Can you tell us what your book is about?

Friend of the Devil tells the story of Joseph Soderini di Avenzano, America’s most celebrated chef, who has cut a deal with the Devil for fame and fortune.

The first page is perhaps one of the most important pages in the whole book. It’s what draws the reader into the story. Why did you choose to begin your book this way?

There are two narrative lines: the “present day” of the story, which occurs in Palm Beach in 1990, when Avenzano has been America’s most famous chef for 25 years, alternating with a series of flashbacks that tell the reader about the tortured journey he traveled to get there. I decided to start at the beginning, with a teaser set in Mississippi in 1947.

In the course of writing your book, how many times would you say that first page changed and for what reasons?

The entire book went through numerous drafts and changed significantly any number of times. For example, the early drafts didn’t have the flashbacks, which left readers to supply those details from their imagination. Ultimately, that didn’t work.

Was there ever a time after the book was published that you wished you had changed something on the first page?

No. Friend of the Devil emerged slowly and painfully, but I think I finally did it as well as I was able to.

What advice can you give to aspiring authors to stress how important the first page is?

Literature students are trained by reading the classics—books that were written and read before radio, movies, TV, Internet and other electronic devices. Those authors were working in an environment where they could get away with a lot more. Today, the truth is that we’re competing with The Real Housewives of New Jersey. If that first page doesn’t grab people, they’ll wander off and do something else.

About the Author

mark-spivakMark Spivak is an award-winning author, specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants, and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and was honored by the Academy of Wine Communications for excellence in wine coverage “in a graceful and approachable style.” Since 2001 he has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group, as well as the Food Editor for Palm Beach Illustrated; his running commentary on the world of food, wine and spirits is available at the Global Gourmet blog on http://www.palmbeachillustrated.com. His work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Men’s Journal, Art & Antiques, the Continental and Ritz-Carlton magazines, Arizona Highways and Newsmax. From 1999-2011 Spivak hosted Uncorked! Radio, a highly successful wine talk show on the Palm Beach affiliate of National Public Radio.

Spivak is the author of two non-fiction books:  Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation: The Art of Creating Cornbread in a Bottle (Lyons Press, 2014). Friend of the Devil is his first novel. He is currently working on a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq.

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