Title: Friend of the Devil
Author: Mark Spivak
Publisher: Black Opal Books
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.
I want to give a big welcome to Mark today. His book sound really good (anything that involves food and a mystery already has my attention!) and today he shares whether you can balance life and writing. Take it away Mark.
Balancing Life and Writing
I was amused when asked to do a blog post on balancing life and writing. In truth, they can’t be balanced.
I’m not sure if writing is an obsessional activity, but I’m pretty certain that only obsessed people do it successfully. It is the type of endeavor that almost inevitably tends to obliterate any idea of balance in your life. I sometimes compare it to a serious disease: you may have periods of remission, you may have spans of years or decades when you pursue another form of endeavor—either to make money or to fulfill family obligations—but sooner or later you’ll relapse and start writing again.
When you do, you’ll find it to be as consuming as a bonfire. Your work will be the first thing you think of when you wake in the morning, and the last thing you think about before you doze off to sleep. It will occupy most of your waking hours. You will appear distant to family and friends until you master the art of pretending to pay attention to what they’re saying, and until you become adept at participating in life events while actually thinking about the project you’re working on. The struggle to succeed will be so difficult and consuming that it will become hard to identify with those who are no similarly obsessed.
So why do people do it? If you’re successful you can leave a legacy, and that’s no small thing. You will experience the exhilaration of feeling (as Allen Ginsberg said) like “the self-contained master of the universe.” When my first novel, Friend of the Devil, was accepted for publication, I felt linked to a chain of storytellers that went all the way back to Beowulf. Actually, it goes back further than that: to the time when cavemen went out to hunt and gather during the day, and sat in their cave at night telling the stories of their day’ adventures. It’s an amazing feeling, and it’s something worth striving for.
Several years after the opening of Chateau de la Mer, the triumvirate of Avenzano, Walsh, and Ross appeared to be one big happy family, although there were rumors of strains in the relationship.
One night, at the height of the Festival of Champagne, there was an incident. Ross, a notorious womanizer, was sipping Cristal with a redhead at the restaurant’s corner table.
His wife slipped through the front door of the mansion, unannounced. Walking slowly through the dining room, past the Medieval memorabilia and dramatic cast-iron griffins, she strolled up to Ross’s table, took a revolver from her evening bag, and calmly shot him through the heart.
The ensuing chaos did more to establish Joseph Soderini di Avenzano in the American imagination than his designer pasta, his Bedouin stuffed poussin, his recipes transposed from Etruscan or Old Genoese, or his library of ten thousand cookbooks.
This was more than a good meal, after all. This was sex and death in Palm Beach. Even more intriguing was the chef’s refusal to comment on Ross after his death, except for informal and effusive eulogies in his famous baritone.
“Watch that Cristal,” David’s friend Bill Grimaldi told him before he left Manhattan to do an assigned story on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Chateau de la Mer. “It’s a killer.”
About the Author
Mark 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 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.