Candace Dempsey

Writing about Food, Creative Nonfiction & Journalism

Food Writing: The Secret Recipe for Success
How to Write About Real People: Truth or Fiction

About Candace Dempsey
Complete List of Writers.com Classes

Food Writing: The Secret Recipe for Success (10 weeks)

Hey, foodies: Looking for a career to feed your passion? Well, roll up your sleeves and sharpen your knives. Whether you're a chef, home cook, restaurant employee, published writer or newbie, this fun 10-week introductory course will help you break into food writing.

First you'll explore the full culinary menu, from restaurant reviewing and memoir to recipes, blogs and travel-related stories. Then you'll choose the specialties that suit you. Finally, you'll learn how to target editors and iron-chef the competition.

Over the 10 weeks you'll create one tasty food article, plus a delicious query letter to land that dream assignment. You'll snap appetizing food photos and, if you choose, create your own blog (Don't worry. It's easy.).

Not only will you receive weekly feedback from the instructor, but you'll also share experiences with fellow students around the globe. You'll be encouraged to unearth family recipes. Visit your local butcher. Hang out in farmers' markets. Get creative in your kitchen. Become an expert on your favorite cuisine.

You'll also learn how to:

* Figure out what editors "want"

* Interview chefs, winemakers and other experts

* Use all five senses to enrich your writing

* Combine travel and food writing

* Draw inspiration from the Food Network, culinary magazines and writers such as M.F.K. Fisher, Ernest Hemingway and Colette

The goal: Get paid to do what you love. Eat, drink, write.

Suggested (not required) readings:

Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Restaurant Reviews, Articles, Memoir, Fiction and More, by Diane Jacobs.

American Food Writing: An Anthology: With Classic Recipes, edited by Molly O'Neill.

The current edition of Best Food Writing, edited by Holly Hughes.

Class Outline

Week 1: What's cooking in the food market?

Explore food writing specialties. What do you bring to the table? Where do you fit in? Assignment: Write a blog post (minimum 400 words). Describe in luscious detail the most memorable meal you ate as a child. Who made it? Who was at the table? What happened while you were eating it?

Week 2: The very idea!

What stories do you want to tell? Get inspiration: visit restaurants, food markets, restaurants, delis. Cook new recipes. Skim television shows, blogs, newspapers, magazines, media kits, press releases, Web forums. Note trends. Talk to experts. Review previous blog item. Assignment: List 10 story ideas, boiled down to single sentences (e.g., 10 best restaurants in Las Vegas)

Week 3: Get deeper into the market

Learn to "read" a magazine's table of contents, ads and masthead. Get writers' guidelines. Review story ideas. Assignment: Choose your hottest story idea. Write a one-page query letter tailored to your top three markets.

Week 4: Target editors

Find out what they "need." Google them. Get their contact information. Figure out how to approach them. Email? Snail mail? Personalize that query letter. Assignment: Outline your story idea.

Week 5: Use all the tools in your kitchen

Flesh out your idea with interviews, quotations, statistics. Develop a list of sensual food words (avoid cliches such as mouth-watering). Assignment: Write a compelling opener for your story.

Week 6: Deepen your writing

Study the work of your favorite food writers, such as Ruth Reichl or R.W. Apple. Note their specialties. See how they use recipes, humor, quotes, suspense, dialog and other ingredients to spice up their stories. Assignment: Begin a rough draft of your story (under 800 words).

Week 7: Study your audience

Time for some sleuthing. Identify the audience for your targeted markets. Professionals, weekend wonders, armchair cooks? Find out their gender, age, education, interests. Assignment: Tailor your rough draft to that audience.

Week 8: Frost that cake

Use key words to create snappy headlines. Add colorful details. Supply missing ingredients. Delete repetitions. Review rough draft. Assignment: Polish your story (800 words or less).

Week 9: Creating appetizing food photos

Snap spicy photos. Get people and workspaces into your photos. Legalities. Digital equipment. Rights. Payments. Assignment: Hand in polished article.

Week 10: Launch your career

Easy ways to create a culinary blog and writer's website. Bios. Business cards. Food-related conferences. Assignment spreadsheets. Contracts. Rights. Payments. Ethical "free food" dilemmas. Cookbooks. Memoirs. Anthologies.


Where do I take this class?

Entirely online. Students can move freely around the world during the course. Lessons and discussions can be called up from an Internet cafe in Katmandu if necessary. Just make sure you have the time and discipline to complete assignments while on the road.

I'm already a published writer. Will this intro course work for me?

But, of course. Especially if you're jumping specialties or need to brush up your skills (e.g., blogs, digital photos). You'll find the marketing information and critiques helpful, not to mention encouragement from classmates.

How much time does it take?

I keep assignments short, to encourage students to explore the culinary world first-hand. Plan to spend 30-60 minutes for reading each week and up to several hours to complete the longer assignments. Want to delve more deeply into the material? Just ask the instructor for suggestions.

Where do the students come from?

All over the globe. The more countries represented, the richer our culinary experience will be.

How to Write About Real People: Truth or Fiction (10 weeks)

Does a real story haunt you? Learn how to rip tales from the headlines or "sketch" people you know intimately, find sources, interview, sleuth like a reporter, write page-turners and sell them. Not only will you discover how to spill secrets with sensitivity and power, but also how to avoid libel and protect privacy.

You'll leave this 10-week class with a 700-word manuscript of your choice:

* Memoir ala Cheryl Strayed's Wild

* Narrative nonfiction ala Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air

* True crime ala John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

* Reality-based fiction ala Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan or Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace


Week 1: What's your story?

Decide what do you want to create: a profile of a colorful person, start of a memoir, an investigative piece or an interview? A short story or novel chapter pulled from actual events? We'll talk about Q&A, nonfiction narrative, point of view, trend, investigative and true crime tales. You'll learn how to follow an exciting story, no matter where it leads. Workshop.

Week 2. Who do you need to talk to?

Draw up a list of people your story needs. Begin creating a context for them. Who are they? What purpose do they serve in your story? What characteristics make them memorable? We'll talk about how to write about your family members and close friends without losing their love. Workshop.

Week 3: How do you nail your story and sleuth your characters?

We'll talk about everything from diaries, social networking, newspapers and magazines to public records and search engines. We'll talk about how you can weave a narrative even though your characters are no longer living or have left behind few traces. Workshop.

Week 4: How do you get people to talk to you?

Phone calls, email, Facebook, Twitter, a friend of a friend? Find out how professional reporters get their sources - and protect them. What are the Dos and Don'ts? The desperation moves? Workshop.

Week 5: How do you interview?

To tape or not to tape? Learn how to capture dialogue and anecdotes, plus get documents and key introductions from sources. Workshop.

Week 6: Should you put yourself in your story?

When should you be the "I" of the story? How do you weave yourself in or keep yourself out? Let's look at famous books where the "I" shines and failed books where "I" is disastrous. Workshop.

Week 7: How do you handle time?

Span of years, just one day? Chronological? Skipping around? We'll look at classics like Into the Wild and The Perfect Storm to see how masterful writers capture characters by juggling time. Turn in your rough draft.

Week 8: What's still missing?

How can you fill in gaps in your narrative? What do you do when a source won't talk, you can't get documentation, and you've reached a dead end? Time to get bold and creative. Polish your rough draft.

Week 9: What to put in, what to leave out?

When in doubt, leave it out. Also, discover what your story arc requires - and what's tangential to the plot. Learn about conflict journalism and how you can tell a story without destroying lives. Turn in your final assignment.

Week 10: How can you protect yourself from libel and sell your tale?

Learn how to prevent libel or invasion of privacy charges. Discover how to sell your story to newspapers, magazines and book publishers.

Recommended (not required) reading:

The Complete Guide To Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart.

The Art of the Interview by Lawrence Grobel.


How much time does the class take?

Each lesson requires about 30 minutes of reading and at least two hours for the workshop or assignment. Some study is self-guided and entirely optional.

Can I travel during class?

Absolutely. Students - and your instructor - love to travel. You can message Candace any time, from anywhere. She will get back to you right way.

Is the class suitable for unpublished or inexperienced writers? For already published writers?

Yes, Candace teaches to all levels. She provides a warm, supportive atmosphere with lots of positive feedback. She listens carefully to your goals and helps you achieve them. Interactions with other students add to the rich experience.

I live outside the U.S. Is this a problem?

The class is entirely online with no fixed hours. All you need is a computer and Internet access.

Will this course help bloggers?

Absolutely. It explores techniques common to strong writing everywhere: interviews, authoritative sources, news angles, narrative arc, etc. Most importantly, Candace offers detailed, personalized feedback, giving you the support that writers often lack.

What if I have another question?

Mark Dahlby would be happy to answer queries (writers@writers.com).

:: to top of page ::

About Candace Dempsey

CANDACE DEMPSEY is an award-winning food and travel writer, editor, and author of the Best True Crime Editor's and Reader's Choice 2010 Award for Murder in Italy. An Italian-American journalist based in Seattle, she writes the Italian Woman at the Table blog for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and a wilder version on her own site. She's interviewed many food celebs, from the Barefoot Contessa to Ruth Reichl. Like her idol, Peter Mayle, she's a talented home cook and appreciative eater. Candace is a former restaurant reviewer for Sidewalk.com and Downtown Source. Check out her most delicious articles at candacedempsey.com.

Candace has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC World News, CBC, Italian television and other media outlets. Her travel memoirs appear in Travelers' Tales and Seal Press anthologies, plus numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, Slate,Passionfruit, Adventure Journal, Art & Antiques, and The Boston Phoenix and other publications.

Candace has a master's degree from the University of Oregon School of Journalism, where she was a Graduate Teaching Fellow. She's also the former editor and producer of UnderWire, a MSN Website that Newsweek called "cheeky, nicely written, fun" and The New York Times praised for "serious sisterhood."

:: to top of page ::


writers on the net/writers.com
© 1995-2014