Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Authors To Watch: Mark Spivak, author of 'Friend of the Devil'

 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 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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Title: 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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Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a full-time writer doing journalism, non-fiction and fiction. For the first two categories, I specialize in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel.

When did you begin writing?

I started at the age of eleven, and have been writing ever since.

Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?

By the seat of my pants, which is dangerous---it’s terrific if everything works out, not so great if the story explodes in your face. I get up about 4-4:30 a.m. to make the most of time without interruptions (since I still do journalism, the email and other distractions are in full swing by 10 a.m.). I work obsessively throughout the day with breaks for working out, errands, etc. Most of the time I’m sitting on the corner of a couch in our living room.

Can you tell us about your most recent release?

My first novel, Friend of the Devil, was released by Black Opal Books in May. It tells the story of America’s most celebrated chef, who has cut a deal with the Devil for fame and fortune. It contains murder, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and lots of food porn---otherwise, it’s pretty tame.

How did you get the idea for the book?

It’s based on a chef I worked with many years ago in another city (the novel is set in South Florida).

Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?

I’d have to day the chef himself, because he’s a very complex individual. The story is really a study in human greed and obsession.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?

I’d like to consider myself to be a spiritual person, so spending a number of years immersed in the darker aspects of human nature was difficult. I think I told the story as well as I was able to, but I’m relieved that it’s in the rear-view mirror.

Which authors have inspired your writing?

Hemingway was my idol when I was a kid. He was the leading literary personality of the time, and fairly easy to read as well (at least on a surface level). I have a degree in literature, so I’ve read pretty widely. I tend to get inspired by writers who have a distinctive voice, although that voice can vary drastically from one person to another.

What projects are you currently working on?

My second novel, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is tentatively scheduled for release next spring. I have another manuscript that I’m currently shopping to agents. At the moment, I’m working on a story about the world’s greatest art forger, who also suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (what lay people would call multiple personality disorder).

What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?

It’s crucially important to have as much varied life experience as possible, so don’t spend your life in the academic world. I think journalism can be valuable in small dose (most particularly newspaper work). Remember that it takes a long time to learn how to write a story that other people want to read. Most importantly: DON’T GIVE UP.

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