Amy Houts – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

COOKING AROUND THE COUNTRY WITH KIDS: USA REGIONAL RECIPES AND FUN ACTIVITIES features recipes from all over the United States. I divided the U.S. into 10 regions, one chapter per region. Each chapter includes:

* A map of the U.S. with the states of that region highlighted
* State names
* Activities related to that region
* A regional description (the land, water, temperatures, and what they produce)
* Recipes typical of that region and/or made with foods that are produced there

I wrote this cookbook to teach about the wonderful blend of cultures in the USA and to make the recipes accessible to parents and children. My cookbook combines cooking, learning, and fun for to help create lasting memories and foster close relationships with children.

Tell us something about yourself.

I was born in New York and moved to St. Louis in 1967, when I was in fifth grade. I began baking by myself at age 12, an apple pie. My mom didn’t bake, but we all loved desserts, so I was highly praised. When I was a teenager, my mom worked and didn’t get home until about 6 PM, so we made a deal. I would cook supper instead of doing other housework like cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming, and dusting.

After high school, I attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. This was in the mid-1970s when only 10 percent of the students were women. It was a two year program, but after a year I didn’t know if working in a restaurant was the right direction for my life, so I transferred the University of Missouri.

After I married and had my first baby, I wanted to stay home with her. While she took naps, I wanted to do something fun and challenging, so I started writing. That was 28 years ago.

What inspired you to write this book?

Moving to the Midwest at age 10, I noticed that people on the east coast and people in the Midwest ate different foods. I was used to eating more fish and seafood in New York, and people in the Midwest ate more beef and pork. I also noticed that people in St. Louis put mayonnaise on both the top and bottom slice of bread for their sandwiches instead of just the top, like in New York. I thought the sandwiches in St. Louis tasted better. When I visited Maine, I ate lobster. When I lived in Memphis, I was introduced to grits. When I visited New Orleans, I ate Shrimp Creole. Everywhere I lived or visited, I was fascinated by the delicious differences in the food I ate and I wanted to write about it.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

Leona Jackson, the owner and publisher of Images Unlimited, and I are both members of the Maryville Chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. Lee had self-published a few apple cookbooks, her specialty, and was looking for cookbook manuscripts to publish, transforming her business into a small publishing company. She liked my idea of publishing a children’s cookbook. Lee knew that I had written a monthly cooking column, “Preschooler in the Kitchen,” for the parenting newsletter, Parent & preschooler, for 12 years. We looked at the topics of my columns and decided on a holiday/seasonal theme for the cookbook, as that is the time of year many people take extra time to cook. So our first cookbook came out in 2001, COOKING AROUND THE CALENDAR WITH KIDS: HOLIDAY AND SEASONAL FOOD & FUN. My new cookbook is a companion written in a similar style, with a similar title, and using the same easy recipes with clear directions to help in the success of cooking together.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I started writing when my daughter was a baby. My mom had written a book for children when I was growing up and I thought it looked like fun. She had a few articles and stories published, but she pursued a more academic path, teaching on the college level. When I started, I asked my mom a ton of questions about the writing/submission process. My career has brought my mom and me closer together, too.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

The hardest part of writing is taking all the information and deciding what to use. It can be overwhelming.

How do you do research for your books?

For my cookbook, I used my own personal experience, and asked friends and family members. I also did a lot of reading not only about regional recipes, but about each state and what they produce. I read books, articles, and online. The best information came from the USDA and other government agencies. They keep great records and make them available to the public.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

I learned so much! We have such abundance of food, a rich mixture of tastes, and the geography to grow and produce a great variety of food. I learned fun facts like: the state California is the highest producer of vegetables and fruits, cranberries grow in New England and in the Great Lakes States, and the ice cream cone was introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

What are you reading now?

I recently finished THE END OF OVEREATING: Taking Control of the
Insatiable American Appetite by David A. Kessler, MD. It changed my life—I highly recommend it.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I like to read self-help, inspirational books, and mysteries. I often read children’s books, too, not only because I enjoy them, but for market research since the majority of my books are for children. For self-help, I recommend, WRITE IT DOWN, MAKE IT HAPPEN: knowing what you want and getting it by Henriette Ann Klauser. For inspiration, anything by Max Lucado. One of my favorite children’s authors is one I read growing up, Phyllis A. Whitney. There are so many children’s authors I enjoy reading such as, Eve Bunting and Madeline L’Engle.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

My sister, Nancy Browning, who is a wonderful cook, and I are working on a cookbook about couples cooking together titled, COUPLES COOKING. Each recipe lists tasks that need to be accomplished so the recipes are easily cooked with a partner. The focus is to bring people together to cook and to eat. We are looking for a publisher.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Learn the craft of writing by reading about on how to write, enrolling in writing courses, keeping up with market trends, and by writing itself. There’s always something new to learn! For publishing, be persistent! Keep sending out manuscripts, attending conferences, and networking.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

  • Speaking to organizations and schools
  • Posting links, announcements, photos on facebook, twitter, and my website
  • Sending complimentary copies to specific persons
  • Requesting interviews online and in the local newspaper

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

At my publisher’s website:

At my website: