Nancy Mehagian – Siren’s Feast

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

My latest book is a culinary memoir titled Siren’s Feast, An Edible Odyssey, a tale of sex, drugs and couscous. Set against the backdrop of the late 60’s and early 70’s, it chronicles my emotional and spiritual journey as a rebellious daughter who leaves the safety and security of suburban life to heed the Siren’s call to a life of romance and adventure. Along the way I established the first vegetarian restaurant in Spain, on the island of Ibiza, trekked in the Himalayas, had an affair with a Bedouin gypsy during a stint as a cabaret dancer in Syria and, through a series of mishaps, was incarcerated in an infamous London prison (along with my new-born baby) where I managed, even there, to pioneer a healthy way of eating. Siren’s Feast contains over forty mouth-watering recipes.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m Armenian and a native of Phoenix, Arizona. My spiritual quest began when I was still in my teens, after taking the native sacrament of peyote. In the late 60’s I left home for three weeks and didn’t return for seven years. I traveled the world seeking answers and discovered the woman who would become my life mentor back in Phoenix, at the end of my seven year odyssey. I studied the ancient Japanese healing art of Jin Shin Jyutsu with her for many years and became “masseuse to the stars” in Hollywood. Thirty five years later, I am still practicing this art.

What inspired you to write this book?

I come from a family of storytellers and great cooks. As the daughter of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide of l915, I grew up surrounded by a large extended family who gathered often for picnics and feasts. Amidst all this abundance, I was fascinated and horrified by their tales of deprivation, brutality and survival. When I related these stories to friends and other people everyone kept telling me I should write a book. Ultimately, I agreed with them.

How did you choose the title?

According to legend, the island of Ibiza, Spain is the Island of the Sirens from Homer’s Odyssey. Once you have been there, the Sirens will always call you back. And since food figures so prominently in my memoir, one of my clients, in the course of having a massage, came up with Siren’s Feast. It was a perfect fit. I added the Edible Odyssey because I liked the way it sounded.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

My writing teacher at the time, Dr. Tristine Rainer who authored Your Life as Story, loved the book so much she became the editor and sent it to a few big publishing houses in New York. Most of the rejection letters were excellent, so I was told. Finally I got a deal with a small publisher in California, who did make it a better book. But the process was taking so long I decided to self-publish. There was a big learning curve involved, so I took it a step at a time. The results were gratifying since I was able to create a beautiful looking book that is Forest Stewardship Council certified, something important to me.

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

I have loved writing and reading since childhood and over the years communicated through letters with people all over the world, who often told me how much my letters meant to them. I began taking writing courses in UCLA’s extension program. My first instructor there was Aram Saroyan who was a great inspiration. I continued in writing groups and through the feedback I received from others in the group finally got the courage to begin my book.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I can’t sit and write until I’ve taken a hike or a long walk. It gives me time to think about what comes next in my work. Then I feel compelled to finish the crossword puzzle in my daily paper. After that, my mind is stimulated enough to sit and write. First drafts are always written on yellow legal pads. I still love putting pen to paper.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

Yes, I learned that if you can’t afford a $5,000 a month publicist, you will be spending enormous amounts of time publicizing yourself.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would remember to include an index of the recipes found in the book.

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

I mostly read memoirs. As Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction, after all, has to make sense.” I love Zora Neale Hurston, both her fiction and non-fiction. And I’ve read everything Barbara Kingsolver has written.

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

I’m working on two books simultaneously–one is a follow up to Siren’s Feast, that chronicles my years working as a “healer” along with more travel adventures and recipes and the other project is a natural foods cookbook for children.

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

This advice comes from William Saroyan: If you write a page a day, by the end of the year you’ll have a book. And from me: Never ever give up. Keep at it. Get rid of the self-critic sitting on your shoulder. Don’t show your first draft to anyone and never ever give up. Keep at it. Join a writer’s group or start your own. That kind of support is invaluable.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

Though I’ve received emails from 20 year old women to 87 year old men (yes, more than 1 of those) who all said the same thing–“they couldn’t put it down,” I would say the perfect readers for my book would be the 7 million people who liked Eat Pray Love. One reviewer called Siren’s Feast “Eat Pray Love on steroids.”

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?