Monday, December 5, 2016

A Conversation with 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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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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Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I daydream about my present and future projects.

When did you start writing?

At the age of eleven. I became serious about it as a teenager.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

As a college freshman, I encountered my first real writing coach, and it was a brutal experience. But it broke me of many lazy habits, and set me on the path to my goal.

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

I’m actually working on my next novel now, and I have the luxury of working at home with my imagination (and computer research, of course). I’ve never been to Asia and would love to go. I don’t have a story in mind, but I’m sure I’d find one once I got there.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

I’d keep working.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

As I mentioned, I’ve always had a fascination with Asia. I think it’s probably such a fertile environment that I’d think of any number of story ideas once I got there.

Back to your present book, Friend of the Devil, how did you publish it?

It was published by Black Opal Books, a small, independent press in the Pacific Northwest. I like to say that they offer a kinder and gentler publishing experience.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

No, a great deal of it came out of my earlier life experience. I did extensive travel for my two non-fiction books, which were about distilled spirits and cocktails.

Why was writing Friend of the Devil so important to you?

It’s fair to say that I was obsessed with the story---I had it in my head for literally two decades before I did a first draft, and had a lot of trouble spitting it out. It deals with the most fundamental human issues: the conflict of good versus evil, and how much we’re willing to give up to get what we want.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

To be honest, I have no concept of where the ideas come from. But a lot of it is simply being alert, being interested, keeping up with things, doing a lot of reading, and constantly wondering “what if?”

Any final words?

If there are any beginning writers listening: DON’T GIVE UP.

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