Astrid Tuttle Winegar

‘There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.’

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In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?

I had just finished my masters degree and was dreading trying to enter the teaching market, especially since I was in my mid-forties and there was a hiring freeze at the time. The thought of all the licensure requirements was daunting. I had made a Middle-earth cookbook project as an undergraduate, and my mentor/professor mentioned to me how much she wished I could expand this and try to publish it. This sounded good; three years later I had a book ready. So, I basically wrote a book to avoid the entering the real world.

Tell me about your book.

Grown-up comfort food recipes inspired by Middle-earth and Narnia.

In Cooking for Halflings & Monsters: 111 Comfy, Cozy Recipes for Fantasy-Loving Souls, Tolkien scholar Astrid Tuttle Winegar has created ‘eleventy-one’ original recipes to inspire you. Lovingly illustrated and written with dry humor throughout, this charming cookbook is sure to delight you and your family, friends, and any other lucky halflings (or monsters) who show up in your kitchen. So crack open a beer, rustle up some “Gündürnüb’s Grüb,” and come along on this epic culinary journey. Your quest for delicious recipes is complete!

The eight chapters of this cookbook each imagines a restaurant (inn, café, or bistro) which caters to particular archetypal characters in the fantasy genre and presents a delicious meal for them. But don’t worry—you don’t have to be a gourmet monster chef! You simply need to love comfort food to enjoy all the recipes within.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have a crazy book about my emergency gallbladder removal surgery and the diet plan I followed after that. I will probably never publish it, because it’s full of humorous and embarrassing moments; and as my former agent said, I’m not a doctor so I have no authority on the subject. I do still follow the diet I invented for it, however. I am working on a second volume of CHM, which I would estimate is about 60% finished. I’ll be shooting for a Halloween, 2019, release.

What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?

A ridiculous, fascistic practice that leads to artistic oppression and repression. On the other hand, nothing makes a book more popular and desirable than being banned. Forbidden fiction will read that much more sweetly.

Indie, or traditionally published – and why?

At the moment, I’m favoring indie, mainly because I am a control freak. I was burned by a medium-sized publisher, then my second small-size publisher went out of business. The thought of trying to find another agent and publisher is exhausting. Why bother, when there’s IngramSpark and Kindle? Plus, I already take lots of time to write anything. Dealing with other people just prolongs the whole process. Of course, then you have to plan all of your designing and marketing, but publishers don’t market much for you anyway, do they?

Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?

I start with a plot, or in my case, an outline of ideas that generally become chapters or sections. Some of that is fairly rigid, but I like to allow myself the pants-flying. The structure leads to other ideas, and I build on those.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Yes, I have all sorts of cheeky references to Tolkien’s works in my recipes and anecdotal materials. If you’re familiar with his stories, you’ll find them. They have to be cheeky, because the Tolkien Estate originally sent me a polite cease and desist request, which prevented my original cookbook from existing. They said I could talk about the works, but I couldn’t quote anything or name any dishes after any of the characters or locations. As it is written currently, the cookbook has lots of hidden references to Middle-earth.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m currently writing Cooking for Halflings & Monsters, Volume 2: A Year of Comfy, Cozy Soups, Stews, and Chilis. My husband is really tired of eating soup…

What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

I’ve been reading many indie books that, unfortunately, do fit that stereotype. However, I’ve read plenty of indies that have been edited well and have pleasing and consistent layouts. It is concerning that many indie authors become caught up in the possibilities of the self-publishing world and they obviously rush to put out products—but you can see it on the page. That gives indies a bad reputation, and we all probably suffer somewhat for that. I believe if you are going to pour your heart and soul into a book, of any genre, you should strive to help its presentation as much as you can; within your financial means, of course. I know that can be a rough situation for many writers, but poor editing and layout can distract from your words. Obviously, this is all subjective; what bothers me might not bother somebody else. And even if a book is badly edited, I can overlook this to get to the meat of the story. I’ve read some books with errors from big publishers and best-selling authors, so there you go.

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?

Never; I like my surroundings to be as quiet as possible.

Tell me three unique things about you.

  1. I have a rather annoying interest in politics which mostly manifests itself in a severe hetero-crush on Rachel Maddow.
  2. I participate in various crafting media and have a shop on Etsy called “Elegant Sufficiencies.”
  3. I am a high-functioning introvert who used to brood—now I merely ponder. Nevertheless, I laugh frequently.

Astrid, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!