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…With a Lot of Help from My Friends

Hank Shaw signing books at IACP

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Everyone keeps telling me to buy a fistful of lottery tickets. In the past few days, I’ve been swamped with so much good luck I can barely keep track of it all.

  • On Thursday night I won the International Association of Culinary Professionals award for Best Blog for the second straight year.
  • A series of excellent stories about Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast have appeared in all  kinds of newspapers and blogs.
  • The book appears to be selling well, although I won’t really know for several weeks.
  • I did my first-ever book signing, and actually sold a few books.
  • And just today, none other than the New York Times printed a glowing review of my book. This is the Holy Grail of book reviews, and I was gobsmacked to even be mentioned, let alone get such good marks.

All this is far beyond my expectations. I honestly have no idea what might happen next; like I said last week, I am through the looking glass. But as I head into my first book dinner tonight, at FINO here in Austin, Texas, what I am most struck by is how little this all has to do with me, and how much it has to do with us.

Us. Yes, I may write Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, and I wrote “Hunt, Gather, Cook.” But it is the community that has grown up around this blog that has made the book so noteworthy. Without you, it would never have come close to cracking Amazon.com’s Top 325 books. Almost all of those sales were from you – Hunter Angler Gardener Cook readers – pre-ordering the book.

Without you I would be a lesser man. Your expertise has been invaluable in my own education. Every time I write, you chime in and write about your experiences with whatever game, wild plant or fish I happen to be obsessed with at the moment. I love to brag to other bloggers that my commenters are among the smartest in the blogosphere: In four years I have never had to put out a flame war, never had to deal with more than the occasional troll. You are constantly adding your knowledge to mine, and together we’ve made this little corner of the Internet something special.

The best, most satisfying piece of all this has come in the past few weeks, when I left my Northern California home and hit the road for parts unknown. I had not been in the Deep South before this trip, and had never spent any real time in Texas. But everywhere I’ve been I’ve met friends and readers eager to help me.

It started with Joe Bendis and Mike Niekro in Atlanta, who started as fishing buddies and ended as fast friends. Then there were the scores of my fellow food bloggers I got a chance to finally meet at BlogHer. In Florida I was treated royally by royalty: Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen — one of the largest food blogs in the world — let me crash in her spare room, organized a fishing trip and gave me the tips I needed to survive my first-ever TV appearance.

The very next day found me in Anniston, Alabama, where I did not know a soul. But I didn’t need to. Darryl Patton, one of the country’s best foragers, happily showed me around the woods near his home; more on my adventures with Darryl later. That night I traveled to Birmingham to eat at Bettola, where one of my readers, Chris Bennett, is a chef. I had a great meal. Next morning Chris, a budding forager himself, showed me around his family’s farm, where we found all sorts of wildlings scattered in the woods and fields.

David Hawkins picked up the generosity train from Bennett. Hawkins, a long-time friend of one of my Mississippi readers, agreed to organize a fishing trip to Bayou Lafourche near Grand Isle, Louisiana — where I had a spectacular day catching redfish and spotted sea trout with a guide named Chad Billiot.

Here in Texas, in town for the IACP conference, my old friends Paul and Ryan and my new friends Addie and Jesse have shown me around Austin, a city I could totally live in — if it weren’t so damn hot!

And tomorrow I head to Phoenix, Arizona, where I hope this happy trend continues. I have a book signing Tuesday, another TV appearance Wednesday morning, and my second big book dinner that evening.

I talked a lot with more experienced authors at the IACP conference this past weekend. Many told me how lonely and stressful life on the tour can be. Stressful I get. But lonely? Not with friends like this.

Thank you all. And to those friends I have yet to meet on this tour, see you soon!

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