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Monday, November 19, 2012

(Indie) Book Talk: *Ketchup Is a Vegetable*, by Robin O'Bryant

My participation in Creative Alliance '12 prompted much consideration of my approach to my online life. As a book blogger, that life clearly includes books and authors...but it hasn’t included many from the swelling ranks of the “non-traditionally published.” Today it does, in the second of several posts on the topic of “indie authors” I have planned.

cover of KETCHUP IS A VEGETABLE, via the author's website
"If you don’t have anything nice to say about motherhood, then… read this book. Robin O’Bryant offers a no holds barred look at the day to day life of being a mother to three, running a household and the everyday monotony of parenting. 
It’s not always pretty but it’s real. Whether she’s stuffing cabbage in her bra… dealing with defiant yet determined daughters… yelling at the F.B.I… or explaining the birds and the bees to her preschooler… you’re sure to find dozens of humorous and relatable situations. 
From the creator of Robin’s Chicks, one of the South’s most popular blogs on motherhood, misunderstandings and musings, comes a collection of essays that will not only make you laugh and cry, but realize that you’re not alone in your journey."
Robin O'Bryant was already represented by a literary agent when they decided to publish her first book, the personal-essay collection, Ketchup is a Vegetable: and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves, independently through Greenforge Books (some indie-published books are fiction, and some “indie publishers” may be just a little fictitious). As a popular blogger and regionally-syndicated newspaper columnist, Robin has name recognition, particularly in the South. However, self-publishing Ketchup was a choice made with an eye toward raising her profile nationally, building a track record that traditional publishers might respond to for future books. Support from successful authors in a similar vein, like Celia Rivenbark and Jenny "The Bloggess" Lawson, and a first-place finish in the Non-Fiction category of the 2012 Shirley You Jest! Humor Book Awards suggest that it was a gamble worth taking. (Full disclosure: I was a first-round judge for the SYJ! Awards, but Robin’s book was not in the group I was given for consideration. However, she did generously provide me with a review copy when we met at Creative Alliance '12 this past September.)

Robin has three daughters under the age of seven, and since her experiences as their mother provide much of the source material for Ketchup, the book shoots straight for the popular mommy-blog market (those who read them--or would if they read blogs--as well as those who write them). However, it doesn’t have a “blog-to-book” feel; most of the pieces are longer and more fleshed-out than typical blog posts, which allows more space to hone the humor...and Robin’s writing is infused with plenty of funny. It’s not necessarily the sort that made me laugh out loud while reading it--that’s more likely to happen when the writing involves wordplay (or snarky pop-culture critique)--but I did smile in recognition of both the subjects and the voice. Robin’s a born-and-bred Southern gal, and it comes roaring through. Twenty years of living in the South made me fairly well attuned to the region’s distinctive way with language, but the fact that I heard Robin read in person at the Creative Alliance ‘12 “Say It Salon” helped me “hear” her even more clearly in Ketchup.

Ketchup bridges the humor and “mommy memoir” categories; most of the pieces in it are episodic, and there’s not much of either a thematic or chronological narrative through-line, but I don’t think that detracts from the enjoyment of reading it. Rather, the fact that it can be read in short bursts may make it even more appealing to its time-challenged core audience.

Robin gave special attention to producing a high-quality print edition of her book, but discovered that indie booksellers and indie authors, like indie authors and indie reviewers, don't always form the natural alliances one might anticipate. While she has successfully partnered with her hometown bookstore, Turnrow Books, she’s found that getting indie-published books onto store shelves can be challenging. She seems to be more than up for the challenge, though--and with luck, she’s laid the groundwork for her next book to find it a little easier.

Ketchup is a Vegetable: and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves
Robin O’Bryant (Goodreads author page)
Greenforge Books (2011) Paperback (ISBN 0984716521 / 9780984716524)
Humor/personal essays, 264 pages
(Amazon.com review--four stars)