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Paying it Forward … And Then Back — Helping an Old Friend

April 23, 2013

Sometimes in life, we receive the opportunity to lend a hand to those who were instrumental in our earlier lives in some way. When it comes to book writing and editing, I’ve now had the privilege to serve as editor/consultant to two men who nurtured this once  young journalist many years ago.

About ten years ago, former Blade-Tribune (which became the North County Times, now a sad offshoot of the San Diego Union-Tribune) editor Bill Missett asked me to edit his trilogy of books, the Awakening the Soul series. Bill, along with Steve Scholfield, developed me from nearly scratch when I was a teenager, turning me into a strong newspaper journalist before I turned 20. What a pleasure it was to spend the next few years working with Bill on his books, and watching him evolve from a newspaper editor trying to write a book in half-sentences and truncated paragraphs, into a bonafide author with richly developed narrative and through-line, delivered in his no-nonsense way.

During the past few weeks, I’ve received this opportunity to help an old friend again. In 1980, the young publisher-editor at Surfer Magazine took a shot on an even younger journalist, and the result was four years of feature article writing for me in one of the most esteemed lifestyle publications of the past 50 years. Which, in turn, led to 15 years as a magazine editor.

Now, Jim Kempton is getting ready to market a book, The Surfing Chef, that ties together his four great passions – sharing stories, travel, surfing and cooking. After we bumped into each other at the funeral of longboard legend Donald Takayama last November, after not seeing each other for 20+ years, Jim told me he would call with his book idea. A couple of months later, he did call – and what a book concept it is!

The Surfing Chef follows Jim on his many travels through the world, in which he lived in ten distinct surfer’s and culinary paradises – among them Indonesia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia, Hawaii, France/Spain, and of course, California. He shares the experiences and the recipes he learned or created, in a book that brings the entire cookbook genre to life in a big way.

Since Jim hadn’t written a formal book proposal before, and since The Surfing Chef  has all the makings of being a top selling cookbook, he asked me in. Now, the proposal is finished and ready for prime-time viewing, full of everything that publishers love to see: a great media and promotional platform, a great story with deep cultural and historical roots, mouth-watering recipes with back stories, photographs, appeal to all markets (the surfing lifestyle is one of the most envied in the world), and a visceral sense that you’re ingesting the ocean lifestyle with every page and recipe. I plan to see Jim either next year, or 2015, holding down center stage at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books Cooking Stage.

What a treat, once again, to give a man who helped steer my life in the writing profession a chance to see what has become of my own career. While Jim wasn’t the editor I worked most directly with at the time (those distinctions would go to Steve Scholfield, then at The Blade-Tribune, and George Salvador, then at Breakout Magazine), he is the editor who first worked with me to write for an international reading audience. He gave me the confidence that my work was good enough for a bigger stage and, of equal importance, taught me how to draw out a subject to find the heartbeat and cultural connection behind it.

Now, 33 years later, his greatest work is about to hit the world stage.


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