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27 Dec

Jessica Tom – Author, Blogger & Maker

Making — whether it’s making a sandwich or making a business or making a movement — is your way of contributing to the world . . . try making instead of consuming. Maybe not everything, but some things. You might not be the greatest, but so what? You’re not a cyborg put on earth to move widgets from A to B. You’re a person with thoughts and experiences and hands and a heart. Creating is an act of humanness.

Creator Profile:

Jessica Tom + Author & Blogger

Creator: Jessica Tom (@jessica_tom)

Company: Blogger at JessicaTom.com and Author of Food Whore: A Novel of Dining & Deceit (Twitter: @jessica_tom | IG: @jessica_tom | Jessica Tom on Facebook)

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Websitewww.JessicaTom.com

Words of Wisdom “The only person who is going to achieve your dream is you. If you want it, you’re the one who has to make it happen. That means doing the work, making sacrifices, finding time, and seriously zeroing in on the finish line.”

 

The motto at HDFMagazine has always been to seek out the “natural”; that creative, rising star that expects to win, but truly and humbly embraces the honest grind. In essence, they are a natural born creator and hustler by design.

Jessica Tom, a New York native and author of the newly released Food Whore: A Novel of Dining & Deceit, is both.

She embodies the hustle that makes that city so great and her creative flow comes out in everything she touches. From cooking to writing and branding to startups, Jessica is a maker.

I was recently introduced to Jessica to have her on our weekly podcast, The Hustle Sold Separately, and the moment I heard her talk about her journey to become published, I knew we had to feature her on HDF.

While Jessica experimented with a multitude of creative outlets, two constants remained in her life from early on – food and writing. The latter she took serious enough to attend Yale University earning her a B.A. in English Literature and a Certificate in Fiction Writing.

So somewhere along the line I decided that writing would be my craft. I studied it seriously during college and then later dedicated myself to writing a novel even as I was working a full-time job. 

I didn’t want to be a dabbler my whole life. At some point, I had to pick my Thing.

Her “Thing”, is nothing short of awesome!

Jessica’s book launched in October of 2015 and by December of 2015 DreamWorks had acquired the rights. Like I said, nothing short of awesome.

However, don’t be fooled by Jessica’s success. It was by no means obtained over night. Not only did Jessica write the entire book while she had a full-time job, she hustled many skill sets along the way.

On paper, I’ve had a very eclectic career. But the common elements have been: constant learning, entrepreneurship, building something from scratch, and wearing a lot of hats.

I knew I wanted to finish my book, but I also had to learn a few things along the way. I took jobs that weren’t necessarily the end result of where I wanted to be, but would give me skill sets to manage where I did want to go.

And she’s well on her way. I caught up with Jessica and we discussed her book, what it takes to get published, her love of cooking which stems from her family, hustling your skill sets at multiple jobs, the birth of a creative book title, handling rejection, what it means to be a maker and more. Here’s what she had to say:

Jessica Tom - Food Whore Launch party Smaller

Jessica Tom  |  Author + Blogger + Entrepreneur + Creator + Foodie

HDF: Jessica! Thank you so much for doing this. After I heard more of your story to becoming a published author, I knew you had a lot more to your journey.

Jessica: Thanks! I’m so happy to be here and grateful for the opportunity to share my story.

 

HDF: We’re just as excited! Believe me!

Before we get into your current endeavor, can we start by diving in a little bit more about where you’re from and where you’re living?

JessicaI was born in Queens, NY and moved to Pleasantville, NY in Westchester County when I was three. I lived there until I left for Yale.

After graduation, I moved back to NYC. I started in Gramercy, then Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens, and now I’m in Park Slope.

Jessica Tom with her family

HDF:  A New Yorker at heart!!

Jessica: Yeah, it’s so cliche to be a writer living in “Brownstone Brooklyn”, but I really love it here. There’s a great creative energy. Almost everyone has a side hustle or a creative/cool job. Plus the food (for cooking or eating out) is great.

“Brownstone Brooklyn”  |  Courtesy of Observer.com

HDF: I think that’s one of the things I like most about New York – the “side hustle”. Everyone has one, but we’re definitely living in a time where it’s truly creative.

As I was listening to you talk on our podcast, The Hustle Sold Separately, your stories just started pouring out and I realize how many incredible experiences you had along your journey.

While I want to talk about your book, Food Whore: A Novel of Dining & Deceit, let’s go a bit further back.

You got your B.A. from Yale University in English Literature with a Certificate in Fiction Writing. How did going to Yale come into the picture initially?

Jessica: In high school, my guidance counselor and teachers told me that Yale was perfect for me. And that made me *NOT* want to go (that’s the rebel in me).

 

HDF: (laughter) Right!!

Jessica: But I visited the campus and really loved it. It felt more creative, diverse and (believe it or not) chill than other campuses I visited.

Yale University  |  Courtesy of Yale.edu

Though Yale is known for its English department, I didn’t think I’d eventually pick that as my major.

I thought I’d major in Political Science or Economics, but I quickly figured out those weren’t for me…and I wasn’t very good in those subjects either.

 

HDF: Isn’t that the way it always works? We start somewhere, but soon learn that we need to pivot in another direction that makes sense for us.

I was reading on your site JessicaTom.com that you wrote your first story in the year 2000. I feel like your urge to write started long before that, no?

JessicaI wrote my first semi-literary story my junior year in high school. It was the first time I was thinking about writing on all levels: plot, character, style, figurative language… all that. I wrote stories before that, but one was more than just: this happened, then this, then that.

JessicaTom.com

HDF: How young were you when you really first thought about one day becoming a writer?

Jessica: Well, I didn’t think I was a writer until college.

I applied to a popular class at Yale called Daily Themes as a sophomore even though the class was meant for upperclassmen. But I got in.

Then I thought, okay I might be decent at writing. I liked doing it, too. So I developed that skill, took more advanced classes, and eventually got accepted into the writing concentration (which isn’t like a normal minor… you have to apply).

 

HDF: And cooking has also been a huge part of your life? Can you tell me a little bit more about the journey of you experimenting with food?

JessicaYeah, my family is obsessed with all things food.

My grandfather was a chef for the US Army. My uncle is a chocolatier. Another uncle is an executive chef at a Chinese restaurant. My aunts dabble in everything from mushrooming to raw foodism to DIY foie gras. Everyone in my family loves to eat – that’s a given.

HDF: Okay, so one way or another, food was going to be a part of your journey? (laughter)

Jessica: Cooking came along because I’m also a tinkerer at heart. When I taste something, I want to know what’s in it, how it was made, if I can make it but with a twist.

Bang bang chicken

Bang Bang Chicken

Cioppino

Cioppino

As a kid, every Sunday afternoon I’d watch PBS cooking shows with my Dad, and then we’d cook together.

Jessica Tom  |  Cooking

HDF: I feel like everyone needs a creative outlet. Was cooking and writing yours? If so, you did a fantastic job bringing the two together into your life. (laugther)

Jessica: Cooking and writing are two major outlets!

But I’ve dabbled in so many things, including origami, weaving, collage, pop/locking, and launching my own mint company.

But at some point, I had to think:

What does it mean to be a weaver of real distinction? Origami artist? Could I get there? Do I have the dedication to excel at that one craft?

So somewhere along the line I decided that writing would be my craft. I studied it seriously during college and then later dedicated myself to writing a novel even as I was working a full-time job.

I didn’t want to be a dabbler my whole life. At some point, I had to pick my Thing.

Signing Books at BEA

Jessica Tom  |  Signing Books

HDF: So well put!! I feel like everyone has to find their thing in order to really see it through; in order for them to really be dedicated to it and flourish.

Jessica, one of the many reasons I wanted to do an interview with you is because I heard you say something to the effect of,

I knew I wanted to finish my book, but I also had to learn a few things along the way. I took jobs that weren’t necessarily the end result of where I wanted to be, but would give me skill sets to manage where I did want to go.

First, that’s awesome! Second, can you walk me through some of what you were doing before the book came out? What kinds of jobs did you have?

JessicaI wrote the entire book while I had a full-time job. On paper, I’ve had a very eclectic career. But the common elements have been: constant learning, entrepreneurship, building something from scratch, and wearing a lot of hats.

Here’s a quick overview of what I’ve done:

  • Served as an incognito corporate cafeteria critic.
  • Wrote books for a doll line exclusive to FAO Schwarz.

Lei Lei - in 2009

Lei Lei – in 2009  |  Authoring books for doll sold at FAO Schwarz
  • Marketed a wine-of-the-month club and meal delivery service.
  • Creative directed a national infomercial.
  • Concepted (and won) a $1.5 million grant for a culinary incubator.
  • Business development and marketing for three restaurant spaces.
  • Built out an influencer program for a dating membership service.
  • Stimulated engagement among high-end restaurants and concierges.

In all these jobs I was honing my writing, marketing, branding, community engagement, and PR skills — all things that come in very handy when you’re launching your own business or creative project. 

 

HDF: You got that 100% right. Everything you were doing was a part of your process. I think people forget that sometimes.

Much of my current endeavors are based on all of my previous roles with companies and startups.

So, let’s talk about your book, Food Whore: A Novel of Dining & Deceit!!

What’s the high level overview?

Jessica Tom  |  Food Whore: A Novel of Dining & Deceit

JessicaFood Whore is about a 22-year-old girl who secretly writes the New York Times restaurant review because the real critic has lost his sense of taste.

So she’s leading a double life — she’s a regular grad student who is dealing with her boyfriend, roommate, and everything else that goes along with just moving to NYC.

And at the same time, she’s going to four-star restaurants and has an expense account at Bergdorf Goodman.

Her arrangement with the critic sounds like the ideal situation, but the lies keep piling up and she soon realizes that the glamorous life she idealized isn’t so great on the inside.

 

HDF: Do you feel like your novel was based loosely on a series of your own experiences and years in the making?

Jessica: While in college, the author Lorrie Moore hosted a masterclass. And she said something like,

Don’t save the good stuff for your next piece. Put it all in your current piece.

So I put all sorts of juiciness into the book: fashion, food, love, sex, friendships, careers.

I mined personal experience, but also did a lot of research. Every book (especially your first one) is going to be a little autobiographical. But for me, it was less about putting my life in the book and more about putting all the ‘good stuff’ in there.

Food Section of the NY Post

HDF: On your site you also mentioned the process you went through for the title of your book. I like that you, your editor (Chelsey Emmelhainz) and your agent (Stefanie Lieberman) all worked through a process to get to the title you ultimately used.

When Chelsey and Stefanie first came to you with the idea, “Food Whore – A Novel”, you mentioned you were in initial shock. What shocked you the most? Were you afraid of how it would be received?

JessicaFirst, I love the title now. It’s eye-catching and memorable. I love how it works with the cover art. It has shelf appeal.

That being said, it took me awhile to get comfortable with it. Originally the title was Bad Taste, but the feedback we got was that it didn’t really tell you what the book was about and it had a negative bent.

I literally came up with over 100 alternate titles, but a lot of them sounded cheesy or overdone. Then I got an email from my editor suggesting the title Food Whore.

At first I was shocked, but later she made the point that a lot of books nowadays have provocative titles and you only get one chance at a debut novel.

You want it to pop or else the book might fizzle away and then all that work was for nothing.

Food Whore  |  Photo by Christine Amorose

HDF: How did you decide to add the rest of the title, “Of Dining & Deceit”

Jessica: Well, we were also careful to temper the title with with the subtitle, “A Novel of Dining and Deceit”, high-end cover art, and back cover copy that defines “food whore” as someone who will do anything for food.

I also had to remember that a title doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There’s the art, the branding around it, the copy — the “treatment” as it’s called in the biz.

 

HDF: That’s very true. A title is can be good, but the branding around it can make it great; something that truly stands out. I’m a huge advocate of branding if you can’t tell. (laughter)

So, what’s your favorite chapter in the book?

Jessica: My favorite chapter is when Tia learns the true motivations of Chef Pascal Fox. He’s a fun character to write because he and Tia have a lot of chemistry. It’s funny, but I created them as characters but I feel like the spark between them has a life of its own.

 

HDF: What was your biggest obstacle in making this book happen and how did you deal with it?

Jessica: Writing a novel is very solitary and requires a lot of time alone with your thoughts.

Some acts of creation are short bursts with instant feedback. Instagram, for example.

Jessica Tom Instagram

Jessica Tom | Instagram

But writing is the opposite: years to write it, years until it reaches readers. I don’t know if that’s the hardest obstacle… but it is the first obstacle and therefore the most important one to overcome.

Once your butt is in the seat and your fingers are on the keyboard, you’re halfway there.

 

HDF: Obviously the journey is often paved with a few rejections. How did you handle various rejections you received from various agents and editors?

JessicaYou’d never learn if you always got your way, all the time. You’ve heard this time and time again, so I won’t belabor it.

But . . .

Rejection is essential to the process. It makes you work harder, think more critically, and hardens you up for the inevitable failures and rejections in your future.

With creative writing, rejection can be extra hard because writing is very personal. Most writers put their heart on the page. But it’s important to keep in mind that agents and editors are very busy and they can only take on works that they really love, works that keep them up that night.

So, a rejection doesn’t mean that your work sucks and that no one would ever want to read it and you should just give up.

No, it means that person just wasn’t the right match.

As long as you create strong work, surround yourself with smart positive people, and keep on working — then you’re on the right track.

Food Whore party

Jessica Tom | Attending a Food Whore Party

HDF: I love your blog article on how you came up with your book cover!! So many great ideas in there to consider.

Can you share some of your thoughts on how the cover you decided on gives the essence of the book/title?

JessicaI was super involved in the book cover design. Writing a book is weird. An author spends years of her life carefully crafting the insides… and then leaves the cover to other people.

Since I’ve worked in branding and creative direction, I had a strong sense of what I wanted in a cover. So I drafted a creative brief that included covers I liked and disliked and mockups I designed.

The HarperCollins art department did an amazing job taking all my feedback and turning it into something I’m proud to have as a cover.

Food Whore

Jessica Tom  |  Tilit Chef Goods Food Whore Apron

HDF: You are a huge creator / maker, which is primarily why I’ve become such a fan in such a short time.

What’s the best part about “creating” for you?

Jessica: I love that classic Maya Angelou quote, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Making — whether it’s making a sandwich or making a business or making a movement — is your way of contributing to the world.

I also think a lot of adults are afraid of creating because they think they’re not creative or are afraid of looking stupid. That’s a shame.

We live in a world where it’s really easy to consume. Order takeout, binge watch TV, buy buy buy.

But I say, try making instead of consuming. Maybe not everything, but some things. You might not be the greatest, but so what? You’re not a cyborg put on earth to move widgets from A to B. You’re a person with thoughts and experiences and hands and a heart. Creating is an act of humanness.

Jessica Tom  | At the PowerHouse Arena

HDF: Fire Jessica! Pure fire! Love it. “Creating is an act of humanness.”

What’s the best advice you can give someone just starting out with writing their own book or novel? Or creating for that matter?

Or maybe just pursuing their dreams?

Jessica: The only person who is going to achieve your dream is you. If you want it, you’re the one who has to make it happen. That means doing the work, making sacrifices, finding time, and seriously zeroing in on the finish line.

If you say “I’ve always wanted to…”, think: what’s stopping you? Are those real obstacles or are you just making excuses? And if they are real obstacles, what are you doing to eliminate them?

Whether you’re writing a novel or starting a business or whatever, the key is action.

Jessica Tom  |  At the Ploughman wearing the #FoodWhore Apron by Tilit Chef Goods

HDF: That’s the absolute truth. Once you stop focusing on the excuses and obstacles and start focusing on how you’re going to take action, the rest is in the details.

What about social media? How important has it and the Internet played in the building of your brand? Or at least, how important do you think it will be as you continue to grow it?

Jessica Tom  |  Facebook

Jessica Tom  |  Twitter

 

JessicaThere’s an old-school idea of the writer as a hermit who holes themselves up, rises briefly to (reluctantly) publicize their book, then goes into hiding to create their next masterpiece.

HDF: You mean that’s not you? (laughter)

Jessica: I am not that type of author.

My internet footprint is important for discovery and connection. Someone might search for a chicken recipe and stumble upon my site. Or he or she might search a hashtag and find me on Instagram. Eventually, they might learn about my book.

As for connection, I “meet” so many readers and food-lovers through the internet. It’s less about selling a book and more about becoming part of community and being inspired by others.

 

HDF: I tell this to brands and startups all the time. All my current relationships online are taking place because of coming together, sharing ideas, building community and being engaged with each other’s journeys. The rest will follow.

So, I before we wrap this up, I have to ask. Last, I heard that there’s a movie deal with DreamWorks! Were you expecting that?

Variety DreamWorks Exclusive

DreamWorks Acquired the Rights to Food Whore: A Novel of Dining & Deceit

Jessica: Yes! It’s been a really exciting time since the launch. I have to say, when I first started, I didn’t let myself think about a movie too much.

My main focus was the book and making sure it was the best it could be. Thinking about the movie seemed very premature and kind of obnoxious (like… one step at a time! Don’t get ahead of yourself).

The movie stuff happened because after some initial press hits, producers came calling. I have amazing agents both in NYC and in Hollywood and they’re the ones who really orchestrated the deal. I’m lucky to be in their hands!

As for what happens next… the book is with a screenwriter now. Beyond that, the studio will rally up other members of the team. I had a couple publishing internships prior to releasing my book so I knew what to expect to some extent. But… movie stuff?

It’s all brand-new, but an amazing creative challenge to start the new year.

HDF: Jessica, that is HUGE!!! I’m very proud to have met you and told your story thus far. It’s been an incredible journey and I think you have an incredible head on your shoulders. All the makings for a classic author of our generation. Thank you!!

JessicaThank you so much for inviting me and for creating rich and inspirational resources for doers and makers of all kinds. So honored to be included among your up-and-comers.

Now everyone, go forth and create! 

Portrait of author Jessica Tom

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Matt Gottesman

Matt Gottesman is a global digital strategist and technology advisor, creator and editor-in-chief of Hustle & Deal Flow™ - an online magazine dedicated to the world's entrepreneurs, creators and makers, a Social Media Influencer and a consultant on New Media and go-to-market strategies for investments in digital marketing, technology, websites, mobile applications, eCommerce, social media and content.