Where Do I Sign?

New Portuguese Table by David Leite

After Clarkson Potter approached me several years ago to write The New Portuguese Table (yes, publishers do approach writers unbidden, so don’t give up hope), I remember running around the apartment screaming and suddenly slamming into the side of an opened closet door. No matter, this was Clarkson Potter, home to some of my favorite authors. Facial bruises disappear, but colophons are forever.

But that T-bone collision with the door turned out to be just the beginning of my own personal Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events that, at times, made me almost throw up my hands, return my advance, and become a dog walker. At least I knew how to handle that kind of crap.

Some highlights:

  • a.) a string of miscommunications, which, in the end, left me with only about six months to write the entire book;
  • b.) astronomically high currency exchange rates while I lived in Lisbon, thank you Mr. Bush, leading me to blow through the equivalent of the annual budget of a small Eastern European country;
  • c.) a severed Achilles tendon that landed me in bed and on the couch for three months after reconstructive surgery;
  • d.) kitchen disasters from an oven that up and died to testing grilling recipes in the middle of a snow storm;
  • e.) midnight panic attacks, worrying that something I wrote was incorrect, prompting eye-drooping sessions at the dining room table as I riffled through pages of my notes and reference books, the sun rising out the window;
  • and f.) most outlandish, a cookbook author, whom I’ve never met, telling slanderous things about me to anyone who would listen, including the utterly ridiculous claim that I’m not Portuguese because I pronounce my last name leet instead of the Portuguese way: late. (Among my family and friends, this author is known as Lady Beelzebub, for all the obvious reasons.)

But a few weeks ago when I held an advance copy of the book in my hands, all of that slipped away. Looking at Stephanie Huntwork’s book design and Nuno Correia‘s food photography and reading though the recipes made it worth it. About a week later, at a private event, Ina Garten flipped through the book and  said to me, “It’s beautiful. Remember, there’s nothing like seeing your first book for the first time.”

From now on, I thought, everything would be all right. Even Ina told me so (kind of).

And everything did go well. That was until I decided to give a copy of the book to one of my longtime supporters and closest confidantes, editor and writer Renee Schettler. We were meeting at our “office,” Starbucks on Broadway and 75th Street. I wanted to surprise her with one of the few copies I had. At the very last minute—with apartment keys in hand and book in backpack—I decided to sign it to for her. I opened the book, pulled out my gorgeous Waterman pen, a gift from a friend, and promptly choked. Where the hell do authors sign a book? My contract from Random House sliced and diced everything I was obligated to do during the course of writing and selling of the book, but stopped short of spelling out how to personalize it. Two pages seemed like good candidates: the half title page (seen above left) and the title page (seen above right). But how to choose. Criminy.

I flew to the bookcase and started flipping through all the cookbooks I had, trying to remember who signed copies for me. Dorie Greenspan autographed a copy of Paris Sweets, but that was in Connecticut. Did Lynne Rossetto Kasper sign a copy of The Splendid Table? Yes! No! Damn! To make space for all my Portuguese research, the book was placed in our storage unit in the building, along with Jacques Torres’ A Year in Chocolate and Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise. Wait! Hillary Clinton signed a copy of An Invitation to the White House. I flipped open the book. Finally. She signed it on the title page. If it was good enough for Hillary, it was good enough for me.

Ready to sign my very first book for my very first reader, I dutifully doodled on a piece of paper to make sure the ink was flowing and even practiced exactly what I was going to write to Renee. Then I turned the book at a perfect 45-degree angle, place my pen just beneath my name, and wrote:

To Renne—

Oh God, oh God, oh God. I spelled her name wrong. I’m so used to typing that when I write longhand my hand has a mind of its own. Blame it on spellcheck; if I’m tired or rushed I don’t even try to spell words correctly. A sentecne like thos get transpsoded with speall chek to a besauty like this: A sentence like this gets transposed with spellcheck into a beauty like this. On top of that, I write longhand so rarely that it sometimes feels as if I have a claw—without an opposable digit—at the end of my arm. So atrophied is it, that the signals from my brain won’t even jump synapses to make it work. The neurotransmitters, that no-good lazy bunch, just sit on one side of the synaptic divide, waiting for some kind of nerve ferry.

Apparently, I need physical therapy just to write my name.

I was already ten minutes late, and I had the rest of the inscription to write. I contemplated tossing the book and starting over, but that one misplaced “n” would cost me close to $17. I carefully turned it into an “e,” then I pulled out a manila mailing envelope and practiced on the back. Over and over again. I finally wrote the rest of the inscription in the book, without incident. As I handed the book to Renee, who seemed touched as she read what I wrote, I was inflating with shame at my imperfection and blurted out: “I MISSPELLED YOUR NAME.” Understanding as always, she just smiled. “It makes it all the more special.”

A few times a week now, I fill one side of an 8 1/2-by-11-inch sheet of paper with writing. Sometimes I copy the back of the cable bill, sometimes a recipe, sometimes an email telling me I’ve won $10 million in the Irish lottery. This, too, will be worth it. After all, I wouldn’t want my name to look as if I spelled it David Leet, would I?

David Leite's signature
Comments
Comments
  1. José C. Fernandes De Andrade says:

    Dear David, Next week Amazon Germany starts sending preordered copies of “The New Portuguese Table.” Looking forward to receiving my copy and finally having the chance to read through the work of somebody who really worked hard, invested so much of himself, even his health, to make the “goodies” from that small country known. As a Portuguese living in Austria, it’s even more important because of saudade [an untranslatable term, but one that hints at a deep sense of longing for a person or a place—ed.], so, David, we can only thank you for letting us share your experiences and savory discoveries of Portugal. I’m sure it will be a success and a reference for food journalism. Best regards from Vienna. José

    • David Leite says:

      José, thank you for the kind words. I truly hope you enjoy the book—and I’m thrill Germany is carrying it!

  2. M Edward says:

    David,

    Very interesting post and I was wondering if I can still order a signed copy? By the way, congrats on the PR and piece in the TAP magazine which I happened to read on my recent flight to Lisbon.

    Boa Sorte!

  3. Ling Teo says:

    Dear David,

    Have pre-ordered my copy and I can’t wait for it to turn up. This article is the funniest piece of writing I have ever read by you, still giggling as I type this! You might be aware that in Brazil, your family name has a potential range of pronunciations: laytch, laytch-e, lay-tee… such are the regional variations of accents!

    Congrats in advance!

    Best regards from Singapore,
    Ling

    • David Leite says:

      Hi, Ling. Thanks for the kind words. SINGAPORE?! I guess I’m still a bit naive. I thought it would be just my mom, dad, and me hawking the books on the corners of Fall River, MA, where I was born. But Singapore? Damn that Potter is doing a good job. I hope you like the book. I look forward to your comments.

  4. David, excellent as usual. Having seen an advance copy of your book, your efforts were well worth it—and if Ina says it, it is true.

    I can’t wait for my Amazon copy to arrive. I’m sure you’ll have the personalization perfected by the next time I see you. Best, David.

    • David Leite says:

      David, I know I better have the personalization down pat—you’ll accept no less. But I won’t sign it until I’m sitting with a cocktail in hand overlooking Lake Tupper or Tupper Lake, or wherever it is you live.

  5. Lina da Mata says:

    David, I just can’t wait for your book to come out. Having now been in America longer than in Portugal, the need to feel connected to my country’s traditions is stronger and stronger. I’m so excited I’ve promised a copy of your book to each one of my American friends. And, by the way, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hope that you included a recipe for “Pasteis de Nata”, WITH the secret techniques from the Pastelaria de Belem! Yes?

    • David Leite says:

      Lina, I do have a recipe for pastéis de nata in the book, but, alas, on my trips to the Confeitaria de Belém, I was never let in on the secrets. But even though the book is finished, I’m still working on certain recipes (Julia Child did this, I discovered.) Pastéis de nata and piri-piri sauce being the two recipes that are ever-changing and restless.

  6. Dianne Jacob says:

    Hi David,

    It feels strange to “autograph” a book, like you’re a phoney or a poseur. I still haven’t gotten used to it, but it always gives me a thrill.

    Some authors come up with a saying. Check your signed copies for examples. Ex. Fran Gage wrote “Here’s your chance to perfect your chocolate skills” when she signed Chocolate Obsession for me. If you’re afraid you’ll be nervous, it’s not a bad idea.

    Go for the page with the photo. It gives you more room than writing all over your cover page. I use Sharpie pens. Make sure you have a stash, because you might lose a few in the excitement.

    I went to Amazon yesterday and saw that the release date is August 18. I’m looking forward to my own personally autographed copy, too.

    I’m so proud of you, David, for all the work that led to this moment. In the next few weeks you’re going to have the time of your life. Soak up all the attention and bask. You’ve earned it.

    XOXO,
    Dianne

    • David Leite says:

      Thanks, Dianne. It does feel weird, but I guess you get used to it. It’s strange to feel all this pressure to write the right, meaningful thing. I know some authors have a “name-only” rule. No matter how long you wait in line, all you get is their John Hancock. Definitely looking forward to the next few weeks. Yikes!

  7. Chiyo Ueyama says:

    Dear David, I always enjoy your writing. Looking forward to getting the pots and pans out with your cookbook on my kitchen counter. Believing in a certain kinship among all salt cod-eating folks. (I’m a Japanese expat living in US—you know we love the stuff.) Congratulations, Chiyo

    • David Leite says:

      Chiyo, thanks. Yes, I think we salt cod lovers have to stick together and try to convert the rest of the world. Such a simply food, but so delicious. Hope you enjoy the book.

  8. Amy Traverso says:

    David, I’m so excited for you! You’ve done all the hard work…now you get to enjoy the glory!

    Amy

  9. M Edward says:

    David – Thank you for the reply as my book has been ordered and I’m excited for the potato recipes! If I could only bring back enough Portuguese olive oil to the States from my semi-annual trips to Lisbon, I would be set! Sadly, there is a dearth of Portuguese culinary goods here in the greater Chicago area (olive oil, cheese, wine, etc.). Boa Sorte!

    • David Leite says:

      M, The book lists sources in the back where you can order excellent Portuguese ingredients, including olive oil.

  10. Melissa says:

    I love your posts, David. I always (ALWAYS) laugh out loud. Snortingly so. I’m also quite jealous that you spelled Renée’s name wrong when you autographed the book for her. My middle name is Renée. When I get my copy from Amazon.com, which I pre-ordered ages ago, will you spell my name wrong if I send you the book with a prepaid return envelope?

    Seriously.

    By the way, I took the recipe writing class from Renée and loved it. She was great.

    Congratulations! Can’t wait for my copy to arrive.

    Melissa Renée

    P.S. Someday I will write a book, too. Now that I know what colophon means.

    • David Leite says:

      Melissa, sure! Send the book, and I’ll happily inscribe it incorrectly. Won’t be too hard, I’m afraid to say! And, yep, Renee did a great job on that class, didn’t she?

  11. Olá David, You inspired my first blog post—I thanked you for it then…and I’d like to think that by buying your book I’m paying you back in some small way. But I suspect I’ll still be in your debt once I start cooking from it, it looks beautiful. Congratulations. Now sleep, rest up, eat, and write another one! And muito, muito obrigada, Nicola

    • David Leite says:

      Nicola, what a a lovely thing to say. I’m honored I inspired you to start a blog. I do hope you enjoy the book. It hits bookstores new week. Let me know what you think.

  12. I’m thrilled to find out that you’ve written this book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I look forward to its release. Our family comes from a long line of Portuguese, one of whom was quite a famous poet in Portugal. My grandmother used to whip up some wonderful rustic Portuguese stews, etc. I haven’t experimented very much in Portuguese dishes yet myself. My mother will be thrilled to see this cookbook in my kitchen!

    I can’t imagine signing a book. It would seem so odd that someone would desire my autograph. That being said, I once met someone who was clearly excited that she was “actually meeting me.” (I guess because she was a frequent visitor of my website), and I thought it was bizarre that she was so excited.

    On the flip side, and in your case, when you have the talent for creative expression and the ability to put it all into words that your readers gobble up with ease and anticipation, that deserves adoration. Sign your books with pride :) Have fun with the release and can’t wait to see the book!

  13. Ben Rapoza says:

    Selling books on Fall River’s street corners—you crack me up! I’d love to see you when you come back to the Fall River/New Bedford area sometime (let me know if you want help to spread the word). Even though Portuguese immigration has mostly ended, the food traditions remain strong in these parts, where half the population identifies as Portuguese. They still make pig snout chouriço mouro and blood sausage at local markets. They still make wine from grapes picked above their carports. They still make jam from figs they grow in greenhouses or even manage to keep alive outside in our harsh New England winters. They still serve steak with tangy preserved hot peppers that they buy by the bushel from a farmer down the street.

    But as traditional as it is, there has always been innovation in our New England Portuguese cuisine. I’m sure that I’m not the only guy in your hometown that’s proud to see that you’ve updated our food for the 21st century. I love your website and I can’t wait to read the book.

  14. Jordão says:

    I read your interview in Açoriano Oriental today and then visited your site. I really enjoyed both. Congratulations on the excellent work. I’m very curious about the book. Any idea if it will be launched in the Azores and when that will be? Keep up the excellent work.

    • David Leite says:

      Jordão, thanks for writing. I don’t know if the book will be available in the Azores. Personally, I think it should, as it talks so much about the islands. My suggestion is to speak to local bookstore owners and see if they’ve ordered it. I know stores on the mainland are planning to carry it–specifically Bertrand and FNAC in Lisbon.

  15. Traca says:

    Okay, *this* explains why you were super stressed! Got it!

    David, I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of praise. Got my review copy in the mail and I love seeing your work come to life! Can’t wait to play with the book. Thank you.

    Dianne makes a good point…buy a cache of your favorite pens (Sharpies are my favorite–they don’t smear on that glossy paper.)

    I was at a book signing with Jerry Traunfeld once. He has 2 books out and signed each in a color-appropriate pen. Green for one, if I remember right…blue for the other, no personalization. LOL! You’ll develop your own style…

    xoxo-
    Traca

  16. Rona Y says:

    Congratulations on your IACP win for First Book: Julia Child Award!

    What a wonderful honour–a reward for writing a wonderful book!

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