One of the best-selling cocktail book authors alive today is not a professional bartender, a liquor expert or even a serious home mixologlist. Starting in 2013, novelist Tim Federle has published one hit pun-heavy drink book after another.
The first three of his titles together have sold more than 500,000 copies around the world. His latest, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita: More Cocktails with a Literary Twist, just came out this week and will, no doubt, be a big seller as well.
“I was a cocktail fan and enthusiast but I was not an expert,” he admits. “This was a crash course for me in what a great cocktail is, but I’m a believer in find the thing you love and stick to it.”
The original book, Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, “was sold on a three or five-page pitch to my publisher and it was a pretty small advance,” he remembers. “I think we all had humorously low expectations for it.”
The idea came to him from a conversation with his mother about her book club. “She confessed that ten minutes into whatever book they were discussing, they would just break out the white wine and the conversation would go downhill or uphill from there depending upon how you look at it,” he says. “And so, I thought there was a funny idea in combining a love of literature with the love of cocktails. So Tequila Mockingbird was birthed kind of as a one off gag.”
The book took about three months to write and once it was published sales just took off. It turned out to be a surprising gift choice and book club favorite.
Federle also really enjoyed the writing process. “It was a blast. All the drinking is a write-off, since it’s a business expense.”
But seriously, he realized that this project was much more than a silly pun. “I started going through lists of classic novels and realizing that there was a lot of language overlap with classic cocktails and for me, anyway, there could be something just really fun about researching all of these old classic texts and finding a way to give them a new spin.”
It not only gave him an appreciation for the drinks but also for the literature, since he tries to find inspiration for the recipes in the actual texts. “It absolutely gave me this real-world education into a lot of books that I either skipped in high school or I just hadn’t revisited in so long,” he says. “I spent some time with each of the titles.”
After the success of Tequila Mockingbird, when Federle started working on Gone with the Gin he realized he needed some cocktail help, so he partnered with professional bartender Cody Goldstein. “I wanted to beef up the drink recipes and make sure they didn’t just feel like a gag gift,” he says. So “I would come up with a concept, like Murder on the Orient Espresso, and I would say to him, this needs to be an espresso-based drink. Maybe coffee liqueur would go nice with that? What is something we could do that would tie it together thematically?”
Does he plan on writing a book based on every major spirit category? “I’m not sure how many more cocktail books I have in me, but I never say never because they’re so fun to write,” he says. “I have a theater background and I’ve toyed with the idea of a Broadway cocktail book. Every time, I think it’s the last cocktail book I’ve written something else pops in my mind and I think oh that would be fun.”
The only downside of writing a series of best-selling drinks book is the peer pressure that comes with it. “People come over and they’re like what are you going to make us? And I’m like a Margarita or a beer. That has not changed.”