It has been roughly ten years since Fix the Pumps came out; the ebook came out in December 2009, and the print edition came out in May 2010. In 2011 it was nominated for “Best New Cocktail Book” at the Spirited Awards, though it didn’t win. Looking back, I can see the effect the book had on the bar industry, but more importantly, it has revived some old soda fountain drinks. I believe it is essential to taste history, just not read about it.
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Fix the Pumps wasn’t a book I planned on writing, it just evolved out of some drink research I was doing on Acid Phosphate. I was in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail (2009) and chatting with Chris McMillian during breakfast, and he asked me a couple of chemistry-related questions about this old soda fountain ingredient. When I returned home, I hit the library at the university and discovered all sorts of exciting soda fountain history in the medical section, not the food and drink section. At that time I thought it would just provide useful content for Art of Drink.
As I started writing posts I realized there was a lot of information that could easily be a book. At this point in my life, I was bartending three nights a week, working in a lab at Western University three-plus days per week, writing on Art of Drink, my daughter was six months old, my son was 2½ years old, and my ex-wife wasn’t the happiest with life. The thought of adding a bossy editor to the mix had me thinking, “Fuck that shit, I don’t need another person telling me what to do.” That’s when I decided to self-publish. I had most of the skills to do it, so why not? That decision worked out well for me.
Writing a book with editors, graphic artists, distributors, support and a monetary advance is moderately difficult. Publishing a book without those resources is significantly harder, but sometimes that challenge is the point, and that appealed to me. Plus, I’ve always done things my way, so why stop now. So I started putting the book together.
Initially, it was only going to be an ebook, but the reception was good enough that people started telling me I should put it into print, so I did.
Art of Drink and Fix the Pumps have received both accolades and admonition throughout their run. All writers get criticism, and it’s part of the deal with putting yourself out into the public. People can be mean, probably without realizing it, and at one point enough people were telling me how to write on both Art of Drink and Fix the Pumps that I came up with an email form response that stated variations of:
“Thank you for your free advice on this free website. Since you seem to be volunteering for an editorial position at Art of Drink, then let’s get to work. The site doesn’t generate income directly, so you will also be working for free. I have high expectations, just like you, so I expect fast turn-around times for your editing service, preferably within 4 hours, and they better be mistake-free since you feel that is the only way words should be published. I’ve attached a couple of articles that need editing, could you be so kind as to edit them and get them back to me in a couple of hours? Thanks, and I think this is going to be a great relationship!“
The message was so compelling that I never heard from any of the volunteers ever again. I can be like that.
The thing people fail to realize is that when I started writing Art of Drink in 2005, it was just for kicks and the only previous writing experience I had was writing lab reports devoid of character and interest. So Art of Drink was my early practice at writing, and I was learning on the go, but I enjoyed it, so I kept going culminating in Fix the Pumps.
Everyone appreciates validation, and I felt Fix the Pumps was a meaningful contribution to my drink tribe. Is it perfect, nope. Do I care? A little, but that is my style of writing, plus putting a complete book together, and self-editing is difficult. Even the New York Times makes mistakes, and they have profession day-in-day-out writers and editors.
The best and most enlightening review I received was by Matt Rowley, specifically this line:
“But the writing wanders at times from repetitive narrative to sharply focused, crystal-clear explanations, and then back into the narrative weeds“.
At first, I had a pang of remorse that I could have done better, but then I reread the review, and I realized that Matt was describing my personality, in pretty good detail. I do spend most of my time mentally wandering about, but when I need to, I can be razor-sharp. That is who I am. Most writers have editors that massage the words, change them, cut out paragraphs, even whole chapters and make it more readable for a more profitable demographic. But my book is 100% me (except the cover which was done by Craig Mrusek). Even the book’s title is an inside joke to fellow bartenders and people with a sense of historical humour. I doubt there is a publishing company that would have allowed the title to pass.
The goal was to sell 500 books to bartenders who liked Art of Drink, but it has sold 15 times that amount. Those numbers are not significant in the context of book sales, the response was much better than I assumed. But as I said earlier, it is not the book sales that is important, it is the fact that the book helped revive some elements of the original soda fountains from the 1800s, not the kitsch ice cream parlours of the 1940s and 50s. That’s been my mark on the drink world.
One hundred years from now someone will read Fix the Pumps and understand who I was just through how I wrote, most other books will only get the “this author had good editors, but who were they?” That’s what I like to think anyway.
Fix the Pumps Free Download, and you don’t even have to signup for anything. It is just a straight-up free ebook. Enjoy.