Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Being Round Table (an IWSG post)

Pizza is a pretty miraculous thing. It comes in so many shapes, sizes and forms, but, yet, it is pretty much always recognizable as pizza. Even dessert pizza, which is in no way actual pizza, is recognizable as pizza and counted as such.

Possibly the best thing about pizza, though, is that kids are just as enthusiastic over cheap pizza as they are for expensive pizza. In fact, they often prefer the cheap pizza. Until just recently, my younger kids would generally choose Little Caesar's over anything else. Which, you know, is nice for the wallet. Not that we get pizza all that often, but, when we do, it is usually just for the kids (which has many causes but is frequently because there is something happening that will cause some kind of delay to dinner but they, my daughter especially, can't make it without something before the delayed dinner). Grabbing a couple of $5 pizzas is kind of a great thing.

And Little Caesar's is great for birthday parties and play dates and stuff. I mean, basically, every kid will eat either a Little Caesar's cheese or pepperoni pizza, but, if I get something more expensive, there are always kids that respond with "I don't like that kind of pizza," even if it's cheese or pepperoni.

So, see, cheap is good. It's... mass level pizza (it's good for the masses, see?). Even adults, who may not prefer it, are generally willing to eat it. Well, except my wife. She has standards. She won't go for anything less than Round Table. But I'll get to that in a moment.

It's been interesting to watch my kids develop, to watch their tastes mature. Here's a basic rundown of how it went:

  • At some point, all of the kids preferred Little Caesar's. (So we'll call that the "lowest common denominator pizza.)
  • My oldest is at that age where he will eat almost anything (I think I could squirt some ketchup onto cardboard and sprinkle it with cheese, and he would eat it); however, he prefers this place called Mombo's, which I think is awful (I'm pretty sure they do use cardboard for their crust which is why I think I could get that past my son).
  • My younger boy still loves Little Caesar's (because, hey, it's pizza), but, when he gets to choose, he picks Papa Murphy's. (I'd call Murphy's a good mid-range pizza place. Their most expensive pizza is still cheaper than Round Table's cheapest (at an equivalent size).)
  • My daughter has moved all the way up to preferring Round Table (but, then, she is our child that is most invested in food). If not Round Table, though, she prefers Little Caesar's, while the boys would both pick Papa Murphy's (because Mombo's, although not as expensive as Round Table, approaches Round Table and, well, no one other than the oldest will eat it).
  • My wife eschews it all if it isn't at least Round Table (I say "at least" because my wife prefers an even more expensive pizza from a place called La Vera, which is not a place the kids like at all (my younger son mostly refusing to eat any of their pizza) and, although I will eat it (it's good, just not that good), I prefer Round Table.)
  • For a short while, the family liked, as a group (including my wife), Papa John's (my daughter, especially, loved it for the stuffed crust and dipping sauces), but the owner guy started spouting off at the mouth, and we no longer support them.
Here's the thing, though, everyone (in my family) pretty much agrees that Round Table is the "best" pizza even if it isn't the particular "favorite" pizza of that person. For instance, my younger son agrees that Round Table has better pizza than even his favorite pizza at Papa Murphy's; it's just that Papa Murphy's has a particular type of pizza that Round Table doesn't offer that my son really likes. My wife agrees that Round Table has better pizza because it doesn't cause moaning from the kids. My oldest agrees that Round Table is better because they have all kinds of extras that Mombo's doesn't have. And my daughter and I just like Round Table better anyway.

But, see, if we're going to the mass appeal thing, I can't do something like serve Round Table at a kid-oriented birthday party for one of my kids (as opposed to the family-oriented party), because 1. it's too expensive 2. not all the kid guests will eat it.

Which brings me to my point, some books are very "Little Caesar's." They appeal to a broad spectrum of people and, although many people may not think it's the best, they'll eat it. [Of course, you have people like my wife who just won't and people like me who sometimes might but, later, will wish they hadn't.] It's low quality but easy and cheap. And you have books that are "Mombo's" or "La Vera's," which appeal to a much thinner spectrum of people but people who really love it. And there are "Papa Murphy's" books which are bit higher quality than Little Caesar's but require more work (you do have to cook it yourself) and some people just aren't interested in that kind of time investment. And, then, you have the "Round Table"s which most people will agree qualify as "good" books but not all people are willing to read (because, we'll say, of the intellectual investment; those are more complex). And, of course, you get the "Papa John's" which people boycott because the author is a complete gashole (which is the hole you use to put the gas in a car, see) no matter how good the product is (like the controversy surrounding Ender's Game).

Authors have to decide where on that spectrum they want to be. Cheap and easy with mass appeal or higher quality which places them out of the intellectual price range of some people. Maybe most people. Or, even, some niche market where the author may develop very loyal fans but there won't be very many of them. Or be so high concept that most people just won't care (sort of like Moby Dick). I say it's a choice because it's very rare that a Rowling will come along and present something that is both high quality and have mass appeal. Her further endeavors have shown just how rare a thing like Harry Potter is. Of course, sometimes, the author doesn't get to decide, because the author just isn't capable of writing anything other than the kind of thing that the author already writes (like, I think it pretty unlikely we will ever have any high quality, literary work from E. L. James (so, yeah, that's a judgment, but I think it's a safe one)).

Personally, I'd like to be Round Table. It's quality pizza but affordable enough that people can, at least, splurge on it for special occasions. It's not going to turn most people away other than kids that are still stuck on the blandest of cheap pizzas (like Little Caesar's and, from what I remember (though it's been years since I had one), Domino's). I realize that means that I'm not aiming for some blockbuster, mass appeal novel, but you know what? I'm okay with that. I want to be the pizza that people remember and wish they had more of, not the pizza that people settle for.

Now, speaking of pizza...
I think I'm hungry...

This post has been brought to you in part by Alex and the IWSG.


  1. I can still eat and enjoy "mass appeal" pizza. However I can no longer read "mass appeal" books. It's not about book snobbery, it's about time. It doesn't take long to choke down some so-so pizza and I can do that while doing something else I enjoy. A book on the other hand takes time and focus. I'm just too old, too busy and too tired to waste time on those types of books.

  2. Something to think about, love your pizza analogies!

  3. I think I'm somewhere closer to Papa Murphy's. Refuse to be Little Casesar's - that is just awful.
    You're right, it's important we find our place. Do I want to write a Mombo's? Absolutely not! I don't like to read them, why would I want to write one? I'm happy with where I'm at as a writer, and if I continue, just want to perfect what I already do.
    And I'm the opposite of Anne. I can't stand low quality pizza.

  4. This analogy is awesome. I think it also equates to the type of people you prefer. Cheap and low quality or somebody you choose to remember.

  5. I'll only eat Little Caesar's if it's made by my sister who works there. Then it's actually decent.

  6. I suddenly have a craving for some Papa Johns....
    I can't do Pizza Hut tho. Bleh. And you're so right about the book comparison. There's a lot people will tolerate for cheap easy thrills, which doesn't mean quality should suffer, but confirms the fact there's an audience (or consumer) for just about everything.

  7. Now I'm hungry. Not just for pizza. I had that the other night from a place that makes it just like back home - NY style, baby!

    I'm not real sure I've discovered my niche yet. Then again, I don't really see myself as someone who writes to please anyone but myself. I suppose I will try to publish my book when I finish writing it but I'm pretty nervous about the whole idea.


    Well, I'm new and didn't have it on my calendar and also I'm doing that blog tour, so I hope Alex can forgive me. Perhaps if the High Priest of Editing intercedes for me?

    This was a great post and not just because I had pizza for breakfast this morning (after pizza for dinner last night. MY LIFE IS AWESOME). But also because that part about which people like which pizza reminded me of an SAT question; I expected at the end to see something like "If this is Tuesday, how many people will be eating Little Caesar's?"

    Your point about the books and appealing is well-taken. It's something that I think applies to even things like blogging and some people's tendency to, say, have superlong blog posts that are not very appealing to the masses. Everytime I've tried to focus on shorter blog posts, what inevitably happens is:

    1. I am not as happy because I don't like to just post one quick line and I feel like I'm just reblogging and

    2. I inevitably make them longer. Witness that "30 things The Scream Is Screaming."

    So as I take it, you have to decide if you're going to be a gourmet chef or a McDonald's cook. Much as I like McDonald's (and Little Caesar's!) I think of myself as gourmet -- or at least as specialized: I write what I want to write, and hope my audience finds me.

    One note: I think you are misusing 'high concept'. That term, as I understand it, is mostly a movie/screenplay notion that is used to describe a certain kind of movie that can be pitched essentially in one line. An example:

    "Brad never liked sports -- but when his sports-loving fiancee gets invited to the Super Bowl, Brad pretends to be a sportswriter to sneak into the big game and keep an eye on her."

    (That's the pitch for my rom-com, "Unsportsmanlike Conduct." Starring Ryan Gosling as Brad!)

  9. Nice metaphor. But more than pizza, what I really want is Thai food.

  10. My wife is not much of a pizza fan so sadly I don't get it often and it's one of my favorite foods. Sometimes I'll break down and buy a frozen pizza at the supermarket, but that's usually it for me unless I'm really jonesing bad for pizza. Then I'll get a pizza!

    I've gotten plenty of the Little Caesar's when my kids were still at home. It was mostly because of location convenience, but the price also had a lot of bearing on that decision.

    Now I like going to BJ's Brewhouse. They have some excellent pizza and lots of other things for my wife to chose from. It's something we can both agree on since it has something to offer for both of our tastes.

    Not sure that the BJ's option fits with your book analogy, but I like the way you framed the books as pizza.

    I hope my wife wants to lunch at BJ's this weekend. I've been in the mood for pizza for a while now and even more so since I've read your post.

    Wrote By Rote

  11. You know it's the cheese that makes the pizza, right? ;) While the foodie in me disagrees with some of the Pizza franchises chosen, I love the analogy. We should strive for the best we can be--but in such a way that makes a statement to better society. Otherwise we're wasting words and people's time.

  12. Anne: Yeah, I know what you mean. I want my books these days to say something beyond "vampires are sexy."

    Suzanne: Thanks!

    Alex: I like Papa Murphy's. I'll choose it over LC's any day.

    JKIR,F!: That's very true. As a person, I think I'm somewhat more akin to La Vera's.

    GP: Does she make it different for you or just better than everyone else?

    Pk: We used to do Pizza Hut. I think I would probably still like them, but no one else ever wanted it. I didn't use them as an example because it's been at least 5 years since I've had anything from there.

    Elsie: You know what, if you please yourself with it, everything else is just icing. Or cheese. Or something.

    Briane: Well, I am misusing the term, because I am using it as a high (being an adjective describing) concept. Basically, an idea that is probably going to fly over the heads of most people. Maybe I should come up with a new way of describing that?

    I'm not sure I can protect you from the IWSG police. They're a different branch of enforcement than the Editing Department. It's kind of like involving the FBI in a local police matter.

    TAS: Ah, Thai food... yellow curry... >sigh<

    Lee: I haven't had the pizza from BJs. But, then, I've only been there a couple of times.

    Crystal: Cheese may make the pizza, but I've found it's usually the crust that ruins it.

  13. Memorable pizza - an excellent analogy and something to strive for. And now I want pizza.

    Thanks for the congrats!

  14. Oh Andrew, how I love your analogies! And I completely agree about E L James. As we discussed before.
    My kids are kind of pizza snobs because The Engineer put himself through school (I helped...but on a teacher's salary, so yeah, he had to work, too. I had two other jobs as well...it was tough, but we made it) slinging pizza. Which led to HIS pizza snobbery (he worked for Pizza Hut for many years, including the years he wasn't in school but after high school, but that's a whole 'nother story, then for a Colorado only pizza chain called Black Jack). He'll only eat the pizza he makes from scratch. He tinkered with the dough recipe for YEARS and has it perfected. It really is fantastic - most of the people we make it for say it's the best they've had. I think it helps that we have real pizza pans.
    My analogy and reason for saying all that? Be original. Write your OWN story. And let the people decide what kind of pizza you are :-)
    Tina @ Life is Good

  15. Oh, and Briane? You have to miss two in a row to be kicked out. I've been kicked out twice. You just have to sign back up, but you're further down the list. That doesn't bother me, though. I like the pizza I make ;-)
    Tina @ Life is Good

  16. Sarah: Pick some up for me, too!

    Tina: I agree totally with that. The original thing, that is.
    Did you see my old blackberry post?

    (You're going to mail me one of those pizzas, right?)
    (Oh, and to Briane, because he would be upset if he didn't get one.)

  17. Pizza, like books, is very wide ranging and diverse. No wonder the analogy works so well.

    I think Round Table is a good place to be on the spectrum. From your descriptions, anyway. I've never actually tried it, but I get the idea.

  18. Interesting analogy and not sure where I'd like to be....hmmmm.

    I do like Little Caesar's, though!

  19. Jeanne: Yeah, I'm sure that's what made me think of it, the diversity.

    Mark: Maybe you'll grow out of it?
    Actually, for me, it was just consistent exposure to better pizza, which is how it happened with me for books, too.

  20. I'm hungry Andrew. And around here, it's Mountain Mikes - and they beat Round Table any day, both on price and quality :)


  21. Yeah, I'm hungry, too, darn it.

    I'm a pizza snob. Didn't like pizza at all as a teen, so it didn't grow on me until adulthood when it was a nice, cheap thing to eat when we were broke.

    Something to think about on the rest of it. I think I'd have to agree with what you said, though. I'd like to put out quality, but I also want people to enjoy it and want to read it. A lot of people. Not just a tiny group.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  22. Oh God, thanks for reminding me that I'm a book snob AND a pizza snob. I can't even touch Little Caesar's. It's just... gross.

    As a guy who's been cooking for 10 years+, I prefer to make my own pizzas, which people love. And... I write my own books... which people seem to love... okay, I didn't get it before, but I'm seeing the connection now. Maybe.

  23. What a CLEVER post. For a minute there, I wasn't sure where you were going with this pizza thing. ;-) But absolutely spot on. I want to be Round Table Pizza too. :)

  24. I'm just trying not to be totinos, found in the freezer isle next to the frozen cheese sticks. Anything better than that and I'm ahead of the game.

  25. Donna: We have Mountain Mikes. They're not cheaper than Round Table out here and I don't like them as much. Of course, we've only ever been to their buffet, but I'd assume the quality was the same. My kids have been bugging me to take them again (because they are the only pizza buffet around here), since it's been more than a year since the last time.

    Shannon: I'd like to be a complete pizza snob, I suppose, but I really can't afford to be.

    ABftS: We do, occasionally, have homemade pizza nights, but it takes so much time to cook 4 or 5 individual pizzas that it doesn't happen as often as everyone would like.

    Morgan: It's good to be Round Table, because you get the whole King Arthur thing to go with it!

    Rusty: Your comment made me really LOL. I thought about including frozen pizza in the post but decided I had to draw a line somewhere.