Robin O'Bryant was already represented by a literary agent when they decided to publish her first book, Ketchup is a Vegetable: and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves, independently. As a popular blogger and regionally-syndicated newspaper columnist, Robin has name recognition, particularly in the South. However, self-publishing Ketchup was a choice made with an eye toward raising her profile nationally, building a track record that traditional publishers might respond to for future books. Support from successful authors in a similar vein, like Celia Rivenbark and Jenny "The Bloggess" Lawson, and a first-place finish in the Non-Fiction category of the 2012 Shirley You Jest! Humor Book Awards suggest that it was a gamble worth taking. (Full disclosure: I was a first-round judge for the SYJ! Awards, but Robin’s book was not in the group I was given for consideration.)
Robin has three daughters under the age of seven, and since her experiences as their mother provide much of the source material for Ketchup, the book shoots straight for the popular mommy-blog market (those who read them as well as those who write them). However, it doesn’t have a “blog-to-book” feel; most of the pieces are longer and more fleshed-out than typical blog posts, which allows more space to hone the humor...and Robin’s writing is infused with plenty of funny. It’s not necessarily the sort that made me laugh out loud while reading it--that’s more likely to happen when the writing involves wordplay (or snarky pop-culture critique)--but I did smile in recognition of both the subjects and the voice. Robin’s a born-and-bred Southern gal, and it comes roaring through. Twenty years of living in the South made me fairly well attuned to the region’s distinctive way with language, but the fact that I heard Robin read in person at the Creative Alliance ‘12 “Say It Salon” helped me “hear” her even more clearly in Ketchup.
Ketchup bridges the humor and “mommy memoir” categories; most of the pieces in it are episodic, and there’s not much of either a thematic or chronological narrative through-line, but I don’t think that detracts from the enjoyment of reading it. Rather, the fact that it can be read in short bursts may make it even more appealing to its time-challenged core audience.