James Oseland tells me that writing Jimmy Neurosis, his memoir that Ecco is publishing in February, was “the hardest thing I ever did.” This from an editor, writer, and television personality. Among his many credits: he was editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine (2006–2014); editor of Lonely Planet’s anthology Fork in the Road; author of Cradle of Flavors, a memoir and cookbook about his time living in India and Southeast Asia; and a judge on Top Chef Masters. He’s right now living in Paris and working on the World Food series for Penguin Random House, with the first book scheduled for 2019.
But about that memoir: Jimmy Neurosis is stunning, heartbreaking, inspiring, wild, and thrilling—kind of like Oseland himself. The story is profoundly American. It’s the tale of a lower-middle-class family—a boy and his mom, a teenager who doesn’t quite fit in but finds his place in an exciting era and goes from high school dropout to graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute and a stellar career in media.
Of Jimmy Neurosis, Oseland says, “I’m a food journalist, and this is a very personal memoir. I have no experience writing like this, and boy does that process allow one to discover muscles and body parts one didn’t know existed.”
Oseland was a kid, just home from a ritual afternoon movie with his mother, when the family fell apart. He writes that they returned from seeing Fun with Dick Jane in St. Paul, Minn., a place they’d lived for “a grand total of only 23 days,” to discover Oseland’s father’s empty sock drawer. His father was gone, and Oseland and his mother had to move again—this time to San Carlos, Calif., halfway between San Francisco and San Jose. There he survived as the outsider kid until he left school at 15 in the 1970s and found his way to the San Francisco punk scene, and then to New York City.
“Late night dinners at Puerto Rican restaurants, museums, long walks, trips to Bleecker Bob’s to peruse newly released albums, sex, midnight screenings of John Waters movies, endless glasses of Valpolicella,” Oseland writes. “All of it felt bracingly adult and sharp.” He was living with an older lover in Manhattan who, he continues, “was eager to turn me on to all the contemporary art and music I could take in…. We rang in New Year’s Eve  at the Mudd Club.”
Everyone involved in publishing Jimmy Neurosis (named for Oseland’s punk rock moniker) has a history either with Oseland or the book. Dan Halpern, publisher and president of Ecco Press, who bought North American rights from Denise Shannon at the Denise Shannon Literary Agency in 2012, says he’s been a fan of Oseland “since I first encountered his enlightened editing of Saveur magazine.” The two had a friendship of lunch and dinner meetings, where they celebrated the “highs and lows of food media.”
Shannon also got to know Oseland in the Saveur days and says that she remembers his “colorful plaid jacket” from Top Chef. She recalls that when Oseland asked her early on if she thought his idea for the memoir would work, “I said it was a great story—universal, with a typical family, but with things going on beneath the surface and Little Jimmy caught in the middle. It’s the making of an artist in a dangerous, flamboyant time: an era of punk rock, gay liberation, pre-AIDS. We worked on the proposal in 2012. I sent it out to a handful of people and had a small auction.”
Interestingly, Shannon tells me that she was an “uncool person” in the late ’70s, so I can easily understand her fascination with Oseland’s adventures, but then executive editor Denise Oswald, who edited Jimmy Neurosis, tells me that she grew up as a punk rock kid going to clubs, so her affection is also easily understood. “I had seen the book on submission in 2012 and made a house bid [while at Dey Books], but James went with Dan,” Oswald says. “James and I stayed friendly, and, when the book came in, I was at Ecco, and it was decided that I would work on it.”
Oseland wrote three drafts, working with Halpern in the beginning. “I always felt his spiritual and literary presence in the process,” Oseland says. By the third draft, “we nailed it.”
He adds that the story has been in his mind for decades: “As a creator, I had to understand why it was in my mind. Then, about eight years ago, I started externalizing it. Bread is ready to come out of the oven when it’s ready.”
Oseland, 55, tells me that he wanted to write a book that was positive—“not to be a victim of one’s self but to be a crusader.” And, as he told Oswald, he wanted the book to be “a love letter to his mom.”
For a memoir, Oswald says, an editor needs vision: “You have to see what you fell in love with and where to focus, and I loved the relationship with his mother. And the writing was always excellent.”
Oseland calls his mother “his great supporter” and says that “without her love and patience, I wouldn’t be here.” She didn’t always agree with his choices: he remembers coming home in neon-green pants with bright orange hair, and she “took one look at me and burst into tears.” So he’s sincere when he says, “My first instinct was to tell my story, but the second was to celebrate how against all odds my mother raised me. I was the original Rosemary’s baby!”