Eating Authors: Russ Colchamiro

No Comments » Written on January 15th, 2018 by
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Russ Colchamiro

On Thursday, the low temperature here was about nine degrees. The next day, we hit sixty-five and it rained. Saturday, we dropped back to twelve. Yesterday’s high was all of twenty-six. Well, at least all of the previous snow melted and washed away in the warm rain.

Sorry, no segue for this week; sometimes that’s just how it goes. Our EATING AUTHORS guest is Russ Colchamiro, whom I have always known as a short story writer (primarily because we were both in Pangaea, an anthology from Crazy 8 Press). But we were chatting in the Dealers’ Room at Philcon a couple months back, and I discovered I didn’t know the half of it. Russ has a string of novels to his credit, most notably the zany Finders Keepers series.

He lives just over the river in New Jersey, but he’s backpacked throughout Europe and New Zealand, the former figures in what he’ll tell you in a moment, but both experiences provide a context for a lot of his fiction. It’s not enough to say that Russ writes SFF. He actually writes humor and adventure and mystery. It just so happens that he does all that while writing SFF.

LMS: Welcome, Russ. Speak to me of your most memorable meal.

RC: I originally shared a version of this anecdote in my scifi backpacking comedy novel, Finders Keepers, through the POV of my alter ego, Jason Medley. The details below—this time through my own POV—are based on actual events I experienced late August of 1994 when I was 23 years old. At this point in the story—beginning in the Gare du Nord, the main train hub in Paris—I was mentally, emotionally, and physically fatigued, having endured approximately 36 consecutive hours of non-stop hustling between planes, cars, buses, subways, trains, hovercrafts, and more trains, on what was the initial leg of a month-long backpacking trip I took through Europe—my first trip of consequence anywhere. I was traveling alone, and spoke no languages other than English.

The direct train from Paris—where I was—to Rome—where I was headed—was due to depart in less than two minutes. It was also the last train to Rome for the night and I literally had nowhere to sleep—I didn’t know a soul in the entire city—if I missed it. But for reasons unclear to me the track number changed at the last minute, which left me running full bore, a loaded rucksack on my back.

Finders Keepers

I stumbled upon an information booth.

“Excuse me,” I said to the attendant. “Train to Rome. It was supposed to be on track nine, but it’s not. Do you know which track? Do you know where it is?”

He winged his newspaper, creating a distinct barrier between us, preventing eye contact. Smoke floated up from behind the paper.

“Sir! Train to Rome. It leaves in …,” I checked my watch, “… in less than three minutes. Train to Rome. Which track? Do you know which track?”

The cigarette grumbler winged his paper again. He turned his back on me.

“Excuse me, sir. Please. Can you help me? Train to Rome …”

I fantasized about jumping over the counter and clubbing him with a baguette until the right answer popped loose, but instead the clock in my head clanged away like an ancient gong.

10:54:03 … Clang!
10:54:04 … Clang!
10:54:05 … Clang!

The cigarette grumbler looked over his shoulder. “Three,” he said finally, then stormed into the back room. Slam!

Sprinting along the platform I strained to see through the train windows. Compartment after compartment was filled with passengers. Not an empty seat to be found.

An awesome clang! echoed in my head at the tick of 10:55:27. With the train about to pull out of the station, I heaved my rucksack onto the next car, jumped on the metal stairs, but tripped over my bag, denting my shin on the doorframe. Leg now throbbing, I pulled myself up and limped along the narrow hallway. Light came in through the windows. The first compartment was full. Same with the second, the third, and the fourth. I was getting anxious, covered in a film of sweat and anxiety that soaked through my clothes, afraid I would have to stand the entire fourteen-hour trip to Rome.

Crossline

The final compartment was fitted with two padded benches, facing each other. There was just enough room for six passengers, three to a bench. There was one spot available, the middle to my right. “Train to Rome?” I looked to a twentyish brunette in a white ruffled blouse. “Sí,” she said.

I forced my rucksack between the other bags on the overhead rack, then squeezed myself between two strangers. Six sets of interlocking knees now occupied the small common ground between the two sides.

Shrouded in darkness, I ached head to toe, and didn’t care. I hadn’t eaten a solid meal in nearly two days, and didn’t care. I hadn’t showered in just as long, and didn’t care.

I was grateful just to have reached the end of one of the longest days of my life, one that spanned three nations, two oceans, and thousands of miles, a day whose beginning I could no longer remember or even care to recall. I was sitting down. That was good enough for me.

And yet the sleep never came. I pinned my shoulders against the seat back so I wouldn’t invade the personal space of my fellow travelers. But I wanted to feel like a whole person again, to make a connection. “Hi,” I finally said to the guy sitting next to me.

He rubbed his scraggly beard, adjusted his glasses, and then swept the long hair from his face. “Uh … sí, hello, yes. You America, no?”

“Yeah, America. From New York.”

“Ah! New York! Sí, sí. Antonio, Antonio.” Antonio then introduced Sonja, the black-haired beauty to my left, and then facing me Christi, René and Angelina, three twentyish girls, pretty and without makeup, dressed in jeans and ragged shirts, backpackers all.

We then took turns in the bathroom, a tiny closet at the end of the car.

As I stared at myself in the mirror, it was impossible not to notice that my complexion was sickly yellow; I had dark bags under my eyes. But I managed to wash my face, brush my teeth, gargle with peppermint Listerine, and then spritz each armpit with deodorant. The spray was cool. It stung.

Genius de Milo

Perked, but not perky, I walked in on my new friends. They were using their knees as tables, sharing a box of crackers, a brick of chocolate, and passed around a water bottle.

As if drop kicked in the face, I couldn’t believe my stupidity. Among my forty pounds of gear I hadn’t packed the most important item of all—food. Not a cookie, not a sandwich. No candy, no fruit, no drinks. Nothing. Not even a breath mint.

I all but collapsed into the fetal position and started to weep—when Christi smiled at me. “Hungry, yes? Eat. You receive good deed, you do for someone else. Is the traveler’s karma. You’ll see.”

It took all I had from hugging her senseless. You’re an angel. But gratitude aside, the starving coyote in me was ready to rip the throats from anyone who came between me and the sesame crackers. I surveyed the food, let out a short sigh. “Thanks,” I said. “I could eat.”

Bellies satisfied and with the overhead light switched off again, my new friends and I tried to sleep, a jumble of limbs strewn about. The train made several stops, and as the eyelids of the morning sky began to open, we crossed the French border into Italy.

In my mind I thanked my now-slumbering mates for their generosity of spirit. For treating that compartment as their home and for making me their most welcome guest. And as I thought about the days ahead, I wondered if I would meet anyone even half as kind as they were, or share another meal that would ever mean as much.

Thanks, Russ. I have to say, I don’t understand how you can be carrying 40 lbs. of backpack (which presumably includes cooking gear) and not have any food. We clearly have different priorities in life.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Semi-Obligatory and Late-Arriving Award Eligibility Post

No Comments » Written on January 13th, 2018 by
Categories: News
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Barry's Deal

I’m deep in the throes of reading, reading, reading so much brilliant fiction from 2017, and making recommendations and notes in preparation for turning in my nominations for the Nebula Awards (including the Norton) and the Hugo Awards (including the Campbell). Along the way, I somehow failed until now to put up a post of which among my own fiction in 2017 I’d hope you might consider as you go through your own process.

I’ll keep it simple, just one thing: My novella, Barry’s Deal.

So here’s there thing. I’m uncomfortable with posts like this. While I like nominations as much as any author (and maybe more than many), and the occasional win too, I don’t want to campaign for them. That’s not my job. My job — and I’d argue, every author’s job — is to write the best fiction that I can, and moreover to write better fiction each year than I did the year before. Also to challenge myself, to try new things, to grow as an author, but yeah, all of that is in service to the main thing: writing the best fiction that I can.

But the world isn’t that simple any more (and maybe it never was), and more and more every author also has to do publicity and marketing. Which is why, I believe, you see more and more posts like this, year after year. And now, here’s mine.

In that light, I’m a bit more comfortable with it because, let me be clear, I’m not asking for your vote or even your nomination. I’m asking you to read my work. Anything beyond that, well, the work itself will either inspire your action or it won’t. That’s as it should be.

Which brings us back to Barry’s Deal. Here’s the irony: while my novels have the backing and distribution of a major press, my shorter fiction continues to come out from a small press. Barry’s Deal, is only the fifth book from NobleFusion Press. It was published in late, in the second week of November. Both of these facts mean you’re unlikely to have heard about it, let alone seen a copy. And yet, I have the audacity to think that if you only read it you’ll like it quite a bit, so I’ve been persuaded to put up this post.

Barry’s Deal is the fourth novella in my ongoing series about the Amazing Conroy and Reggie, a stage hypnotist turned corporate CEO and his alien companion animal that can eat anything and farts oxygen. The novella stands on its own, though if you’ve read some of the other stories you’ll likely recognize returning characters. I’ve been writing about Conroy for 17 years. It appears that writing the more serious Barsk novels has taught me a thing or two, and the early reviews have described this novella as the best thing in the series so far.

Anyway, I hope you’ll read it. And if you do, post a review and let me know what you thought. Thanks.

Eating Authors: Catherine Schaff-Stump

No Comments » Written on January 8th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
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Catherine Schaff-Stump

We’re warming up again, but in the past week Philadelphia broke a twenty-three year record of not dropping below zero degrees. I foolishly spent too much time shoveling snow in single digit weather but the less said of that the better. Instead, let’s segue over to EATING AUTHORS and this week’s guest, Catherine Schaff-Stump. It’s fair to say that I’ve long been a fan of Cath’s short fiction, having acquired stories for various Paper Golem projects.

Cath’s a graduate of both the Viable Paradise workshop and the Taos Toolbox master class. And if you don’t already know her for her fiction, you’ve likely heard her voice, as she’s is one of the hosts of Unreliable Narrators, one of the funnest podcasts out there.

Her most recent book, published last September, is The Vessel of Ra, a YA Gothic fantasy and the the first volume of a proposed Klaereon Scroll series. I encourage you to check it out.

LMS: Welcome, Catherine. Talk to me about your most memorable meal.

CS-S: My husband Bryon and I are Disney people. We were brainwashed by consumer culture as children, and as both of us grew up poor, Disney was this Holy Grail of vacation for us, much touted on television in living color. We wanted to live in that Disney magic, just like Uncle Walt spoon-fed it to us. As adults, we recognize rampant consumerism when we see it, but dang if we still didn’t want to go to the Disney theme parks and try to revel in the dream that was sold to us several console televisions ago in the past.

So we did. The first time Bryon and I went to Disney was 1996. It was splendid. We rode the Haunted Mansion three times in a row. We discovered that not only were the various theme parks wonderful, but also fantastic was Disney food.

The Vessel of Ra

You, gentle reader are probably thinking about corn dogs right now, but I am here to tell you that with some planning (reservations six months ahead kind of planning) you too can sample the pretzel rolls of the Canada pavilion, quiche cooked by Remy from Ratatouille, the tangine of Morocco, and even the flank steak of the Liberty Tavern. If you are truly romantic, maybe your husband will roll you a meatball with his nose at Tony’s Town Square while you are sitting by the Lady and the Tramp statue.

However, it is not Disney who is responsible for the most delicious meal I have ever had, although it was in Orlando, and I was there because of Disney. Sometimes you eat outside of the park. I’ve always been intrigued by the giant pineapple at Disney Springs (kind of a mall for Orlando tourists who want a little Disney, but aren’t lining up for the e-tickets). There is a restaurant with a giant Tyrannosaurus outside of it (aptly titled The T-Rex Café) and there is a giant silver pineapple. Hey? Who wouldn’t want to eat in a giant silver pineapple? So, reservations were made, and my culinary life was irrevocably changed.

Now, with apologies to Nickelodeon: Who cooks in a pineapple under the sea?

Hulk Hercules Professional Wrestler

The answer might surprise you…Gloria Estefan!

Yes, people from the Eighties, Gloria Estefan. She of the Miami Sound Machine. And yes, Miami Sound Machine does, in fact, belt out a very good tune. However, it turns out that Gloria Estefan has a second career as well—a delicious, crunchy second career. Gloria and her husband Emilio are restaurateurs who celebrate Cuban food and culture. The first Bongos was opened in 1992 in Miami, and one opened at Disney Springs in 1997. Bryon and I wandered in there one night, beginning our love affair with Cuban cuisine, which may now be my favorite kind.

As is often the wisest thing to do with an awarding winning restaurant, we decided to put ourselves in the hands of the wait staff. The young lady who helped us out told us the things we had to try that they were most famous for: Croquetas de Jamin Tradicionales and Vaca Frita.

The croquetas were tasty, a concoction of a case of mashed potato blended with spices enveloping a lively ham covered by a creamy bechamel sauce. As an appetizer they were tasty, but I’ve had food that good before in other establishments.

Cucurbital 2

Vaca Frita on the other hand? This terrific dish was skirt steak soaked in the citrusy goodness of delicious Cuban mojo, then rendered crispy so it had a sort of breaking point as you crunched into it, an interplay between chewy jerky and al dente pasta. Each mouthful sang and danced in our mouths. There was a giant platter of it, and like the red shoes of cuisine, you wanted to stop eating as you were satisfied, but you couldn’t stop yourself. One plate would have been enough for the two of us. We were heartbroken not to finish all of it.

Seeking Cuban food became a quest for us after that. We do have a Cuban restaurant in Cedar Rapids and the food is fine. There is a passable Ropa Vieja, good plantains, and solid Cubanos. And in Minneapolis, that scion city of the North where one would be amazed to find Cuban food, there is Victor’s 1959 Café, where the crab cakes are divine.

But we know, the husband and I, that the best place to find Cuban food is where we started enjoying it at Bongo’s. In my dreams I envision heaping platters of picadillo, lechon asada, and flan. Oh yeah. I can enjoy all that. But in my heart I’ll be thinking about vaca frita.

Thanks, Catherine. I’m of that same age, having grown up in southern California with a kitchen drawer full of unused B-tickets. A few years back I interviewed several executive chefs from the collection of Disney’s Orlando parks. Not a corn dog among them.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Delia Sherman

No Comments » Written on January 1st, 2018 by
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Delia Sherman

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to 2018. I’m happy to put the past year in the past, to focus on a shiny new year full of potential and renewed purpose. I invite you to come along for the ride.

We begin this new year of EATING AUTHORS with Delia Sherman as the first guest of 2018. Delia writes for both adults and children. She’s published three novels for the former (one co-written with her spouse, Ellen Kushner), all in the Fantasy of Manners vein, receiving a Mythopoeic Award for her troubles. Her middle-grade stories and books have earned her a Norton Award, a Prometheus Award, as well as a second Mythopoeic Award. She’s also a past nominee for the Crawford Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

In addition to her own writing, Delia is one of the founding members of the Interstitial Arts Foundation. Delia’s a teacher and lecturer (Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies from Brown). She’s also an experienced editor of both anthologies and webzines. And she regularly pays it forward, sharing her expertise by teaching at Clarion and Odyssey and Alpha, and plenty of other workshops throughout the world (which fits in nicely with her self-professed love of travel).

LMS: Welcome, Delia. What meal stands out most in your memory?

DS: Memory is an odd and selective thing. I know that I’ve eaten a lot of good food—formal meals in restaurants, lunch stops on road trips, picnics off the roof of a car ditto, dinners and lunches and parties in the houses of friends. But mostly I don’t remember what I actually ate. There is, however, one meal—or rather one set of meals—that I remember perfectly, because I’ve cooked it annually for ten years. It’s my wife Ellen’s and my favorite family tradition, and we take it a lot more seriously (for a given value of seriously) than Thanksgiving (for which we often hide and write and maybe fry up a duck breast for two). We hold it on Twelfth Night, traditionally the night when the magi brought the traditional baby gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus. It also—in England, anyway—is a time of feasting, entertainments, music, and plays. And since we’re both enthusiastic about all those things, it seems like the perfect time to throw a Twelfth Night party.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

The feast, to begin with, was an afterthought. The play’s the thing, and the friends we invite to help us read it. Shakespeare, of course, is a favorite. We’ve done Twelfth Night and As You Like It and Winter’s Tale. Ben Jonson was less successful—we didn’t make it all the way through Volpone, although we gave our best shot. Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was a real hit, and we almost repeated it a second year, but substituted Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not For Burning at the last minute. We’ve done Noel Coward (Private Lives) and Moliere (The Miser) and Liz Duffy Adams (Or,). The core group of readers has always been me, Ellen, and two merry gentlemen she’s known from the 1980’s, when she last lived in New York. Since a lot of what we read is male-heavy, we practice gender-blind casting. Every scene is recast by our Perpetual Stage Manager, Patrick, who is kind enough to give favorite speeches to whoever begs hardest for them. By long tradition, Daniel gets first crack at the ranting elderly ladies and Ellen has a corner on the clever, snarky heroes. I prefer sensible characters of either gender, but will chew scenery when called upon.

We’ve played with the timing of dinner to accommodate both art and hunger. If we try to read the whole play beforehand, we either eat too much cheese or get so hungry the reading becomes a slog instead of a pleasure. If we use dinner as a long intermission, sometimes we don’t get to the second half of the play. We’ve never tried putting off the play until after dinner because that way lies a Twelfth Night without any play, and where would be the fun in that? Of course, everything would be easy if this were just a bowl of potato chips and maybe a steak or burritos kind of party, with ice cream afterwards, or maybe some homemade cookies, if we get ambitious. But it’s not.

Changeling

You see, I have a thing for goose. It’s probably having read Dickens at an impressionable age, but for me, it’s just not Christmas without a goose. Except that we don’t actually celebrate Christmas, so the goose has moved to Twelfth Night instead. I use a recipe I found in Gourmet magazine in 1977, involving a dried fruit stuffing and port wine gravy and a certain amount of fussing with the hot fat that is the inevitable side-effect of roasting a goose. It is always moist (if I don’t forget to turn the temp down after the first 30 minutes) and usually crisp and tastes very faintly of fruit. I used to make red cabbage with it, but have recently turned to roasted brussels sprouts. Given the size of the oven in our apartment this year, I might go back to the cabbage, or maybe I’ll sautè the brussels sprouts with chutney. Potatoes, of course, and green beans and sweet potatoes mashed with sautéed apples. We carry in the goose (carved, because carving a goose is a greasy, messy affair best achieved without an audience) to The Boar’s Head Carol, because we like to sing. Dessert is a King Cake, a French tradition traditionally supplied by Daniel, to be eaten after we’ve either finished the play or voted unanimously to give up and tell bad jokes instead. Whoever gets the bean (or the little china donkey) in their piece has to wear a gilded cardboard crown. One year, Patrick forgot to take it off when he left and didn’t notice he was still wearing it until Daniel took pity on him before they got on the subway.

Young Woman in a Garden

The evening always ends with a rousing rendition of The King, a traditional Twelfth Night ballad that begins, “Joy, Health, Love, and Peace / Be all here in this place!” It is about a king (which is really a wren, the king of the birds) and is full of hedges and ribbons and cannon and joy in the New Year, and has a rousing good tune, which is the important thing with folk songs.

Like all traditions, our Twelfth Night feasts are both different every year and exactly the same. They exist in a timeless space wherein goose is eaten, songs are sung, toasts are proposed, a play is read, and friends laugh and pull Christmas crackers (bought, this year, in a branch of a Dutch department store) and talk about Shakespeare and comics and life. The cast of characters swells and shrinks, depending on who is in town and is willing to read long speeches aloud, but somehow everyone who has ever been there is always there, wearing a little paper crown, laughing and singing in chorus. It’s that fellowship I remember, and the faces around our table, golden in the candlelight as we raise our glasses and toast the New Year.

Also, the goose.

Thanks, Delia. You had me at Shakespeare. Though, the goose didn’t hurt a bit.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Beth Gwinn

Eating Authors: Thomas K. Carpenter

No Comments » Written on December 25th, 2017 by
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Thomas K. Carpenter

Welcome to the last EATING AUTHORS post of 2017. It’s been a turbulent year, on so many levels, but we’ve made it. I like to think having a weekly retreat into the lives and meals of all of the authors who have stopped by here has in some small way been of service. Thanks for your continued interest, for reading their works, and for supporting speculative fiction (and meals!) throughout the year.

We close out the year with this week’s guest, Thomas K. Carpenter. He’s something of a full service SFF author. Tom writes everything from YA dystopia to historical fantasy, from steampunk to post-cyberpunk, and has been known to wander off into alternate history as well. Seriously, whatever your tastes are, Tom has a book for you. Whether it’s a hundred different halls of magic or the library at Alexandria or every aspect of your life coming down to points in a game, he’ll keep you turning the pages.

LMS: Welcome, Tom. Tell me about your most memorable meal.

TKC: Golden Dandelion Tempura Blooms can cure loneliness.

You may not know this, but it’s true.

Fires of Alexandria

When I was twenty-five, I took a job with Toyota and they sent me to Japan for six weeks. Not to an exciting metropolis like the Godzilla-less Tokyo, or even the more subdued Nagoya with its dancing Elvis park (skinny-greaser Elvis rather than sequined Vegas Elvis), but the rural town of Tahara in the Aichi prefecture. A place, that I’m sure, literally nothing has happened. Ever.

Adding to my Lost in Translation experience was that I’d just gotten engaged before I left, and my fiancée had barely moved into our apartment. Between my curiosity challenged co-workers and the lack of fine dining outside of a three-story McDonald’s, I was getting stir-crazy, so I left for Kyoto one weekend—alone.

The city of Kyoto is filled with shrines. Small shrines, big shrines. Shrines that felt like they’d been built for giants. I got up early in the morning and moved from shrine to shrine. I would either sit and bask in the noisy silence of the city, or wander around the pathways between the sea-wave rocks. When I had enough, I would walk to the next shrine.

I recall a certain dislocation that carried me through the day. I was thousands of miles away from my fiancée wishing either she was with me, or I was back home, but mostly that she was with me, so we could enjoy the city together.

You can walk a long time when you’re trying to fill a hole.

Trials of Magic

Eventually, I had to eat, and at this point, even after a couple of weeks in Japan, I was still intimidated about trying new things. It wasn’t the food that scared me, I’m an adventurous eater, but the worry that I would make some horrible faux-pas, thus reinforcing the horrible image of Americans abroad.

But eventually, I found a little restaurant, no bigger than a counter and two booths, and run by a father and son. The father spoke only Japanese, while the son could piece together enough English that I wasn’t going to embarrass myself. They specialized in tempura. I ordered what essentially was the chef’s choice meal.

I was served tempura, one piece at a time. The batter was so light it was almost translucent and with a slight peppery flavor. It served mostly as a crisp outer shell.

I ate nothing twice.

Each piece came with its own dipping sauce: sea salt, or squeezed lemon, or ginger soy. The father would craft my bite of food, while the son would explain how I was meant to eat it. We started off easy—shrimp in lemon squeezings, asparagus in chunky pepper—hitting the foods people think of when they hear tempura. Then we moved onto non-traditional tempura items like crispy shrimp shells, or leafy chard.

Revolutionary Magic

Between the servings, I chatted with the son. He had questions about America, while I had questions about Japan. The father would chime in, translated through his son, and we had a round robin conversation.

The final serving of the meal was a golden dandelion tempura bloom. I’d never thought of a flower bud as something to eat, but it was delightful.

When I was finished, I bid them farewell (which included lots of awkward bowing on my part, since I hadn’t yet learned the rules) and went in search of some green tea mochi ball ice cream. It’d grown dark during our meal, and bright lanterns lit the pathways. Sometime afterwards, I realized I wasn’t lonely any more. I still missed my fiancée, but at least for the time being, I wasn’t lonely, and I’d gotten over intruding into strange restaurants. For the rest of the trip, I ate like a local and had many more interesting conversations.

P.S. – About five years later, I had the opportunity to take my wife to Kyoto to visit the temples. I couldn’t find that tempura shop, but that didn’t stop us from having a lot of great meals.

Thanks, Tom. I’ve always loved tempura. For me, it’s one of the few “bottom up” taste experiences left in the world.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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BARSK Bits

No Comments » Written on December 23rd, 2017 by
Categories: News

As has been chronicled elsewhere, I started writing Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard back in the late 80’s. Fresh out graduate school, ink still wet on my doctorate, I was 27. A few months later I had my first teaching gig. I was “the boy professor,” teaching psychology, beginning Japanese, and home (dorm) winemaking. Naturally, I decided to write my first novel.

Barsk

The result was Barsk (no subtitle back then) and I had no clue what I was doing. Worse still, I had no clue that I had no clue. The result was horrible. The story was good, the underlying concepts worked, but back then I lacked the skills to do any of that justice and made use of of a lot trite stuff. Among other clunkers, I used a painful exposition device at the start of each and every one of the book’s fifty chapters (as well as the prologue and epilogue). I reasoned that since my protagonist was a scholar, it’d be cool to include excerpts from his various papers and peer-reviewed journal articles (remember, I was the boy professor?). In hindsight, I was probably inspired by Frank Herbert’s excerpts from The Encyclopedia Galactica in Dune. But let’s be clear, I’m not Frank Herbert (and I certainly wasn’t back then either). The result? Epic failure. Eventually I tucked the manuscript away in a drawer and put it out of my mind, focusing instead on learning to be a better writer.

TITLE

Decades (and several hundreds of thousands of words later) an editor put me on the spot, asking me to pitch some book ideas to him. One of those was Barsk and he said “That one!” and here we are several years later with the first book having received critical acclaim, award nominations, and even a win, and the sequel slated for a release this summer.

Readers of the book that actually came out on the penultimate date of 2015 will know that there are no excerpts introducing the chapters. In a couple cases I did find ways to work the exposition into actual chapters, but though the experience of writing them did wonders to solidify Jorl’s voice in my head, for the most part the dozens and dozens of bits were abandoned completely.

Until now.

I’ll be going through them, tidying up the writing here and there, and releasing them as bonus material to those folks who subscribe to my newsletter.

And who knows, perhaps if The Moons of Barsk is some kind of runaway hit, the good folks at Tor will ask me to gather up all these “Barsk Bits” and publish them as a chapbook. After all, stranger things have already happened or you’d never have seen that first book.

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Eating Authors: Lawrence C. Connolly

No Comments » Written on December 18th, 2017 by
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Lawrence C. Connolly

Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, winter has arrived though the solstice is still most of a week away. Temperatures have dipped into the teens some nights and we’ve had three separate snowfalls by my count. I’ve had to do some light shoveling and yesterday I bought some rock salt. That ritual, buying rock salt, is what convinces me we’re really into winter.

None of which has anything to do with Lawrence C. Connolly, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, but you know, these blog posts have to start somehow, and as he’s from western PA this seemed like a plausible opening.

As you may infer from his photo, Lawrence is a musician. But space is tight so I’m going to focus on his fiction (though some of his compositions do that as well). He started out writing SF but soon found that horror let him do more of what he wanted. He’s perhaps best known as the author of the Veins cycle of novels (Veins, Vipers, and Vortex). I think it’s fair to say he’s found his niche, and Hollywood agrees. His story, This Way To Egress, has been adapted for the big screen by director David Slade (of Hannibal and American Gods fame). You’ll be able to see it in 2018 as one of five shorts in Nightmare Cinema .

LMS: Welcome, Lawrence. What stands out as your most memorable meal?

LCC: It’s March 1990, the last month of the last winter of the cold war. And I’m in Russia.
I’m part of a group of writers, musicians, and performers who are taking part in a cultural exchange with a music school in Leningrad, and tonight one of our hosts has invited us to dinner at her flat in the city.

The apartment is on the sixth floor of a Khrushchev-era housing unit, a massive concrete structure with labyrinthian corridors and echoing stairwells. It’s intimidating. But the apartment, when we finally reach it, is warm and bright.

The dining area is a multi-functional space, living-room furniture pushed aside to make way for a large table. It’s already set for us – plates, silverware, pickles, vodka. Lots of vodka.

Veins

My place is next to the host’s grandfather, an amiable man with an infectious smile.

My Russian is limited to a few badly pronounced phrases. Things that are supposed to mean Hello, Thank you, and Where is the toilet? The grandfather knows about as much English. His favorite word is More, which he repeats each time he fills my glass with vodka. I will learn later that in Russia one never lets a guest’s glass stand empty.

“More!”

“No. I’m fine.”

He pours.

It’s been said that words constitute seven-percent of what we say, far less than vocal tone, body language, and facial expression. More might be the only English we have in common, but that infectious smile reaches me all the same.

Dinner features kholodets, cold meat suspended in gelatin. The dish is served during winter celebrations, and we are certainly celebrating on that cold March night – breaking bread, breaking barriers. Decades of cold war have made us strangers, but one hour at that table changes everything.

Voices

An upright piano stands in a corner, packed in among the living-room furniture.

“More!”

“Sure. Why not. Can we play the piano?”

He doesn’t understand my words. He doesn’t need to. My gestures make my meaning clear.

The rest of the night is devoted to those other international languages – music and song.

It all ends too soon. We leave the way we arrived, through labyrinthian halls and down echoing stairwells. Behind us, a voice calls out, singing a one-word wish and an open invitation to return.

More!

Thanks, Lawrence. I knew the trick of learning how to ask about the bathroom. It hadn’t occurred to me that knowing how to say “more” could be so practical. Lesson learned.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Sara King

5 comments Written on December 11th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
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Sara King

Last week about this time, I was on a plane coming back from Hangzhou, China. It’s one of the longest trips I’ve ever taken, particularly when you factor in that I was only in China for four days. Crazy. But it’s why I’ve selected Sara King to be this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest because the meal she writes about below is predicated on travel to foreign lands and speaks to the expectations one has about food. That, and because I think I may have flown over her house.

Sara, as she’ll be quit to inform you, is from Alaska. She writes SF. She writes Fantasy. She writes Romance. And she does this in a remote part of America where outdoor plumbing, grizzlies, and firearms are all just a part of daily life.

She’s an indie author extraordinaire, with multiple series running, though you most likely know her wrok from her Legend of ZERO series. And if you don’t, well, after reading her meal you’ll want to. Fortunately, I’ve provided some links for you.

LMS: Welcome, Sara. Please share a few words about your most memorable meal.

SK: So I’m pretty much a country bumpkin from Alaska, except maybe a little more uncivilized. (Outhouses, generators, community mail day, bears, Breakup, and honeybuckets anyone?) Alaskans are pretty much the least civilized people in the USA—ask any of my friends in the Lower 48. We’re kind of crazy.

I do, however, really enjoy a good burger. Pretty much like every other American out there, slap a burger on my plate and I’m gonna wolf it down (though mine were often made of moose meat when I was a kid). I’ve probably eaten close to three thousand burgers in my lifetime. McDonald’s was my go-to fast food joint in my youth, mainly because it was the only affordable ‘restaurant’ our town had for about a decade. I’m definitely not saying that McDonalds is the ideal example of burgerdom, but I ate a lot of them because fast food was considered a treat to my lower-middle-class family.

Fast forward 20 years. I was still living in the Bush, Alaska, but we now had internet [read: hamster-powered satellite cup-and-strings], and I was falling madly in love with a Scot that I’d never met in person. I decided to remedy that and fly, alone, from Bush, Alaska to Edinburgh, UK. It was a big step, because the most I’d seen of another country up until that point was traveling through Canada at eighty miles an hour on a road trip. Everything I knew of Scotland I had basically read in romance novels.

Let me tell you right now: Romance novels are wrong.

Alaskan Fire

Before boarding that first international flight, I thought maybe I’d learn that men in Scotland have big calves that they like to show off with a well-placed kilt. Those book covers of Fabio posing with his huge sword and bulging muscles had me picturing all sorts of hunky guys wandering around, showing off for the ladies. Hear me, ladies: romance novel covers are grossly misleading. Grossly. Misleading.

On average, Scots are stick-skinny in skintight tube jeans, with fugly faces ground up from a lifetime of fistfighting and barroom brawls. The slow, sexy Sean Connery accent is a myth—you’ll be lucky if you can understand your cabbie as he’s telling you about his passion for punching asshole Americans in the face in an incomprehensible brogue as he’s weaving the taxi through death-defying stunts on tiny, half-lane roads. About the only enormous, burly Scots you’ll see are the ones dripping with gold, waiting to ambush you in a dark alley or trying to trick you into handing them your cell phone. The mystique of buying handmade ‘Celtic’ silver designs will quickly wear off, once you see that every stand on the entire street is selling the exact same stuff, as are a bunch of sellers on Ebay, direct from India. They don’t tip over there, and when Americans do it, they nod and smile and take your cash and behind your back will give you that pitying look like you’re a little slow in the head. You kind of end up feeling like a rube, the dumb townie that walks into a camp of carnies.

But in the end, despite the false advertising of an entire youth of bad romance novels, it was actually the food that shocked me the most. Sausages are mostly bread inside. Lamb was as cheap as chicken. Most restaurants in Scotland pan-fried their steaks to a nice gray color (imagine my horror). Blood is an acceptable ingredient in Scottish cuisine, and if anything black appears on your plate, it’s probably made of it. Kebabs are a kind of taco sandwich. Chips are homefries. Crisps are potato chips. Bacon is ham, and if you want real bacon, you have to ask for ‘crispy bacon’. Prawns are tiny shrimp. ‘Rocket’ on a menu is a delicious leafy green, not a type of missile. Entrails, when properly boiled in a sheep’s stomach, are delicious. ‘Nachos’ are a can of boiled beans dumped on top of tortilla chips with some cold cheddar cheese grated on top. They use too many forks/knives/spoons for the task at hand. And lemonade is Sprite, and the waiter will look at you funny if you look at them funny and say you wanted lemonade, not Sprite.

It was the burgers, though, that really impressed on me why it is good to live in the USA.

Fortune's Rising

Which brings me back to me arriving in Scotland after my very first trans-Atlantic flight. Imagine my awe, wonder, and general Twilight-Zone feeling when, after having spent my entire life in the land of guns, wilderness, and grizzly bears, I found myself in one of the biggest, most civilized cities in Scotland after a 36-hour international, 3-layover journey. Even before I got out of the airport, I was gaping at everything around me like a hillbilly seeing a big city for the first time—which, of course, didn’t go unnoticed by the UK customs agents. Apparently, a lone woman from the U.S. doesn’t usually travel from Nowhereville, Alaska to Edinburgh, Scotland with absolutely no stamps on her passport, because the gate agent grilled me like I was ferrying drugs. And she, like just about every other Scottish person I was to run across from that point onward, had a multiple-time broken nose and missing, twisted teeth. I couldn’t stop staring. It was pretty obvious she’d spent her life brawling and was proud of it, and was hoping I’d give her the excuse to do the same to me. By the time I got my bags and found my Scot waiting for me, I was pretty damn stressed out. My Scot wanted to know where I wanted to eat. Already aching for a taste of home, I suggested a burger. He gave me a look like I was goddamn crazy and took me to a fancy restaurant, instead.

It became a theme. The first ten times or so I wanted to get a burger, I got pretty much the same reaction. “What are you in the mood for?” “Ooh, how about a burger?!” [Look of pity] “How about lasagna instead? I’ll get you lasagna.” [Orders lasagna for the lady.] “There. You get lasagna. So much better than a burger.” Thus began my saga of trying to find a burger in Scotland. I was there for six weeks. It wasn’t until about a week and a half into my journey that my beau finally relented and let me order a burger. He warned me repeatedly beforehand, however. “Burgers suck. Burgers are disgusting. You Americans are disgusting. I must show you what good food tastes like. Burgers are like vomit on a bun. Only heathens and drunkards eat burgers. Burgers are only fit for dogs. Etc. Etc. Etc.” Of course, as an American, I laughed as the Italian waiter sat a huge, delicious-looking burger in front of me and said something to the effect of, “Pffft. You idiot Scots have no idea what’s good.” Then I took a bite.

I stopped laughing as the unmistakable taste of cat food permeated my mouth. I gagged. I had trouble swallowing. I forced it down, somewhat in shock, as my beau watched with rapt attention. Knowing I was only proving his ridiculous point for him, I thought, “This can’t be right. Surely that was just my sinus infection from my trans-Atlantic flight. Burgers can not be that bad.” So I took another bite.

Cat food. The damn thing tasted like cat food. I actually spat it out this time and sat there, staring at my burger in horror. Of course, my Scot was laughing at me now. “See? They’re horrible. Point made. Eat good food from now on. We’ll train you dumb Americans to appreciate fine cuisine.”

Forging Zero

I’m not sure if I ever acknowledged his glee, because I was still staring at my ‘burger’, dumbstruck. It was everything I could do not to call the waiter over to my table and demand that he taste the burger and tell me if they had cut it with cat food. I decided to find out, right then and there, what the hell was wrong with this country that they could screw up something as simple as a burger. With a little detective work, I discovered that meat in Scotland is often cut with bread or other fillers to make it cheaper. Further, because nobody in an Italian restaurant ever orders a burger, the burger meat perhaps sits around a lot longer than it should. Yay.

I refused to believe this was the norm, however. Thus began my quest to find a good burger, any burger, in Scotland. I started insisting on going to every ‘American’ restaurant available, and must have ordered two dozen burgers in the next five weeks. Every one of them sucked. A lot. They were dry. They were stale. They tasted rancid. They were burned. They had a bready consistency. But, overwhelmingly, they tasted like shit. Much like the majority of Scots’ faces and teeth, they were just totally screwed up.

Now, before I alienate an entire country of people, I married my Scot. He proofread this. He laughed. He agrees. The Scots pick too many fights and have shit for burgers, and American burgers are better. (He literally could not believe that people in Alaska carry guns all the time and we rarely have anyone die of a gunfight until he saw it himself—apparently, the Scots do not have the self-control not to kill each other if given access to firepower, another cultural difference that I found astounding but will not go into here.) How does he know this? I brought him back to Alaska with me and made him swear beforehand that he would try one burger made in the USA before he cemented his opinion that burgers were shit. He agreed, and I fed him a bona-fide handmade burger grilled to perfection—barbecuing is something else the Scots abhor, mainly because they get food poisoning 2 times out of 3, so it was really difficult to get him to agree to eat a grilled burger—and slapped it on his plate with all the fixings.

My Scot is a picky eater, so he started with a tiny bite, pinkies extended in civilized pride, face all scrunched up in Scottish disdain, fully intending to take a single bite, then set it aside and eat something cultured instead, like Italian takeout. He ended up finishing the entire thing, wiping the grease off his face, and asking for another. Now, four years later, burgers are his favorite food here. He hasn’t gotten food poisoning once, despite at least fifty barbecues since.

Thanks, Sara. I’m tempted to ask how you know what cat food tastes like to have made the comparison, but I’m really afraid of the answer.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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