Eating Authors: Leigh Grossman

No Comments » Written on October 15th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Leigh Grossman

Time is doing that thing again (at least for me) where the days blur together and I have to pause a moment to consider if I was away at convention last weekend or was it the weekend before, or more regularly wonder just what day of the week it is anyway. This is probably a good thing, but let’s keep an eye on it just in case.

And speaking of temporal slip sliding, whenever I think of this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, my mind always goes back to various incarnations of an annual convention and the evening party there where Leigh Grossman would showcase some of his students. Leigh, it should be acknowledged, teaches in the English Department of the University of Connecticut.

He’s the author of the fantasy novels The Green Lion and The Golden Thorne, as well as the editor of Sense of Wonder, this last title being arguably the most comprehensive teaching anthology of science fiction ever attempted, comprising more than 200 stories, poems, and bibliographic essays. Considering the current cost of textbooks, this volume is a godsend.

Leigh’s latest fantasy novel, The Lost Daughters, come out from Wildeside Press on Halloween. It’s packed with returning gods, magic, battles, and betrayal, which is to say, business as usual.

LMS: Welcome, Leigh. Please tell me about your most memorable meal.

LG: When I was a kid, any time I showed poor table manners, my mother would say to me what I heard as, “That’s why I never take you to the Belby Stratford for Sunday brunch.” I had no idea what she was talking about. By the time I was in high school, I realized that she meant the Bellevue Stratford, long the most prestigious hotel in Philadelphia, the city where my mother had grown up. I found out that her mother had said the same thing to her when my mom was a kid, and that she never had gotten to go (my grandmother had died very young, and in fact I am named for her). I also learned that the luxury hotel had fallen on hard times, largely because a hotel designed as a palace for traveling Gilded Age robber barons felt like an embarrassing excess in the 1970s. The decline was accelerated when 29 American Legion members died after a hotel function and it went from being synonymous with sybaritic luxury to the example high school biology classes use to explain disease vectors. The irony was lost on me: To me, the Bellevue Stratford stood for unfulfilled dreams, for the things your parents promise will happen if you’re good but, because life isn’t fair, often never happen. Which seemed to be the case: The Bellevue Stratford staggered through several owners and promised restorations before, just as I arrived in Philly to attend college, closing for what seemed like the last time.

The Lost Daughters

You can see where this is going. Just about the time I’m getting ready to leave Philly, the Bellevue Stratford reopens. It’s the late 1980s, and excess is back in style again. I save up: I was poor, and this place was priced for Gilded Age robber barons. By that spring I’ve saved up enough money to take my mom to Sunday Brunch at the Bellevue Stratford for Mother’s Day.

My stepfather had been a chef at some pretty luxurious places, but I’d never been to a restaurant like this before. None of the fanciness felt forced. Everyone looked comfortable in their tuxedos. This was way out of my league, but what made it most memorable was seeing my mom go all fangirl walking through the Barrymore Room, chattering about features I’d never heard of that she’d idolized since she had been a Philly kid in the 1940s, when the Bellevue Stratford was synonymous with magic. It was like seeing my mom as a kid who believed in magic, before this had become one of her unfulfilled dreams.

And the food was magical. Mostly I remember the oysters, because while I’d had oysters before, apparently what I’d eaten in the past had been only a pale shadow of what real oysters tasted like. And it was all like that: dish after dish that tasted as if I was only now experiencing what it was supposed to taste like all along.

The Green Lion

I went back another year and it was good, but the magic of that first fulfilled dream had faded. Years later I tried to capture it when I was writing The Lost Daughters, and a neglected girl who is the same age my daughter is now is brought to a feast by the mother she will soon lose: “From there things turned into a whirlwind. Dinner was in a huge, glittering room filled with thick red carpets. Chandeliers of cut glass, each piece glowing with channeled magic, slowly revolved above us. We sat at the longest table I had ever seen, surrounded by strangers who all seemed to know my mother. By that time my head was spinning, and I’m not sure I even made it through dinner awake. I remember course after course, each one fancier than the one before, and I think the last few I may have dreamed.”

I had to look it up: The Bellevue Stratford has since been through several more declines and revivals. But they do still offer Sunday brunch at their top-floor luxury restaurant with its Gilded Age ornamentation, vaulted ceilings, and panoramic views. And that’s important, because I have a daughter who believes in magic, and when her table manners slip I tell her, “That’s why I never take you to the Bellevue Stratford for Sunday brunch.” And while I’m sure that in this unfair world she will have many unfulfilled dreams, this is one that I want to see come true.

Thanks, Leigh. Wow, I’ve lived and worked in the greater Philadelphia area for more than twenty-five years and I’ve never before heard of the Bellevue Stratford. What does that say about my table manners?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Sarah Kuhn

No Comments » Written on October 8th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Sarah Kuhn

Long time readers of this blog will know that each year as soon as the list of Campbell Award nominees are announced I make it my mission to promote the award by inviting them to share the tales of their most memorable meals. Alas, I don’t always succeed and some of the nominees don’t get showcased. Sometimes, it’s because a writer has previously appeared here, in which case they only get mentioned in passing with a link to that earlier entry. Sometimes an author just can’t be contacted or doesn’y respond. And sometimes, because this the way life is for writers, they’re just too busy with higher priorities to get back to me.

Earlier in the year, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest year, Sarah Kuhn, was a finalist for the Campbell Award and other obligations kept her from a timely appearance on this blog. But she’s here now and I am pleased as the proverbial punch to have her. She writes non-fiction, she writes short stories, she writes comics and graphic novels. Oh, and she’s also done this pretty amazing series of books, the Heroine Complex (the third came out this past July). If you’ve not encountered them before, just run with the elevator pitch of “The Devil Wears Prada with superheroes” and you’re good to go. Because if you like hot romance, supernatural karaoke battles, and evil cupcakes, Sarah has you covered.

And just in case that’s not enough, look for her YA debut next June, I Love You So Mochi, a romantic comedy set in Japan.

LMS: Welcome, Sarah. What’s your most memorable meal?

SK: There’s nothing better than coming in from the rain to stuff your face with a hot, decadent meal. Even better if you’ve just emerged from a long, treacherous road trip. Even better if said road trip culminated in a slippery drive over the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the miracle of a parking spot on one of those narrow, hilly streets that are one hundred percent not built for parking spots.

Heroine Complex

That was the build-up for my most memorable meal. My friend Amber and I drove up to the Bay Area from Los Angeles to participate in a reading. We got a late start because we pretty much always get a late start and skipped stopping for food in the middle because we’d “be there soon.”

Of course the drive turned trafficky, of course it started raining, of course we were caught in a full-on storm by the time we edged our way into Oakland and onto the bridge. The rain pounded so forcefully against our car windows, I was sure it was going to bust right through and drown us and then we’d never get to eat and even if we didn’t drown, we’d probably combust from hangry-ness.

Luckily none of these mishaps befell us, and we made it to Cordon Bleu, a tiny Vietnamese restaurant on California Street. (I think it’s no relation to that other Cordon Bleu, but I remain kind of fuzzy on that point.)

Heroine's Journey

It must have been almost 10 pm at that point. The wonderful Aunties who own the place plopped giant, steaming plates of meat and rice and crackly fried imperial rolls in front of us. We did not waste any time talking during that meal. We inhaled. But it wasn’t the kind of inhaling where you don’t register what you’re eating. We love every single goddamn bite.

The real star for me was the meat sauce, which is just what it sounds like—bits of meat in a gloriously savory, gravy-like sauce dumped over a pile of rice. I scraped my plate clean and when Auntie asked if I wanted more meat sauce, I almost cried.

The rain was still pouring down, gushing like it was being dumped out of gigantic sky buckets, but we were safe and warm and full.

Whenever I go back to San Francisco, I hike up one of the massive hills to go to Cordon Bleu. I get there right when they open because otherwise it gets packed, everyone jostling for one of the few seats at the tiny counter. I order the same thing I ordered that night, meat on rice and imperial roll fresh from the fryer. I eat until I’m full to the point of bursting, savoring every bit of it.

And when Auntie asks if I want more meat sauce, I always say yes.

Thanks, Sarah. It’s oft been said that hunger is the best sauce. That may be, but a cold rain surely comes in as a close second.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: CapozKnows Photography


Eating Authors: Derek Künsken

No Comments » Written on October 1st, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Derek Künsken

In the last twelve months, I’ve traveled to China twice to participate in SF workshops organized by the Future Affairs Administration. Getting to or from China is a stressful and exhausting affair (at least if one is flying coach and traveling from Philadelphia), but each time being there was a magnificent, experiences that I will always treasure. I met wonderful people, ate (and ate and ate) phenomenal meals, and witnessed indescribable sights. I feel incredibly privileged to have been there, and not just once, but twice.

In that same span of time, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Derek Künsken, has visited China five times, as recently as last month when he was invited to speak at the World Conference on Science Literacy. I’m pretty certain he’d gone there at least twice in the year prior as well. In fact, now that I think about it, I’ve spent more time together with Derek in China than at conventions in the U.S.

He is Canadian, but his work has taken him all over. Much more colorfully than the usual odd jobs that writers land in, Derek’s gone from molecular biology, to working with street children in Latin America, to a career in refugee issues. And fortunately for us, he brings this fascinating blend of experience to his fiction.

Up to now, most readers have only known him for his short fiction, but he’s graduated to novels. Derek’s first book, The Quantum Magician, was originally serialized in the Chinese magazine SFWorld back in the autumn of 2017. That was great if you read Mandarin. The rest of us have had to wait for the novel’s English release, which happens tomorrow. I ordered mine weeks ago.

LMS: Welcome, Derek. World traveler that I know you to be, what meal stands out for you?

DK: Perhaps the most memorable was a plato de carne I got after dark one night in a darker part of downtown Bogota. I’d been working at the Canadian Embassy at the time, but some evenings, I was volunteering with an NGO that worked to try to get minors in the sex worker industry off the streets and into safety. I would do these evening patrols with my friend Patricia and our job was to make contact with the teen sex workers we found on the streets, and try to persuade them to come to a center where they could sleep, get food, clothing, medical attention and social workers.

Now, a kid you just met is going to take time to trust, especially if they’ve recently taken drugs. Patricia and I were walking in the center of Bogota after dark and on side street I spotted three boys of maybe 13 or 14, a little high from glue. We started talking to them, but after a bit they were looking like they were going to leave, so Patricia said “Hey, you guys hungry?”

Obviously they were, so we went to a little restaurant under fluorescent lights with plastic booths and linoleum tables and a kitchen at the back. We fit into the booth and kept on talking and as I looked at the laminated menu, I was astonished at the prices. Like 2,700 pesos for beef, rice, plantain and probably some vegetables! I liked the pictures of the food as much as the boys did. After the three of them ordered, I ordered myself the plato de carne, which got me a funny look from Patricia.

“You really want to eat here?” she said. We’d been partners on this evening shift for about six months. She was Colombian and I Canadian and I’d already stopped to buy meat on sticks and other things I found on the street, so she was maybe used to my eating, but maybe this was crossing a line?

The Quantum Magician

“What?” I said. “It’s beef. Look at the picture.”

“For 2,700 pesos, it can’t be beef. Maybe horse.”

I have never paid too much attention to nay-sayers when it comes to being carnivorous, except if the food is super-spicy, which Colombian food is not. And also, I hadn’t eaten in like three hours. So when my plato de carne came on its styrofoam plate I was delighted. It was a huge hunk of dark, juicy meat covering the rice and plantain and other things. My friend Patricia dubiously watched me eat. Her reasoning might have been that most of the street children we worked with were underfed and already had parasites that needed treating. Those things weren’t true of me.

The meat was good enough. I didn’t recognize the cut, but the consistency seemed okay. It was a bit greasy. They fried it instead of grilling. After a while, I switched to the rice and didn’t finish all my overly juicy beef. The boys finished theirs and when they saw I wasn’t going to, they eagerly took my leftovers. And, in the end, the hour we spent with them talking got us enough cred that we all stuffed ourselves into Patricia’s little red Renault Quatro and dropped the boys off at the shelter.

When I got back home to my apartment, I learned a new Spanish word, because when I told my Colombian fiancé what I’d eaten she was beside herself. She wouldn’t have eaten what I had. And she agreed with Patricia’s assessment, that for 2,700 pesos, it couldn’t have been beef. I insisted it was and she said the only way that could have been beef would have been if it was carne de carranga.

I didn’t know what carranga meant. She said an animal is butchered in an abbatoir and sold to grocery stores and restaurants. If an animal just dies of sickness or old age, it’s not supposed to be eaten by people. She explained that’s a pretty basic food health law. But sometimes that kind of meat makes it into really divey places, places like the quarter where I’d been, places that only charge 2,700 pesos.

I never got sick, so I maintain all these years later that her suggestion was preposterous. It wasn’t my best meal. But it wasn’t horse. Or a cow that had died of a stroke or a heart attack or swimmer’s ear. The restaurant where I ate had obviously discovered a sound business model by finding savings and efficiencies which it in turn passed on to the consumers. And I learned a Spanish word I never otherwise would have. And the size of the meat! I regret nothing.

Thanks, Derek. What a great way to learn new words, but I’m pretty sure Colombians don’t use that term for cattle with swimmer’s ear. There’s another word for that.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Amber Royer

No Comments » Written on September 24th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Amber Royer

My September is turning out to be one of those months that just race by, which would be fine except the work that needs to happen this month is not likewise zipping along to completion. On the other hand, August already seems to be receding into the distance, which is a shame because the Worldcon overflowed with so many wonderful things crammed into just a handful of days.

If that sounds like the opening of a segue to you, give yourself bonus points. One of my favorite events at each Worldcon is the morning Stroll with the Stars. I always meet interesting people and afterwards I’m saddened that the hour has gone by so swiftly. I met Amber Royer, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, on this year’s stroll, and discovered that her first novel, Free Chocolate, had only recently come out from Angry Robot.

So we chatted, we strolled, we shared some chocolate. All in all, a sweet start to the day. And I’m happy she accepted my invitation to drop by and share a meal, so you could meet her too.

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

AR: At a point in life when we were totally broke, my husband and I decided to take up mystery shopping as a way to finance date night. It got us into some swanky places, and led to a few anxious days waiting for reimbursement for triple digit meal tabs before the credit card bill came due. But we never got scammed, and we always got paid… eventually.

I highly recommend mystery shopping as training for writers who have trouble with details and descriptions. You have to get things right, and often, the companies involved want blow-by-blow descriptions – that still retain objectivity.

Free Chocolate

One time, we accepted an assignment at a restaurant inside an upscale hotel. I signed a confidentiality agreement, so I can’t tell you which one, or where, just that it was some of the best food I ever had – but at the same time, that “best meal” was one of my husband’s top five worst meals. Ever.

See, when you’re mystery shopping, you are basically going undercover. You don’t want special treatment, and you don’t want to be one of those annoying customers who have a problem with everything. In fact, if you are too obvious in your behavior, and you get tagged as a shopper, the company may decide not to pay you.

Which is why I immediately got nervous when we arrived at the place, only to find out they were shooting a cooking show, starring the restaurant’s chef. There we were, supposed to be all suave and invisible, but there’s a hand-written sign on the door stating that by entering, you’re agreeing to be interviewed and/or filmed. I relaxed when I realized the wait staff’s attention wasn’t on us – the way it was supposed to be – but on the cameras. They were going to certain tables and interviewing diners, but we were on the other side of the dining room.

When they finally took our order, I went with classics that are better the longer they cook, like the roasted chicken, but my husband went for fussier dishes, since the restaurant was supposed to be top rate. Only, nobody was paying attention. The waiter recommended some kind of lamb dish, then came back to let us know they were actually out of it. When the appetizers came, my husband’s softshell crab was a weird temperature (not hot, not chilled, just that memory-of-having-been-hot perfect for breeding bacteria) and the polenta under it had turned to something resembling stucco. But he didn’t send it back, since we were already so freaked out about calling attention to ourselves – potentially on camera. So I shared my appetizer – can’t remember what it was called exactly, but it involved meat-covered potatoes – and we carried on.

There Are Herbs in My Chocolate

When the entrees came, the hubby’s sea scallops were so overcooked, we could have used them for hocky pucks. He started making frowny faces at the waiter’s back – and I was giving him desperate looks that meant, we still have to be discreet. Though I was wondering, at what point is it weirder NOT to send stuff back rather than just not eating it. But that just made me more nervous. So I shared my chicken – which was amazing – and the waiter didn’t bat an eye when he came to clear away my husband’s second mostly-untouched plate.

The dessert, which we ordered to share, actually was good — though the hubby grumbled that if he’d ordered his own, it probably would have been burned – and the booze (some of these mystery shops actually require you to order alcoholic beverages) took the edge off the situation, so we were able to laugh about it while still at the table.

We were honest in the report, which I hated to do, since it was so obviously NOT an ordinary day for that waiter, but the company hired us to be objective. So that’s what we had to be. They wanted a blow-by-blow of what actually happened (in such detail that reports for that company take about three hours to write). If nothing else, the whole mystery-shopper experience taught me one thing: you have to structure your writing to meet audience expectations, and that’s true whether it’s a shop report, a blog post, or a novel.

Thanks, Amber. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a mystery shopper. If the food isn’t done right, I’m quick to send it back. How else will they learn? Plus, I’m really good at complaining!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Caitlin Seal

No Comments » Written on September 17th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Caitlin Seal

For those of you who have been paying attention and/or are of the Jewish persuasion, we are nearing the end of the Days of Awe. They started back on the 9th of September, the evening of which was Rosh Hashonah and the start of the year 5779 by that calendar. Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The ten days between are typically spent in contemplation of one’s past deeds, repentance, and pondering what can be done to rectify past transgressions. Heavy stuff indeed. I’ll be spending the day in quiet reflection, so it’s just as well that I prepped this post back on Friday, especially as I don’t have a clever segue.

This week’s EATING AUTHORS guest is the second of my three mentees from past Nebula Conferences, and I’m very pleased to have Caitlin Seal here to celebrate the launch of her first novel. That novel, Twice Dead, is book one of The Necromancer’s Song, and it comes out tomorrow. Caitlin had a bit of scare a few months back when an Amazon glitch started canceling pre-orders and informing the people who had placed them that the book had been canceled by her publisher. Nope. Never happened. And I don’t want to even imagine the kind of panic that must have caused. Instead, let’s just get right to the meal, shall we?

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

CS: Recently my husband and I celebrated our five year anniversary by eating our way through a two week trip to Japan. Our meals ranged from quick bites grabbed at chain cafés, to multicourse traditional meals at ryokans, to a western-style dinner served by a gregarious American who ran an inn in Nikko.

While every meal was memorable, the one that sticks out most for me was a dinner we ate in Nagoya near the end of our trip. We set out from our hotel that evening hoping to find some good beef. The night was warm and the sidewalks busy with pedestrians. It didn’t take us long to wander past a place advertising exactly what we wanted—thin slices of marbled beef served raw with a hot plate to cook them on. We applauded our good fortune and hurried inside.

Twice Dead

The restaurant was near the top of a narrow high-rise. Once inside, we found the entire place was partitioned into private rooms with windows overlooking the city. Waiters and waitresses in traditional dress darted down the narrow halls to deliver covered dishes to the rooms. Each room had wood paneled walls and a phone for guests to call in their orders.

The food we’d seen go by smelled delicious. The rooms were cozy and comfortable, but as my husband and I opened our menus, we felt our stomachs sink.

We both speak and read some Japanese, and up until this point we hadn’t had any trouble ordering food. Most menus we’d encountered were written in a straightforward fashion with hiragana (phonetic characters) written above or below the more complicated kanji. This menu was more kanji than not, and unfortunately well beyond our reading level. After trying for a few minutes to muddle through, we called up the frond desk and explained the predicament.

When our waitress arrived, she was wonderfully sympathetic. We told her what we were looking for and she helped point out a few options and describe them. With her help we placed our orders for two different steak dishes, some fried potatoes, and a plate of salmon sashimi. When it arrived, the food was exactly what we had hoped for. The beef was tender and expertly seasoned, the sashimi wonderfully fresh and rich, and the potatoes crispy. And, all of it had the added seasoning of victory after overcoming our initial nerves about the language barrier.

Thanks, Caitlin. The best beef I’ve ever had was also in Japan when I was there for the Worldcon (and my wife and I also celebrated a wedding anniversary). I’ve since mostly given up eating meat, and I don’t mind. Nothing in the USA could ever come close to that steak in Yokohama.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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My 2018 Baltimore Book Festival Schedule

No Comments » Written on September 14th, 2018 by
Categories: News
Tags: , , ,
Baltimore Book Festival

I’ve had most of September to recover from the excesses of the 76th Worldcon, but the end of the month offers a weekend packed with two separate events

I’ve already posted my tentative schedule for Capclave, now it’s time to talk about what I’ll be doing before that at the Baltimore Book Festival.

The BBF is an incredible, free, three-day event that takes place along Baltimore’s scenic inner harbor. Panels, readings, book sellers, food and drink. What’s not to love?

Because I’m due down at Capclave on Saturday and Sunday, I’ll only be on programming at the festival on Friday, and even then only over a three-hour span. Here’s where you can find me:

Friday, September 28th
11:00 a.m. (SFWA Tent) What’s Your Writer Origin Story
Our panel of authors will tell you what led to their chosen career, and which books and stories inspired them along the way.
With Elektra Hammond, Kosoko Jackson, and Kenneth Rogers Jr.

12:00 p.m. (SFWA Tent) Autographing
Come by and I will sign all the things. If you forgot to bring something for me to sign, I’ll have my SF Trading card to give you and The Ivy Bookshop has promised to bring a few copies of The Moons of Barsk for that important impulse buy.

1:00 p.m. (SFWA Tent) Self-Pub, Traditional, and Hybrid, Oh My!
There are many roads to publication in this day and age. Find out which one is right for you, the positives and negatives of each, and the things our authors wish they had known.
With Jonathan P. Brazee, Vera Brook, Kenneth Rogers Jr., and Nancy Schrock.

That’s it for my programming, but all weekend long under the SFWA Tent, you’ll find lots of writers all talking about books. It should be glorious.

I’ll be swinging back by late Sunday afternoon on my way home from Capclave, and I’ll be hanging out in the SFWA tent (no surprise).

See you in Balitmore!

My Tentative Capclave 2018 Schedule

No Comments » Written on September 12th, 2018 by
Categories: News
Tags: , , , ,

It’s nearly time once again for one of my favorite small conventions, Capclave, where reading is not extinct.

This year it happens to fall on the same weekend as the awesome Baltimore Book Festival. I”ll be doing the Festival on Friday, and then continuing on to the convention. And on Sunday, after finishing at the convention I’ll pause on the way home for another stop at the festival. This will also be the first road trip in the new car, and joining me on the drive will be my co-author and friend, Jonathan Brazee.

This year’s ConChair has just sent out the schedules. Here’s mine, but keep in mind some of it may change.

Saturday, September 29th
1:00 p.m. | Lincoln | Reading
I’ve been paired with Steven H. Wilson for an hour of reading. I’ll start and hand off to him at 1:30pm. I have no idea what Steven will be reading, but I expect to read to you from a new work in progress.
with Steven H. Wilson

3:00 p.m. | Washington Theater | How to Remember EVERYTHING!
Mnemonics and You! Come hear me explain how memory works and how to enhance yours.

7:30 p.m. | Eisenhower/Jackson | Mass Signing
A double-sized room full of authors armed with pens. Also cake. What could possibly go wrong? Bring your books, we’re hungry to sign all the things. I’ll also have Barsk bookplates and trading cards.
with everyone!

Sunday, September 30th
10:00 a.m. | Eisenhower | Ask Me Anything – Author Edition
Ask the panel of authors absolutely anything about what they do – writing, getting published, elevator pitches, getting an agent, dealing with writers block, writers workshop etc. Includes many non-writer-parts-of-being-a-writer, such as being your own boss, setting schedules, and so on.
with Jonathan Brazee, J. L. Gribble (M), Suzanne Palmer, and Alyssa Wong

2:00 p.m. | Eisenhower | My Characters Have a Life of Their Own
What to do when you meant for character X to be the protagonist, but at some point in the draft character Y took over?
with Sarah Avery (M), Brenda W. Clough, Mark S. LaPorta, and Alan Smale

If you’ve never been to Capclave, you owe it to yourself to come and experience its glory. And if you have, you’ve probably already booked your hotel room and paid your registration. Either way, I look forward to seeing you there.

Eating Authors: T. J. Berry

No Comments » Written on September 10th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
TJ Berry

Words — in this instance culinary words — are losing their meaning. I refer to the cauliflower gnocchi that I am snacking on as I write this week’s installment. Let me be clear, I do not like cauliflower and tend to shy away from gnocchi because of the starch. And yet, this stuff tastes great, has reasonable calories, and is gluten free. What’s next, cocaine with fluoride?

Sorry. If I seem a little testy it’s probably because of the heat, but by the time you read this a massive cold front should have come through, dumped a lot of water on the eastern seaboard, and dropped the daytime temperatures here a good twenty degrees or so. All of which is as close as a segue as I’m going to get to the meal(s) described by T. J. Berry, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest.

One of the things I like best about TJ is the way her writing ignores marketing demands and fits into that sliver that some times looks to be science fiction and other times is probably fantasy. I like to call it science fantasy myself, and maybe I’m biased but I’m always happy to see other people doing it.

Her first novel, Space Unicorn Blues, is a great example of this. It came out a mere two months ago. If you missed your chance to include it as part of your summer reading, go ahead and add it to the list for autumn.

LMS: Welcome, T.J. So, what’s your most memorable meal?

TJB: My most memorable meal is actually a series of meals from a single long, snowy winter in Vermont. Our family lived on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Champlain with about 400 other people. In the summer, it was a beautiful tourist haven, with rustic country roads you could cycle along, a defunct quarry filled with Ordovician-era fossils, and quiet lake shores perfect for lazy reading days.

In the winter, however, the island’s climate grew cold and desolate. It snowed nearly every day and it wasn’t unusual for the wind chill to dip into double digits below zero. But in Vermont, people are used to long winters and one of their solutions (aside from down coats) is to lean into their community and gather in front of roaring wood fires as often as possible.

In our rural town, we assembled an international dinner club with three other couples. Each month, one couple chose a country and provided the hospitality as well as an appropriately-themed entree. The other three couples brought appetizers, a side dish, and dessert. It turns out that eight is the perfect dinner party number and there was never any shortage of conversation. We often stayed late into the night, solving all of the world’s problems as the pile of empty wine bottles grew.

Space Unicorn Blues

On Greek night, we ate stuffed grape leaves and I stacked dozens of buttery phyllo sheets into a crunchy baklava. But the real magic of that evening occurred when our observant friends noticed I had skipped the wine. They exuberantly declared I was pregnant before I could even make the announcement of our coming second child.

On Hungarian night, we had a creamy mushroom soup, studded with dill and warmed with sweet, smoky paprika. Our host invited us to see his newly-completed sugar shack—a large shed he’d built on the property to boil maple sap into syrup. When sugaring season arrived in a few months, we would spend countless hours in the steamy sugar shack, stoking the fire and stirring the vat of condensing sap.

On our turn, we hosted Indian night, offering an immense platter of butter chicken and basmati rice. Our neighbors brought along a stunning rose-flavored gulab jamun. One couple shyly admitted they had never eaten Indian food, so the rest of us explained the ingredients and set up tasting plates with tiny portions. There were plain chicken breasts at the ready, but our intrepid food explorers loved everything they tried.

Our final dinner was a hodgepodge of countries. Someone brought a comforting and satisfying pasta puttanesca from Italy and another chose an Argentinian chimichurri over steaks, while we brought along a pavlova (which some say is from New Zealand and others claim is from Australia). It was my first time making this crispy, cloud-like dessert, which is incredibly elegant, but is probably the simplest dessert I’ve ever made.

I can think of no better way to mark the passing of the frigid winter months than eating good food in the company of good friends. We’ve since left Vermont, but I still occasionally make a tureen of that warming Hungarian mushroom soup to remind us of cold winters past and dear friends far away.

Thanks, TJ, that sounds like a great diversion during a brutal winter. But… what did you do the other four weeks of each month?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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