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Posts by Lawrence:

Eating Authors: Kate Pickford

Written on November 23rd, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
AUTHOR

It was a wonderfully busy weekend spent reconnecting with members of the author community. On Saturday I had three panels and a reading at Philcon, and Sunday saw me recording a panel for the folks at Con-Tinual. Somewhere in there I also found time to attend a couple readings performed by friends. It did my heart good to hang with these peeps, even if only virtually.

The aftermath of the successful Kickstarter campaign for the EATING AUTHORS book is going well. By the time you read this I’ll have mailed out all the physical rewards that are due (saving one exception because I’m still waiting for an address) and about half of the virtual stretch goal rewards have also gone out. As for the book itself, it’s complete and currently being proofed for typos, now that the last meal has been added.

Believe it or not, that’s a segue into this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest because Kate Pickford provides the book’s one hundredth meal!

I believe I’ve mentioned her (both directly and indirectly) over the last couple of months because she was the editor, instigator, and driving force behind the charitable Hellcats anthology (two massive print volumes or one nearly endless ebook).

But here’s the thing: up until quite recently, you’ve never seen her name because she’s been writing under a pseudonym. Fortunately, I have Kate’s permission to blow the lid off that secret and reveal (for those that didn’t already know) that she is also JJ Pike, co-author of the fabulously successful Melt series of post-apocalyptic survival books. How successful? Well, as of this writing, Kate was finishing up her work on book #10.

Kate describes herself as a displaced Briton writing for an American audience. Not only is she returning to writing under her own name, but she’s back to writing science fiction. Maybe all those post-apocalyptic books and the current global pandemic started to blur and she needed to shift gears. Either way, it’s really nice to see the result.

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

KP: My wife, Ginger, and I have always written together. By 1998 our award-winning film career was going so well, I took a job on Wall Street. I know, a writer’s dream come true. In fact, the job was at a strange boutique hedge fund which hired people with “smarts” rather than “a proven track record.”

The CEO of this burgeoning hedge fund believed there was an arbitrage opportunity in hiring Liberal Arts Graduates who would otherwise be earning pennies in a publishing house or 501(c)3. He wasn’t wrong. When my mother heard what I was making she gasped then muttered (low enough that I had to strain, but loud enough to be heard), “Your father never made that much money…”

Yes, women’s lib, mother. I guess that swung right by you in the swinging sixties, along with Rock and Roll and the Hippies.

Hellcats

But, I digress.

My new boss, a self-made billionaire, offered “a 40-hour work week and the opportunity to do as you please in the balance of your time.”

Sounded like I’d be able to write, right?

Wrong.

Turns out being an overachiever who likes getting gold stars on her chart is “not good” for a career in the arts. To say nothing of the fact that my wife developed an “adult onset temporal lobe seizure disorder” which episodically robbed her of language.

The first attack left her prone outside the international terminal at JFK, with no pulse to speak of and an ambulance crew who were visibly panicking. She was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital in Queens. Word to the wise, never go there; the woman who was strapped to the bed-board next to her bled out and died while we were waiting for a doctor.

During my wife’s three-day stay at St. Mary the Immaculate, the billing department rang her bedside three times. The specialist didn’t appear until her final day in the hospital. Test, test, test. Life has now changed. This seizure disorder meant two things:

1) I needed the health insurance my “day job” paid and
2) Making films had to be temporarily halted. You can’t direct if you can’t talk. Actors are fussy that way.

But that’s another story for another day. The upshot was, I was making oodles of money which meant we could eat like kings.

And we did.

There was the seven-course truffle meal at Jean-Georges. (Meh. We’re peasants. Our palates weren’t sophisticated enough for this $300+ plate meal.)

Then there was steak so tender it cut like butter at Peter Luger’s.

We enjoyed romantic, candlelit dinners on the East River, with views of the Manhattan skyline from DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Trust me, it’s more romantic than it sounds.

There was authentic crispy Peking duck in Chinatown, slammed down on your table just as it has been in Beijing.

Little Italy offered up pasta like mama used to make. (Not my mother, you understand. She hated to cook. But someone’s mother.)

And the food carts that roamed the streets had some of the tastiest crepes, burritos, Philly sandwiches you’ve ever tasted. New York isn’t just a melting pot, it’s a yummy-scrummy pot of world cuisine.

Melt

But the capper for us was Nobu, the Peruvian-Japanese fusion cuisine which was the brainchild of Matsuhisa Nobu (funded by none other than Robert DeNiro).

Japanese cuisine had a special place in our hearts. Long before marriage equality, Ginger and I had LIVED IN SIN (add an evil cackle here so we’re clear on how much fun sin can be) in Japan. She’s an American, you see, and I am a Briton. I couldn’t live and work in her country and vice versa. We’d gone to the only place we could both land jobs. Five years in Japan had left us with a taste for sushi, ramen, and gyoza.

But there was another call on our loyalty. Although Ginger was episodically aphasic, she could remember (and write down) Japanese words. Kanji, which makes up part of written language in Japan, is comprized of pictures. These pictographs were stored in a different part of her brain. We were able to communicate, during her wordless spells, in Japanese pictures.

It was a kind of magic.

As was Nobu.

From the initial greeting IRASHAIMASE! to the perfectly presented actor-waiters and the dim hush of the bamboo-like interior, everything about Nobu was perfect.

We invariable treated ourselves to the Matsuhisa signature salad, with its perfect cuts of toro and the daikon-lime dressing, followed by rock shrimp tempura (both the ponzu and the creamy-spicy dressing, please), then our special order: umeshiso-maki, pickled plum puree wrapped in shiso leaves (a kind of Japanese mint), matched with tuna sushi, rice, and a seaweed wrap. It wasn’t on the menu, but it was an abiding favorite of mine, so we talked the maître’d into having a word with the chef.

Late one afternoon, we were sitting at our favorite corner table when a couple were seated two tables from us. The spacing in Nobu is very “Japanese,” so this romantic couple were close. Close enough that we would have been able to hear their conversation. If they had spoken to each other. Which they did not.

Mr. Smooth was on his BlackBerry, while Mizz High-as-a-kite stared at dish after dish while she slammed cocktails. Did I mention it was late afternoon?

I can’t tell you why, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a motion which caused me to turn my head RIGHT as Mizz High projectile vomited all over the table.

Title

Mr. Smooth didn’t even look up.

The maître’d rushed over and covered the reconstituted meal with several napkins, which didn’t stop her recycled cocktails from dripping off the edge of the table.

It was only then that Mr. Smooth looked up and barked, “Duuuuuuuuuuude! What the f**ck!”

Our lovely waiter moved us from our table to another that wasn’t downwind of the lovely couple, but the night was not over.

We were presented with langoustine (one of the most expensive plates on the menu; see earlier comment about our peasant palates) and the restaurant had filled up. A large group, probably businessmen entertaining clients, had taken a 10-person table behind our delightful couple. They studiously ignored the escalating argument Mr. Smooth was having with the maître’d.

Apropos of nothing, Mr. Smooth leapt from his chair, knocking it to the ground, and got up in the maître’d’s face. “I want what we ordered,” he shouted.

“Sir,” said the actor, “If you don’t pay for what you’ve eaten and leave I’m going to dial 911.”

If this had been a film, punches would have been thrown, chairs busted up, perhaps even windows broken. But no one moved a muscle. Instead, all ten of the brave businessmen who were sipping Japanese beer and popping $50 rolls of sushi kept their eyes on their table.

Mizz High was weeping gently into her napkin.

I approached her. Her date was still screaming and beating his chest. “Can I help you to the bathroom?” I asked.

She looked up at me, her eyes limpid pools of grief, and said, “I’m not drunk or anything.”

It was the “or anything” that confirmed what I already knew. The two of them had been snorting coke all afternoon and this meal was supposed to cap off a wild, indulgent day.

I suppose it did. Though, not in the way she’d expected.

Mr. Smooth collected her — grab to the arm, romantic as hell — and left Nobu with his tail between his legs.

We asked for a doggie bag and went home.

I don’t know if Mr. Smooth or Mizz High remember that night, but it’s one for the books as far as I’m concerned. And their bad manners and self-indulgence didn’t deter us from going to Nobu again and again. When you’ve found your favorite foods and, for the first time in your peasant life, you can afford to order without looking at the prices, you bet your ass you’re going back.

Thanks, Kate. I’ve experienced the traditional “dinner and a show” in Japan, where the chef dazzles the diners, but I’m surprised you didn’t have to pay extra for projectile vomiting. But as Pacino (as opposed to DeNiro) tells us, “nothing exceeds like excess.”

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Jeremy Fabiano

Written on November 17th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
Jeremy Fabiano

Come Saturday, I’ll be participating in the online version of Philcon, holding forth on a few panels and doing a reading. It will be odd not to be there in person, but such is the world we live in. I honestly don’t understand how we can be halfway through November already. I’m not complaining, mind you, I want to race through the rest of 2020 because surely crossing into 2021 will lift the curse that we’ve all been grappling with these many months and through some magic or sleight of hand everything will be better.

I was supposed to be at the 20Books conference last week, but like all of the year’s travel those plans fizzled. But it got me thinking about the many incredible authors I’ve met at that event over the last two years, which as it turns out includes this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Jeremy Fabiano. How’s that for a segue?

Jeremy’s an IT guy by day, but for the past few years he’s been producing fiction across multiple genres, everything from LitRPG to Space Opera, Fantasy to Post Apocalyptic (and even something he calls Medieval Post Apocalyptic).

Like a lot of indie authors, he has elaborate plans involving releasing dozens and dozens of new titles over the next few years. From my conversations with Jeremy, both at past 20Books conferences and more recently through email, I had little doubt that he’d make that happen. After reading his most memorable meal, I changed my opinion from ‘little doubt’ to ‘no doubt at all’. The man has drive and determination. I’m just going to stand back and watch him do his stuff.

LMS: Welcome, Jeremy. Since we didn’t get to meet up in Las Vegas this month and actually break bread, would you mind telling me the tale of your most memorable meal?

JF: Like most stories, this one starts on a dark and stormy night. No, seriously. Hear me out real quick. I lived in Edgewater, Colorado at the time. November 28th, 2008. It was nearly three in the morning. Snow fell in sheets, blowing sideways in the wind. The magnesium chloride the snowplows dumped over the road was keeping it from sticking. It was beautiful, really.

The smell of old hotdogs assailed my nostrils. They didn’t smell good to me anymore — I was used to them. The buzz of the hotdog machine filled my left ear, Five Finger Death Punch blared in my right. My co-worker tended to customers not five feet away. It was a slow night. The kind where you get your tasks done, pass off to the next shift. Then, go home, shower, sleep, and do it all over again.

It was a rough time in my life. I had rent to pay. And child support. And the gas station was the only place hiring that was near home. And it was a rough neighborhood. We all knew that. The store four blocks away had a bulletproof glass cage around their cashiers. Our store? Four grainy surveillance cameras because “we never had issues.”

Bishop's Gambit

That night, things changed.

I was shoulders-deep in the hotdog machine when, peripherally, I saw my coworker fall over. She was in her early twenties. Not fit, but not overly heavy. Definitely shouldn’t be laying on the cold tiles. She hit the ground hard, landing on her back. How she didn’t hit her head, I can’t remember.

I dropped everything. Spun around, and was about to reach a hand to her when I noticed the expression on her face. Fear. Utter shock. She was terrified. And she was looking past me. I heard a noise behind me and I began to turn.

Someone punched me in the gut. It felt like nothing more than a slap. My thoughts? What kind of pussy punches someone in the stomach? I look down and see a hand pulling a twelve-inch chef’s knife from my abdomen.

Time stops. Thousands of years of instinct flood through my mind at the speed of thought. It all coalesced into one thought: I have less than three minutes to live. See, my dad was a doctor. My mom’s a nurse. And I scored extremely well in my human anatomy classes. I knew the knife had passed through my lower vena cava. I also knew that the assailant had missed my aorta due to my vertical rotation when I spun toward him. That gave me time. Not much, but some. If I was going to die, he was coming with me. He would never hurt anyone again. Ever.

Still, in slow motion, I could feel shock set in. Adrenaline flooded through my body setting my veins on fire. I felt stronger than I’d ever felt at any point in my life. I could have crushed brick to powder in one hand. I’d never killed anyone before. Oh well, first time for everything.

My legs shut off. Literally. Apparently, you need back pressure in your veins to make your fast-twitch muscle fibers, also known as type II fibers, do their magical explosive movements. These muscle fibers let you do all sorts of great things. Vertical leaps. Forty-yard dash. Punch someone in the throat with enough force to collapse their trachea, ending their life. Yeah. None of that happened.

I dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

It felt like half of a second, but several moments later, I stood. My senses reset, and he was gone. The knife lay next to me, discarded. I walked past my co-worker. She was losing it.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, are you all right?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Not really.” I clutched my side to keep the blood in me. It provided minor backpressure. Enough for my legs to function. I called 911. My coworker was in shock. She was useless for the time being. The phone cut out halfway through reporting what happened. I walked to the back office, called 911 again, and got an ambulance on the way. The adrenaline surge wore off. My body temperature was dropping. Fast. I sank to the cold tile and lay on my side. I was done.

From being injured to the operating table was about nine minutes. The next three days are gone. Memories lost to the void. And I don’t want them back. They put a tube up my nose into my stomach. Five or so out of my stomach. And a catheter. And they intubated me. A million memories I’m happy not having. After two surgeries, both with less than twenty percent chance of survival, and nearly a quarter of a million dollars later, I woke up in the recovery room.

Legend of the Sword Bearer

Every fiber of my being. HURT.

My hair hurt.

My eyelashes hurt.

And I was HUNGRY.

No water.

No food.

Eight ounces of ice cubes per twenty-four hour period.

Hell.

For forty days I didn’t eat. Your stomach shuts down a ways before that. Around the twenty to twenty-fifth day, if I remember correctly. I developed a new ability during my stay. I could tell you precisely what patients on the floor had ordered. With only one nostril — I still had an NG tube in the other.

The head nurse didn’t believe me. We wagered on it. I was accurate three out of four times. From five rooms away. They were impressed. I still felt tortured, but not exactly hungry anymore. I craved food, but I didn’t need it, per se.

Day forty:

The head nurse walked in. “The doctor cleared you to try to eat today. Are you feeling up to it?”

“Do you even have to ask?” I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster.

She laughed. “I figured I would, just to make sure. We’re going to try something easy.” She had the dietary aide bring in a covered plate. I knew what was in it before it cleared the delivery cart. My mouth watered. I nearly choked on my own salivations.

The platter was placed in front of me and the lid removed. If you’ve ever had hospital food before, you know it’s bland. The least amount of seasoning possible to match the most number of diets possible. It’s generally not great. But it’s fuel. Right?

Pot roast. Mashed potatoes. Gravy.

I took my first bite. Sensations I thought lost to me erupted throughout my body as dopamine flooded my receptors. Heaven. The meat was a gift from on high. As if the heavens parted, and God himself put this meal here, crafted by the hands of angels and delivered unto me by the Creator Himself.

The Bloodwood Forest

It was bliss.

An hour later, I finished eating the delightful meal. My arms were heavy — I was still recovering. And eating exhausted me. It was worth it. There was a side-effect I hadn’t considered. My stomach had shut down some ten-ish days prior. Now with food in it… well… let’s just say I know why a baby cries when it gets solid food for the first time. The cramps of your stomach rebooting are uncomfortable. Excruciatingly so. And the bowel movement afterward? I also understand why baby diapers smell so horrid…

A couple of weeks later, I was released from the hospital. I was septic. I couldn’t work. Bills were due. I’d spent Christmas in the hospital. And new years. My first wife had brought my son to see me. It was time to go…

Now, I did the only thing I could do. At twenty-nine years old, I moved back to my parent’s house in California.

A lot has happened since then. A few relationships. Got married. Getting divorced soon — we’ve been separated for a while, but we’re friends again — bonus. My son (previous marriage) moved in with me a few years ago — finally got custody.

I had started my first book three weeks before I got stabbed.

Two years ago, I published my NEW first book. The original book is still collecting dust. But a new series will be pulling all the info from it and finally putting to use.

I have to be careful about what I eat. There was a ton of internal damage. But I’m surviving. It isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Thanks, Jeremy. Also, whoa! And yet, reading your account, I remember my favorite meal during my weeks in hospital earlier this year. It was actually a hot dog (with cheese). I feel like you and I have come full circle.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Kaaron Warren

Written on November 9th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
Kaaron Warren

Here in the USA most of the past week has been incredibly stressful. I’m not usually that interested in political matters, especially this year when my focus has been on my own health issues. Lateky I’ve been grappling with an increase in fatigue and insomnia, resulting in waking up every couple of hours when I do manage to fall asleep. Since last Tuesday, during those wakeful periods, I found myself turning on CNN to get updates on the election returns. I couldn’t do a damn thing about them, but I had to keep watching. I was tied up in knots.

I don’t know what lies ahead. I hope for good things. The election revealed two critical points (at least as I see it). 1) more Americans voted than ever before, suggesting more are participating in the democratic process, which has to be a good thing. 2) roughly half of them voted differently than I did, and the challenge going forward will be how to lessen the polarization that afflicts the nation.

I wish I had some answers. I wish I knew how to increase tolerance. I wish we could all agree on what constituted common sense rather than giving such things a political spin. But I’m not all that hopeful because people — and I’m talking about all people, regardless of political persuasion — tend to suck. Because I don’t have children but do have an incurable disease, I’m less invested than most when it comes to the future, though even so, my own ego isn’t quite so vast that I want to quote Louis XV, no matter how tempting Après moi, le déluge may seem. I have friends and readers and colleagues, and I want to continue to bask in their company (virtual or otherwise) for the remainder of my time.

Which is about as much of a segue as I can manage today to introduce Kaaron Warren, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, whom I met last month when we both appeared on a panel at a virtual convention. Say what you will about the pandemic, the rise of online cons has allowed me to ‘meet’ other writers that I’d otherwise be unlikely to encounter.

Kaaron lives in Australia where she is well known as an author of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Her novels and shorter works have been finalists and winners of a vast number and range of awards, possibly more than any other author I can think of. It’s truly staggering. And, she was a delight to share a panel with. I can only hope our paths — virtual or otherwise — cross again soon.

LMS: Welcome Kaaron. If you would, tell me about your most memorable meal.

KW: There are a hundred meals I could have chosen. The one in the secret French restaurant. The all-afternoon meals that used to happen when you worked in advertising. That time I recreated my paternal mother’s recipe for kefke and the look on his face as he became a five-year old again, just for a minute.

But I’m going to talk about a meal that was so memorable my son, who is now 22 but was 8 at the time said to me the other day, “Remember when…”

Slights

We were living in Suva, Fiji, on a three-year diplomatic post. Much of this time was wonderful, and very different from our lives back home in Canberra, Australia. There were odd little shops to explore, like the hardware store that used to be a theatre. There were events to go to every night just about. Embassies and High Commissions celebrating a National Day of some kind, showcasing their nation’s food. At one event, they passed around a massive platter piled with chunks of parmesan cheese… I can still summon up that perfection in my mind’s eye (mind’s stomach? Tastebuds?). These were often lavish affairs.

None of these are the one my son remembers.

It was good to get out of Suva every now and then, travelling to other parts of Viti Levu, or visiting the smaller islands, reachable by boat or ferry. Once, we went inland, to stay at the village of a friend of a friend. This was an amazing few days. We were welcomed and cared for, although our host (who was supposed to be our guide) got sick almost as soon as we arrived, leaving us floundering to understand some of the protocols. I still feel bad about our first meal there. We ate on the floor of the village hall, on a long, colourful piece of material, all lined up on either side. We lingered over the meal, because that’s usual for us, and polite, until I realised there was a second shift of people waiting to finish so they could take our spots and eat. Once I realised, we moved out quickly, but these differences are the things I tried to be more aware of.

That wasn’t the most memorable meal, though.

Into Bones Like Oil

As part of our visit we (my husband, kids, cousin and his kids) were taken on canoes on a ride down the river. This was incredible in many ways; the greenery on either side was lush, dark green, dense, and the flowers we saw were huge, bright and so vivid I thought they might be able to swim over and join us in the canoes. The Chief travelled with us and honoured us with story after story of the village and the river. All this was wonderful.

But.

The journey went for a very long time. I would say maybe three hours, although we had no watches or phones with us. And as it went on we got wetter, and colder. There were no dry clothes, no blanket. My daughter was shivering so much she nearly shook out of her skin; I tried to hug her close to give her body warmth but that didn’t help much. We didn’t like to ask when we’d ‘get there’ because we didn’t want them to think we didn’t appreciate the journey. But we were hungry, so hungry as well.

Then there were shouts of greeting, and the canoes pulled onto shore. There on the beach were the villagers. They had a fire going!

As we’d travelled, the young men had dived into the water to catch fish, entertaining us greatly. Now, they gutted those fish before throwing them into the coals for a few minutes. We were given steaming mugs of black, sweet tea. The sand was wet but so were we so we sat down as we were handed banana leaves, then that fish, white and flaky. They squeezed fresh lime juice over it and some salt and then…

That fish remains the most delicious food I’ve eaten in my life. The care of preparation, the freshness, the delight they took in our enjoyment, all of these things are what I remember.

Thanks, Kaaron. Having spent a few years as a pescaterian, your description of the coal-fired fish served up on banana leaves with salt and lime had me salivating. Summon the canoes!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Jeanne Adams

Written on November 2nd, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
Jeanne Adams

A few weeks back I was on a (virtual) panel at Capclave. The topic was “authorial friendships” and both panelists and audience members had a delightful time. Mind you, I can say the same thing about all the programming I experienced that weekend, and regular readers here won’t be surprised because I have waxed with lyrical praise for Capclave for many years.

But I mention this particular event because one of my co-panelists was someone I’d never met before, and we had such a fine time together that midway through the panel I reached out in a separate chat box (the digital equivalent of passing her a note) and invited her to show up here at EATING AUTHORS and talk about her most memorable meal.

In case you haven’t figured this out yet, that author was none other than Jeanne Adams, aka this week’s guest. She’s been writing for the past ten years, series of books in science fiction, fantasy, as well as magical mysteries that blur the line. You can expect to find a themes of romantic suspense in her fiction as well. A critical element that runs through all her work is a simple rule: in the end, love always wins.

Jeanne lives in Washington, D.C. where when not writing she enjoys books and films that are ripe with explosions. Presumably these two data points are not related to one another.

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

JA: My father served in World War II in the medical corps of Patton’s Army. As many of you may know, prior to D-Day, the US moved troops steadily and stealthily into England. Rather than build barracks, however, which would expose the troop build-up to German spies, soldiers were billeted with families all over England. The subterfuge disguising the sheer number of US troops actually worked.

It also spurred some amazing, life-long friendships.

The Slip Traveler's Fate

That Thanksgiving, twenty years ago, we were gathered ’round the table at my sister’s house. My 81-year-old father was still alive, and hearty (and newly remarried, but that’s another story!). We had a guest as well. Dr. Kenneth Russell was my father’s friend from Leicestershire, UK. He’d grown up there, and my father had billeted with Ken and his family for several months prior to D-Day. Ken was just enough younger than my dad that he couldn’t yet serve. Daddy, a young man from rural South Carolina, wide-eyed and worried to find himself living among strangers in a strange land, instead found a haven with the Russell family.

That Thanksgiving, my brothers, sister and I heard stories we had never, ever heard. We learned that Ken’s mother would write long chatty letters to my grandmother. The soldiers couldn’t write home lest they give away where they were. Mrs. Russell would write and say, “Concerning a young gentleman of our mutual acquaintance, you needn’t worry. He is well and eats heartily.” I also hadn’t known, until this conversation, that rationing meant many went hungry in England during the war. However, those with billeted soldiers got extra rations. Ken told us that his mother managed to stretch those rations to improve the whole family’s diet. He said they were forever grateful for that.

Welcome to Outcast Station

Ken and my father reminisced about black-out curtains and bombing runs as the rest of us listened in rapt attention. My father was always reticent about the war years, but that day Daddy and Ken talked of my dad’s stand as a conscientious objector, and how hard it was to be a non-drinker and nonsmoker in the Army. Ken spoke of the little town of Brierly Hill where they’d lived, and both men were grateful it didn’t take much damage during the war. Daddy then talked about how the soldiers had barely celebrated Thanksgiving in the field. (He’d been in Belgium, freezing his butt off.) That led Ken to wax rhapsodic about this most American holiday, Thanksgiving.

“What a concept,” he said. “A holiday devoted solely to eating. To gratitude.” He was so enamored of it, from that year on he joined us for Thanksgiving. Every year, he and Daddy would talk a bit more about their experiences during the war. What little I know about my Father’s service, I know from these dinners.

When my father died, Ken was one of the first people we called. He wept on the phone with me, and told me he’d never had a better friend. The next Thanksgiving, he brought his whole family to join us for the holiday. He told us other stories of those long ago days, and those stories were made even more precious because of my father’s absence.

While we won’t be able to get together this year, and Ken, now in his 90s, doesn’t travel, I know I’ll get a call or an email on Thanksgiving wishing us well. Ken will also, most likely, wax rhapsodic about how fabulous it is to devote a holiday just to eating.

Thanks, Jeanne. I can’t think of a better start for November than to create a sense of appreciation for the relationships in our lives. Here’s hoping it carries us through to the holidays and beyond.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Ella J. Smyth

Written on October 26th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
Ella J. Smyth

It’s been a busy week since I was here last, much of it spent on the EATING AUTHORS Kickstarter which is almost ended. I admit, I’m feeling very pleased with the success of this, my first campaign. And I’m extremely chuffed that the book will soon be generating income for two important charities.

Speaking of charities, the Hellcats anthology that launched back on September 1st has been promoting a different contributor every day since, and with 70 authors they’re still not done (my day was back on October 1st). I’ve been doing my part to help by featuring some of those same authors here at EATING AUTHORS, and today I’m happy to present yet another hellcat, Ella J. Smyth.

Ella writes urban fantasy romance, full of adventure and excitement and no shortage of steam. Her character often endure a lot, but as with any good love story it all ends happily. If that sounds like the kind of thing you want to read, then you’ll probably appreciate the motto that drives her fiction: “unapologetic romances because love needs no excuses.”

Her latest work is Second Chance Fate, which will be released later this week on October 30th. It’s the first book of a new a Reverse Harem Academy series entitled Second Chance Academy.

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

EJS: I grew up in Southern Bavaria, Germany, and as far back as I can remember, my father took the whole family on vacation to Italy every summer.

One year, we found a campsite in Umbria in central Italy, above the tiny village Colle di Nocera Umbra. We loved it so much, we returned year after year until my father died eight years later. No-one there spoke German, so we learnt Italian quickly. By the time I was twelve, I was fluent.

Rural Italy is full of summer traditions — one of which are celebrations that involve the entire village. In Colle, the event was the Tripe Festival, or Sagra della Trippa. We’d seen the posters but had no clue what it entailed.

Second Chance Fate

When I was seventeen, a friend from the village knocked on our caravan door and said, “Come on, there’s a big party happening tonight. You must help.” We walked through the vineyards until we arrived at Colle where we were greeted by a group of excited old ladies. Full of smiles, they ordered my mom and me to sit down and get busy rolling gnocchi. My dad was dragged off by the local priest for a cigar and a grappa.

For hours, we rolled lumps of spiced mashed potato mixed with flour over the back of a fork to create the typical gnocchi-shape. The women would sometimes break into song, and we were offered wine mixed with water as refreshment.

As I sat there, doing the repetitive action, my mind was free to soar. The August sun in central Italy is pitiless, but we were in the shade, surrounded by joy and anticipation of the festivities to come. Crickets chirped, and a gust of wind stirred up puffs of yellow dust in the main road. The dirt had the same color as the medieval church and the brown-shuttered houses that huddled around the plaza.

By the time we were done, we had produced huge piles of perfect little doughy balls, ready to be dumped into boiling water. In the meantime, the village men had erected a stage and decorated the street with bunting and church flags.

When the sun set, the sagra began. There were bowls of steaming tomato sauce, heavy with garlic and herbs. Volunteers handed out cups of local red wine. A band took to the stage, and under a warm Mediterranean moon, I learnt to dance from a man sixty years older than me. The accordion dueled with the clarinet, sometimes reminiscent of Eastern European polkas and mazurkas, other times closer to Viennese waltzes.

Spirit Hunger

By the time we sat down at long communal tables, it was nearly midnight, and I was starving. My friend Maurizio put a bowl of food in front of me. “Mangia, mangia,” he said.

I heaped a chunk of meat, smothered in tomato sauce, onto my fork and ladled it into my mouth. It was delicious. Spicy, aromatic, garlicky—the only thing different was the texture of the meat. Rather than fibrous, it was chewy. Very chewy. The taste was unfamiliar.

Ch’è questo?” I asked. What is this? I was uncomfortably aware that everybody had stopped eating within earshot.

Maurizio grinned. “Trippa.”

Smartass. “Lo so. Ma che cosa è trippa?” Now I really wanted to know.

They tried to explain, pointing at their stomachs, but I didn’t get it. Maybe my Italian wasn’t as good as I’d thought. In the meantime, my mom was leafing through her pocket dictionary. Her eyes grew wide. “Found it. It’s tripe.”

I was seventeen years old, way before the internet was invented. I had no clue what tripe was.

“It’s the inner lining of a cow’s stomach.”

I thought I deserved a medal for not spitting the food all over the table. My face must have looked horrified because the villagers around the table burst out laughing. One woman gave me another glass of wine, and Maurizio slapped my shoulder.

Spirit Elfen

“You liked it before you knew what it was, no?” he said in Italian.

I nodded. Under the expectant gazes of the men and women next to me, I took another bite and finished my bowl of food. It was delicious once I’d gotten over my initial revulsion. I even used some bruschetta to wipe up the last dregs of tomato sauce.

Signora Teresa two seats to my left nodded. “Brava tedescha,” she said, which translated to “Good German girl.” She proceeded to tell me how poor the region used to be. How she’d grown up on one meal a day, sometimes only a meal every second day. How meat had been a privilege for the rich, and that the farmers had counted themselves lucky if they had a pig to slaughter once a year.

My father died not long after, and the village Colle di Nocera Umbra was largely destroyed in the earthquake of 1997. I’ve never been back, but I still remember this meal. The camaraderie of preparing food for the whole village. The fun dancing through the night, lifted by the wails of the clarinet. The acceptance and hospitality of people who even back in the 80s had precious little to share, but did so anyway. Non li dimenticherò. I won’t forget them.

Thanks, Ella. You’re made of sterner stuff than I am. I don’t like putting something else’s stomach in my stomach. Likewise, I don’t tend to eat cow tongue. There’s just something weird about tasting meat that is tasting you back.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

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Eating Authors: Alex Shvartsman

Written on October 19th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
Alex Shvartsman

I spent the weekend virtually attending a convention, giving a reading, answering questions at a Kaffeeklatsch, and holding forth on panels at Capclave. In other years, this is my favorite regional con, and only in small part to the opportunity to stop at a Waffle House on the way there. I also typically put together a dinner party one night at La Canela, an incredible Peruvian restaurant a short drive from the convention hotel. Alas, an online event meant I was foraging for my meals at home rather than the usual haunts, but even so I had a fine time at Capclave, checking in with fans and friends and colleagues whom I have not seen for a year or more, which is often how things go at the in-person version of the convention.

It’s only fitting then that this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest is Alex Shvartsman, who has not only joined me for Peruvian cuisine in the course of the convention, but has on several occasions been my roommate. I am here to tell you that Alex is a terrible person to share a room with. After a long night of schmoozing and socializing and party-hopping at the convention, every time I have shared a hotel room with Alex we have wound up talking for hours — literally, hours — despite our best intention to get some sleep and regardless of how exhausted we were from the day’s events. Good times.

Nowadays, Alex is well known as the editor and publisher of the Unidentified Funny Objects series of anthologies. In recent years he’s also applied his editorial skills to running the online magazine Future Science Fiction Digest which (full disclosure) published my own work in their #1 issue. That would surely be enough bonafides for anyone, but there’s more. Back in the day Alex was a professional Magic: The Gathering player, and at one time held the record for the most top eights on the Grand Prix (21!).

He also owns and operates Kings Games, an internet cafe and gaming store in Brooklyn, NY, is renowned for his expertise in crafting Kickstarter campaigns, frequently works as a translator, and despite all of that somehow also finds time to write fiction of his own. His short stories have graced the usual range of magazines and markets, and last year he self-published the novel Eridani’s Crown.

This tine of year, before making the drive down to Capclave, Alex would usually stop and pick up a nice assortment of fine New York bagels to share with friends at the convention. Alas, that treat has been another victim of the current pandemic.

LMS: Welcome, Alex. I’ve been waiting a long time to have you tell me the tale of your most memorable meal. What is it?

AS: I used to travel extensively when I was younger, having visited over thirty countries and every inhabited continent. I’ve dined on fresh vegetables grown on site at an Israeli kibbutz, and exotic fruits from the Amazon River basin; chicken satay at the Kuala Lumpur night market in Malaysia and springbok steak in South Africa. In those travels I’d learned the golden rule of gastronomic tourism: get away from the tourist traps and ask the locals to direct you to their favorite eating establishments. But it wasn’t this plethora of fancy dishes that is evoked when thinking of my most memorable meal; it was a humble burger with fries from McDonald’s.

Before you foodies boo me off this virtual stage and pelt me with rotten chicken nuggets, hear me out, for I’m with you. As a resident of Brooklyn I’m surrounded by amazing food and could dine in (or order out in these pandemic days) at a different great restaurant every day for a year without ever running out of quality options. The only times I recall eating at McD’s in the past two decades were in Japan, where fast food actually looks like what’s displayed on the menu photos. But this meal predates that by another decade, and there’s a story to it besides.

Eridani's Crown

The year was 1990, and I was a fourteen-year-old kid growing up in the port city of Odessa, USSR. The past few years had been an amazing time. I watched as the newfangled policies of perestroika and glasnost literally transformed Soviet society. It was suddenly possible to say controversial things without the risk of being questioned or arrested by the KGB. It was permissible to attend a church or a synagogue. It was okay to open a business—or, as it was phrased back then, “join a cooperative.” My father, an engineer who earned a meager salary until then, had done so and we were suddenly on the upward financial trajectory from lower middle class well into its center. We could afford a VCR and were even dreaming about possibly buying a car (but really, that was upper middle class talk!)

The most important change for me personally was the sudden influx of books. With new independent small presses flourishing, there were suddenly far more than a handful of science fiction translations published each year, and I gorged on Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton.

While I largely experienced the positive aspects of the changes, my parents were far more concerned. The Soviet Union began breaking apart. Several Baltic states had already seceded, and many other republics and even smaller regions were also planning to. There was plenty of separatist talk even in the Russian-speaking Odessa, let alone other parts of Ukraine. As ever, the rising nationalism stirred up the racist and Anti-Semitic elements of society. There was much speculation of various civil wars brewing across the vast territory once under the firm grasp of Russian communists. Popular wisdom was that the country would be engulfed in war or multiple smaller wars in the next five years.

Worse yet, I was a few years away from becoming of age to enter military service. Draft was mandatory then for anyone who didn’t get into a university. Higher education institutions had strict and racist quotas, making it difficult for Jewish kids to enroll, even if their grades warranted it. So the odds were I would have to serve in the military, and possibly go to war.

We had distant relatives in America, but even a few years prior, it was impossible to legally move from the USSR to the United States. A complex process had to be followed by anyone who desired to do so.

Unidentified Funny Objects

A Jewish person could apply to immigrate to Israel—it was difficult but not outright impossible to receive government permission for this. At the time the USSR did not have diplomatic relationships with Israel, so anyone leaving the country for Israel would travel to neutral Austria first. In Austria, one would request political asylum and refugee status at the American embassy and then travel by train to Italy where they awaited the American government’s decision. People lived in Italy for many months, and sometimes over a year, as stateless refugees. Ultimately though, most gained access to the preferred promised land of their choice.

My mother was the driving force behind our family’s efforts to emigrate. My father reluctantly agreed, only because of looming potential danger they perceived for me in the coming years. We were prepared to follow the complicated path described above when the game changed and it was suddenly possible to apply for refugee status at the American embassy in Moscow. No more months spent in uncertainty, but instead the potential to board the plane at Sheremetyevo Airport for a direct flight to New York!

And so, our family booked an appointment at the embassy and boarded an overnight train to Moscow.

Prior to and during this trip my mother drilled us on how and what to say to our interviewer. This person literally held our future in their hands; they would decide whether we experienced sufficient hardship and qualified for refugee status, so there could be no mistakes.

I never understood the need for this preparation. The idea of being a persecuted minority was not hypothetical to us. In first grade I had my nose broken by a bully for the crime of being Jewish. My father’s colleagues in Western Ukraine, where he frequently traveled for work, had unironically said to him on numerous occasions, “You’re one of the good ones. When the pogroms start, we’ll hide you.” The way I saw it, all we had to do during this interview was tell the truth.

The interview itself was anti-climactic. It lasted less than ten minutes and we were asked a few standard questions by a bored clerk who must’ve had asked them, and heard the same or very similar answers, many times each day. To be honest, I don’t remember that much about it, but I remember what happened afterward.

Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma

We went to McDonald’s.

At the time, this was the first and only McDonald’s in all of the Soviet Union. It opened its doors in January of that year, and people—Muscovites and visitors alike—lined up to sample exotic American food.

Soviet citizens were not exposed to a wide range of international cuisines. Although I grew up in a multicultural port city, by the time we left the USSR I had never tried Chinese food, not eaten a bowl of cereal. Bananas were imported by ship once or twice a year and everyone had queued up and bought green bananas, then enjoyed them as they ripened and really made them last for the next few weeks; it was a big deal. The concept of pizza was very new, and what enterprising restaurateurs served would likely never be mistaken for pizza elsewhere.

No one we knew had ever tried burgers.

The concept of meat patties was, of course, familiar. Cutlets of all kinds are a staple of Russian cuisine. But an actual burger, prepared and served the way you think of it, that was altogether new.

Even after several months, the interest hadn’t died down. We spent upward of an hour in line before we could get inside the McDonald’s. What few tables the place had were occupied—we got the food to go, which was also a rather novel concept for prepared food in Russia (at least to my teenage self!). We bought various burgers and fries, and we bought ketchup packets—the sauce wasn’t free the way it is in American restaurants. Like most things, ketchup was difficult to get in stores and most customers purchased extras to use at home.

We returned to the apartment we were staying at and unwrapped the food. I remember the meal vividly. The rich, unfamiliar flavor of Big Mac sauce. The texture of French Fries—so unlike the commonplace potatoes fried on a skillet. I remember it not because it was necessarily better than other meals, but because of how different it was from anything I was used to. It was the glimpse at the wide range of possibilities that were about to open up to me. It was my first taste of America.

Thanks, Alex. There’s something both disturbing and perfect about a Big Mac as a metaphor for America. Special sauce indeed.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

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Eating Authors: Robert J. Sawyer

Written on October 12th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
Robert J. Sawyer

October has not exactly been kind to me thus far. First I gavorched my back, and just as that was healing I somehow managed to wrench my left arm. I can only assume that I have a dissociative disorder and late at night when I should be sleeping I enter into a fugue state and put in a shift on the docks as a longshoreman. This might also explain why I’m always tired. Though I suppose the extra money is nice…

The big news is that the EATING AUTHORS Kickstarter is doing quite well. We hit the initial funding before the end of the third day, guaranteeing there will be an ebook. We’ve unlocked the first two Stretch Goals and are closing in on the third, and there’s more than two weeks left so I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll reach the fourth goal, which will mean a trade paperback of the book.

I’m going to call that a segue, because one of the last meals that’s going in to the book is the one you’re about to read from none other than Robert J. Sawyer, whom some have called the hardest working SF author in Canada. That may be so, but I prefer to just call him my friend.

Rob hasn’t just won the Hugo and the Nebula, he’s taken home the Seium, the Prix Aurora, the Campbell, the Smith, and the Heinlein awards too, as well as others too numerous to mention here. His fiction has been adapted for television. He’s taught science fiction writing at several universities and colleges, taken on the post of writer-in-residence multiple times, and done frequent television commentary and public speaking. He has received two honorary doctorates and served time as the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Oh, and there’s the small matter of his having been awarded both the Order of Canada (the highest honor given in the country) and the Order of Ontario (the highest honor given by his province). And he’s the only other author I know who owns a replica Neanderthal skull.

Rob is also generous with his time, always supportive of newer authors, and writes one heck of a blurb. It’s inconceivable to me that you might not have read his fiction, but if that’s the case I’m confident that reading his most memorable meal will inspire you to click a link and correct that oversight.

I confess, I’ve been waxing a bit nostalgic writing up this introduction. One of the last conventions I appeared at had me sitting next to Rob on a panel. It was a glorious time, and a room full of people heard him repeatedly threaten to kill me, but that’s another story…

LMS: Welcome, Rob. You’ve been a difficult man to wrangle for a meal, but my dogged persistence has paid off. Please tell me about the dinner that stands out in your memory.

RJS: Twenty years ago, in the summer of 2000, my twelfth novel, Calculating God, had just come out. The publisher was Tor, headquartered in New York, but they contracted out their Canadian distribution to a wonderful firm called H.B. Fenn and Company, based just north of Toronto, where I live. The fine folk at Fenn very much took me under their wing: as distributor of foreign-published books, they rarely had a local author to work with, and I became part of their family.

And when family calls and asks a favor, you say yes. So when Heidi Winter, my publicist there, called to say she had an author coming in from out of town who had nothing to do the evening before his public event, and she hoped I wouldn’t mind taking him out to dinner, I agreed at once. She hastened to add that, of course, I should send the bill to Fenn for reimbursement.

The Oppenheimer Alternative

No problem, I said. Happy to help. And who might the author be?

Heidi and I were talking on the phone, but I can just picture the grin she must’ve had on her face when she told me: Buzz Aldrin.

We didn’t say OMG back then; we said all three words and we sometimes threw a fourth that started with F in there for emphasis. I can’t remember for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s precisely what my response had been.

The man born Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., was the second human being to walk on the moon, and, as Heidi told me, he’d collaborated on a new Tor novel with my pal John Barnes: The Return, about the future of human spaceflight, particularly space tourism, a topic, as I learned over that dinner, that Buzz was very much an advocate of.

Although John had done the lion’s share of the actual writing, Buzz was the one Tor sent on tour — and not only was I to wine and dine him on his first night in town, but the next night I myself was to be the on-stage interviewer for his appearance at the Indigo bookstore in Toronto’s Eaton Centre.

Hominids

Toronto is a vastly multicultural city — there really is no cuisine you can’t get here — and, despite my own pedestrian taste in food, I would have been more than content to take Buzz anywhere he might have wished to go. But even a space travelers gets jet-lag, apparently: he said he just wanted to eat in the hotel restaurant, and so Carolyn and I had an amazing two-and-a-half-hour dinner with him at Accents, the steakhouse at the Sutton Place Hotel, sadly now defunct.

Buzz is a real raconteur, and he regaled us with stories. But he’s also a real salesperson, and spent a lot of time on his pitch for a modular space-vehicle design geared to bring average citizens into orbit. At seventy years old, the guy had more energy than I, just forty then, had.

I asked him if the rumor was true that he’d performed Holy Communion at Tranquility Base, and he, a devout Roman Catholic, said absolutely yes.

Although Buzz noted that he loved visiting Canada, he was pissed that he couldn’t use the airport lounge he’d wanted to. He thought all airport lounges everywhere should welcome astronauts, but the airlines had apparently balked, saying there were too many astronauts now. Buzz had an answer, though: fine, he said, limit it to real astronauts: those who had undergone TLI. A lifelong space buff, I knew that this was trans-lunar injection — leaving Earth’s orbit and blasting off to our neighboring world. Apparently, though, Buzz said, John Glenn, who had spent more time in space than Buzz had, but only had made it to low Earth orbit, rejected this distinction.

Calculating God

When I said John Barnes and I are pals, Buzz pulled out his flip cell and called up John, saying to him, by way of hello, “I’m having dinner with an illegal alien” – a little reference to my then-recent novel Illegal Alien. John and I chatted for a bit — always a pleasure — but I’m sure I rushed him off the phone, eager to get back to Buzz. Even so, Buzz’s phone, well, buzzed a fair bit during dinner — there were negotiations going on about trying to place the movie rights to The Return. This was long before our current era of cheap international roaming, but I suspect such trifles didn’t occur to a man who’d taken a call from the White House while on the surface of another world.

The bill for the three of us came to Cdn$221.59, including tip. I sent the receipt to H.B. Fenn, but, really, I’d have gladly paid for this opportunity. A writer hopes for a certain immortality — that his or her books will live on — but Buzz has real immortality. At Tranquility Base, on the lower stage of the Lunar Module, is a plaque that says, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon,” along with his John Hancock. I didn’t ask Buzz for an autograph that night, but whenever I look up and see the Mare Tranquillitatis, I know his signature is there and always will be. That knowledge, and my memories of that wonderful dinner, are all I need.

Thanks, Rob. One of the perks of our business is the occasional opportunity to meet and chat with people who have gone into space. I’ve met three astronauts, and even dined with one myself — and I count myself incredibly fortunate for that meal. But dinner with Buzz? I’m just agog. Seriously.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

author photo by Carolyn Clink

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Mary Fan

Written on October 5th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
Mary Fan

For the past several days a lot of my focus has been on my first ever Kickstarter campaign, an attempt to raise funds to allow the publication of an an EATING AUTHORS book, a selection of 100 meals from the ten years I have been running this weekly blog feature. The project launched last Wednesday, and hit its basic funding level in less than three days, which ensures that there will be an ebook at the very least and that all backers will also receive a *bonus* ebook of short stories by some of the authors who are featured in the main book.

That leaves several weeks to keep raising funds that in turn will open up additional stretch goals of free novelettes, novellas, and novels for all backers, as well as firming up the likelihood for trade paperback and even hardcover versions of the book. Best of all, once the campaign ends and the book becomes available for purchase (regardless of the format), 100% all profits from sales will be donated: half to Cancer Research and half to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund.

Here’a link so you can check it out: kickstarter.com/projects/schoen/eating-authors. Oh, and did I mention there are some incredibly cool rewards you can lock in, like one-on-one Zoom chats, online Kaffeeklatsches with assorted authors, autographed books, and more? Many of these are available in limited quantities and going fast so don’t delay!

And speaking of delays, I’ve been holding on to this week’s guest’s meal for a while now, because I wanted to focus on the recent string of authors I’ve featured who are contributing to the Hellcats anthology. But Mary Fran has waited long enough, particularly when you consider that I invited her back around the time that Pangaea: Book III: Redemption came out (we both have stories in it).

Mary currently resides in New Jersey, but she got there by way of North Carolina, Hong Kong, and Beijing. She has a B.A. in Music from Princeton and a day job in financial marketing. In addition to her own fiction, she’s co-edited the excellent Brave New Girls series, five volumes of stories featuring heroines who fix robots, build super suits, hack interstellar corporations, mess with alien chemicals, and work on time machines. And in keeping with this week’s theme of charity projects, all revenues from this series are donated to a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineers, cause that’s just how Mary rolls.

LMS: Welcome, Mary. At long last I can ask you to talk about your most memorable meal.

MF: When I was 24, I took my kid sister, Angel, on a vacation to Universal Studios Orlando to celebrate her 17th birthday. This was back in 2012, when the Harry Potter attraction was still novel and before JK Rowling devastated countless fans with her offensive attitudes toward marginalized communities. I don’t recall exactly how I got it in my head that I was going to take the two of us on a parents-free sister trip — our first ever — but I remember I’d initially hoped to do so for Angel’s Sweet Sixteen.

A Girl Called Firedragon

However, graduating college on the heels of a recession meant that jobs were scarce, and I was desperate enough to take one all the way in Beijing, a city where I knew nobody. Having grown up Chinese American, I felt as much a foreigner as if I’d just arrived from Mars. After over a year, I made it back to the US feeling adultier than I had any right to. I had actual money in my bank account—enough to pay for plane tickets and hotel rooms, not just a few bucks from working at the campus café. When I got back to my home country, I wanted to celebrate in the most American way possible: by going to a theme park in Florida. Angel’s 17th birthday was the perfect excuse to jet off to a tacky resort and blow all my savings.

Even though there’s a nearly eight-year age gap between us, we’ve always had a lot of fun together. I think it’s because I never outgrew the “kid stuff.” Stories of magic and adventure and daring quests. Stories like Harry Potter. It took me no effort at all to relate to a little kid’s whimsies when I was a teen, and just as little to relate to a teen when I hit my mid-twenties.

“What are you going on about, Mary?” you might be thinking at this point. “Wasn’t this supposed to be about a meal?”

I promise, I’m getting to that.

By this point in her life, Angel had developed a very adventurous palate and self-identified as a foodie. In fact, we briefly tried to start a lifestyle blog together, and her nickname was Foodie Fish (“Fish” was — and still is — my nickname for her… originally it was “Angelfish”). We’d spend hours watching Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain eat their way around the world on TV, fascinated and envious.

Starswept

When we arrived in Orlando, we were filled with exuberant, almost manic energy. We were staying at the park’s resort, which was full of themed restaurants and other fun ways to part you from your money. We’d chosen a long weekend known unofficially as “New Jersey week” at the Orlando theme parks. This was the week that the NJ teachers’ associations met, thereby giving the kids Thursday and Friday off from school — and families an opportune timeframe to go on vacation in November, after the summer rush and ahead of the holiday madness. Hurricane Sandy had also recently hit, and all of us Jerseyans in town were relieved to get away from that mess.

It was in this enthusiastic spirit that we entered the Central American-themed restaurant at the resort. I don’t remember what it was called or much of what it looked like. Only that it was dark with blue-tinted lighting. Because it was the off season, we were among the very, very few guests at the resort. In fact, when we entered the restaurant, there was only one other occupied table: a couple having an elegant meal.

When the menu arrived, we wanted to try everything on it. Especially since the offerings went beyond the usual tacos and burritos and resembled some of the amazing dishes that Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain got to eat on TV. Though Angel’s actual birthday had passed a month earlier, this was to be her celebration dinner. I was feeling rich and generous now that I had my first year’s income in my bank account, and I was more than ready to splurge. So I told Angel to order anything and everything she wanted. All she had to do was show the mildest interest in a dish, and I’d say, “Yeah, let’s get that too.”

Artificial Absolutes

Reader, we ordered enough food for 10 people. I don’t remember the exact number of appetizers and entrées, or even what they were — I recall there was a ceviche in there, which at the time was novel to us. But we amused the waiter with our unending list of orders.

When the food arrived, it took half the waitstaff to bring it. The food almost literally overflowed off the table. Everyone was laughing — including the elegant couple at the other table, who glanced briefly at our foods’ arrival, did a double take, and grinned widely. I don’t think anyone expected two small-ish Asian girls to order enough food to feed a large family.

Or to finish most of it.

And when the waiter said, “Are you ready for dessert?” with a joking tone, clearly expecting us to say we were full, we instead said, “Yeah!” and proceeded to order two. I think his eyes were about two millimeters from popping out of his head.

I don’t know if that was the best meal I’ve ever had, but it was certainly the happiest.

Thanks, Mary. It sounds like a memory as much of joy as it is of food. Which is to say, perfect!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro