Eating Authors: Madeline Ashby

No Comments » Written on November 6th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Madeline Ashby

In just over a week I’ll be heading to Toronto, Canada, to give a reading at the famed Merril Collection and do a stint as the GoH at SFContario. So, naturally, this has had me thinking about SF authors who make their home in Toronto, many of whom have appeared here in EATING AUTHORS, and some who haven’t. This seemed like a good excuse to add to the list of Torontonians, which brings us to this week’s guest, Madeline Ashby.

Madeline works as a strategic foresight consultant, which she describes as “the best job in the world,” and basically seems to be, in large part, writing science fiction stories to suit the needs of people on the cutting edge of science and industry who want someone to help shape their narrative or show them some of the possibilities they’re missing. So, yeah, she might well be right.

When she’s not doing that (and seriously, getting paid for it!), she also writes science fiction for the reading public. You probably already know her for The Machine Dynasty trilogy (vN, iD, and reV), all from Angry Robot. More recently her novel Company Town was published by Tor Books, and went on to be a finalist for the Locus, Sunburst, and Aurora awards. More, it was shortisted for Canada Reads 2017, a reality show in which celebrities battle one another (sort of) as champions for different books, until they’re eliminated one by one, and along the way everyone (kind of) in Canada reads the books as well. That’s just cool.

LMS: Welcome, Madeline. What meal really stands out for you?

MA: It all started at Deception Pass.

Why my dad wanted to camp there, I don’t know. We’d had great trips to other spots throughout Western Washington: Mount Baker, Penrose Point, Lake Crescent, Baker Lake, the Dungeness Spit, even a trip to Lake Quinault and the Hoh Rainforest, with its cathedral of ancient mosses. I suspect it had something to do with the goal of the trip: namely, to camp with two other families, both of whom had young children. According to my mother, Deception Pass was simply the best location for all three families, and a place we’d never camped, besides, which meant it held some novelty. Its proximity to towns like LaConner and Anacortes, and local beaches, meant that the first weekend in August would be a delightful one no matter what we decided to do.

Company Town

Little did we know, when we crossed that nauseatingly high bridge, the same one that later featured so prominently in the English-language adaptaion of THE RING, was that Deception Pass was once the site of human trafficking and murder. White people smuggling vulnerable Chinese workers to lay the railway would “hide” them in burlap sacks so that they could easily be thrown overboard upon encountering other craft. And between 1910 and 1914, the Fidalgo side of the Pass was the location of a prison rock quarry, with about forty workers from the Walla-Walla State Penitentiary literally breaking rocks as punishment. In fact the whole area, the tricksy waters joining what are now known as the Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca, historically belongs to the Coast Salish tribes, the only people who knew how to navigate those shallow, rocky waters and traverse those verdant islands.

What I’m saying is, the place is cursed as shit.

But we had no idea of the region’s history when we crossed that bridge. That Friday afternoon in August, we were simply intent on finding one of the few campsites with enough space for three families, including five kids and a dog. And find one we did! Up went the tents and the rain flies, and down went the tarps and stakes. The air mattresses were pumped. The fire was lit. Being around eleven, I suspect my job was to keep two of the younger children — about three years old and a year-and-a-half — busy and entertained. I probably shared some snacks with them: Goldfish crackers, or apple slices, or something like that. And in all likelihood, the parents made something easy like hot dogs, or maybe my dad’s beer can chicken. I don’t remember being hungry. But I do remember what happened next.

Night fell. I remember that it was fully dark, when the other family came. They were late, but that wasn’t unusual. They’d left late, which also wasn’t unusual. The whole afternoon and evening, we’d craned our necks each time we heard the approach of a vehicle, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes when it wasn’t the third family’s ancient VW Westfalia. Finally, around 9pm, headlights swept across the campground and the van lumbered up into the remaining parking spot. Out poured our friends: a husband and wife, a tweenage girl, and a pre-school boy.


“Sorry we’re late,” the husband said. “I couldn’t leave the house until I’d finished practising my trumpet.”

Reader, this was not a euphemism.

They explained all the delays in great and amusing detail, as beers were opened and catching-up was done. The kids stretched their legs. Our dog sniffed everyone dutifully and thoroughly. Speculation was made about the weather, and the stars, and the possibility of hikes. The kids started asking about dinner.

Eventually the wife — the one doing all the unpacking — said to her husband: “Honey? Where’s the food?”

Silence settled over the campsite.

“The food?” he asked. “Oh. Yeah. I didn’t bring any.”

That weekend was surprisingly cold — it hit record low temperatures for the first weekend in August. But this was the moment the mercury began to drop. And it didn’t stop falling. Not that night, and not the next, and not really until these two divorced years later.

“You didn’t bring the food?”

“Well… No.”

“I was at work all day, and you didn’t do any shopping?”

She had a full-time job. He was an artist.

“I did the packing! I just didn’t pack any food!”

“So…” You could see her trying to rationalize it. Trying to understand. What was his logic? What was he thinking would happen? How had he envisioned this scenario unfolding? “When were you going to get food?”




“Tonight. I was going to go shopping here, at the Albertson’s on the way.”

“If you wanted to go shopping on the way, why didn’t you say so?”

“I didn’t want to go shopping on the way. I wanted to go shopping after we got here.”

“But we’re already here! And we have no dinner! We have nothing to eat! Do you understand how embarrassing this is?”

He might not have, but the rest of us did. We shifted uncomfortably in our camping chairs, and pretended to be very interested in the fire.

“Fine,” he huffed. “I’m going shopping. I’m going shopping right now. See?”

He stalked off to the van. He reached to close the sliding door. As he slammed it shut, the whole door fell into the mud below. It slid right off the tracks with a groan and fell off, like a gangrenous limb, into the dirt.

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

“That keeps happening,” their daughter said. “It happened on the way to school, the other day.”

And that is the story not of my most memorable meal, or the best one I ever ate, but a meal that was simply never eaten, at a place called Deception Pass.

Thanks, Madeline. So, what happened next? How many of the campers survived, and who did you eat? And what about the dog?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Kayleigh McCollum


My 2017 SFContario Schedule

1 Comment » Written on November 4th, 2017 by
Categories: News

In a little over two weeks, I’ll be heading across the border to Toronto, Cananda where I will have the privilege of reading at the Merril Collection, as well as being the GoH at SFContario.

The library reading occurs at 7pm, on Thursday, November 16th, on the 3rd floor of the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library, 239 College Street.

Friday through Sunday, I’ll be at the convention, taking place at the Ramada Plaza, 300 Jarvis Street, Toronto. Naturally they have me doing programming. Here’s what and where it is:

Friday, Novemeber 17th
6:00 p.m. | Solarium | Opening Ceremonies
Although I’ve previously attended SFContario, I’ve never been to their opening ceremonies. I’m hoping it involves me wielding a pair of giant scissors (I promise not to run with them).

Saturday, Novemeber 18th
10:00 a.m. | Solarium | Creating Languages
Many SF/F worlds have their own languages, Elvish and Klingon being two examples. From etymology to grammar to culture, there are many characteristics to consider. How do you craft languages that make sense? How does a language reflect the identities of its speakers? How do we make our languages and vocabularies believable?
with Alyx Dellamonica, and Sephora Hosein (M)

11:00 a.m. | Solarium | Eating and Ethics
What is the ethical scope of our food choices? Is buying local really better than buying imported food? Are Vegans better for the environment? How do things like socioeconomic status, mental health, and disability intersect with the ethics of food consumption?
with Charlotte Ashley (M), Alyx Dellamonica, and Gunnar Wentz

2:00 p.m. | Gardenview | How to Remember EVERYTHING
Mnemonics and You! Come listen as I explain what makes memory work and how you can enhance yours.

Sunday, Novemeber 19th
12:00 p.m. | Solarium | Where do we go from here?
Speculative fiction speculates, it’s all there in the name. In today’s rapidly changing climate – cultural, political, and scientific – where should we be pointing next? How can current SFF keep pace with the current developments, and still prepare the way to the future?
with Matt Mayr, Kelly Robson, Clare Wall (M)

1:00 p.m. | Gardenview | Star Trek: The Next Iteration: How about them Klingons?
Does Star Trek Discovery feel like a lead-in to classic Star Trek? Are new gadgets and technologies too new? Is a little retcon good for us? Are they trying too hard? Will fans be loyal to the new series? Is anybody not a fan? Let’s discuss where the series is boldly going, and where we think the first season might end up.
with David Clink and Marah Searle-Kovacevic

2:00 p.m. | Parkview | Reading
My new novella, Barry’s Deal, just came out. It’s light and amusing and has fart jokes (though Amazon won’t let us say “fart” in the description). Meanwhile, my next novel, The Moons of Barsk, has been turned in and comes out next August. The convention’s given me 30 minutes to read, so come by and pick which you’d like to hear.

This will be my second convention in Canada this year, a new personal best. I hope you’ll come out and help me celebrate.

Eating Authors: Jonathan P. Brazee

2 comments Written on October 30th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Jonathan Brazee

One of the odd things about this year’s NASFiC (waaay back in July) was that there were so few authors present. As it turned out, that worked out really well for me because it meant I got to spend much more time hanging out with Jonathan Brazee, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest.

Jonathon’s a retired marine colonel (the ubiquitous cap he wears is a big clue). He’s also a bit of renaissance man, having ridden and raised prize-winning horses, mastered gourmet cooking, earned a doctorate in business, and traveled to more than a 100 countries around the world. So while we were in San Juan I put him to the test and off we went (with my chef-wife) to do some fine dining. It was a great experience, so naturally I had to invite him here.

The other thing you need to know about Jonathan is he’s one of that growing number of extremely successful Indie authors, making a good living via his fiction. The secret, as most Indies will tell you, comes down to two things: volume and speed. Maybe it’s that military discipline, but in eight years he’s produced multiple series (including The United Federation Marine Corps, Women of the United Federation Marines, and Werewolf of Marines, and yes, you may be sensing a theme) and more than forty titles.

He released his latest effort, Alliance (volume one of The United Federation Marine Corps’ Grub Wars) one week ago today.

Semper Fidelis!

LMS: Welcome, Jonathan. Given all your travels, I’m especially curious to learn what stands out as your most memorable meal.

JPB: As a dedicated foodie, I’ve probably had more than my fair share of memorable meals. They range the gamut from fruit bat cooked in a section of bamboo (my first solid food after three days in the Philippine jungle), a Saigon hole-in-the-wall with the most amazing grilled pork, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Dijon where I had oeuf bourguignon (eggs in burgundy), to three tiny mounds of simple soba made by one of Japan’s eleven master noodle makers ($75 in 1978). Memorable all, but when I had to think of it, one meal kept coming to mind.


I was in Iraq during 2006 as the military liaison to USAID. This was before the Awakening, and we had to continually deal with the Sunni sheiks, men who were afraid to meet with us in Al Anbar, so we had to travel to Amman. During one week-long meeting, we had one night free from the formal dinners. My Marine boss, a brigadier general, was told to arrange for dinner for the American contingent. He didn’t know where to go, so I told him I had the place: The Greater Amman Restaurant, just half-a-mile from the US embassy. Our party was about 20-strong and included the US ambassadors to Iraq and Jordan as well as the USAID director for Iraq.

Now, The Greater Amman Restaurant is not particularly impressive. It is small, the cooking counter greets you as you come in, and the seats are simple white plastic. When our august group entered, the general about had an attack, asking me to where the heck I’d just dragged everyone. I kept trying to calm him, but he was almost in a state of panic. The ambassador to Jordan looked skeptical, but he put on a brave face and made some jokes about the place as he took a seat.

Esther's Story: Special Duty

The staff immediately brought out a few types of hummus, pita, and some veggies, and people started grazing while lost in conversations. I gave them our order: two kgs of rayshish (lamb chops) and one each of two kinds of kebabs along with assorted sides. Ten minutes later, the food came out and was plopped on our tables family style. I was with the underlings at the kids’ table, and I looked up at the two ambassadors. The ambassador to Iraq was an Iraqi-American, and he immediately stabbed a lamb chop and transferred it to his plate, but the ambassador to Jordan was more hesitant. Conversation barely paused as people began to serve themselves. Quickly, though, that conversation petered out as people began to eat faster and grab more food from the plates. Within two minutes, not a word was being spoken. Everyone seemed to have one goal in mind: eat fast and eat a lot.

I was no different. I had discovered this place late one night while preparing a presentation, and this was my fourth or fifth time there. The lamb chops were simply the best I’ve ever had, and I wanted my fair share.

I was interrupted, however, when the ambassador to Jordan called out, “Colonel, do you think it would be possible to order some more?” as a general groundswell of approval rose up at his words.

Werewolf of Marines: Semper Lycanus

I ordered another round of meats, pita, and their signature salad. Twenty minutes later, I had to order yet another couple of kg of lamb chops. All told, we ate 12 kg of meat, more than a pound per person. When we finally finished, several people ordered more to go, and the ambassador came up to me wondering how he’d never heard of the place when it was just down the road from the embassy. He was soon asking the staff about catering at embassy functions.

The Greater Amman Restaurant is not the best restaurant at which I’ve ever dined. The lamb chops were the best I’ve eaten, but the place is just a neighborhood cafe that serves a good meal. I think what made this memorable for me was the old looks can be deceiving trope. We’d been eating at grand events complete with dancers, music, and tuxedoed waiters bringing the best food the country’s greatest chefs could prepare, but when it got down to it, the food was better at a more down-to-earth place.

Thanks, Jonathan. I have to wonder if the ensuing decade of inevitable attention from the nearby embassy has changed the experience and the quality. When are you heading back to find out?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Ruthanna Emrys

No Comments » Written on October 23rd, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Ruthanna Emrys

About a month ago when I was down for the day at the Baltimore Book Festival, I participated in two panels. One of the things I like most about the festival is meeting new people, especially when we’re on program together. Ruthanna Emrys was on both of mine. Naturally, this was a sign to invite her to be a guest on EATING AUTHORS.

You might know Ruthanna from the H. P. Lovecraft reread series of articles she’s being doing on with Anne M. Pillsworth, which they describe as “two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox.”

All of this scholarship is reflected in her own fiction, her novelette The Litany of Earth and first novel Winter Tide. I’m hoping for more of the same in next summer’s sequel Deep Roots, because she, as one reviewer put it,”subverts Lovecraft’s notorious racism by making his monsters — which were often thinly veiled stand-ins for people of color — sympathetic protagonists.” How could you not want more of this?

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

RE: On July 16, 2005, I came downstairs wearing a cloak, with every watch in the house dangling from my wrists, and announced to my wife: “Look, my muggle disguise is perfect!”

Winter Tide

It was release day for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and we and our friend Nora were on our way to Oak Park’s giant launch party. The Chicago suburb takes its literary celebrations seriously: the town green had transformed into Quiddich field surrounded by a fairy market, and all Oak Park Avenue was done up as Diagon Alley. Every store on the alley held an appropriately themed event; every restaurant competed to produce the best butterbeer.

After a long day of cheering on Quiddich players, mooning over holly wands, and mocking each others’ houses, we decided it was time for dinner. Looking around for someplace not completely jam-packed, we spotted a brand new French restaurant on the corner of the alley. Nora, a French teacher just returned from an exchange in Paris, was dubious but willing to give it a shot.

About half an hour later, she admitted that this was, in fact, the best French food she’d had in her life. There were the simplest possible steak frites, perfectly cooked and seasoned. There was kobe beef burger topped with foie gras and aioli. There was a trio of crème brulées: thin layers of lavender, chocolate, and vanilla custard beneath exquisitely crispy burnt sugar crust. Our wild speculations about Snape were punctuated by moments of eyes-closed blissful meditation—and because some Ravenclaws are also New Yorkers at heart, a lot of mutual congratulations for having found a new favorite restaurant.

The Litany of Earth

Wandering back out into the night, we heard church bells ringing. After a moment we realized they were playing Hedwig’s Theme from the movies. Following their siren lure, we found the church’s inner sanctum lit with floating candles down the center aisle, and the priest herself playing court with the sorting hat.

A few weeks later, we attempted to return to our new favorite restaurant. You can probably guess what happened. The storefront was closed without explanation, the kobe burgers gone as if they had never been–as if the world’s best French food had never truly been part of Oak Park at all.

There are plenty of people looking for Platform 9¾. When I find it, I know exactly where I’m going first—and it isn’t Hogwart’s.

Thanks, Ruthanna. You just can’t sustain that kind of bliss, both fine French dining and a kick-ass Harry Potter festival. Something had to give.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Vivian Shaw

1 Comment » Written on October 16th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Vivian Shaw

Last month I marked the autumnal equinox by once again participating in the Baltimore Book Fesitval, or at least a day of it anyway. It’s a glorious event and well worth the two hour drive to get there (and not because it gives me an excuse to stop at a Waffle House on the way down). Books, books, books, and lots of authors. It’s grand to see old friends and meet some new faces. One of those new faces this time around is this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Vivian Shaw, with whom I shared a panel. Her novel Strange Practice came out back in July and I confess I hadn’t read it yet. But hearing her talk about secondary worlds on the panel we shared convinced me that I had to invite her to come around and talk about her most memorable meal.

To my credit, I was able to restrain myself until the end of the panel. Fortunately for all of us, she said “yes.”

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

VS: If you’d asked me this two years ago, I would have had no difficulty whatsoever in coming up with the best meal I’d ever eaten. That was in 2004, in Chicago, the same day I met Scott McNeil and George Romero: I was at a Transformers convention and decided to take myself to an actual steakhouse for an actual steak, and I can still so clearly remember the gorgeous rich mineral taste of that first-ever filet mignon, the way it almost dissolved in my mouth. The vivid greenness of the two asparagus spears on the plate, the peppery kick of the Shiraz that accompanied it — even thirteen years later it’s incredibly easy to recall.

(The most memorable, however, was the time on British Airways in the 1990s where for reasons known only to themselves somebody had decided to add bits of squid to the fruit salad. Memorable doesn’t equal pleasant.)

Strange Practice

And then I met my wife, and going out to dinner became a kind of constantly evolving, unfolding pleasure. There was the pizza that was the apotheosis of all pizza, from a restaurant in New York that has since vanished — we had that sitting on the floor of the hotel room the night before we got married, telling each other stories, pausing to make helpless appreciative noises at how incredibly good it was. (The fact that the restaurant is no more seems somehow fitting, as if the universe decided it was going to give us perfect pizza one time in our lives, and had picked that particularly apposite moment to do so.)

Wherever we went, we found amazing things — always, from the very beginning. There was the two-course brunch at Marea, with the most flavorful chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life, after the courthouse ceremony. Steak at the Prime Rib, at Salt, at the Wine Market, at Brewer’s Art, at Cinghiale, in the restaurant of the Hotel Diplomat in Stockholm. Extraordinary steak at Bar Vasquez with spicy chimichurri, following a salmon ceviche of brilliant clarity and delicate balance. Mussels in coconut-curry broth at Lobo’s in Fells Point, and chicken-with-broccoli at Empire Szechuan Kyoto at 67th and Columbus. Pizza from Zella’s and pan-seared sea bass from NTL. Saffron fried rice and fino at Huertas. Earl Grey ice cream at the Lafayette and green tea gelato at the Met’s Balcony Cafe. Cold sesame noodles and scalding-hot gyoza. And everywhere, sushi, sushi, sushi.

It’s not just one meal, or one dish, that’s the focus of my memory now. It’s a huge, rich, delicious library-collection of memories, all of them lovely for different reasons. There are places I absolutely want to go back to and try the rest of their menu, dish by dish; there are places I want to go back to and order exactly the same thing I had the first time, because it was amazing. But it’s really the experience of going out to dinner with my wife that makes it more than just a somatic response to somebody’s culinary artwork.

I don’t often have much of an opportunity to describe food in my writing — yet, anyway — and I am looking forward to playing with that when the chance does arise. Over the past two years I’ve collected so many dishes I want my characters to experience, and that kind of intense visceral description is both challenging and exhilarating for me. One day, perhaps, I might even find the right place for the fruit-salad-with-squid — but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Thanks, Vivian. Having given up meat some seven months ago, all this talk of steak has my head spinning. Vicarious meals may be what saves me.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


More Than Just A Cover Reveal: Barry’s Deal

1 Comment » Written on October 9th, 2017 by
Categories: News

Barry's Deal

Next month, the fine folks at NobleFusion Press will be publishing Barry’s Deal, the fourth novella-length adventure in the ongoing tales of my galaxy-traveling stage hypnotist, the Amazing Conroy, and Reggie, his alien companion animal, a “buffalo dog” who can eat anything and farts oxygen.

This latest story features Conroy traveling to Triton, to a casino hotel with old friend LeftJohn Mocker, a professional gambler with a double Coltrane rating. Why Triton? Well, there’s an illegal auction scheduled there where Conroy hopes to win a bottle of Stonefish liqueur, and the Mocker was on his way there anyway at the request of the Probability Guild to investigate allegations of cheating. It looks like everyone will get what they want except… the cheater turns out to be a Angela Colson, an eleven-year old girl of incredible power! Conroy saved her life five years earlier (back in the Nebula-finalist Barry’s Tale). That’s her pictured on the cover of Buffalito Buffet at the bottom of this page. Somehow she’s back, somehow appears to be in her late teens, and somehow has taken the casino for over ten million bucks!

Throw in an evil psychometrist portmaster with a grudge against LeftJohn Mocker, a stinky alien with a secret, and a terrorist with a suitcase-sized nuke, and the stage is set for hypnotic hijinks and some fine dining as only the Amazing Conroy can command.

NobleFusion Press will be releasing the novella as a Trade Paperback on Thursday, November 9th.

However, they’re giving away a limited number of digital Advanced Reader Copy (ARCs) to readers who pledge to post a review to on the novella’s release day.

If you’d like to jump the queue and get the book for free, all you have to do is click this link.

cover art by Rebecca Wang


Eating Authors: Lee French

No Comments » Written on October 9th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Lee French

Though this blog series appears bright and early every Monday morning, I often put the individual pieces to bed days before they’ll post. Not so today’s installment. Rather, I’ve just returned from a phenomenal weekend at Capclave, one that began early Friday morning and only ended when I arrived back home, weary but quite contented on Sunday afternoon.

And it was at just such a time and in just such a state, that I realized “whoops, I hadn’t prepared the next EATING AUTHORS. Fortunately, this week’s guest, Lee French, had already long since sent me her most memorable meal.

Lee’s the author of assorted books, likely most known for the Maze Beset Trilogy, and The Greatest Sin series (the fifth book of which, A Curse of Memories, came out last summer), but has also written other works, some set in her fantasy world of Ilauri.

Right about now I suspect she’s organizing and preparing for the madness of NaNoWriMo, some three weeks away, because she generously serves as a Municipal Liaison for the Olympia region in Washington state.

Oh, and she also bikes.

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

LF: A slice of berry pie, a scoop of ice cream, and a banana at 7am. The banana made it a respectable breakfast. I sat alone on a hilltop, surrounded by a thousand people, in bright, warm sunshine and a light breeze. Thin plastic sheets covered a herd of aluminum picnic tables assembled to accommodate the endlessly shifting crowd inside a volunteer fire department station. Others nearby enjoyed more traditional breakfast fare in the form of pancakes, eggs, sausages, and fruit. The view beyond the horde, the tractors, and the haybales revealed the bumpy, hilly terrain of northeast Iowa, thick with trees and stubbornly terraced fields, sprawling houses, and winding roads. The small town with a name I don’t remember had collected a small army of friendly residents to serve and sell us the food.

The Fallen

The best meal ever happened on the final day of Ragbrai XLVI, the 44th iteration of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Every year in late July, as many as twenty thousand cyclists descend upon Iowa. Like a plague of locusts, we sweep across the state, from the Missouri to the Mississippi in seven days, and devour every kind of food and drink we can find, leaving a trail of money and memories in our wake. The ride is a carnival on two wheels. Beer, pie, bacon, and corn fill the air and our bellies. Water rains from sprinklers and temporary fountains set up for us. Sometimes, it’s over 100 degrees. Sometimes, it’s under 30. Every day is a minimum of fifty miles.

This meal, though, wasn’t just a meal. It was a Moment. Number 44 was my fifth time riding. Thousands of miles of training led to it. Hundreds of hours of sweat and aching muscles led to it. Dozens of mad, endorphin-incited grins led to it. It’s the best worst vacation I’ve ever taken. Like thousands of other lunatics, I keep going back for more punishment.

Ragbrai is awful. I camp, which I hate. I ride, which is grueling and painful because it takes six to eight hours to get from one town to the next. I train, which takes time away from things I like doing more. I eat, which involves shoving copious quantities of food into my food-hole to avoid exhaustion, not the more pleasant savoring of delicious things. I sunburn, which happens because I’m fair-skinned and sometimes miss spots or forget to reapply in a timely fashion.

Girls Can't Be Knights

I’ve battled heat exhaustion and hypothermia, ridden through rain, hail, tornado warnings, and clouds of flying bugs. I’ve evaded disastrous crashes by pure luck. I’ve leaned against my bike and cried for how hard it was that day. I’ve been insulted for my girth while wearing my Ragbrai XL jersey (Extra Large, get it? Hilarious.). I’ve put on wet clothes at 5:30am in 40 degree weather because I had nothing dry to wear. I’ve had to stop because suncreen ran into my eyes and temporarily blinded me. I’ve gotten food poisoning.

Once, I blacked out while assembling my tent. Another time, I fell over because my pedal clip got stuck and scraped the heck out of my hand, knee, and elbow. There are no words for the peculiar pain of the posterior caused by prolonged contact with a bicycle seat.

At least one person dies on the ride every year, and it could be me. And we use porta-potties for a week straight.

But then, I’ve also seen the orange and pink of sunrise on my bike with no excuse not to stop and enjoy it. Strangers talk to strangers and we remind each other that, no matter what we see on the news or internet, people are mostly decent and kind. Libraries in small towns have excellent people. Nothing beats the joy of conquering a steep hill without getting off the bike to walk. I make jokes and we’re all too tired and spent not to laugh. Some of the landscape in Iowa is amazing. The sheer volume of endorphins is the most amazing high imaginable. The simple joy of an unexpected real toilet takes you by surprise the first time you feel it.

Dragons In Pieces

Also, you can eat things like a slice of chocolate covered frozen cheesecake on a stick and feel no remorse. Biking requires calories. Lots of calories.

Many people bring friends or family with them and ride together. My first year, I went with a group of people I had nothing in common with. Every subsequent year, I’ve gone alone. Which is why I had a Moment that morning on that hill.

Knowing that Ragbrai would probably be my last — chronic knee problems plus increasing professional obligations have made it more and more challenging every year — I paused to savor the last morning, covered from head to toe in UV clothing and sunscreen. The pie tasted like freedom and victory. I did a thing for me and me alone. No one else got a say in whether I did the thing or not. No one else trained for me. No one else climbed the hills for me. No one else took care of my bike for me. No one else drove me out there, and no one else would drive me back.

Thanks, Lee. There is no pie, no taste, as exquisite as embracing the power of your own choices.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


Eating Authors: Bo Balder

No Comments » Written on October 2nd, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Bo Balder

This week’s EATING AUTHORS guest is Bo Balder, a member of Codex, the online writing community we know and love. Bo also lives in the Netherlands, and so I never expected to actually meet her. But of course that was before this past summer’s world science fiction convention in Helsinki, and the rest as they say is history!

Bo is primarily a short story writer — and perhaps you’ve seen her work in such venues as Clarkesworld or F&SF — but she’s also written a novel, The Wan, which takes on the challenges of what happens when humans reach another world but forget their own history and technology, amidst a hostile and alien biosystem. The solution embraced by one of the book’s main characters managed to both delight and horrify me at the same time, giving new meaning to the old phrase, “you are what you eat.”

LMS: Welcome, Bo. Share the where and why and what of your most memorable meal,

BB: The restaurant was a tottery wooden shack reached after driving down from the cliffs of Bretagne, France, to the seaside. The sea in question was the Atlantic, reaching far inland with a probing finger that would flood by high tide and become mud flats at low tide.

It was low tide. We pulled off our shoes and went reconnoitering over the muddy sea bottom. We learned how oysters are farmed (in sacks on racks). We saw a French family sprinkle salt over holes in the mud and capture the razor shells that came questing up. They put them in a plastic bag, already half full, and told us they were planning to eat them that evening. I vowed to try them if the restaurant had any.

We cleaned our feet as best we could (sea bottom is sticky, blackish mud) and entered the restaurant. The lobby was a big open room, with a shallow pool in the middle, with dozens of kinds of fish and shellfish in wooden crates for sale. Apparently the restaurant doubled as fish market… We wended our way through to the dining room.

It was full of large French families waiting for food. Luckily we had reserved a table ahead — my husband grew up in Brussels, which is a good thing, because although I have some French, it’s not phone proof. His is…

The Wan

We were seated at one end of a long narrow table and got a menu and a small bowl of appetizers: periwinkles, accompanied by a winkling implement to get the little suckers out of their shells. They had an intense, dark, almost liquorish-like taste. Interesting, for sure, but not in large quantities.

Then the lobster bib arrived. The waiter tied the sleeved, lap-length bib around my husband’s neck and behind his back and proceeded to lay down something like a hammer and tongs. I was glad I’d chosen the oysters, I knew I wouldn’t have to open them myself.

While we waited for the food to arrive, the other tables started getting served. Huge platters of seafood got carried in, and not just for the large parties. A five-pound heap of everything that swims in the sea was set down for an elderly couple and they set out to devour it. I wished I’d chosen a huge variety of food like that! I wished I could eat that much… What is it with French people that they can eat like that and only gain a little bit of middle-aged spread?

After my lobster bisque, my half dozen of the famed ridged oysters of the region, the “Creuse de Belon” were absolutely delicious, superfresh and salty, not even needing pepper or lemon. My husband destroyed the lobster with all his might until his platter looked like a red and pink striped bomb site.

The food was simply prepared, but so fresh and so good that I could eat there every week. Too bad it’s a ten-hour drive from home…

Thanks, Bo. Having “gone pescatarian” a few months ago, I’m paying much more attention to author meals involving seafood. I still don’t understand the appeal of oysters though.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!