Eating Authors: Mark J. Engels

No Comments » Written on September 18th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Mark Engels

I’ve spent much of this past week revising Barry’s Deal, the new Amazing Conroy novella that will be coming from NobleFusion Press late next month. In addition to Conroy and Reggie, the story features the return of everyone’s (or at least my) favorite gambler, LeftJohn Mocker, as well as the return of Angela “Gel” Colson, last seen in the first novella, Barry’s Tale. I’ve been doing a lot of writing in 2017 but not a lot of publishing, so this will be a very welcome release.

Needless to say (though I just did), working on this novella has had my brain full of furry critters. Sounds like potential for a segue into this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, right? Absolutely, because this week we have Mark Engels, whose debut novel, Always Gray in Winter, came out just last month from Thurston Howl Publications, and as you might infer from the name of the publisher, Mark’s novel is anthropomorphic fiction! It’s got shapeshifters, but if you’re not familiar with furry fiction, you’re in for a very different ride!

Speaking of rides, Mark’s a railroader. He’s worked as an electrical engineer, designing signal and comm systems for railroads. As if that wasn’t cool enough, he began writing articles for the transit industry trade magazines. Somewhere along the way that morphed (see what I did there?) into werecats, and here we are. And expect Mark to stay in this place for a while as he admits there are at least two, maybe three (maybe more?) books he’ll need to write to fully tell the story he’s begun.

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

MJE: One memorable occasion comes to mind from the late 90s, not long after I’d moved to the Twin Cities from my native Michigan. A couple weeks later a co-worked spotted a tiny model next to my computer monitor. We became fast friends after he identified it as Guardian-mode Veritech as featured in Harmony Gold’s Robotech TV series. Shared interests in Japanese anime and manga kindled our interests other Japanese cultural aspects, especially cuisine.

I was raised in a meat-and-potatoes household. College had expanded my culinary horizons, however, and now living in the Big City for the first time I was eager to Try All the Things. So was my friend Kristopher, having come from rural Wisconsin. And St. Paul was more than happy to accommodate us. A sushi restaurant in the heart of downtown named Sakura became our de facto haunt. At that time one could still request booth seating around a low table featuring tatami mats. Kristopher and I did so often enough to brand us as regulars. Having come to enjoy nearly everything on both the nigiri and maki menus, one evening as we strode past Sensei on our way to our usual booth Kristopher told him “surprise us.”

Always Gray in Winter

Partway through our third bottle of sake, our server plunked down a boatful of some of the finest sushi you ever saw. At the bow sat a pair of amaebi (which I would later come to know as “sweet shrimp.”) Beside them were the prawns’ heads, deep fried in potato starch and poised with their walking legs facing each other. As if they were fighting.


I don’t remember who grabbed his chopsticks first. I do recall Kristopher and I animating our prawns in mortal combat to the amusement of those seated across the aisle from our booth. Upon realizing we were the center of attention, we shrugged and popped the shrimp heads into our mouths.

“Wait! You not supposed to eat that!”

Our server’s admonishment froze us both mid-bite. The wide-eyed look on Kristopher’s face conveyed my same thoughts: Are fried shrimp heads friggin’ poisonous or something? Will we both have the screaming heebie-jeebies tomorrow? She managed to make it to our table before she lost it, howling with laughter at the joke she’d sprang on us. Fellow diners all around joined in. Once over our initial bout of self-consciousness—and after swallowing our shrimp heads—we laughed along until our server brought us another bottle of sake. On the house for being such good sports, natch.

I’ve learned in the decades since amaebi is commonly served much the same way. Kristopher and I have come together many times between then and now to eat sushi, though never again to such fanfare. And with much more moderate sake consumption, too, which suits me quite fine. Though our culinary comedy helped inspire a scene in my paranormal sci-fi thriller about the modern day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats. When Tommy welcomes his wayward twin sister Pawly home to Chicago for a Polish/Korean mixed family reunion, he learns the hard way making pie-iron pierogi one ought not mistake kimchi for sauerkraut.

Thanks, Mark. You know, I have never understood the fascination with eating the head of whatever protein source is on your plate. No shrimp heads for me. And don’t even get me started on crawfish!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


Eating Authors: Russell Davis

No Comments » Written on September 11th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Russell Davis

If things go as planned, about the time this week’s installment of EATING AUTHORS posts, I’ll be sending in the completed revisions of the BARSquel to my editor. And I do so with both relief and regret. Sequels are tough, particularly when the first book in the series was something I’d been mulling over for more nearly three decades and this book came together, from conception to completion, in a couple years. I think fans of BARSK will like this one even more, though you’ll have to wait until next summer to judge for yourself. It definitely replaces it’s predecessor as the best thing I’ve ever written. Which is how it should be, but man, I am exhausted! And alas, no rest for me, as I need to jump back into writing mode and finish the revisions on the new Amazing Conroy novella so that publisher has it in time to release next month. And after that I have two collaborations, a game proposal, and another novel or clamoring for my attention before month’s end.

I don’t expect any sympathy for the abundance of writing awaiting me. It just means that I’m moving further along that continuum from dilettante (where I don’t think I’ve been for some years) to working writer (which is how I like to think of myself). And that’s a good thing. That’s also about as good a segue as I’m going to get to introducing this week’s guest, Russell Davis.

I’m really happy to say that I’ve known Russell for years, but I can’t say I know him well and we’ve only met face to face a few times. It all began while he was the president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and I was stepping up to take over as the organization’s Election Officer. I continued in that role for about eight years and under several other SFWA presidents, but working under Russell gave me my first glimpse of how that particular sausage gets made and I was impressed by the attention and thought that I saw going into his decisions. It was a great introduction to my own service to the organization, and over the years I’ve come to appreciate it more and more.

On the other hand, it took forever to get him here, so no more flattering words for him!

If you’re not familiar with his name, there’s still a very good chance you’re read him anyway, because not only is Russell the very definition of a working writer (see, there’s the segue connection!), he’s also a master of disguise, or at least of pseudonyms. You can find him writing under such names as David Cian (Transformers novels among other things), Garrett Dylan (spy novels), Jenna Solitaire (the Daughter of Destiny series), Christopher Tracy (TV movie novelizations) and several more. It’s inspiring. But then, that’s just how he rolls.

LMS: Welcome, Russell. What’s the best meal you can remember?

RD: This is an incredibly difficult question for me to answer, which perhaps explains why I’ve struggled with responding to the ever-patient Lawrence with my reply. It’s difficult because I grew up in the restaurant business, from the time I was eight and taking trash out of the kitchen of the Holiday Inn where my mom worked for $1/can until I was in my late 20’s, and finally escaped. Mostly. Sort of. That’s a long and different story, but the point is that I’ve eaten out in a lot of really excellent restaurants, and I’m no slouch in the kitchen, which means I’ve had quite a few meals at home that were pretty damn fine, too. And there’s been any number of memorable meals at the homes of friends and relatives, where the food was good and the mood celebratory.

So… picking the best one? Not so easy.

Murder Ink

I could tell you about my mom’s slow-roasted English prime rib, or her pheasant stroganoff – both of which we had one year when I was hosting a Super Bowl party. There was a sort of pot-luck brunch I recall where everyone had to eat standing up because the entire table was covered with food and a Bloody Mary bar that looked like it was straight out of a magazine. There was a lunch at my first WorldCon, when I sat with George R.R. Martin and he let me pick his brain for about forty-five minutes on world building in fantasy novels. There was one, really excellent meal and company, at the Fairmont in San Francisco, where I learned that Bob Silverberg knows almost as much about wine as I do (though he’d tell you the opposite), and that Len Wein can draw a Batman on the back of a bar napkin (which I still have, framed, and I’m not giving it back, no matter what). That was the night I learned about Mary Robinette Kowal’s voice talents, which she could use to make a really good living, if she ever decided that writing and puppetry weren’t working out. (Seriously, she could launch her own “I’ll record your voice mail message,” business and make serious bank.)

And isn’t that the trick, really? The best meal sort of implies the best food, but sometimes, what makes the meal is the company, even when the food is, at best, forgettable. I’ve been in the publishing industry for a long time, and have had the pleasure of sharing meals and drinks with people I long admired, and some have even become friends. There are fine memories there that I’ll no doubt be mining for many years to come.

But the best meal… forced to pick, the one that really stands out to me was at Harrah’s Steak House in Reno, Nevada. I ate there several times over the years I lived in Nevada, including on my wedding night. But in order to understand what made Harrah’s special, you must understand that before I ever went there, I met the head server at a gourmet coffee house event and he personally invited me to come to the restaurant. His name was Bong. James Bong.

No, I’m not kidding.

The Twilight Zone: A Gathering of Shadows

Bong had been at Harrah’s for years – we’re talking decades here – and had served many celebrities and VIP’s. One evening while we were there, I met Jim Kelly, the great Buffalo Bills quarterback. The restaurant itself is on the bottom floor of Harrah’s casino, and you’d think it would be noisy, but it’s not. The exterior walls are soundproofed – you can’t hear so much as a slot machine – and the booths are constructed of heavy, padded leather that wraps around the table, ensuring a sense of privacy that an open table never does. The regular evening host was a man named Michael, who remembered us by name on our second visit, after Bong introduced us when we came in for that first meal. Part of a great dining experience is the service, and great service is almost priceless when it comes to having an unforgettable dinner. The service and atmosphere at Harrah’s was always first rate.

So, the particular night I’m thinking of was intended to be a quiet date night, celebrating our third anniversary. What happened instead was a dinner experience I’ll never forget. As usual, Michael remembered us and ensured we were seated at a booth, and Bong remembered that I drink Jack Daniel’s on the rocks and had one at the table before I even ordered it.

Our menu selections that night were as follows:
Appetizer: Steakhouse Ravioli
Soup: Lobster Bisque (and if you ever go there, have the bisque – it’s amazing)
Salad: Tableside prepared Caesar Salad
Entrée: Tableside Flambéed Steak Diane
Desert: Crème Brulee

Now, all of that sounds fine – and it was – but what really made the night was the wine and after dinner drinks. Oh, and the group of people sitting at an open table next to ours.

Knowing that I was a bit of a wine snob, Bong had set aside a bottle of Duckhorn Merlot for us – I think it was a 2006 – and it was outstanding. And not too long after we’d cracked the bottle, the table next to us found out we were celebrating our anniversary, and we all shared a toast. Then we started passing wine bottles back and forth, because they had an excellent wine, too. The conversation was friendly, and our two-table group sort of took over one little corner of that dining room. Servers came and went, food appeared and disappeared, laughter among strangers with very little in common except the meal we were all enjoying – and sharing without any hesitation at all.

After dinner, came one of Harrah’s specialties: Café Diablo. This is an alcoholic coffee drink prepared tableside. It consists of several different liquors, orange peel, cloves, and coffee, and if you want to see it for yourself, there’s a video on YouTube. I’m a little bit in love with it, and I’d have it far too often if it was easily accessible, so it’s probably a good thing that it isn’t.

The End of All Seasons

As the evening wound down, I realized that there was wine left in most of the bottles and the other table had also ordered Café Diablo, so there was plenty to go around. I quietly suggested an idea to my wife and the other table, and everyone agreed to my plan. I called Bong and Michael over and requested that they bring glasses and cups for themselves and the service staff so that they, too, could share in the moment and as a thank you for their service. Not too long after that, there must have been close to a dozen service staff standing around our two tables, drinking and laughing and talking with us.

Finally, the check came and when I looked at it, I realized that there must have been some kind of error. There was no charge for our wine, our Café Diablo, or our dessert. I stepped up to the host station and asked Michael and he smiled and said the wine had been paid for by the table next to us, and the Café Diablo and dessert was on the house – gifts for our anniversary. I was taken aback by the generosity. On our way out, we thanked the other table and the service staff profusely, but there wasn’t a single sign of hesitation or regret at the cost.

So, why is this dinner so very special in my memory? Because the food was excellent, the service was outstanding, the atmosphere flawless… but the company, the experience of enjoying a meal with total strangers who had no expectation of us other than to have a good night, was worth every penny we spent. Anniversaries are special, of course, and those dinners I mentioned before… I’ll never forget them, either. But often, as writers and publishers and editors and whatever other “public” hats we wear, we sit down to dinner with our friends and colleagues and there are expectations: of what we’ll say or do or talk about, and of who we are in relationship to the industry we work in or each other. It’s rarely spoken aloud, but it exists nonetheless.

For one night, my wife and I went to a fancy meal, celebrated our anniversary, and had a great time and an excellent meal, and those were the only expectations we had to meet. We didn’t exchange names with the people sitting next to us; we didn’t compare ourselves to each other. We simply enjoyed all aspects of it, and returned home… utterly and completely satisfied. There’s no better meal than that.

Thanks, Russell. You know, I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life, and never been tempted to, until now. If we’re ever in Las Vegas together, I think I’d join you for a cup of Café Diablo without hesitation.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

author photo by Richard Man


Eating Authors: Mike Reeves-McMillan

No Comments » Written on September 4th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Mike Reeves-McMillan

Here in the USA, today, Labor Day, marks the official end of summer and never mind that the solstice is still more than two weeks away. And yet, where I live autumn is already rearing its head and I’m seeing leaves turning and cool weather. Confusing stuff, but as the fall is my favorite season and usually races by too fast I’m happy to have it arrive.

I’m spending most of September doing novel and novella revisions, with only a single travel exception. For those of you in the greater Baltimore area, you can find me on programming at the Baltimore Book Festival. It’s a great way to spend the weekend, though I’ll only be there on Saturday the 23rd. Come on by.

And speaking of travel, this week EATING AUTHORS heads to the southern hemisphere to introduce you to Mike Reeves-McMillan. No doubt all the opening remarks about summer fading into autumn is a bit confusing to him, but it can’t be helped.

Sadly, I’ve never actually crossed paths with Mike, which is a shame because the number of genre authors who are also hypnotherapists is a very small club indeed and surely we should all go out to eat together. Mike’s popular Gryphon Clerks (the latest volume, Mister Bucket for Assembly features food and food preparation as major political issues) began as a self-published effort but has since been picked up by small press Digital Fiction. He also writes the contemporary urban fantasy series Auckland Allies (proudly set in his hometown) as well as delightful sword-and-sorcery heist capers found in his Hand of the Trickster series.

LMS: Welcome, Mike. Tell me what stands out as your most memorable meal?

MR-M: I’ve had a few memorable meals. Several of them were when I travelled for work to Malaysia, over 20 years ago. I had chili squid on rice for breakfast at the very nice hotel the company had put me up in (because when you’re in Malaysia, why not?), much to the confusion of one of the other westerners staying there. And on the first day, as lunchtime approached, the local guy who I was working with said, hesitantly, “I suppose you’ll want western food for lunch?”

“Oh, no,” I said, “I love Asian food. It’s what I eat at home.”

Hand of the Trickster

Turns out that was exactly the right thing to say, because Malaysians are very proud of their cuisine — rightly so. Kuala Lumpur turned out to be a cultural crossroads, where I could eat a different country’s food each day. We ate at a Japanese place where the food came past on a circular conveyor belt, with the plates colour-coded according to the price, and you just lifted off what you wanted and then took your coloured plates up to the cashier at the end to pay. We ate at a street stall where an extremely elderly Chinese woman was spit-roasting the most delicious chickens I’ve ever tasted with some kind of amazing marinade. We ate at an Indian restaurant in the sort of setting where a stray cat with a broken tail wanders past and stops to beg for food as you eat streetside. It was all delicious (and, despite my occasional qualms, I got away without food poisoning).

But I’ve eaten some memorable meals in Auckland, New Zealand, where I live, as well.

One of them was memorable because I didn’t listen to the Indian waiter when he warned me that ordering vindaloo “hot” was not something he himself would do. That was more of an experience than it was a meal, and taught me an important lesson about listening to your waiter. Also about vindaloo.

Mister Bucket for Assembly

My most memorable recent meal was at the Jervois Steakhouse, a high-end steak restaurant owned by one of the judges on the New Zealand version of Masterchef. We found out about it because my wife is addicted to food shows, especially the Masterchefs. (The Australian one is our favourite, which is almost blasphemy in New Zealand; but the amateur cooks who go on it are just at such a high level of skill, and the judges make it a warm and positive show while still retaining the drama. It makes Masterchef USA look a bit sick, to be honest.)

Anyway, when the company I worked for at the time gave me a budget to go out to dinner and celebrate working for them for 15 years, I took my wife and my oldest friend to Jervois Steakhouse.

If I’d been spending my own money, I wouldn’t have ordered the $32 starter of tempura oysters, but I’m glad I did. Sweet, fresh oysters in a light, delicious batter, and not the least bit greasy. Mmmm. I’d order them again like a shot.

Now I want lunch.

Thanks, Mike. You remind me that one of the best meals in my life was in New Zealand, specially prepared for me by the chef at Te Papa. Glory days.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


Eating Authors: Nancy Jane Moore

No Comments » Written on August 28th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Nancy Jane Moore

As August winds down things are starting to get back to normal. Or to put it another way, my whacky sleep cycle has returned and I’m more overwhelmed with projects than ever! But then, these are good problems to have (well, the whole sleep thing, not so much, but the other one, yeah).

To close off this month, EATING AUTHORS returns once more to that amazing author cooperative, Book View Cafe, to feature as this week’s guest one of its founding members, Nancy Jane Moore.

I first discovered Nancy’s work in the pages of Polyphony 5 more than a decade ago, and I continue to delight in it. If you like strong feminist themes in your science fiction you should definitely give her a read!

LMS: Welcome, Nancy. So what stands out as your most memorable meal?

NJM: Coming up with just one memorable meal is quite a challenge. I love to eat. According to my father I came home from the hospital hungry and I’ve been asking what’s for dinner ever since.

The Weave

But a meal last fall on our road trip up the California Coast en (slow) route to Eugene, Oregon, for the Tiptree Symposium honoring Ursula K. Le Guin gets my vote these days.

We left Oakland midday, and took back roads from San Rafael until we were north of Point Reyes National Seashore. Route 1 isn’t so heavily traveled there, so we lazed along up to Jenner, where we splurged on a room that overlooked the water.

Jenner’s not a big town, and most of it is one side or the other of Route 1. We walked up the highway about a half mile to the River’s End restaurant. It was dark by then, but if we looked hard we could see the Russian River flowing into the Pacific out the restaurant window.


I ordered oysters on the half shell. I had something else – a nice salad, as I recall – and a glass of wine, but it was the oysters that made this memorable. Fresh caught oysters from Tomales Bay, a few miles to the south. Small oysters, with a deep dusky flavor, not quite smoky, but rich and dark. Without a doubt, they were the best oysters I’ve ever eaten in my life, and I’ve been eating oysters since I was six years old.

There was a special sauce for them, one I’m sure the chef was justifiably proud of, but it wasn’t necessary. You didn’t want to hide that taste; you wanted to savor every bite of it.

My sweetheart doesn’t like oysters. He ate a hamburger. But he really enjoyed watching me eat them.

The rest of our trip up the coast was also memorable – driving through redwoods and staring out at the Pacific. We ate well several times that trip, but the first night was the best.

Thanks, Nancy. You remind me that sometimes the best thing about a meal can be watching how much someone else enjoys it.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


Eating Authors: Nicky Drayden

No Comments » Written on August 21st, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Nicky Drayden

I’m catching my breath, having just returned home from two weeks of travel that included both the Worldcon in Finland and side trips to Iceland (both before and after) as well as a visit to Sweden that included some research. I think I have three or four competing sets of jetlag — and my sleep cycle is a mess at the best of times.

But it was a great trip, and if I didn’t get to see a few dozen folks I’d intended to I ended up meeting a lot of new faces and that always brings new and exciting possibilities. Travel, after all, is broadening. This is true in both the expanding your mind sense as well as the expanding your waistline interpretation (and my wife found us some incredible restaurants for the trip).

All of which is my official segue into this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, because Nicky Drayden‘s most memorable meal is rooted in travel, and of course eating.

Nicky’s first novel, The Prey of Gods, came out two months ago from the folks at Harper Voyager. It’s got robots, an ancient demigoddess, drugs that tap your inner animal, young love, and so much more. It’s a debut novel that will make you sit up and take notice and ask, “hey, when’s her next novel coming out?”

Continue Reading »

Eating Authors: Spencer Ellsworth

No Comments » Written on August 14th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Spencer Ellsworth

Yes, it’s another Monday, and I know what you’re thinking: time for the latest installment of EATING AUTHORS. And yes, that’s coming, but we get 52 (sometimes 53) of them each year. This past Saturday marked an annual event that needs to be acknowledged. I refer of course to the August 12th celebration known as World Elephant Day.

I observed the day with a signing session as part of the 75th annual World Science Fiction Convention (which just concluded in Helsinki, Finland), pushing Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard.

But that was last week and as already noted it’s a shiny new Monday, so I should get around to introducing Spencer Ellsworth to you. I don’t know him well, but I have known him a good long while, as he’s been a part of the Codex Writers community for more than a decade.

In all that time I’ve only seen him write short fiction, but that’s the past. He’s sold a trio of novels (aka the Starfire trilogy) to the fine folks at Tor Books and the first volume, A Red Peace, comes out next week on August 22nd. It’s a classic space opera written with gigantic insects, an ancient artifact, cyborgs, and a kick-ass heroine. Okay, so it lacks elephants, but you can’t have everything.

LMS: Welcome, Spencer. What do you consider your most memorable meal?

SE: My most memorable meal was three pints of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, not just because it was delicious, but because it came with (deep breath): Head injuries! Butt injuries! Poison ivy! Public urination! A rescue mission!

And hobbits!

Starfire: A Red Peace

In 2002, I worked at a wilderness survival camp for troubled teens. Most of the time, I worked in the teen groups, hiking around the gorgeous Arizona creeks, below massive red rock cliffs near the tiny town of Young. However, I would sometimes take a turn helping out at “backup,” meaning the truck that was parked a few miles from the group’s location at any time. Backup would anticipate emergencies and run supplies into the group.

I was halfway through a three-week shift, with backup, hanging out in the truck when we got news that one of the girls had suffered a serious head injury, falling onto a rock in the creek.

A head injury in a wilderness camp is a huge deal. The kid in question was showing some dangerous signs of head trauma, so we had to get down to the creek and immobilize her head, then carry her out. It was my job to carry the surfboard-sized stretcher from the truck, down any number of cliffs.

I’d been hiking the Arizona backcountry for ten years now, but never with something the size of a surfboard. At top speed. Down steep hills.

Starfire: Shadow Sun Seven

I became aware that I was moving too fast to stop right above a batch of prickly pear cactus. I tried to stop. The surfboard didn’t stop. Wham. Down I went, butt-first into the prickly-pear cactus—and then slid further down the hill, trying to get my footing in the wet, crumbly shale until I ended up in a batch of poison ivy.

I got the stretcher to the group, and staff, students and backup all helped strap the girl down… then all six of us maneuvered her up the cliffs back to the truck. At one point the poor strapped-down girl had to pee, and since there was no way to unstrap her without moving her head, we had to give the classic advice: “just go.”

The pee went everywhere, including all over those of use carrying the stretcher. By then, I cared less about getting pee on me than I did about whether or not the pee might be an effective deterrent to poison ivy.

She was okay! And (important for a kid eating roots and berries for six weeks) she got to visit a hospital and eat Jell-O.

When Stars Are Scattered

I wasn’t okay. Pee doesn’t cure poison ivy (The More You Know!). By the time I got off the trail, I was an itchy mess.

After a baking soda bath, I headed straight to Blockbuster Video to pick up the newly released Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, and stopped at the grocery store to get two, no, let’s-make-it-three pints of Ben & Jerry’s, including the short-lived flavor Honey I’m Home. (It was good. Like honey and cream on oatmeal.)

I sat down with what was, I’m sure, the only movie in existence that would draw my attention away from the itching. I watched every moment, all the special features, and by 6 in the morning, I had finished the trek to the Argonath, and all three pints of ice cream. I even felt a little bit of solidarity with those hobbits on their dangerous journey, given what I’d gone through, and how much I had eaten.

Thanks, Spencer. I can now cross off “post an Eating Authors meal that references hobbits, urine, and troubled teens” from my bucket list.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


Eating Authors: Nik Korpon

No Comments » Written on August 7th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Nik Korpon

Last year was a crazy travel year, and not necessarily in a good way. Which is why I vowed to cut back — way back — on travel in 2017. And yet, these past few weeks have seen me zipping off to first San Juan and then Chicago.

And right now, as this posts, I’m in Reykjavik, soon to be in Helsinki, and then off to Stockholm before heading back to Reykjavik. Also, next month is promising a run up to Montreal. And at least three more out of town (and one more out of country) trips before December.

Not exactly a stellar example of cutting back.

And yet, despite being in Europe, EATING AUTHORS continues and this week’s guest, Nik Korpon, has a nice meal to recount from his own travels in Europe. He lives in Baltimore nowadays so maybe our paths will cross when I’m there next month for the city’s Book Festival).

Nic’s latest novel, The Rebellion’s Last Traitor, came out two months ago. The descripion had me hooked at the phrase “memory thieves.” Seriously, what else do you need?

LMS: Welcome, Nik. Speak to me of your best meal, please.

NK: The best meal I’ve ever had is actually a two-fer. The first was with my then-girlfriend (now wife). I was on break in grad school and flew from London to meet her in Spain for two weeks. We hadn’t seen each other in months. It was a simple meal, just bread, cheese, olives, and apples; we sat on the bank of the river that cuts through Seville, Spain, listening to the chatter of passersby, smelling the ever-present scent of oranges from the naranjos that line the streets.

The Rebellion's Last Traitor

But it was emblematic of our relationship, simple and contented. It didn’t hurt that Spain was the place I’ve ever stepped off the plane and just felt at home, like on a bone-deep level. I can remember the feeling vividly but could never explain it.

The second was four or five months later, another simple meal. I was living in a surf lodge in a small fishing village outside Lisbon, Portugal, editing my thesis (which became my first book). She came to stay with me for a month before starting grad school herself. Every few nights we’d get a pizza from the local pizzeria and a bottle of wine from the mercado, then sit on the rocks and watch the sun go down over the surf. That night I’d talked her into getting shrimp on the pizza, because why not? That’s what a lot of the locals ate. As the sun was going down, I asked her to marry me. She laughed and thought I was joking. Long story short, she said yes, and ten years later I’m still thinking about that day.

Thanks, Nik. Yeah, shrimp pizza and marriage proposals. I’ve seen it a million times. Imagine where you might be if you’d gone with anchovies!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


Eating Authors: Michael Johnston

No Comments » Written on July 31st, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Michael Johnston

If things are going according to plan, then I’ve just returned from the 24th annual conference of the Klingon Language Institute, having survived numerous linguist and alien challenges, charted out some of the milestones of the next year for the world’s Klingon speakers, done a couple interviews for television and print, and made some real progress on my edits for the BARSquel.

This week I’ll attempt to log plenty of hours at the DayJob, but also to complete my work on the novel so I can send it to my editor so I can leave for Europe with a clean conscience. The housesitter has been briefed, but I still need to have several long talks with the dog to make sure he understands that I’m going away but that I’ll be coming back too.

The trip is probably the grandest excursion I’ve ever planned, chock full of amazing experiences and unique research opportunities (because these books don’t write themselves). One might almost go so far as to describe the trip as “epic,” which is a nice segue to this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, architect turned novelist Michael Johnston.

I think there’s something sublime about using the grandeur of architecture as a metaphor to inform speculative fiction, and that’s exactly what Michael does in Soleri, his first solo novel (though I’d be remiss not to note that he’s also co-authored several books with Melissa de la Cruz).

Michael says he found inspiration in the history of ancient Egypt and the tragedy of Shakespeare’s Leer, producing an eternal civilization and a family of gods, all described with the clean lines that you’d expect from an architect. What’s not to love? I’d tell you more, but you’ve probably already clicked a link and headed off to buy the book (which came out just last month).

I hope you remember to come back and read his memorable meal below.

LMS: Welcome, Michael. What lingers in your mind as your most memorable meal?

MJ: Without question my most memorable meal was at the Four Season restaurant in the Seagram’s building in New York City. For those who are not familiar with the building and the restaurant, Mies van der Roe, one of the principle figures of minimal modernist architecture, designed the Seagram building. The tower, often dubbed “the brown-booze building” for its bronze façade, was so expensive that it prompted the city of New York to change the way it taxed buildings. The restaurant itself was no exception to this excess. Philip Johnson, who had himself once worked for Mies and was famous for pilfering Mies’s design for the first “glass house” and building it for himself, designed the restaurant.

The Four Seasons was built in two parts, both of which elegantly straddled the office tower’s lobby. The grille occupied the south side and sported a large bar and small seating areas. A fantastic chandelier hung above the bar, hugging its perimeter. The chandelier was less light fixture and more light sculpture, a series of bronze tubes suspended in the air and designed by Richard Lippold. It floated, shimmering amid the buzz of the room. A hallway separated the grille from the other half of the restaurant. I say hallway, but it was more of a gallery, a grand passage between two modernist shrines. A two-story tapestry by Picasso hung on the wall of that hallway and it was breathtaking to behold.


In its prime, the Four Seasons was as much a temple to art as it was to architecture. Mark Rothko was famously hired to produce the first murals for the space. He immediately replied that he would create “something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room.” He didn’t get the job, but many other famous artists did install their work in the restaurant. The pool room took its name, obviously, from the large body of water at its center. The pool was majestic. So much so that the tables were arranged so that dinners sat side-by-side facing the water.

Now, I’ve provided a little background on the restaurant; so let me explain that I came to all of this as a twenty-two year graduate student of architecture at Columbia. My then girlfriend and now wife had received a rather large Christmas bonus and we were determined to spend the entire thing on this one meal. So I arrived at the Four Seasons as a somewhat financially challenged student, a kid from a nowhere town in the Midwest who had come to one of the most storied and fabulous rooms in New York City. The restaurant itself sits high above street level. So we entered at the street level where my coat was taken, where I admired the walls and floor, all of which were clad in travertine, in traditional modernist fashion, and where a tapestry from Miro hung on the wall, the chairs designed by Mies, the carpet too. From there we were ushered up a switchback set up stairs. Visitors literally ascend into the Grille Room where they first catch sight of that scintillating chandelier. It truly dazzled the eye (I’m not exaggerating, the chandelier is amazing). We had a drink that cost more than most folk expect to pay for a respectable dinner. We waited for our names to be called. Then we were ushered across that gorgeous hallway, past the towering Picasso and into the pool room.

We sat and were immediately set upon by an army of servants. Not only did we have our own waiter but that waiter had a set of subwaiters (probably not a word, is there a word for this?). I don’t recall the food, which might disqualify me for this column. I only recall the experience, the elegance of the place, the pageantry, the size of the bill.

It’s easily my most memorable meal. Sadly the restaurant closed a few years back and much of the art was sold off by ruthless real estate folk. Recently an effort was made to restore the grille, which has now reopened and I understand that the pool room will also reopen. Both are landmarked, so they can’t be destroyed or significantly altered. I’m glad they are both returning to service. After almost twenty years I’d love to go back and perhaps this time I’ll remember if I liked the food.

Thanks, Michael. Despite the passage of more than 30 years, my meal-spending sensibility is still rooted in the poverty of my graduate school years. I dine out nowadays and spend way more than I’m comfortable with, but your meal sounds at least an order of magnitude beyond anything I could relax enough to enjoy. I wouldn’t remember what I ate either.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

author photo by Cathryn Farnsworth