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Eating Authors: Yaroslav Barsukov

No Comments » Written on February 22nd, 2021 by
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Yaroslav Barsukov

What a week it’s been! Since last we checked in I’ve learned that: my cancer is in remission and I should have somewhere in the neighborhood of five to seven years before it stirs up and again tries to kill me, a short story of mine will be hitching a ride as part of the fiction payload that’s going to be left on the moon for posterity and potential future alien visitors to read, and I can shovel massive amounts of snow without difficulty, discomfort, or ill effect. Like much of the US, we’ve had a bit of weather here, which in turn forced me to reschedule my second COVID vaccination, but if all goes as planned that should happen tomorrow.

All in all, February is racing by, which also means members of SFWA have less than a week to send in their nominations for the Nebula Awards. I don’t want to jinx myself, I’m hopeful that I may receive a nomination for a novella, but I’m beyond certain that this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest will be seeing his name on the ballot in that same category. Yaroslav Barsukov‘s tale was originally serialized in Metaphorosis Magazine, but just yesterday it was published as a standalone book, his first. And I should know, I blurbed it.

Yare is from Moscow, but currently makes his home in Vienna where he toils by day as a software engineer. When not dealing with IT or writing fiction, he spends his time building his reputation as a connoisseur of strong alcoholic beverages — good work, if you can get it. Although we’ve yet to meet face to face, let alone share a meal, I’ve known him for years through the online Codex Writers group, and it’s a great delight to celebrate his new book by having him here.

LMS: Welcome, Yare. What bit of Viennese cuisine stands out in your memory?

YB: Sometimes, a gourmet meal can save a crazy-ass art project.

If you ask me what’ll remain of our civilization once Covid finally wipes us out, it won’t be the pyramids; rather, there are six buildings in the heart of Vienna which would probably survive another planet-annihilating asteroid.

Magic, you say? Maybe. They’re flak towers, anti-aircraft bastions Hitler had built to protect the city against Allied planes. And no, unlike the Nazi uniforms, Hugo Boss didn’t design these things—they look like something straight out of a fever dream, mammoth bolts of concrete a giant tried to screw into the ground (stopping halfway because his wife called him to dinner).

Imagine such a hulk looming over a baroque park where Mozart might’ve walked his dog. I say “baroque” because one of the towers does, in fact, stand in the middle of Vienna’s Augarten. Can you believe this? The cognitive dissonance the park’s visitors are exposed to on a daily basis is off the charts.

The city tried blowing the towers up, but unfortunately, the monsters had been built to survive poor weather. A couple of neighboring buildings cracked, a few windows shattered, a butcher somewhere woke up to a coronary. Hundreds of feet of concrete remained pointed at the sky.

So one day, a friend of mine, a wonderful painter, received a grant for an art project involving the Augarten tower. She didn’t tell me what the project was — only, a week later, in the evening, invited me to a “dry run.”

I went in expecting a huge painting on the tower’s side, or perhaps a group of ballerinas throwing rotten eggs at it (modern art, y’all!). What I encountered was a circle of powerful projectors.

Tower of Mud and Straw

The tower was wrapped in a photo of human skin — I suspect my friend had gotten the idea from computer games. It sounds better than it was. What I learned about skin that evening was that it is bland, utterly bland with an occasional blemish and a couple of moles that look like rendering errors.

The timeline, however, was set: the project needed to launch the next day. In such situations, drinking and eating helps get the gray matter brewing, and thus my friend, I, and two other invitees went to a restaurant right there, in Augarten.

The establishment had a somewhat colorful history, switching the chefs every summer with the precision of a Swiss clock; by that point, it was in the hands of an Armenian fellow for whom the phrase “larger than life” seemed tailor-made — with the emphasis on “larger.” He was at least six feet tall, built like an oak barrel, and sporting a massive curly beard. One of the most joyful people I’d met, and a born chef.

I remember ordering seafood, and how he brought out a squid the kitchen would turn into fried calamari — the beast must’ve been a relative of the one that had starred in the Pirates of the Caribbean. For the first time in my life, in a restaurant, I saw my food before it became food. I wasn’t sure if the chef was inviting us to check the squid out or fight it a-la Jack Sparrow.

We produced a few “wows” and gasps. The beard parted in a smile; the man and his sea monster disappeared into the kitchen.

When the servers finally put the plates on the table, I thought that sometime during the evening, our little group had died and gone to heaven. Crunchy rings melted in my mouth, tomatoes popped on my tongue, the butter and the sauce bathed my palate. I regretted not having a black hole in my stomach like that character from Bob Gale’s Interstate 60.

The chef joined us at the table, and we drank a few rounds of Blaufränkisch. After a while, I noticed my artist friend eating the guy with her eyes. Well, it’s not just the jaws at work here, I thought, fishing for another calamari ring with my fork. I suspected romantic attraction.

And then she stands up, takes out her camera, and says, “Could you please stick out your tongue?”

That’s how the cook’s tongue ended up wrapped around the indestructible Nazi tower. Weirder things must’ve happened, but none I’ve been involved in. Years later, in 2020, that experience prompted me to drop my own anti-airship stronghold into the middle of a fantasy novella.

In Tower of Mud and Straw, a thousand-foot monstrosity is held together by devices brought by refugees from another world. Devices that may draw attention none can afford… Which is stranger here, life or fiction? I don’t know. In the meantime, I implore you all to try out fried calamari.

Thanks, Yare. As it happens, I too am a huge fan of calamari, but the timing has to be spot on — cook it too little and you’re looking at vibrio poisoning, too long and you might as well be chewing on rubber. But when you get it just right, ahhhh, sublime!

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: Tao Wong

1 Comment » Written on February 15th, 2021 by
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Tao Wong

Another Monday, and the plan is that I will finally have that delayed sit-down face-to-face confab with the head of the bone marrow transplant program, review the results of my bone marrow biopsy from last month, and learn what it all means in terms of my cancer treatment going forward. The original meeting was bumped due to bad weather, so naturally the forecast for this week is all sleet and freezing rain. Today shouldn’t be too bad, but it’s only going to get worse and this calls into doubt my trip into downtown Philadelphia for my second round of COVID vaccine on Thursday. It’s always something, am I right?

Adulting is hard, but that’s the nature of the game I’m playing, and that bit of pithy wisdom is about as close as I can manage for a segue to introduce this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Tao Wong, one of the most successful LitRPG authors around.

Tao is a self-described geek, former LARPer, and recovering Magic: The Gathering player, all of which translates into background training and research for his fiction. In just a few short years he’s wracked up more than twenty books spread out across four series. Since 2017, he has been writing LitRPG and cultivation novels, telling stories of the end of the world, dungeon exploration, and martial arts adventure.

A Canadian indie author living in the Yukon, Tao has only been a full time writer since 2019. His latest book, released barely two weeks ago, is Broken Council, the tenth book in The System Apocalypse, a Space Opera, Post-Apocalyptic LitRPG series. And seriously, he’s only just getting started.

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

TW: Not surprisingly, considering the time of year, the most memorable memory I have about food is as a child around Chinese New Year. Truth be told, the memories blur together as the exact days disappear, all becoming one warm memory of tradition and family. You see, as a kid, we always gathered to have a family meal on Chinese New Year’s eve, and as a child, it was always my grandmother who cooked the meal in her small, brick house in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

Life in the North

Now, mind you, my family in Malaysia was relatively large. Between children, parents, grandparents, uncle and aunt, there were at least ten of us at any one time and sometimes, more if the aunts and uncle from Canada had made it back. As such, cooking for all of us was an elaborate matter.

In this case, the meal was always my grandmother’s specialties – Malaysian curry, char yuk (stewed pork) and loh hon chai with rice were the main dishes. Now, you have to understand, my grandmother was an amazing cook – one of those individuals who could toss together a meal with the barest scraps and make it taste like a five star restaurant. She had been trained in the traditional nonya style of cooking, with exacting measurements for inexact terms like a pinch of salt or a handful of sugar, and made all of our food from scratch. In fact, for a time, she used to have a catering company when she was younger to help make ends meet.

The First Step

So, where to begin in describing the meal? Well, of course the Malaysian chicken curry was made from curry powder that she had dried, mixed and ground herself. This was a multiday process, where the entire front lawn would be dedicated to holding the various chillis and herbs to be dried in the sun before she would grind them down into packed cans and glasses for use through the years. The chicken curry itself was often started the day before, with arm-sized pots cooked over the gas stove, only to be reheated the next day. As anyone who knows curry knows, day old curry is the best as it lets the spices settle and blend with the meat even better.

The char yuk was made from belly pork and was an elaborate cooking process that involved deep frying the breaded meat first before stewing the concoction with dried black fungus, fermented bean paste, onions and garlic and more. The entire concoction is then left to stew for hours, stirred occassionally and ready for the evening meal.

As for the loh hon chai, this was the mixed vegetable dish that changed depending on what vegetables were available but always featured bean curd sheets, mushrooms and a variety of other vegetables, braised in stock and ready for eating when we all arrived.

A Healer's Gift

The table itself would always be filled by multiple pots of each of the above, with multiple rice cookers on a side counter. We’d all take turns – in order of seniority – to serve ourselves before retiring from the small dining room that held the food to the living room to eat. Sitting down on the ground, on the couches and chairs, we’d balance plates on knees and crossed legs, consuming the supplied repast in large amounts and talking. I can’t recall what we talked about anymore, it was just the kind of conversations family had about what was happening for one another, the current state of the economy or political climates or the latest trouble we kids had caused.

But the meals were always amazing, the warmth of sitting together and being a family was what I remember. We’d eat and eat till we were full to bursting and then help clean up afterwards, the older members of the family packing up the leftovers to take home for meals over the Chinese New Year. And as children, we’d always be excited because we knew the very next day, we’d be getting ang pow (red packets).

Thanks, Tao. What is it about grandmothers and legendary meals? My maternal grandmother visited us from Chicago when I was a small boy in southern California, and she got off the plane carrying two shopping bags full of homemade chicken fat so she could start right in cooking once she reached our house. The stories we tell of such occasions are as filling and nourishing as the meals themselves.

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.

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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: Rigel Ailur

1 Comment » Written on February 8th, 2021 by
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AUTHOR

The past week has been full of record levels of snowfall and day after day of me shoveling my driveway. The good news is that I’m fit enough to do it without injuring my back or courting a heart attack (major risks just a few years ago). The bad news is that between an impassable driveway and roads of sleet and black ice, I had to bump my sitdown meeting with my oncologist last Monday. The new plan is next Monday. So, sorry, if you were expecting some news on that front, we both have to wait.

In the meantime, do feel free to check out the other highlight from last week for me, the newly released Slice of Entropy, which I am feeling very pleased with.

I’m gazing out the window of my home office as I type this, watching fat flakes of snow falling, and it’s like some cinematic effect which makes the mind wander. I’m thinking back to an earlier writing opportunity I had, selling a story to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds III, part of an anthology series that was populated entirely by people who had never sold Star Trek stories before. Quite a few writers “broke in” through that series, some to become Trek novelists for Pocket Books and others to go off to forge their own paths as authors.

That’s the segue to introduce Rigel Ailur, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, who had a story in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds X, the last volume of the series.

Rigel is perhaps best known for her Tales of Mimion series which spans at least eighteen books, and where telepathy and extra senses are the order of the day. But that’s just the name she uses for fantasy and softer science fiction. She also writes as Kris Katzen for hard science fiction, and even has a few other pseudonyms for writing romance, mystery, suspense, and additional genres besides. I only learned about these other identities in preparing today’s post. To me, Rigel has always just been someone I knew through social media and our common early days breaking into Star Trek.

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

RA: “My most memorable meal?” is a loaded question. I’m a menace in the kitchen. Truly. I normally avoid any and all cooking or baking, thereby ensuring far, far fewer kitchen fires and inedible remains of what used to be food. Boiling water? I’ve burnt it, and set off the smoke detector. Past incidents have never involved the fire department. I do keep a fire extinguisher close at hand, after all.

But, I digress — because I’m guessing it’ll be better to discuss a meal that people could eat. By definition that means one not prepared by me.

Aquadia

This tale of a most memorable meal begins with a quest! A friend was visiting from out of town and we — along with two others also visiting — wanted to have dinner. My mission: pick a centrally located restaurant that met everyone’s dietary requirements and wouldn’t cost hundreds of dollars by the time the check came. I’m vegan. Vegetables, fruits, pasta, rice, and bread are always good, right? Ok, and salads. Another person had digestive issues and needed to have meat and avoid pasta, rice, and bread. Someone liked Chinese, but someone else hated it. Italian? Thai? Burgers?

The search was on!

My initial criteria was ‘vegan’. Many places with vegan offerings also include a wide range of menu items. Without that, I’ve learned the hard way, responses from waitstaff have ranged from ‘what’s vegan?’ to ‘oh, yes, I guess it does have chicken broth’. After checking off that first requirement, it was a matter of finding enough variety on the rest of the menu.

Naturally we ended up at a pizza joint, and one I’d never heard of before.

Azure Dragon

I warned my friends that although I’d researched thoroughly, I’d never eaten there. Nevertheless, they checked out the menu (gotta love the internet) and were brave enough to venture forth to this untested eatery. In addition to the calzones and stromboli one would expect at a pizzeria, it featured soup and chilli and all kinds of subs and salads. Steak, chicken, ham, fish, all available, along with capicola and salami, gave the carnivore in our group plenty of choices.

Charming but tiny, the place looked like a hole in the wall, with only five tables (not counting outdoor seating) and a long bar. It smelled fabulous of baking bread and pepperoni. The servers were friendly and fast, efficiently taking and bringing our orders. We all loved it. My white pizza with tons of garlic and extra tomato was absolutely delicious. The scrumptious steak perfectly smothered the huge salad my friend got. The other two in our group opted for hoagies which they happily devoured.

We all had a lovely time, and I found a new favorite place that I’ve recommended to others, all of whom also loved it. My friend even went back on her next visit and has also recommended it to others. Mission accomplished! The quest succeeded! And not a single kitchen fire in sight.

Thanks, Rigel. I confess, I’ve had difficulty finding dining venues that worked for me and my vegan friends, bit I’d never considered a pizza joint. In hindsight, it seems obvious. So much so that I’m going to steal it for an upcoming novel. Thanks!

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: P. L. Sullivan

1 Comment » Written on February 1st, 2021 by
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P. L. Sullivan

As you know (Bob), I usually prepare each Monday’s post a day or more beforehand. Right now for me it’s yesterday (assuming you’re reading this on Monday) and I have big plans for my tomorrow (your today). I’ve just passed the one year anniversary of replacing my immune system and I have a sit-down, face-to-face meeting planned with the head of the bone marrow transplant program at the hospital to go over the results of my bone marrow biopsy from two weeks ago and discuss what it all means for me and my cancer treatment going forward. Bonus points to those of you who have figured out that this is the same physician I dedicated last year’s Eating Authors book to.

As you might imagine, I’m quite anxious about this meeting. But to further complicate things, the weather forecast is calling for snow, somewhere between six and ten inches of the stuff, starting this afternoon and into tomorrow (i.e., Monday) morning. Which may call into question my ability to even get to that meeting.

Because my weather control satellites are not yet fully operational, there’s nothing I can do about the situation and so I choose to think about other things. In this instance, I’m reflecting on the time back in 2010 when I climbed the mountain to attend Walter Jon Williams’s masterclass, the Taos Toolbox. It was a transformative experience for me, and I like to think other authors had similar reactions

And that’s your segue to this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, because like me, P. L. Sullivan is an alumnus of the Toolbox and his debut novel was released this past December. Naturally, I invited him here to celebrate.

Bound is being touted as a high energy space opera in which the minds of two characters are joined in a single body (the Bound), and then trained as elite soldiers who get sent out as part of the First Contact Teams to new worlds. Better still, when the Bound die they can be brought back in a new body, and brutal deaths on hostile worlds is apparently the norm.

Yeah, okay, Pat, just take my money and send me the book already.

LMS: Welcome, Pat. So what’s been your most memorable meal?

PLS: Dining, for me is more about the experience and the environment than the food itself. I’ve been fortunate enough to have eaten memorable meals in a great variety of locations — from glamping in Tanzania to a wonderful Indian restaurant in London where our family joined the locals in glaring at a truly obnoxiously loud group of Americans. As to a favorite? I’ll offer up a meal I had in Tokyo in the ’80s.

Bound

I was a young and very junior engineer with Texas Instruments, part a team of engineers and managers visiting with important prospective suppliers in Japan. After long days of technical meetings, an important supplier took us out to dinner. I’ve chosen this dinner for you because it was such a stressful and yet delightful event. As a kid from Minnesota raised on fish=fish sticks and spicy=spaghetti sauce, utensils=knife and fork, I was way out of my food element. As a young engineer at a business dinner with a critical supplier, I was in a social environment where making the right social impression was important, but how to do it was uncertain. We were seated on cushions on a tatami mat (midwestern boy is missing his chair already) and were served a shabu-shabu dinner — thin slices of Kobe beef with vegetables, dipping sauces, and communal cooking pots (I have to cook my own?). I discovered how delicious Kobe beef is (can you say amazing?), drank hot sake for the first time, and did passably well with my chopsticks. I had the great fortune to be traveling with a group of Americans whose eagerness to try new things emboldened my quiet self to stretch way beyond my normal limits. They were gregarious (engineers, gregarious?) and genuinely admired the Japanese culture that we were immersed in.

The Japanese engineers and managers were courageous with their English, the Americans did their best and slaughtered the few Japanese phrases we thought we knew, and everyone got along famously. No cultural disasters took place — we’d learned enough to add -san to everyone’s name, to bow and not offer hands to shake, and to use both hands to give and accept business cards. Most importantly, we were genuine in our interest in our dinner companions and delighted to be sharing the meal with them.

I’ve always wanted to get back to Japan; it holds so many great memories, but I’ve never yet made it.

Thanks, Pat. I’ve only been to Japan once as well, but I learned firsthand in Yokohama that once you’ve gone Kobe there’s no going back. I’m still haunted by the memory of the best steak I’ve ever had.

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: Kenzie Kelly

No Comments » Written on January 25th, 2021 by
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Kenzie Kelly

As it turned out, the USA did not descend into total civil war in the middle of last week. We’ve got that going for us, but the polarization of the nation — which I want to call “polarity” but I’m pretty sure that would mean something else — continues unabated. In the midst of all of that I thought we could all use a meal from an author who provides a variety of distractions. Enter this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Kenzie Kelly, who sums up her fiction as “other worlds; tight pants.”

Kissy writes kissy SF&F, exploring other realms and populating them with aliens and supernatural beings, which may or may not be inspired by the suburb outside of Atlanta, GA where she makes her home. I’m pretty sure we’ve never met — though my last visit to Atlanta was a blur that ended with surprising good dim sum — rather, I know her from her Herculean efforts wrangling the many authors involved in last year’s massive Hellcats anthology. That was more than enough reason to invite her to drop by and share a meal. Well, that and the tight pants.

LMS: Welcome, Kenzie. Please share the specifics of your most memorable meal.

KK: My favorite food related memories are more about the people I was with than the actual menu or preparation, even though I am drawn to potatoes like they contain an ingredient necessary for my survival. I suspect this is true for many people. Memories being more about the company, not the potato thing, I mean.

My most memorable meal falls in to that category. The food was far less interesting than the company. Hindsight is humor in this case, although I remember suppressing giggles and giving each other incredulous looks as it happened.

Kiran

My mother and I had decided on a quiet lunch in a mid-level Mediterranean restaurant. We’d been there before and were hooked on the Greek salad and flaky pastry spanakopitas. If I remember correctly, the restaurant had recently changed hands, but the menu and food quality remained the same.

However, much of the staff had changed.

Our lunch arrived right about the time we noticed an abundance of flies ensconced on the windowsill at the end of our booth. Our plates being set on the table rang their dinner bell and we were spending as much time defending our food from them as we were eating it. We called our server over and pointed out the problem as politely as possible.

“We can take care of that.” She told us with authority.

Before we could register what was happening, she returned with a large can of aerosol bug spray and liberally fanned the poison from her position at one end of our table, toward the opposite end where the flies were.

Mom and I retreated in horror as we watched the spray drift down to coat our lunch. The server was quite pleased with herself at having defeated the insects until we pointed out that she had also poisoned our food.

We aren’t the type of people to let a little bug spray come between us and a truly excellent Greek salad, so after a table change and a fresh serving of lunch (sans poison, we hoped) we got back to the business of eating.

Brimstone Born

The next time the waitress checked on us, she apologized up, down, and sideways. During our attempts to reassure her that no permanent damage was done, she let slip that she was recently released from jail, as were many of her new coworkers. At the time, mom was working as a researcher on a study taking place in certain prisons. That information seemed to be the encouragement she needed, because in short order she had joined us at the table and was deep into telling us her life story.

As you might guess, it wasn’t a happy one, and she included details of her life in jail after a drug possession conviction (heroin), how she was working to regain custody of her son, and the abusive ex with whom she was tempted to get back together.

Our next visit, we brought several self-help and relationship advice books for the staff. I never learned what happened to that particular waitress, but I like to hope she stayed out of jail, got custody of her son, and realized her ex was no-good and she was worth far better.

My mom and I must have the look of good listeners because random strangers sharing their life stories happens more often than either of us is comfortable with when we eat out together. It makes for interesting dinner conversation, if not always a welcome one.

Thanks, Kenzie. Nothing quite stokes one’s appetite like bug spray and rehabilitated waitstaff. There’s a novel in there somewhere, assuming their spanakopita is really as good as you say it is.

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: J.R.H. Lawless

1 Comment » Written on January 18th, 2021 by
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J.R.H. Lawless

I’m a bit distracted today, as it’s almost one year since my bone marrow transplant and I’m “celebrating” by having another bone marrow biopsy. I think this is my fifth, and unlike the last three which involved anesthesia, an operating room, and a full surgical team, I’m opting to do it old school in an exam room with just a local and one physician. The whole thing will be quicker, cheaper, and I’ll be able to drive myself home afterwards.

Distraction is good, but it only goes so far, and the real world (or what passes for it) keeps intruding despite my best efforts. Polarization and stupidity, frustration and anger, these are the things that are driving so many people. Me, I’m just trying to stay alive and keep busy. So even though it’s not just the USA that seems on fire, there are certainly other nations that are behaving a bit better.

Which provides my segue and part of why I’m turning to Canada for this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, J.R.H. Lawless. Not only is he statistically nicer, living as he does in Canada’s Atlantic Provinces, but as an attorney and Secretary General of a Parliamentary group at the French National Assembly, Lawless (hint: not his real name) seems the prefect person to go to this week as here in the USA we wait to see if we’ll enjoy a peaceful transfer of power or descend into civil war.

Last year he found time away from his legal pursuits to publish both his debut novel and a sequel, the first two volumes in his series The General Buzz, a quirky blend of humorous and dystopian SF. I confess I’m very curious to see where he’s going to take this next, but a starting point of game show participants competing to be labeled as having the world’s worst life is a fresh and compelling beginning.

LMS: Welcome, J.R.H. Please tell me about your most memorable meal.

JRHL: I love good food and drink, and a wide variety of it — it shows up more often than I intend in my work. But I didn’t choose the story I’m going to be sharing because of the food itself — even though it was, as you will see, very nice indeed. This meal is one of my most memorable (and the most memorable I feel comfortable sharing) because it took place at the height of my career as a head of a parliamentary group at the French National Assembly, and featured both political tensions and manoeuvres worthy of the Red Wedding, and some of the finest drinks I’ve ever had — and which I’ve drawn on directly to craft some of the drinking my main character shares with the audience in my novels.

Always Greener

As part of my functions as secretary general of the parliamentary group at the Palais Bourbon, the seat of the French National Assembly (and also the birthplace of the terms “left wing” and “right wing”, incidentally), I was expected to attend our yearly “journées parlementaires”, or start-of-year seminar, held by one or another of our MPs, in their corner of France. This one was held deep in the heart of the French Sud-Ouest, in a locale I won’t specify, in the seat of one of our MPs who had taken over from their predecessor, who was now President of the Département, the French equivalent of a county. After a day of workshops, a luncheon cruise down the local canal, and a tour of the ultramodern Département offices including an incredibly proud display of an original Napoleon bust in the President’s office (a local hero), we retired to the literal castle near to the offices, where the Département President received guests.

Now, even though I was always cautious during any function like this, since that was the nature of the job, I was particularly wary that evening. The President in question and the MP who had replaced them at the Assembly were very influential within the party, to say the least, and had actively campaigned against my nomination to secretary general of the group. This had included the aforementioned President, who was no longer an MP, coming to the Assembly to campaign against me, under pretext of needing to visit the Assembly hairdressers, despite being completely bald. The head MP of the group and the others who had backed me were there as well, but a large part of the event would inevitably be either a trap or an exercise in reasserting domination after a phase of rebellion, which I’d been at the heart of. We had a lovely apéro down in the reception room, then the staff invited us up to the dining table for the meal itself.

The Rude Eye of Rebellion

The food was gorgeous Sud Ouest fare — duck confit and magret, basted roast potatoes, amazing deep red wines including beautiful Cahors, my personal favorite, and everything you would expect from the heart of the French South West. That being said, as a vegetarian who refused to compromise my personal principles even in the face of a major culture shock, I had to rely on the goodwill and sympathy of the serving staff, who managed to adapt on the fly and sort out a combination of sides which turned into a lovely vegetarian meal in its own right for me.

But the most memorable bit for me, at the end of a stressful evening of politicking and playing nice with folks who had done everything to get rid of me just a few weeks earlier, was the bottle of fifty-year-old Armagnac they broke out of the castle’s reserves for the occasion, at the end of the meal. I’d had Armagnac before, but not often, and this golden-amber bulb blew all my previous experience of liqueur out of the water.

Thanks, J.R.H. That does sound like a swanky and memorable affair. And though your hosts were playing power games with you, at least they shared the Armagnac. That’s got to count for something.

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.

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Eating Authors: R.B. Lemberg

2 comments Written on January 11th, 2021 by
Categories: Plugs
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R.B. Lemberg

I think it’s fair to say that the first week of this new year has been anything but dull.

I generally avoid engaging in politics in any of my social media platforms and outlets. I like to believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion, even if I think it’s misguided or wrong or stupid, because, let’s be honest, there are certainly times when I’ve been misguided or wrong or stupid. The exceptions to his hands-off policy is when people engage in hate and violence. I don’t care about your political, racial, religious, or sexual ideology if you’re backing it up with a rock in your hand. Sorry, I can’t engage in discussion with someone who’s back-up plan is to stave in someone else’s skull if things don’t go their way.

On the other end of the spectrum this week, and somewhat ironically, in the morning hours before the events at the U.S. Capital, I released a new novel, Ace of Saints, Book Two in my Freelance Courier series. It’s a book about metaphor and the limits of abundance, also to some extent gender, identity, and perception of outsiders. The day should have been one of joy and delight, I mean, c’mon, new book day! But all too quickly it turned to one of dread and disillusionment and far too many hours glued to cable news. Not the way I like to observe a new release.

In some ways though it sets up the segue for this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, R.B. Lemberg. They’re a queer, bigender immigrant from Ukraine, Russia, and Israel to the US. R.B. lives in Lawrence, KS, and in their academic life is a sociolinguist working on immigrant discourse, identity, and gender. Seriously, give R.B. the ability to teleport people at will and they could have stepped from the pages of my novel.

R.B.’s fiction has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards. They’ve set many of their stories — including their latest novella, The Four Profound Weaves — in “Birdverse,” an LGBTQIA+-focused secondary world.

LMS: Welcome, R.B. Is there a meal that stands out from all others for you?

RBL: Some of the most memorable meals in my life were the ones I made for Bogi, early in our courtship, in my first home in Lawrence, KS. The meals themselves I remember only vaguely. I was still on a green card, and rising from the ashes of my disastrous first marriage, which ended a year or so prior; Bogi was visiting from Hungary to investigate graduate schools, and to meet US friends.

A few months later Bogi was back, again to visit graduate schools – but also to visit me; and finally, they were back to begin graduate school in Iowa City, about a six hour drive away (longer on Greyhound). We were a couple by then, but because of the mess that visas and the US immigration system made of our lives, we could not live in the same town, so visits were what we had.

The Four Profound Weaves

Back then I lived in an old, falling-apart midcentury marvel with thin walls paneled in mahogany plywood; every movement of the wind outside would make the house reverberate like a bell. Every rain made the windows leak. In the middle of the house was a two-sided open fireplace built exquisitely from thin Roman brick; one side looked into a large living space, the other into the cozy, tiny dining room. I remember nights of rain, and the house making its music while the fire roared. I cooked low and slow, in the red dutch oven I bought years ago with the proceeds of my first story sale – braised beef stew, Uzbek plov, stuffed cabbage – fortifying foods of my childhood. When Bogi would arrive, often soaking wet and cold, we would sit with our backs to the roaring fire and eat. There was a pair of turkey drumsticks that I braised for hours while Bogi’s Greyhound bus was stuck somewhere. I think of that turkey drumstick as the pinnacle of my cooking. I remember Bogi’s face, stolen from the darkness by the reverberation of fire; the pure joy of it.

I love to cook – cooking at its best for me is like writing, like poetry – it is about getting to the very essence of things, a secret heart of making; words and textures recede to make place for pure feeling. And it is the feeling I remember – after an unwanted separation, a return; the deep, slow flavor of the meat, the magic of the fire, the pin oaks sighing in the wind, the stars hanging heavy and bright in the deep Kansas sky, and inside it is warm and, for the time being, safe.

Thanks, R.B. Having spent four long winters in eastern Kansas myself, your words bring back vivid memories indeed. As timing would have it, the weather today is quite cold and the wind outside is blowing with a vengeance. Maybe I should cook up some drumsticks? I think my wife would approve.

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.

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Eating Authors: Elizabeth McLaughlin

No Comments » Written on January 4th, 2021 by
Categories: Plugs
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Elizabeth McLaughlin

And lo, we have made it through to 2021. While there were surely highs to 2020, the lows so outweighed them that looking backward I suspect it will become quite commonplace to skip over the entire year. Surely that an easy overlook when it comes to convention and conference travel. My last events were in November of 2019, which, as it turns out, makes for a good segue because I first met this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Elizabeth McLaughlin, at my penultimate con, 20BooksVegas.

I had been invited to a private gathering of high-earning indie authors that were looking to form a new indie association. I barely qualified as indie and I certainly wasn’t high-earning, but the organizer had brought me in because I’d been on the SFWA Board and knew a bit about how that kind of sausage was made. At one point when I stood up to speak I said something like “without a doubt I have the smallest income of any author here, but” and there was this woman sitting behind me who assured me that, no, I was second from the bottom.

And that’s how I met Elizabeth McLaughlin.

Liz is married to the hugely popular and prolific Kevin McLaughlin, and indeed her first three books, The Supernova Cycle, were in collaboration with him. But today she releases her first solo novel, Deviant, Book One of the Quantic Dreams series (and though I don’t know what a “Quantic Dream” is, I know it sounds cool).

Her bio states that Liz sees her fiction as a means to normalize typically underrepresented groups including people of color and LGBTQIA+ communities, changing the genre by making everyone equal participants in the epics of SF.

Sounds to me like a great way to start off the new year.

LMS: Welcome, Elizabeth. Please talk to me about your most memorable meal.

EM: People often ask me if I am an “eat to live” or “live to eat” person. The answer is always a resounding endorsement of living to eat. Food has forever been a source of comfort and creativity in my life and it has sparked many other passions I hold dear. I plan to depart this world having had as many adventures as possible, and having eaten as many new things as I could. In my (albeit selfish) opinion, there is no better way to get to know a place than by its cuisine.

Deviant

The most memorable meal I’ve had… there are a lot of contenders for the top spot, but I would have to say it was my first bite of Icelandic lamb. Back in 2016, my husband and I had a set of vacation days that coincided (up to then an unheard of possibility!) and wanted to visit somewhere neither of us had been before. Not being one to pass up on eating well while we were there, I booked us a reservation at a posh restaurant attached to the Blue Lagoon. They served us three dishes-an appetizer of smoked Arctic char, Icelandic lamb over roast vegetables, and astarpungar, a dessert consisting of fried dough and delicious ice cream. The whole thing was complimented with the most delicious wine and richest coffee I’ve ever tasted. I distinctly remember taking my first bite of the meat and voicing out loud that I could die happy now. As with most Iceland tourists, I wanted to spend a spa day in a hot spring and didn’t have a clue about the forty plus pools within the city limits, so after our meal, we enjoyed a leisurely soak complete with complementary champagne and mud masks. Getting back on the bus to Reykjavik was downright painful!

When it came to the matter of our honeymoon a year later, I insisted we return to Iceland, solely so that we could eat this lamb. We returned in 2017 after a whirlwind flight out to Seattle to get married among family and friends. Unlike our first trip which took place in July, we returned in April the second time and found that the weather is very different in the spring! Tourist trap or not, I’ll be returning there as soon as I can to get that lamb dish again. Icelandic cuisine in general has become a comfort food for me. I return from each trip to the country—we’ve been almost once a year every year—with a suitcase stuffed full of Icelandic salt, candy, preserved meats, and beer. Though 2020 kept us from continuing the trend, I dream happily of the next time I’ll sit at a table surrounded by people chattering in Icelandic, with a huge hunk of lamb on my plate.

Thanks, Elizabeth. My wife and I visited Iceland in 2017, twice. I fell in love with the Artic char, caught by the kitchen staff in a stream that ran behind our quiet little hotel. Alas, I never got around to trying the lamb. I’ve been looking for an excuse to return, and now I have it!

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