Eating Authors: Chuck Wendig (Campbell Award nominee)

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Chuck Wendig

The second Monday in July means it’s time for a visit from the second of this year’s Campbell Award nominees here at EATING AUTHORS. Our guest today is Chuck Wendig, who according to the bio on Amazon is a novelist, screenwriter, and a game designer. My first encounter with his work was the amazing Blackbirds, and its sequel, Mockingbird, is even now glaring at me from my to-be-read stack.

But the thing I want to mention here is that in addition to his fiction, Chuck also produces no nonsense advice on the craft of writing and the vicissitudes of being a writer with such titles as Revenge of the Penmonkey and 500 Ways To Be A Better Writer. After you finish up finding out about his most memorable meal here, take a moment to check out his website over at terribleminds.com; you’ll be glad you did.

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

CW: Great meals are about context.

They’re about time and place and people. The food is important in its own way – but it just adds to the context. It helps tell a story.

I have lots of best meals, honestly. Once upon a time I attended my first LARP in Atlanta, Georgia, and I spent a weekend playing pretend with a bunch of other new adults and semi-adults who thought they were vampires. My friends and I forgot to eat all weekend (though I do recall eating a handful of pretzels dipped in packets of grape jelly). Came the time when the weekend was over and we left, we ended up at a Sizzler (do they even exist anymore?) and the food was probably mediocre at best, but the company was great — if dizzy — and we were starving. Context and hunger made it a truly great meal.

Or how about that time my wife and I on our honeymoon took a train ride through California wine country? They hosted dinner on that train and up until that point I’d been a finicky eater – I had a laundry list of foods I wouldn’t eat (including, but not limited to, organ meat and seafood). And lo and behold this dinner, this very expensive dinner, featured foie gras and cod and caviar and other things I’d never eaten and I knew then that I could be stubborn and not eat or I could get my money’s worth and embrace the experience – so, I drank some wine and tried the food and it blew me away.

Or the time my wife and I got off the plane for our first trip to Hawaii and it was late and nothing was open except this little fish joint and we both had the finest fish tacos the world ever did see, all while bathing in the night-time scent of Big Island gardenias.

Or the time I made my first rib roast and to this day it still might be the best thing I’ve ever cooked. Salty and juicy with a crust on the outside like tree bark.

Or just the other night, when I made strawberry smoothies (farm fresh strawberries, milk, malt powder, acacia honey, blend) and I sat with my two year old drinking smoothies and watching Curious George.

Double Dead
Revenge of the Penmonkey

Maybe, just maybe, it’s all about that word – best. Certainly one of my worst meals was one of my best in terms of storytelling potential. When I was a kid my family used to raise whitetail deer. The first two deer (of the 36 or so we ended up with) were Flower and Rudy, and we raised the two of them in the house for the first six months or so. Rudy was a bit cantankerous and would, every few months, tear a hole in the fence and wander free of his space. Mostly just to eat some grass on the other side, though occasionally he’d take a miles-long journey.

He was a friendly deer. As a young boy I’d wander into the deer pen and he and Flower would literally nibble at my sleeves and hat. Having raised them in the house, well, they were more akin to pets than anything.

Rudy didn’t like my Dad, though. Because Dad was always the one to go “get” Rudy – and, for the record, going to “get” a live, large eight-point-buck was not the easier thing to do. At one point Rudy actually wandered into town and my father had to go with a couple of yokels (the Scarborough brothers) to reclaim the deer, which required, quite literally, wrestling the deer to the ground and hog-tying him. My father fractured a couple ribs in that exchange.

One day, Rudy getting out was just too much. Dad worried about the deer wandering to a school bus stop and hurting some kids – a not unreasonable worry, though Rudy had never shown any kind of aggression toward anybody.

Just the same, Rudy had to go.

We didn’t raise the deer for hunting or killing. They were like koi in a koi pond. We just… had them.

Rudy was the only one my father killed.

And then one night at dinner, weeks later, we were eating dinner. Hamburgers.

And my father – known for a rather macabre sense of humor – decided to let us know after we’d taken the first juicy bites what we were really eating.

Which was to say, we were eating Rudy.

I don’t know if it was really true or not. (My father, who was missing a pinky finger, used to tell a panoply of grim stories as to how he lost said pinky.) But it was enough to send my mother into the bathroom to cry all night. Rudy really was a pet.

I’m too young to know if what we ate was really Rudy.

But that was one of the worst meals.

But, when it comes to telling it as a story, it’s also one of the best.

Thanks, Chuck. Okay, mental note time: pass on invitations to holiday cookouts at the Wendig home.

Next Monday: Another Campbell nominee and another meal!


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