Eating Authors: E.M. Foner

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E.M. Foner

One of the things I’ve been working on this month (along with way too much travel) has been a relaunch of my Amazing Conroy series, complete with new blurbs and covers, all being handled by an experienced professional I brought in for the purpose. Along the way, I’ve been getting a good education. As part of her market research she introduced me to a number of works of light, humorous SF by Indie authors. Which is both explanation of how I discovered E.M. Foner, and a segue into his being this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest.

He’s most well known for his Earth Cent Ambassador series which he began in 2014. He claims to have started the first book as a break from his efforts on an SF epic that he’d been hacking away at for years. I’ve been unable to find any indication that he ever went back to the epic, and so we’ll all just have to wonder what might have been. It’s understandable though, he’s clearly been busy. The quiet humor and PG plot lines of the series has led to some seventeen titles!

A second series, A I Diaries, is up to three books. He’s also tried his hand at fantasy with Meghan’s Dragon, a stand alone novel. E.M. lives in Northampton, Massachusetts and is rumored to have an imaginary German Shepherd. How that rumor factors into the author photo he provided is left as an exercise for the reader.

LMS: Welcome, E.M. What stands out as your most memorable meal?

EMF: Back in 2001, I was sitting in a Jazz bar that had recently been opened by a Russian friend on Helene HaMalkah street in Jerusalem. Somebody entered and asked for a volunteer to come next door to the Swiss restaurant for a minyan, the ten Jewish men required by the orthodox for certain pubic prayers. I’m not a big fan of social occasions, but I figured they must be pretty desperate to be asking in a bar. In fact, the streets were empty for some reason I don’t recall, perhaps a recent bombing.

Date Night on Union Station

The only people in the restaurant were all part of the same party, sitting around a single line of tables that had been pulled together, and it didn’t take me too long to figure out that they were celebrating Sheva Brachos, the Seven Blessings that are said under the wedding canopy and in many traditions, repeated at a series of meals the following week. Friends at these dinners tell stories about the joys of married life, assumedly to convince the new couple that they haven’t made a terrible mistake.

I took the only open seat and ate a cookie at somebody’s urging, maybe I drank a coffee as well, and then they began benching, or singing the grace after meals. This I can manage without going too far off key thanks to having heard it enough times over the years. Then they got to the part where the guests actually start singing, the seven blessings. A full glass of wine is passed from hand to hand for the singer to hold, and I should mention at this point I’ve had a bad action tremor ever since my teen years, when I discovered I couldn’t keep a soldering iron steady.

Turing Test

As soon as the first blessing began, I had a premonition that they were going to give the last one to me as an honor for being a good sport and showing up. In addition to the tremor, I’ve always had a problem sight-reading Hebrew, especially if the vowels are included. This runs the opposite from most American Jews I know, who are taught to read with vowel markings (nikudot) and don’t necessarily know what they’re saying. In keeping with my idiosyncratic personality, I learned Hebrew primarily through reading newspapers, which are published without the vowel markings.

So I flipped ahead to the seventh blessing, which unlike the previous six one-liners, runs into a full paragraph of joy, and started muttering it over and over again under my breath to try to iron out the tricky words. Fortunately, the party also followed a tradition of adding a little nigunim, or wordless singing between each blessing, which bought me some extra time.

Independent Living

Sure enough, I ended up with silver wine goblet in my shaky hand, singing a paragraph-long blessing I’d never seen before in a tune I’d just heard to a group of French/Morrocan Jews who I’d never seen before either. When I got to the end without splashing anybody with wine, they gave me a round of applause, and I have to admit that for the rest of the night, I imagined myself moving on to bigger and better things, like maybe finally getting married myself since it looked like so much fun.

Alas, my participation in the meal that I didn’t eat represents the pinnacle of my social development, but I did learn my lesson about volunteering when a stranger comes into a bar asking for a Jew.

Thanks, E.M. I’m not sure what confused me more, having difficulty finding ten Jewish men in Jerusalem, or celebrating Sheva Brachos in a Swiss restaurant. Stranger than fiction indeed.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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