Eating Authors: Karen Osborne

No Comments » Written on December 14th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
Karen Osborne

We are well into Hanukkah, for those of you who observe such things. My wife and I do, albeit usually quite haphazardly. I have a beautiful, massive, handmade menorah that is something of a family heirloom (and which legend says was disassembled and smuggled out of the “old country” by a grand parent), but the sad truth is, most years we get so busy that we’re lucky if we remember to light the candles half of the nights. This year is proving different. This year we need the symbolism of a light in the darkness and all it represents. This year, having moments of hope and inspiration and just feeling positive is more welcome than ever.

And it’s not just Hanukkah. I find myself constantly looking for things that will tweak my interrest or give me a smile. That’s how I came across this week’s EATING AUTHOR guest. In my professor days my area of expertise was cognition, and so when I saw Karen Osborne’s first novel — out this past Septmeber — was entitled Architects of Memory, I had to know more. I am all about seeing how other authors use memory in their fiction

Karen has had her speculative fiction craft honed by some pretty great workshops like Clarion and Viable Paradise. She lives in Baltimore, and I suspect if not for the pandemic, we’d have ended up on a panel (or two) a couple months back at Capclave. Maybe we’ll get a shot at doing so in 2021.

She has since followed up that first novel with a sequel. Engines of Oblivion (i.e., the Memory War Book Two) is coming your way in February.

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

KO: I think the most memorable travel meal happened in 1989 during a family trip to Cape Cod. I don’t know why I remember this meal over all the other times I’ve eaten on the road. I’ve had Thai food sitting one table away from Robin Williams. I’ve had chicken feet in rural Colombia. I even ate at what’s widely considered to be “the most exclusive restaurant in America.” But when I think of memorable meals, I also think of how they change people, and no meal changed my life for the better as much as my first reuben sandwich.

I know. Sounds weird, right?

Stay with me.

Maybe it was the mirrorball interior of the diner, the fact that walking towards the table felt like dancing in a movie. The neon triangles and funfetti on the wall that reminded me of that new show, “Saved By The Bell,” which looked so grown-up at the time. The clatter of dishes was welcome after the roiling nausea of trying to read books in the car the whole way. Maybe it was the promise of getting to drink a chocolate milkshake (which, at nine years old, is just the best thing ever).

Architects of Memory

At any rate, this was my first memory of ordering from the adult menu — maybe I’d done it before, but memories can be weird swiss-cheese creatures, and this is the one flagged with “first experience with massive diner menu full of omelettes and souvlaki and eggplant parmagiana.” Finally, flummoxed, I turned to my father and asked him what he’d recommend. He was getting a reuben sandwich, so I decided to have one, too.

I even remember the plate it came on — a typical diner plate, white with blue veins carved in it from hundreds of other diners’ forks and knives. The taste was unlike anything I’d ever had up to that point: the marbled rye made tender by too much butter, the dressing making rivulets through the briny sauerkraut, the way the corned beef clung together and then pulled away all at once, leaving me to munch delicious, too-big chunks. And I didn’t need to worry about being neat, which, again, is the best thing ever when you’re nine. Turns out the perfect accompaniment to a reuben, see, is to eat it so the extra sauce can drip in literal gobs on diner-dry steak fries, which you devour directly after the sandwich. (And then you fall straight asleep in the car afterward to the Pretenders’ “500 Miles” with a happily full stomach and get to avoid your brother poking you for the next two hours. Wait. Is that just me?)

Looking back, the implications to my life of eating this one ordinary sandwich are endless. I’d never had any of the flavors in it before — sauerkraut, corned beef, thousand island dressing — and they seemed so odd to me that I was sure I wouldn’t like them. But the combination was so delicious that nine times out of ten, if I’m at a diner, I’ll have a reuben. We’re talking over thirty years of reubens right now. It’s almost a joke at this point in my family. I think I’m an adventurous eater partly because I took a chance in that neon restaurant, which freed me up to take more choices, and most of them were delicious, too.

Engines of Oblivion

And that’s the thing about memories, about tiny memories and big ones. Yes, our huge memories — the major successes, the miserable failures — have massive consequences for how we handle things in our future, but the little moments matter, too, because they have more of an influence than we can possibly imagine when we’re experiencing them.

It’s a concept I play with in my upcoming novel, Engines of Oblivion. You don’t know which little moments you’ll remember. You don’t know how they’re going to shape you until you’re far in the future and have the sharp goggles of hindsight strapped to your face. There’s at least one dear friend — hell, maybe four — that wouldn’t have been in my life if I hadn’t thought “I want a reuben; let’s go to the Circle Diner instead of the noodle place” one night. And how about the after-midnights and early mornings and work afternoons spent at diners, gobbling omelets and reubens dripping with sauce and storing up thoughts as warm as the sun? I didn’t know I’d need those memories so much this year, and I’m grateful. Oh, man. The first thing I’m going to do after I get a coronavirus vaccine is get in my car, page my friends, drive north, and waltz into the first upstate New York diner I see. I’ll smile into the mirrorball wallpaper and check out the pies on my way to my seat. And then I’ll order a reuben.

So, thanks, diner chef. Wherever you are, whoever you are — I owe you.

Thanks, Karen. There is a timelessness to diners: the display case of pies, the vinyl benches, the linoleum tabletops, and yes, maybe even the food. There is magic there, to be sure. But even magic does not, in my opinion, justify the atrocity that I consider adding sauerkraut and dressing to an already perfect corned beef sandwich. Nope, nope, nope.

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.



Leave a Reply