Eating Authors: Lara Elena Donnelly

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Lara Elena Donnelly

January is closing down. Despite popular opinion, the world hasn’t come to an end (yet) though people are still taking bets. Social media is at turns depressing and stirring, and one can taste the lightning that lingers on the edge. In the midst of all this tension, we rise in the morning (or evening, for those of you on the graveyard shift and/or prone to insomnia), do all the daily things of work and life, find time to share a meal with a loved one, connect up with an old friend, read a book, and even check out the occasional blog. Thanks especially for that last bit.

I honestly can’t tell you much about this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, but I can tell you this: There are times when I have met a new artist or author — at a convention or a party — and had a premonition that this is a person to watch, someone who is going to dazzle. Lara Elena Donnelly struck me that way. She’s a graduate of Alpha and of Clarion, and her first novel, Amberlough, comes out next week from Tor Books. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy (with its incredible cover by the incomparable Victo Ngai). When you do, remember what I said about dazzle.

LMS: Welcome, Lara. Please, speak to me of your most memorable meal.

LED: Some of the best meals I’ve had in my life have been in the company of good friends or family, or both. I know a lot of gourmands, and we all love to cook and socialize. But one of the best meals I ever had was eaten all on my own.

I was working in a bakery, making about a dollar more than Louisville, Kentucky’s minimum wage. I didn’t have a lot of money to treat myself. And I had tendinitis, badly.

I was working on a novel, but I’d had to put it aside because I couldn’t type. I could hardly do my paying job. An old bike accident had torqued my back and my right shoulder years ago, and for the last eighteen months I had been working in the service industry: first as a barista tamping espresso and twisting portafilters, hauling flats of milk and sacks of coffee beans; then prepping and working front of house in a bakery, lifting loaded baking trays and washing heavy bowls, mopping and scrubbing and busting my ass.

Amberlough

I knew I needed physical therapy. Massage. A chiropractor. Something to untwist my muscles and relieve the pressure on my nerves. But I couldn’t afford any of it. I had insurance, because I hadn’t quite turned twenty-six, but it didn’t cover the treatment that helped the pain.

The inability to write hurt even more than the tendinitis. I was so depressed it verged on panic. One evening, I came home from the bakery in tears, having left early (upsetting my boss) because I simply couldn’t do the work. My hands hurt too badly. I knew I wouldn’t be able to write when I got home. And worst of all: I hadn’t yet gone grocery shopping that week. There was no food in the fridge.

Almost hysterical with pain and anxiety, I texted a friend about my situation.

Have you eaten? She asked.

No, I admitted, I hadn’t, and didn’t have any food at home either.

Go out, she said.

I told her I couldn’t afford to go out.

Worry about the money later, she said. Go eat something good right now. She asked where I would go, if I could, and I told her: Holy Grale, a gastropub specializing in Belgian beer and highly curated small plates. After a little more encouragement, I took off my frosting-spattered bakery uniform, picked up the book I was reading, and hauled myself to the restaurant.

I ordered a glass of Petrus aged ale, a bowl of pickle soup, and a salad with sour apples and goat cheese. At first I felt kind of strange, eating alone. But eventually I relaxed and opened my book. For two hours, the stress of pain and money went away, and I savored the tart-salty soup, the crisp apples and creamy goat cheese, and the fermented funk of Belgian beer. I’ve had lots of amazing meals, but this one sticks with me because it saved me from despair. It was a turning point, a lesson in self care.

Thanks, Lara. Self care is key. Pickle soup though… I’m not so sure about.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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