Eating Authors: Lawrence M. Schoen

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Lawrence M. Schoen

How very odd to see my own name above this paragraph. After four years of asking other authors about their most memorable meals, it seems appropriate to take a turn myself. So, following the style of past posts, let me formally state that this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest is me, Lawrence M. Schoen, author, small press publisher, research psychologist, hypnotherapist, and Klingonist. You know, same as everyone else.

The occasion for being my own guest hinges on tomorrow’s release of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard from Tor Books. The fact that you’re reading this blog at all probably implies that you already know all about me, so I’ll keep this introduction short.

Most of what I’m known for among my previous science fiction is the light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. The new book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death.

LMS: So this is the place where I welcome this week’s guest and pose the question about the most memorable meal. Let’s assume I’ve done that, and underway.

I’ve been attending conventions for decades now, and the best of them are the worldcons. As you’ll see, this bears directly on my memory of meals. Prior to my marriage to Valerie, my food consumption at conventions was shaped by two factors: convenience and expense. Easily obtained fast food, complimented by free consumables in the con suite, green room, or evening parties accounted for most of my diet during both large and small conventions. That changed after Valerie came on the scene and made it known that she intended to accompany me to the larger conventions.

Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard

Valerie trained as a chef, and she’s been patiently attempting to educate my palate since our very first date. This has resulted in her spending hours researching fine-dining options in each convention city and making reservations, typically for every night of the con. Because we know full well that a great meal becomes an excellent meal when shared, we typically put together little dinner parties of six to eight people each night. It’s an ordeal juggling a dozen authors’ (and their plus ones) convention schedules, but it’s always worth it.

But sometimes, the dinner party is smaller, more intimate, and here and now this particular one sticks out in my mind (for reasons that will quickly become obvious) as my most memorable. Certainly it’s been on my mind a lot of late.

The place was Reno, Nevada, the biggest little city in the world (or so they insist) and the occasion was Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention. I remember it as a bit of a strange worldcon, owing to the long distance between my hotel and the convention center, the oddity of walking through casinos to get to restaurants, and the fact that I ran the qep’a’, the annual Klingon Language Conference, at a nearby hotel for the five days leading up to Renovation.

I’m normally pretty dead by the end of a worldcon, and believe me when I tell you that running a small conference immediately prior is a mistake. I expected I was going to be wiped out by the experience and planned ahead. Valerie and I and another couple had planned a recovery getaway over on the California side of Lake Tahoe beginning the afternoon of the worldcon’s last day. The running gag was by that point in time I would be looking like Captain Pike: mute, scarred, immobile, and able to communicate only by making short beeping noises. The thinking was to roll me into the car, drive around the lake, and prop me up in a hottub for 24 hours and I’d be fine. And yeah, that’s pretty much how it worked.

Buffalito Destiny

In hindsight, it’s quite appropriate that our plans included a reference to Star Trek because one of the dinners we had during Renovation was with Marco Palmieri. I’d known Marco for years, going back to his days as a senior editor at Pocket Books, responsible for an endless string of titles in the various Trek lines. That gig had come and gone a few years before, and Marco had been doing freelance editorial work. We ran into him in Reno and he insisted on taking us to dinner, and so off we went to one of the restaurants at one of the casino hotels. It’s a blur to me which one it was — maybe Marco remembers? — but I think it had a seafood theme.

Anyway, the thing that makes this meal stand out for me is that as we were looking at our menus and placing our orders, Marco explained that he’d recently started as an editor at Tor Books, and though he wasn’t yet in a position to acquire new works, he expected to be fairly soon. And then he said the words that set my feet on the path that I’ve been traveling ever since. He said, “Pitch me.”

Kids, if an editor — even one who tells you he’s not yet acquiring — for one of the big New York Presses — and let’s be clear, Tor Books is the biggest of them — says “Pitch me,” you grab on with both hands. It’s like being an actor in Hollywood and a casting director asks if you can ride a horse / dance the macarena / play the cello. You say, “of course I can.” Opportunity has knocked upon your door and you do not say, “oh, sorry, I’m in the shower, can you come back later?”

Buffalito Contingency

So I pitched. I remember pitching four books. One was a YA novel that was completely written. Another was a fantasy novel that I’d been working on and had sold a piece of as a short story. The third was this space opera that I’d written after realizing that a short story I’d sold to an anthology was actually the last chapter of a book. And the last was Barsk, the first book I’d ever written, a convoluted thing about anthropomorphic elephants and communicating with the dead and history and economics and friendship and prophecy and which I had long since thrown in a trunk (no pun intended). Marco listened patiently and when I was done he said, “that one, I want that one. We’re going to talk about that one again in six months when I’m acquiring.” Or at least that’s how I remember it going. And then we ate dinner.

True to his word, Marco and I met up again about six months later at another convention. He took me to lunch (Valerie was not with me at that con) and he asked where I was with the book and how soon I could get him an outline and some sample chapters. I did that thing, and some months later we met at yet another convention over yet another lunch, and he gave me notes, asked for a few changes, and began putting all the ducks in a row so he could take a finished proposal to his overlords at Tor and lock it in. A few months after that, Marco sent me a note saying he was making an offer on Barsk, and the floor dropped out from under me.

The culmination of this long journey reaches arrives tomorrow, the book’s formal release date. But it began at that dinner in Reno, and while I don’t remember the food or the restaurant, or much of what was said, I’ll always remember the meal, because it’s when an editor turned to me and changed my life by saying, “Pitch me!”

INSERT CLEVER REMARK HERE

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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2 comments “Eating Authors: Lawrence M. Schoen”

Lovely story of how it all began but you know I was expecting some reference to Titos!!!!!!!

Alas, I don’t think Marco’s ever been there.


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