Eating Authors: Lois McMaster Bujold

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Categories: Plugs
Lois McMaster Bujold

As has been mentioned here previously, long before I became a writer, I was a fan. And though I’m now a card-carrying member of SFWA and feel comfortable sending out email to assorted “Big Name Authors” and calling them by their first names at parties, there are still a few for whom I am a fan first and a colleague a distant second. One of these is Lois McMaster Bujold.

I’m going to assume you know who she is, because you should. Lois has won the Hugo Award five times (four for novels, and don’t be surprised if she picks up another one this year), the Nebula Award twice, plenty of assorted other awards, and a long long list of nominations. She is best known for her Vorkosigan series, and I don’t mind admitting that the last bit in Cryoburn brought me to tears.

Our paths rarely cross, which is why a few years back when she was a special guest at Boskone, I showed up in her autograph line. Small problem: as often happens with famous authors, the convention imposed a “three books only” policy for autographs. This was totally fair, since after getting your three books signed you could always get back in line again for another three. Except… I had brought a suitcase—yes, literally, a suitcase—of her books. And it was full. I was in that line, over and over, a very long time. And I wasn’t alone. And Lois, bless her, kept on signing long after her hour was up, determined to put her autograph on every book that had been brought in for that purpose. What else can I say, she’s a class act. Oh, and she writes a damn fine story too.

LMS: When I reached out to Lois for her most memorable meal, she quite promptly passed along the following little piece. It’s included in her new book Sidelines, but was originally written at the invitation of Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier for their chapbook titled ConJosé Restaurant Guide: The 60th World Science Fiction Convention (Where The Curse of Chalion was a Hugo Award nominee, incidentally.). They’d requested her to “Dredge up your best, weirdest, or most traumatic writerly food stories, and share.” Lois’s notes say she wrote it on 4/25/2001. She called it “Editorial Dining.” I’m happy to be reprinting it here.

LMB: Authorial meals with editors have various subtle social functions that took me a while to figure out. They are not, as I had somehow expected in dithering anticipation of my first official editorial meal—a breakfast at the ’86 Atlanta WorldCon with my then-new publisher Jim Baen and his senior editor—to work out the details of book contracts. Those are done by telephone, with lots of long, thoughtful pauses between calls. What these meals are for is to make the next phone call easier. When you’ve never met face to face, the lack of visual cues and presence of unrestrained writerly imagination when talking over the phone can create confusion and misunderstanding. When you can picture the real person, with their actual tics and tones and grimaces and grins, those phone calls somehow go more smoothly ever after. Still, it’s a bit startling in the convention green room to witness the fannish cry of “We’re hungry—let’s go find a restaurant,” transmute into the writerly version of, “We’re hungry—let’s go find an editor!”

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

The other charm of editorial dining, of course, is the chance to venture into upscale restaurants the likes of which neither writer nor editor, in our scruffy at-home personas and income levels, would ever get within whiffing distance of. An editorial dinner was the first time I ever had a waiter come around between courses and rake the tablecloth free of detritus (the area around my plate always seems to have lots) with one of those cute little brass scrapers. At such a dinner with a friend’s editor at a hotel restaurant in Dallas, we were all charmed and boggled when we were each brought, between courses to clear our palates, a small scoop of sorbet—sitting on half a lime—sitting in an individual sculptured ice swan about a foot high with a tiny white Christmas light in the base. I swear we hadn’t even ordered lighted swans; they just swanned in, as if naturally.

That wasn’t quite as surreal, however, as the editorial dinner at Chicon V in Chicago, when Jim and Toni took me and Elizabeth Moon out to some tower of power reached only by marble-lined elevators. The vegetable course, a mounded puree of what I dimly remember as featuring mainly turnips, arrived—decorated with a microscopically thin layer of gold foil about five inches square. As a science-fiction writer, I take it as my duty to try any food once, a dubious rule that once led me to eat a witchetty grub, but that’s another story. Elizabeth, however, was quietly horrified by the gold, and carefully ate around it and under it, cautiously excavating with her spoon. “Elizabeth!” I murmured in maternal reproof, “You’re not eating your gold!” We let her have her dessert anyway.

Thanks, Lois. Though, I don’t know if I approve. How is Elizabeth ever going to learn, if you keep letting her have dessert anyway?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


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