Eating Authors: Mark J. Engels

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Mark Engels

I’ve spent much of this past week revising Barry’s Deal, the new Amazing Conroy novella that will be coming from NobleFusion Press late next month. In addition to Conroy and Reggie, the story features the return of everyone’s (or at least my) favorite gambler, LeftJohn Mocker, as well as the return of Angela “Gel” Colson, last seen in the first novella, Barry’s Tale. I’ve been doing a lot of writing in 2017 but not a lot of publishing, so this will be a very welcome release.

Needless to say (though I just did), working on this novella has had my brain full of furry critters. Sounds like potential for a segue into this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, right? Absolutely, because this week we have Mark Engels, whose debut novel, Always Gray in Winter, came out just last month from Thurston Howl Publications, and as you might infer from the name of the publisher, Mark’s novel is anthropomorphic fiction! It’s got shapeshifters, but if you’re not familiar with furry fiction, you’re in for a very different ride!

Speaking of rides, Mark’s a railroader. He’s worked as an electrical engineer, designing signal and comm systems for railroads. As if that wasn’t cool enough, he began writing articles for the transit industry trade magazines. Somewhere along the way that morphed (see what I did there?) into werecats, and here we are. And expect Mark to stay in this place for a while as he admits there are at least two, maybe three (maybe more?) books he’ll need to write to fully tell the story he’s begun.

LMS: Welcome, Mark. Tell me about your most memorable meal.

MJE: One memorable occasion comes to mind from the late 90s, not long after I’d moved to the Twin Cities from my native Michigan. A couple weeks later a co-worked spotted a tiny model next to my computer monitor. We became fast friends after he identified it as Guardian-mode Veritech as featured in Harmony Gold’s Robotech TV series. Shared interests in Japanese anime and manga kindled our interests other Japanese cultural aspects, especially cuisine.

I was raised in a meat-and-potatoes household. College had expanded my culinary horizons, however, and now living in the Big City for the first time I was eager to Try All the Things. So was my friend Kristopher, having come from rural Wisconsin. And St. Paul was more than happy to accommodate us. A sushi restaurant in the heart of downtown named Sakura became our de facto haunt. At that time one could still request booth seating around a low table featuring tatami mats. Kristopher and I did so often enough to brand us as regulars. Having come to enjoy nearly everything on both the nigiri and maki menus, one evening as we strode past Sensei on our way to our usual booth Kristopher told him “surprise us.”

Always Gray in Winter

Partway through our third bottle of sake, our server plunked down a boatful of some of the finest sushi you ever saw. At the bow sat a pair of amaebi (which I would later come to know as “sweet shrimp.”) Beside them were the prawns’ heads, deep fried in potato starch and poised with their walking legs facing each other. As if they were fighting.

Fighting?

I don’t remember who grabbed his chopsticks first. I do recall Kristopher and I animating our prawns in mortal combat to the amusement of those seated across the aisle from our booth. Upon realizing we were the center of attention, we shrugged and popped the shrimp heads into our mouths.

“Wait! You not supposed to eat that!”

Our server’s admonishment froze us both mid-bite. The wide-eyed look on Kristopher’s face conveyed my same thoughts: Are fried shrimp heads friggin’ poisonous or something? Will we both have the screaming heebie-jeebies tomorrow? She managed to make it to our table before she lost it, howling with laughter at the joke she’d sprang on us. Fellow diners all around joined in. Once over our initial bout of self-consciousness—and after swallowing our shrimp heads—we laughed along until our server brought us another bottle of sake. On the house for being such good sports, natch.

I’ve learned in the decades since amaebi is commonly served much the same way. Kristopher and I have come together many times between then and now to eat sushi, though never again to such fanfare. And with much more moderate sake consumption, too, which suits me quite fine. Though our culinary comedy helped inspire a scene in my paranormal sci-fi thriller about the modern day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats. When Tommy welcomes his wayward twin sister Pawly home to Chicago for a Polish/Korean mixed family reunion, he learns the hard way making pie-iron pierogi one ought not mistake kimchi for sauerkraut.

Thanks, Mark. You know, I have never understood the fascination with eating the head of whatever protein source is on your plate. No shrimp heads for me. And don’t even get me started on crawfish!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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