Eating Authors: Michael Mammay

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Michael Mammay

Every March I’m reminded of that John Belushi sketch from SNL about weather. Here’s a link, take a moment to watch it, I’ll wait. So, yeah, March weather. If Belushi wasn’t trying to warn us about global warming, well, I don’t know.

None of which has anything to do with Michael Mammay, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest (unless it’s that bit about the anaconda). Michael’s a former soldier who nowadays writes science fiction. He also mentors, and alongside Dan Koboldt, participates in Pitch Wars, helping other authors bring their visions into print.

Michael’s first novel, Planetside, has been described as Military SF that’s not just for Military SF fans, and it made the Best Book list from LibraryJournal. The sequel, Spaceside, comes out from Harper Voyager in late August.

LMS: Welcome, Michael. What strikes you as your most memorable meal?

MM: I don’t spend a lot of thought on food. It’s not that I don’t appreciate good food when I have it, but I don’t really go out of my way looking for things. I’ll happily eat whatever is in front of me. Despite that, I’ve had a number of memorable meals, and it’s hard to pick just one. I’ve lived overseas for several years of my adult life, and as an army veteran, I’ve been deployed to a lot of different places.

Planetside

One meal that stands out was from 2008, south of Baghdad, Iraq, east of Mamuhdiah in an area sometimes referred to as the Sunni triangle. It was a rough area in 2006 and 2007, but by late 2008 it had calmed down quite a bit. I was a battalion commander there, and most of the people who lived in my area of responsibility were Sunni. As you may know, the Sunni lost power with the fall of Saddam, and the Shia majority now ran the government. For that reason, the Sunni farmers in my area were on the outside looking in, and didn’t feel that the government really represented them. We were trying to bring the country together, so I wanted to try to bridge that.

I proposed that the Sunni towns get together and throw a dinner and invite the governor. The problem is, pretty much no Shia crossed highway one, which was the major road that ran south from Baghdad. There was too much bad blood, and it wasn’t safe for them. To get past this, I offered to escort the governor to the dinner (my escort included my security detail, and we had pretty free movement). He agreed, and we set out for the dinner in armored HMMWVs, and joined a group of maybe 200 or so important local leaders at what we in the US would call a picnic. It was a fancy picnic, to be sure, with the best that the locals could put out. I was new to the area, so it was my first such event.

Spaceside

Everything was going well. We weren’t accomplishing much—there were decades of bad feelings on both sides—but it was peaceful and people gave speeches and made platitudes, and all in all it was a good start. Then we had dinner. It was several hours later, because in that part of Iraq, it was tradition not to start cooking the food until your guests arrived, so that the honorees could see the meal slaughtered and know it was done properly. We were having lamb, so it took a while to cook.

I was seated with the governor at the head of the table when they brought out the first tray. It was the head of one of the lambs, and they put it on the table, looking at us, to honor us. Thankfully, they didn’t expect us to eat it. But it sat there, flies buzzing around it all through the meal, staring at me. As they served us lamb. Not going to lie, I stuck to rice and vegetables that day as much as possible, but there was no way to avoid the meat without offending the hosts.

It wasn’t the best dinner I’ve ever had, that’s for sure. And while I’d like to say that because of those efforts, everyone started getting along, but that’s not true either. What I can say is this: I’ll never forget that meal.

Thanks, Michael. I think I’d file this one under “no good deed goes unpunished.” Certainly that lamb would think so.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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