Eating Authors: Sam J. Miller

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Sam J. Miller

If things are going according to plan (stop laughing!), this will automatically post on Monday morning, I’ve survived the NASFiC in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and right this very minute I am trekking through the tropical rainforest known as “El Yunque.” Seriously, my life is pretty freaking blessed.

Part of that blessing includes providing a weekly dose of EATING AUTHORS for you, bringing you both familiar and new authors, and doing my part in the great karmic wheel of the speculative fiction community to pay it forward and celebrate the work of others. Case in point this week is none of other than Sam J. Mill. You probably already know Sam from his breathtaking short fiction, and justly so. His work has earned him a Shirley Jackson award, a Sturgeon nomination, three Nebula nominations, and a World Fantasy nomination.

All things come to those who wait (or so the saying goes), and so it often is with authors going from short form to long. Sam’s debut novel, The Art of Starving, comes out tomorrow from Harper Teen. Clearly you should click the link and buy a copy right now. Don’t do it for me or even for Sam, do it for “El Yunque.”

LMS: Welcome, Sam. What stands out as your most memorable meal?

SJM: I was eighteen. I was coming out of a long struggle with disordered eating. For the first time in my life I had a gay friend — a brilliant, older painter I’d been paired with in a mentoring program for at-risk youth. He was a vegetarian, and I was hanging out with a trio of super-hot vegan punk rock vegan boys. All three of whom I was hopelessly in love with. And desperate to impress.

March 2nd, 1997. I’m working the night shift at a bookstore for minimum wage — $4.25 an hour at the time — and my hot vegans come to hang out there and talk shit and be generally intimidating. And it’s my coworker Alison’s birthday, so we decide to all go out to dinner afterwards.

Understand: I am angry. I am a miserable knotted-up mess of unrequited lust. My father’s butcher shop just closed, thanks to a Wal-Mart/supermarket combo’s arrival in town. Eating meat meant buying it from the same store that put us out of business. And thanks to my bookstore job – and my commie vegan hardcore straight edge crushes — I’d been reading Noam Chomsky, Karl Marx, had sharpened my critique of global capitalism, the exploitation of workers, the death of small businesses and the rise of corporate superstores, factory farming, the suffering of animals. I’d tried, several times, to go vegetarian, and failed repeatedly. I had already come out to my father as gay, but for the son and grandson of butchers to stop eating meat felt like too great a betrayal.

The Art of Starving

The waiter comes. I stare at the menu for a second and then decide, “I’m not going to eat meat anymore,” and order broccoli with garlic sauce. That was twenty years ago, and I’ve never looked back once.

Back then, I didn’t realize one very important fact – and I wouldn’t realize it until I started writing my novel, which is about a bullied small-town gay boy with an eating disorder (all of which I was) who believes that starving himself awakens latent supernatural abilities (which mine did not). Now, I can see that becoming a vegetarian was not separate from my eating disorder. Both were born of rage and sadness at what a fucked-up world we have… but that night, at the Spring Garden in Hudson, New York, was the moment when I took hold of my rage at the world – at injustice, at homophobia, at corporate hegemony & toxic masculinity & suffering – and ceased to turn it in on myself. Instead, I turned it outwards. I sat next to other people who were just as angry as me, and I joined them.

The line ended up on the cutting room floor, but at the end of The Art of Starving, the protagonist realizes “There are no Chosen Ones. Saving the world, righting every wrong, is no one’s responsibility. It’s everyone’s.”

For the past fifteen years, my day job has been as a community organizer. I’ve organized hundreds of protests, seen dozens of legislative and policy victories. I’m still working out that broccoli-with-garlic-sauce epiphany, the idea that people can achieve anything when they come together. That turning our anger outwards will transform the world as well as ourselves.

Thanks, Sam. And hey, don’t give up on those latent supernatural abilities. It could happen any day now.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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