Eating Authors: Sam Sykes

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Sam Sykes

If it’s Monday, I’m probably jetlagged. The plan is that I will have spent the previous 23 hours and change traveling home from Hangzhou. Obviously, for the purpose of ensuring the continuity of this blog I’m preparing today’s entry well in advance. But in theory, as you read this I should be exhausted, very pleased with my experiences half a world away, and, well, home.

Such a trip offers up meals that draw on all three themes that regularly show up in the accounts on EATING AUTHORS: amazing food, incredible company, and a unique event. This week’s guest, Sam Sykes, understands that a memorable meal often relies more upon what happened than what was eaten. That’s a distinction that makes particular sense coming from a writer of epic fantasy. And unless you’ve been living under a rock you already know Sam as the author of the celebrated Aeons’ Gate series and more recently, the Bring Down Heaven series. The third book of the latter, God’s Last Breath, comes out tomorrow from Orbit.

Full disclosure: although we have a lot of friends in common, I’ve only met Sam once. It was about four years ago at a convention in Michigan. We were on a panel together, my last one of a long and wonderful weekend. Curiously, Brian McClellan was also on the panel. And no, the three of us did not go out for a bite together afterwards.

LMS: Welcome, Sam. What’s your most memorable meal?

SS: I feel like the “correct” response to this is to recall some exceptional taste or exquisite ingredient. Those are cool and all, but for me, food has always only been as good as the memories linked to it. Your grandmother’s pasta might not be the most stunning dish in the world, for example, but you can’t smell it and not think about being a child again.

The City Stained Red

So I guess the best meal I ever had was at Phoenix Comicon about two years ago at City Pizza. It was a little shop outside the convention center and I had just gone to get lunch with fellow author, Brian McClellan. I ordered pepperoni and jalapeno, Brian got meat lover’s. Now, again, the pizza itself was fine, if unremarkable, but I’ll never forget the emotions attached to that meal. Because it was just after Brian had finished his first slice that a fan–a well-groomed fellow of about five foot nine–came up and nervously asked: “Mr. McClellan?”

“Just wanted to say,” he continued, after being given a positive indication by Brian, “that I love your work. You probably don’t remember me, but I’ve been here every year you’ve come. I own all your books and I’ve gotten them signed and I don’t have anything new for you to sign, but…I just…I think I might be your biggest fan.”

“Oh yeah?” Brian smiled congenially, then took the shaker of crushed red pepper, unscrewed the cap and slid it over. “Eat that whole jar of red pepper.”

“W-what?” the fan stammered.

“My biggest fan would eat that whole jar of red pepper.”

Tome of the Undergates

“Will…will that make you happy?” he asked, looking nervously at the jar.

“I don’t know,” Brian responded. “Eat it and let’s see.”

So I don’t know exactly how long the internal debate raged within that guy, but eventually he decided to be brave and upended the whole thing into his mouth. I could smell the fiery reek of the peppers all the way across the table. I made a move to say something, but Brian, without looking away, waved me down. I watched tears slide down that guy’s face as he continued to empty red peppers into his mouth before he collapsed on his knees, gagging and wheezing.

“Did…did that make you happy?” he asked.

Brian stared at him flatly for a moment, then picked up the remnants of his pizza and dropped them on the floor. Without saying another word, he walked over them and out the restaurant.

I got the rest of mine to go. It was the first time I ever felt like I had really made it.

Thanks, Sam. There’s a moral here. I’m not sure what it is, but I suspect it’s back at that restaurant, on the floor with the remnants of Brian’s pizza.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Libbi Rich

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