Eating Authors: Sean Grigsby

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Sean Grigsby

August is finally winding down, and I’m anticipating the arrival of September and the autumnal equinox in a month. In three days, the next installment in the relaunch of my Amazing Conroy series comes out, the Nebula-nominated novella Barry’s Deal (which is also the launching point for the spinoff Ace of Space series featuring Angela (Gel) Colson, a human-seeing alien variant who can teleport almost anything almost anywhere.

Okay, end of commercial plug, let’s get back to this week’s installment of EATING AUTHORS. I want to introduce you to Sean Grigsby, an author who epitomizes that classic line of of advice, “write what you know.” Because Sean is also a professional firefighter. Of course, the firefighters in his books are fighting dragons (which I’m fairly confident is not the case at his dayjob in central Arkansas).

And yet, even when not writing (or fighting fires), he’s still got this thing about dragons. By which I mean he the host of the Cosmic Dragon Podcast, where he discusses the state of SFF and interviews up-and-coming writers in the genre.

It’s surely worth mentioning that he’s eligible for the 2020 Campbell Award. I’m just sayin’.

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

SG: This is not a happy story.

It was the 90s. Bush Senior was president, the US was entering the Gulf War, and my Air Force dad had to move our family to Japan. I was four. Three years later, my parents were divorced, I had to learn the Tokyo train system in order to get to and from school, and I lived under the tyranny of my mother’s new boyfriend, Satoru.

Growing up in Nippon impacted me deeply. I loved the people. I loved being able to ride my bike anywhere and discovering ancient shrines or a blazingly bright arcade. The smells will never leave me and that goes double for the food.

Smoke Eaters

Oh, the food! I could tell you all about the different wonders the Japanese have perfected culinarily. I could recount bringing my personal bento box to school for lunch, and my favorite Keroppi chopsticks. Tasting pastries and spitting them back out when I realized they were filled with bean paste.

All of these memories of meals are still with me, but there’s one I can never forget.

One day, Satoru handed me some yen and told me to go to the store to pick up a box of salad. I was excited, it felt like I was doing a real adult activity. Problem was, when I got to the store, there were too many products to pick from and I had no idea which one Satoru wanted, and he’d been no help in specifics.

So I just grabbed one. Salad was salad and I thought it would be better than coming back empty handed. I rode back to the split-plan house and entered through the first floor, where Satoru ran some kind of business selling American military paraphernalia. He was obsessed with the US armed forces, and later, I would learn just how much when he’d force my brother and I to do pushups and situps and runs.

I gave Satoru his change and placed the salad box on his desk.

When I turned to go upstairs, he said, “What is this?”

Daughters of Forgotten Light

“I didn’t know which one you wanted.”

He opened the box and the smell hit me before the sight of slimy lettuce and seaweed caught my eyes. It was sour and choking, like vinegar mixed with garlic at the bottom of a dumpster.

“This isn’t what I told you to get!”

I would have explained that I didn’t know. That I was sorry. But he was yelling and throwing things at that point, and I began to cry.

“You’re going to eat it. Sit down.”

I shook my head, even as I sat before the box of sludge. I couldn’t even tell you what was in it. A pile of green putrescence. Holding my nose, I pleaded with him. It was a mistake. I’m just a kid. I thought it would be fine.

“You wasted money and you’re going to eat it!”

What did I know about abuse? I’d be taught to listen to my parents and to respect adults. My dad wasn’t around. He was on his way to Australia for his next assignment. I was stuck in hell with my mother and her boyfriend. We lived in his house. What choice did I have?

I picked up the fork he’d gotten from the kitchenette. The first bite made me want to vomit. My tears fell steadily into the slime salad and it did nothing for the taste. I gagged more than a few times. I never stopped crying, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of quitting. Eventually, he told me to stop and go to my room. He did it with a disgusting frown on his face, but it told me, in some small way, that I’d won.

Ash Kickers

Things got worse after that. He held a butcher knife over my hand and threatened to chop it off. He bought boxing gloves and used me as a sparring partner, only he didn’t hold any of his punches. When my younger brother got in trouble, Satoru locked him in the shop, turned off all the lights, and told him that an oni monster was coming to eat him. He then ran upstairs to bang on the floor, laughing.

He liked using fear, and I still remember being forced to place my ear to the door of an abandoned house where, it was said, a woman had been strangled and kept in a refrigerator. Satoru wouldn’t let me run back home until I’d heard her ghost screaming, suffocating.

It wasn’t until he punched my mom in the nose that she snuck us out early in the morning while it was still dark.

I know three things from that meal.

1. I despise bullies and will not tolerate them.
2. I’m a stubborn son of a gun and will never quit.
3. I will always care for my children in a way that is positive and nurturing, and even though I may push them to eat their vegetables, I know I’m doing it from a much better place.

Thanks, Sean. It’s a wonder you can even eat vegetables, let alone expect your kids to. And salads? Lettuce leave that alone.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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