Eating Authors: Steve McEllistrem

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Steve McEllistrem

People tell me that there are more SF & F novels being published today than ever before, and I certainly believe it. I make a point of reading fifty books a year (as part of my annual Goodreads challenge), but that’s not even close to being sufficient to read the new work coming out from friends and acquaintances, and that’s before I include books that up are for awards that I’ll be voting on or novels that I’ve been asked to consider providing a blurb for. Right or wrong, I’m mostly reading people I’ve already before.

Still, it’s not surprising that every now and then I stumble across an author that’s new to me, a name I don’t immediately recognize. Usually it’s a name that shows up on my social media feed, someone posting in response to something I’ve said, or a comment that’s been retweeted or shared by a friend. I tell you this, because it’s how I ran into this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Steve McEllistrem.

Steve’s Susquehanna Virus triology consists of The Devereaux Dilemma, The Devereaux Disaster, and The Devereaux Decision. In addition, he’s had a career that’s kept involved in other sorts of writerly work. He’s published several nonfiction volumes related to the law, and spent years as a radio producer and host, where he interviewed authors from around the world.

Since I use this blog to do something similar — talk to authors, not publish law books — it seemed to make perfect sense to invite him to stop by.

LMS: Welcome, Steve, tell me about your most memorable meal.

SM: I should preface my response by saying I’m not a foodie. I eat to live rather than living to eat. Sure, I savor a good meal, but I recognize my limitations with respect to the culinary arts.

That said, the best meal I ever had occurred nine years ago at a facility we rented inside a Dakota County park near my parents’ house to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I wish I could say that the food was fabulous and fit for a king but the truth is it wasn’t phenomenal. Yet it wasn’t bad either.

The Devereaux Dilemma

Chicken and beef and a vegetarian option prepared by a catering company: doesn’t seem good, does it? But the beef was juicy, the chicken moist, the vegetables crisp. The meal was about as well prepared as you could expect at a function like that. One of my brothers had his mother-in-law (a baker) do the cake and it was delicious, not dry and tasteless like so many wedding cakes.

But know this: it’s not about the food. It’s never about the food. Great food does not necessarily a great meal make. I have foodie friends who all concur that the best meals of their lives were made so by the people they dined with more than any other factor.

I’ve had many exquisite meals at wonderful restaurants, the aftertaste remaining with me for one reason or another: a salad here, a dessert there, a steak so tender I cut it with a butter knife.

Some of those meals were with good friends, some with colleagues, some rank right up there near the top. But it wasn’t the food or the setting that made this day special; it was the surprise of having my parents consent to the event at all. When we approached them about doing it, we prepared ourselves for a negative response. They’re not the type of people to want a fuss made about them. Yet they embraced the notion of a party even though they insisted on paying part of the bill.

The Devereaux Disaster

That small hiccup aside, the celebration provided the opportunity for my extended family – and I have a large family (11 siblings) – to connect in a positive way with no wedding expectations or funeral regrets. A few relatives put together a PowerPoint presentation with slides and music, showing my parents’ lives together for half a century.

While we children visited with my parents’ friends, our children wandered outside to play in the park, so no one was bored, no one felt pressure to entertain anyone else and conversation rolled easily into the evening. We took a family photo but I rarely look at it. I like to recall the evening on my own, without prompting. I feel as if the photo would sanitize certain memories that might not be as sweet as the residue left upon my palate.

I enjoy the vagueness, the filtered curtain that surrounds the event, giving it a sheen that varies with each recollection. I don’t know how much longer I’ll have with my parents; none of us knows these things. But I will always treasure that day.

Thanks, Steve. Family meals, for good or bad, are often the most memorable. Though throwing a dinner party for a family with eleven siblings (and their requisite households) could just as easily turn into something one desperately wishes to forget!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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