Posts Tagged ‘Eating Authors’

Eating Authors: Michael Mammay

No Comments » Written on March 18th, 2019 by
Categories: Plugs
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.


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.


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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Eating Authors: Cesar Torres

No Comments » Written on March 11th, 2019 by
Categories: Plugs
Cesar Torres

I’m rather pleased with myself. I’ve been getting huge amounts of work done this year. It still croggles my mind when I think of it, the ease with which the words have been coming and across a range of different projects. That may be the key for me, taking a very well monitored approach to how I’m spinning so many plates at once as opposed to past efforts of just spinning them and dashing back and forth as needed. This method has more accountability and so far it seems to be working.

Which has almost nothing to do with this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, except to note that Cesar Torres keeps himself plenty busy with different projects that range from his series The Coil (planned at nine volumes), his How to Kill a Superhero series (four books, under the pseudonym of Pablo Greene), his documentary on Quads, Chicago’s famous bodybuilding gym, and his line of fitness wear.

Cesar was born in Mexico City but has lived in New York, Dublin, Osaka, and Berlin. He now makes his home in Chicago. Curiously, Pablo Greene was born in Buenos Aires and now lives in New Orleans. I’m not sure how he manages this trick, but it could explain why you never see them together.

If you like reading about dystopian futures, social justice, and the Aztec pantheon (and c’mon, who doesn’t?) then you should be reading Cesar’s work.

LMS: Welcome, Cesar. What’s the best meal you remember?

CT: In my all my novels, I explore the nature of time — how time works, which direction it moves in, and its non-linearity. That means that the best meal I remember having is one that explores the nature of time. The best meal is the one that my family has been making together every Christmas across decades and featuring a very specific dish.

13 Secret Cities

This meal has been prepared primarily in two cities: in Mexico City, the amazing capital of Mexico. Mexico City (or CDMX as Mexican refer to it nowadays) is where I was born, and where my family is from. It was there that I watched my mother cook bacalao as a traditional Christmas dish since I was just a boy. Bacalao is a regional specialty for Christmas in Mexico City. It consists of Mediterranean salted cod that is prepared with rich, high-quality olive oil, tomatoes, lots of garlic, potatoes, parsley, olives and garnishes with yellow peppers for acidity and balance. It’s served on bolillos, which are small baguettes you can find at Mexican bakeries.

The taste of bacalao is rich, savory, like silk and ocean on the tastebuds. Bacalo is also a dish that defies the limitations of time. It is originally an import from the Mediterranean region, and the Spaniards brought it to the Americas when they colonized Mesoamerica. This holiday dish speaks volumes about the joys and the horrrors of human history. It’s both a reminder of the brutal and violent nature of Mexico’s colonized past, but also a celebratrion of mestizo culture, which is what makes up the Mexican national identity so vibrant and creative.

9 Lords of Night

Bacalao brings to mind very specific memories of the Christmas Eves I lived in Mexico City with my parents and two brothers, in a setting that was focused on the religious aspect of the holiday and the coming together of families. My parents brought the tradition of Bacalao with them to Chicago when we moved here in the 1980’s. Our new setting in the United States also introduced new variables: The labor-intensive dish eventually recruited my father into the kitchen. He’s not afraid of cooking, but in our family my mother has historically been the one that cooks. But soon, my father took a special interest in the preparation of bacalao each Christmas. Nowadays, my father joins my mother with enthusiasm (and a somewhat alarming eagerness) to chop and prep the many ingredients, to de-salt the cod, and to simmer carefully for hours to get the right flavors out of the dish.

How to Kill A Superhero

Time is a funny thing, and human memory is even funnier. Neither is fixed, and both flow like water. And my memories of bacalao at Christmas flow across many decades. Some years when we cooked it, the weather was mild and sunny, because we lived in CDMX. Other years, snow storms raged outside out house in Chicago. Lately, as climate change alters weather patterns, we have experienced warm weather without snow in Chicago. But one thing remains constant: Bacalao seals a family experience at my house. My parents are both professionals with advanced degrees, and that means that our conversations wander into areas of secular intellectualism, as well as those of popular culture and music, and then back again to topics about theology and the nature of god, even if as adults, parents and children have each diverged in their spiritual paths and identities. This meal that repeats every year is like a tunnel that bores through the walls of time and connects my family. It’s a magical feat. On the lips, bacalao is soft and rich, and the crisp outer edge of the baguette is the perfect vehicle for its magnificent flavor. As we share that meal, I am reminded each year of how much I have to be grateful for in my life. Our Christmas dinner table encourages book reading, the arts, the free nature of the human spirit, and although my parents practice a devout Catholicism, the meal encourages a secular freedom among our family that leads to a single place in the universe that is timeless: love.

Thanks, Cesar. I’ve written about time-traveling cod myself, and yours sounds so much better. Set a place for me next Christmas?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Martin L. Shoemaker

4 comments Written on March 4th, 2019 by
Categories: Plugs
Martin L. Shoemaker

Back in January I attended the annual ConFusion convention in Detroit. I did a couple panels and a reading, attended a few other readings, but mostly just hung out with other authors, which is what one tends to do at cons, but moreso at this one than any other I know. The only downside of the convention was the weather, which was so cold (Detroit in January? Go figure) that I never got away from the hotel restaurant. On the final night, I fell in with this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Martin L. Shoemaker, and some of his friends. That dinner lasted about five hours, I think, and believe me we didn’t stay there because of the food.

Somewhere in the midst of great conversation I learned that Martin had his first novel coming out soon, with a second on the way as well. Since we’d shared a meal, I naturally invited him to come on this blog and share another.

By day, Martin is a programmer, though to hear him tell it, he’s not sure if he’s a programmer who writes science fiction on the side, or the other way around. I can’t comment on his code (pun intended), but one look at his story telling makes the answer clear in my mind. His short fiction has been selected for multiple Year’s Best anthologies, made him a finalist for the Nebula award, and earned him the WSFS Small Press award. Tomorrow he follows this up with the release of his debut novel, Today I Am Carey from Baen Books.

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

MLS: This is the story of why I have to get Richard Johnson very drunk.

In 2012 I was delighted to learn that my story “Scramble” had received second prize in the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award, a contest aimed at promoting interest in space exploration (a topic near and dear to my heart). Second prize included a year’s membership in the National Space Society, which is pretty cool! And considering to that point I had sold only two stories, a second place in a prestigious contest was a pretty good boost to my ego.

But in the same conversation, contest administrator Bill Ledbetter informed me that first place winner Richard Johnson couldn’t attend the International Space Development Conference to accept his prize – due to living in Australia and being unable to travel that far. He asked Bill to ask me if I would attend in his place, read his speech, and accept on his behalf – and Bill added that Ben Bova ( would be presenting the award.

I Am Carey

There’s a scene in “From the Earth to the Moon” where Deke Slayton asks Jim Lovell if he’d like to join the astronaut corps, and Lovell answers, “Well, Deke, I’d have to think about that yes.” I pretty much reenacted that scene. I wasn’t going to give Richard or Bill time to realize their mistake. And that’s when I vowed that if I ever get to Australia, I owe Richard Johnson a beer.

So I flew to Washington, and I met Bill for the first time – forming a strong friendship that continues to this day. I got dressed up in my best suit, and we went to the ISDC lunch, where a number of awards were to be presented. (Bova himself would receive a lifetime service award that day.) It was an elegant affair, a delicious lunch in a delightful setting. Unlike science fiction conventions, this was a business conference for people who actually work in the space industry. So we were surrounded by people who actually do what I only write about. It was a science fiction writer’s dream, a chance to research simply by listening to the arguments while enjoying a fine meal.

And oh, did they argue! Or at least the group at our table did. Bill and I were seated with a group of around six or eight professionals in the field; and every one of them was firmly confident that their plan for space was the plan that would take mankind to the Solar System and beyond. The discussion was spirited; but I noticed something odd. There was one older gentleman at the table with very strong, very vocal opinions; and I noticed that while others clearly disagreed with him, they did so very deferentially. He was someone they didn’t want to offend. I didn’t know why… until I leaned over my salad, scooped up some lettuce on my fork, turned my head sideways, and happened to read his nametag.

It read Buzz.

And I can tell you exactly what went through my mind at that moment: Don’t drop that fork do NOT drop that fork PLEASE WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T DROP THAT FORK!

I was cool. I was calm. I didn’t miss a beat. I didn’t show a single tremor at the realization that I was having lunch with the second man to walk on the Moon.

Blue Collar Space

But I did decide right then and there that I owed Richard Johnson two beers.

Then the time came to deliver Richard’s speech and accept his award. The speech opened with a joke, paraphrased: “I apologize for not joining you today. It took 43 years to get from Kitty Hawk to the Sea of Tranquility; and yet now, 43 years later, you still haven’t gotten me my space plane.”

And yes, there’s a math error there, though I never caught it. And to be fair to Richard, I don’t think 43 was the number he used; but he did use the wrong number of years, whatever number he used. I know, because after I sat back down, Buzz leaned over and asked, “Did you write that?” I explained that no, I was just reading Richard’s speech. “Ah,” he answered. “It’s wrong, you know. It was 66 years from Kitty Hawk to Apollo 11. And 66 years later would be 2035. I think that would be a fine year to land on Mars, don’t you?”

So thanks to Richard Johnson, I actually talked with Buzz Aldrin! But since Buzz corrected Richard’s math… no extra beer scored.

After lunch were a number of presentations by various experts. These were yet more great opportunities for research. I took lots of notes. And when I saw that Buzz was giving a talk on his Mars mission plan, I had to attend that one! That was the first time I ever heard about his Mars cycler plan. I was so enthralled, I only took time to write one note, and I remember it to this day: Something aboard a Mars cycler.

And after that, we had dinner with Baen editor Tony Daniel and his family, and with Ben Bova. The chance to dine with a legendary former Analog editor and a Baen acquisitions editor? Another beer for Richard Johnson! After that we spent a fine night in the bar with Ben and his then-fiancée. Four beers for Richard Johnson!

The Jim Baen Memorial Award

And since the ISDC was in Washington D.C. that year, the next day I finally got a chance to see the Air and Space Museum and the Apollo 11 Command Module. Five beers for Richard Johnson! Quite a lot of beer earned for one lunch.

Postscript: But the story continues long past that lunch. Three months later, I started thinking about that scribbled note: Something aboard a Mars Cycler. A story started to form. By that time, I had sold my first story to Analog, and I wanted this to be my second. By the time it was done, though, it was a novella. Conventional wisdom said Analog would never buy a novella from a practically-first-time author.

Analog bought it. Six beers for Richard Johnson!

And then a year or so later, “Murder on the Aldrin Express” came out. And that fall, at FenCon in Dallas, where Bill Ledbetter had encouraged me to attend as a science panelist), I sat down to another lunch. Not so fancy, just a small hotel restaurant, and no astronaut this time. I was eating alone, so I checked my email. And there was a message from… My eyes must’ve failed me, Gardner Dozois? “Dear Martin, I quite enjoyed Murder on the Aldrin Express, and I’m considering it for Year’s Best Science Fiction…”

After I pinched myself several times to confirm I was awake, my first thought was: A keg of beer for Richard Johnson!

And after that I wrote several more Aldrin Express stories, and sold most (but not all) of them to Analog. And then I added material to turn them into a novel. The Last Dance will be published by 47North in November. And Tony Daniel bought my other novel.

So… Does anyone know how I can ship three kegs of beer to Australia?

Thanks, Martin. I suspect your real goal in publishing these novels is to get a distribution deal in Australia and have them pay your royalties in beer. If you accidentally give them Richard’s address, it’s a win-win.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Daniel Potter

No Comments » Written on February 25th, 2019 by
Categories: Plugs
Daniel Potter

As I’ve mentioned previously, last November I foolishly participated in four different conferences. The first two ran back-to-back, so I started the month with nine straight days of travel, professional, and social stuff. The second of these was 20Booksto50K® Vegas, which was focused less on the craft of writing and more on the art of selling what you’d written. It was intense with 800 Indie authors who ranged from folks who’d never published a book to writers earning seven-figure incomes.

I mention this because it’s the most recent time for running into Daniel Potter, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest. I’ve been around as a fan and author for decades, so at most conventions I know lots and lots of people. But this was my first Indie Author event, and I doubt there were two dozen people present who knew me and vice versa. So stumbling over Daniel — who I’d met before at Nebula conferences and Worldcons — was an oasis in a desert of unfamiliar faces.

By day, Dan uses the powers of his doctorate to save the world via vascular biology (or at least, that’s how I remember his explaining it to me, but I may be fudging a bit). You may know him for his furry trilogy Freelance Familiars. On Thursday, he goes from cougars to dragons with the release of Dragon’s Price, volume one of a new fantasy series.

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

DP: There is nothing like six legged winged terrors to forever fix a meal in one’s memories. But that’s getting a head of myself, so lets set the scene. My wife, Amanda, and I were driving home after a long weekend celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary in Eureka, California. We’d done some hiking in among the redwoods, but mostly puttered around the town exploring and eating. One of the many finds that weekend was a bagel place that sold smoked salmon by the tub full. We had a great time and planned to do a bit meandering on our way back along the five-hour journey home. So we packed the cooler with fresh bagels, creme cheese and a tub of very delicious smelling smoked salmon.

Off Leash

As lunchtime approached, we had mostly appreciated the beauty of the forests from within the car and decided that we needed a change. We drove quite far out of our way to a state or national park that, according to the internet, had a killer view for a picnic spot. I wish I remembered the name of it, but I do remember the way the roads banked around mountains as we approached. Like driving on the back of a snake. I recall lots of wood and railings as I dragged the cooler up a flight of stairs to the overlook. The view proved to the be worth the drive. Green hills cradled lakes that reflected the clear blue sky; the sort of spot that makes you sigh contentedly. We appreciated the view for the half moment it required and then settled on the important thing. LUNCH!

The overlook had one picnic table, a very long one that was occupied by small group of tourists on one end. We setup camp on the other end with their somewhat grudging permission. As we spread out our food, we noticed a wasp buzzing about a bit. Big yellow and black fella who was making the other group nervous. I hoped he’d leave us alone. We popped open the tub of smoked salmon and the bugger was on it like, well, a very angry hornet; circling around the tub with that menacing buzz that only wasps can pull off. I try to shoo him away but he zipped around and put on a Dirty Harry act except I definitely know that stinger’s loaded.

Dragon's Price

So I’m like fine, fine. It’s one wasp. But before I could cobble together an adequate swatting implement, he landed on the salmon, daring me to try something funny. He had my number. I couldn’t squish him without ruining the main component of our lunch. Resigned we watched the little yellow and black bandit rip off a chunk of fish about the same size as he was and fly off with it, clearly straining under the weight. I had hoped that would be the end of the mugging, but apparently that victory put blood in the water and three more of the little bastards showed up not thirty seconds later. Hoping an offering would let us eat our lunch in piece, I set a bit of the salmon on the lid of the tub and put it on the railing. That held them off, but they still buzzed us as if protesting that I had not slathered the salty meat with cream cheese. It’s never enough for the black and yellow buggers. As more of them joined the party, me and my wife sounded the retreat. I finished my bagel sandwich with a wonderful view of the steering wheel of our Honda fit.

And that made for quite a memorable meal. Want your own? Just add wasps.

Thanks, Dan. This sounds like a stressful meal, but let’s look at the silver lining. Some things transcend religion. It’s nice to see Wasps enjoying lox and bagels and a little schmear.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Sam Hawke

No Comments » Written on February 18th, 2019 by
Categories: Plugs
Sam Hawke

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of the founding members of Codex, an online community of authors created by Luc Reid. I’m not as active there as I used to be, but it’s incredible to see how much the group has grown over the years, and especially to see new members report in when they’ve published their first novels, or to get to know writers who live so far away that I’m unlikely to actually encounter them face to face (with the exception of dizzying and pseudo-random encounters in Helsinki and similar exotic locales).

This week’s EATING AUTHORS guest hits both those criteria. Sam Hawke lives in Canberra, Australia, or so she claims. Details of her life suggest that, at least in that regard, she is an unreliable narrator. She insists she’s lazy, but two novels sold to Tor suggest otherwise. And while her alleged distrust of ducks is certainly plausible, I feel less confident about claims of martial arts skills given some hints of wounds caused by a cheese slicer (though whether these were self-inflicted or purely defensive is unclear).

Her debut novel, City of Lies (the first volume in her Poison War series) came out from Tor Books last summer. Volume two is set for a release in early December.

LMS: Welcome, Sam. So when and where was your most memorable meal?

SH: I went on my first overseas trip, to Thailand, with my then-boyfriend in 2002, equipped with no recommendations but a Lonely Planet guide – based on these quick paragraph descriptions of places we’d decide where to eat, where to go, whether or not to accept that side trip to the temple the tuk-tuk driver swears is the prettiest in town, only can we just stop at this amazing jewelry shop he knows that is having a one day only sale?). I can’t remember what it was about this particular description that so excited me, but across the island we went to find this mysterious restaurant based on a description but no precise street address.

City of Lies

It was… not a smooth journey. Our tuk-tuk broke down part way, in the middle of nowhere; it was sauna-hot and we were hungry and anxious about how much the replacement tuk-tuk was going to charge (we didn’t have mobile phones back then so we were at the mercy of the replacement driver), then the replacement one ran out of petrol and had to refill, so by the time we did eventually make it into town the hangry levels must have been pretty high. A different person – perhaps a more rational person – might have cut their losses and just eaten at the next place we saw, but no! Let no one accuse me of being rational.

We got to the street after another long hot walk but there were no numbers. All we had was the street name and a description of the restaurant’s appearance, in what now seemed like a deliberate attempt to personally sabotage us by the book’s editor. We had, I think, walked past the restaurant no less than 6 times before one of us realized the name was hidden behind some greenery. Hurray! We’d done it! We did not need to fight to the death and eat the loser’s corpse! (I may be exaggerating the extent of my bad temper and stubbornness vector at the moment but then again, maybe not. I really, really like food).

I remember stepping inside and knowing straight away we’d made the right call despite everything. It was one of those places that just ooze charm. It was insulated from the street noise and heat by overgrown plants, and it had eclectic décor in a mix of Thai, Chinese and what seemed to be South American styles (which explained itself when the smiling husband-wife owners introduced themselves). Everything was going to be allllll right.

Hollow Empire

And it really was. I wish I could remember what we ate, exactly, but I don’t, I just I remember that the dishes were labelled like boring bog standard westernized Thai/Chinese dishes – ‘sweet and sour pork’ and ‘lemon chicken’ and such, but when they came out it was like the difference between a sun sweet strawberry picked wonky and ripe from your own garden compared to the enormous, stiff, empty ones in shops. Everything had so much flavor, so much nuance. Every dish was better than the last. But it wasn’t just the food, it was the staff as well. While we were waiting for our first course, the waiter arrived with little samplers of other things on the menu – “The Chef thought you might like to try these while you’re waiting.” Not just at the beginning but between every course. “I know you didn’t order this but I thought you might like a taste.” “Here’s a little palate cleanser sorbet so you can properly enjoy the next one.” It was like being fed by loving relatives rather than complete strangers.

Even after we had paid the bill, already tipped, past the point at which there was any possible financial incentive to keep bringing us things, we were still being given cups of thick sweet tea and hard biscuits and urged to stay longer. The owners moved the tables to the edges and suddenly everyone was impromptu Latin dancing like we were in a movie (not a musical, thankfully, because I think I might have drawn the line at impromptu group songs). We stayed there dancing ’til it closed. Afterward, we walked along the beach and Boyfriend found a mysteriously abandoned – but flawless! – rose lying on the beach to give to me.

The whole thing, looking back on it, was so ridiculously perfect it could have been scripted. I think that’s one of the wonderful things about food (aside from the fact that it’s delicious, obviously), that even if I can’t remember exactly what I ate, all these years later, I remember how it felt and the surprise and delight as our evening turned around. The turning point between ‘terrible afternoon of doom’ and ‘perfect evening of almost embarrassing levels of happiness’ was just that: one good meal.

Thanks, Sam. I’m a big believer in serendipity and paying attention when the universe sends flashing neon signs. That rose on the beach? You never had a chance.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: J.K. Ullrich

No Comments » Written on February 11th, 2019 by
Categories: Plugs
J.K. Ullrich

Last September, I attended Capclave, much as I do every autumn (though it’s usually in October). Among its highlights, the convention gives out the Washington Small Press Award and announces the winners of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s amateur writing contest. Last year, that winner was J.K. Ullrich, for her story “Shakti.” I was chatting with her the day before and learned that “amateur” was a bit of a misnomer, or at best only applied to her short fiction. J.K. had actually already published two novels, and won LibraryJournal’s award for Best Self-Published E-Book as well as a New Apple medal for Excellence in Independent Publishing. That was all I needed to hear. I handed her one of the fancy EATING AUTHORS business cards that I bring to conventions for just such purposes. A few days later I followed up via email. And then, as happens to authors, we both got busy with other things and her appearance here was delayed. Eventually our biorhythms synched up and now she’s here!

I also need to tell you that J.K. introduced me to possibly the best quotation I’ve ever seen in an author’s bio:

“When people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin

That probably tells you almost everything you need to know about her right there. Anything else can be discerned by reading her work. Seriously, a teenagers on a failing moon colony doing scavenger runs to a ruined Earth, it’s all there. Go read it.

LMS: Welcome, J.K. Please tell us the tale of your most memorable meal.

JKU: It’s amazing how just two simple ingredients can create a banquet of tantalizing possibilities. I didn’t appreciate this until I was twenty-one years old, during a summer studying abroad in Italy. The teacher leading the expedition, a part-time resident of a small Umbrian town, recruited local friends to offer her students a rich menu of Italian cultural experiences. We took language lessons in a classroom above a bakery, conjugating verbs that tasted like fresh bread; went spelunking in ancient Roman water systems beneath the town with an archaeological team; restored old paintings in a local studio; and tried our hands (literally) at traditional Italian cooking.


Loretta, our culinary instructor, scrounged kitchen implements from neighbors to set up an impromptu teaching kitchen in a ground-floor apartment she called her “laboratory”. Its stone walls and a cramped spiral staircase reminded me more of a medieval alchemist’s workshop. There, drinking hot coffee despite the humid Mediterranean July, she taught seven American college kids how to make pasta a mano. Something I’d only experienced as a dry box product became a gloriously messy act of creation.

Mounds of flour, with eggs cracked into their hollow tops like yolky calderas, became a glutinous paste that clung to my fingers. Wooden dowels stretched it to transparent thinness, revealing the grain of the board beneath. A fold of the dough, a streak of the knife, and ribbons of tagliatelle unfurled from our fingers. Bouquets of resting pasta festooned the lab before Loretta rewarded us with apple slices fried in a batter of flour and water. The hybrid of apple pie and French fries, simultaneously tender and crunchy with a hint of floral sweetness, stunned me with its succulent simplicity. Perhaps she really was an alchemist, capable of transforming basic flour and water into golden delicacies.

The following afternoon, our study-abroad leader invited the whole cast of our Italian adventure to a farewell dinner, featuring our freshly made pasta. More than a dozen people converged on a farmhouse with Umbria’s iconic sunflower fields waving in the distance. Loretta and her accomplices had conjured multiple courses to showcase the elegant simplicity of rustic Italian cuisine. Flour and water cast their flaky spell on a parade of exotic appetizers. Fried sage leaves melted their earthy aromas on my tongue. Zucchini blossoms, filled with gooey mozzarella and fried in crisp tempura-like batter, brought a triumvirate of textures to my lips. Breadcrumbs transformed into spicy filling for stuffed eggplant. How could our humble tagliatelle follow such a sumptuous prelude? It turned out that good pasta, like a good archetype, provided a familiar base for almost endless variation: marinara, the bright acidity of tomatoes tempered with fresh basil; a hearty meat ragù; chicken speckled with herbs and drenched in thick brown sauce. The noble noodles embraced them all, transporting every set of taste buds.

Blue Karma

Dessert brought the meal to a decadent climax with chocolates, apricot cake, and a tiramisu so delicate it felt like eating spoonfuls of coffee-infused cream. The company cleared their palates with a parting shot of the hosts’ homemade limoncello. It smelled as innocent as pastry, but when it hit my tongue, I barely had time to register citrus before the alcohol kicked me in the head so hard that I gasped. The host, smirking, claimed that the stuff was too deadly to pass through customs, and he had to smuggle it to American friends in shampoo bottles. I didn’t attempt that when I flew home a few days later, but I still had plenty to declare that autumn as I began my senior honors thesis in creative writing.

As Loretta had taught, I harnessed the transformative power of two simple ingredients: not flour and water this time, but words and imagination. Drawing from my travel journal, I crafted a narrative based on my summer in Italy. Forty thousand words later, I’d proved to myself that I had the ability write a novel (although it would be another seven years before I published my debut). More importantly, I’d captured all those incredible experiences to savor for the rest of my life. The flavors have long since faded from my lips, but re-reading the description of that dinner takes me right back to the table, memories as heady and bright as the afterburn of bootleg limoncello.

Thanks, J.K. It’s impressive what you can do with just two ingredients. Now I’m wondering what might be possible if you added a third, with the extra one being chocolate, of course.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Jenn Lyons

No Comments » Written on February 4th, 2019 by
Categories: Plugs
Jenn Lyons

Last month I was attending Storming the Confusion, a wonderful convention in Detroit that changes its name and theme each year and always has a wide assortment of friends and colleagues that I want to see. This year’s convention proved no different, and if I had my druthers we’d all still be there.

Among the many people present was this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Jenn Lyons. I first got to know Jenn (and her husband, Michael) while we were all hanging out in the lobby of a hotel in Helsinki (as one does), waiting for our parties to gather so we could venture into the night to our respective restaurants. At the time, Jenn was waxing about her upcoming series from Tor Books. We shared a few stories and parted smiling, because it’s always joyful to hear of another author’s good fortune. Time passed, and the following year although we were all at Confusion, I didn’t see them until I was at the airport waiting around for my flight and they hauled me into a restaurant. We sat and had a meal and another great talk. I asked Jenn when the first book in her series was coming out and would she like to come talk about a meal when it did. She said she would, but the book wasn’t out for another year.

This year, not long before Confusion, Jenn reached out and said basically, “Hey, remember that book, it’s coming out the first Tuesday of February.” I said, “Well, what a coincidence, I happen to have an opening in the schedule the first Monday of February.” And so here we are.

The Ruin of Kings, book one in her epic fantasy series, A Chorus of Dragons, comes out tomorrow.

LMS: Welcome, Jenn. What meal stands out in your memory?

JL: I will admit to being a bit of a foodie, and as such I’ve enjoyed some amazing meals. But the one I will always remember the most isn’t because of what I ate, but because of what I didn’t eat. I’ll explain.

In Santa Monica, California there used to be a restaurant called Typhoon which looked out on to the local municipal airport runway. (Tragically, Santa Monica has since closed that airport and the restaurant with it.) Typhoon was a lovely location with a fantastic view of the planes taking off and landing, and they served some phenomenal Pan-Pacific dishes. I loved going there and I loved taking my friends.

Normally we ordered the regular dishes off the menu. But that was very much a choice: Typhoon also had an extensive menu of insects.

The Ruin of Kings

So, with that in mind I had invited a friend to dine there with me for the first time. He’d arrived early, and he’d ordered a cocktail. Actually, he’d ordered a couple of cocktails. He was feeling pretty good by the time I arrived. Good enough that, unlike every other friend I’d ever taken there, he wanted to order off the insect menu.

So that’s what we did.

And you know, it was a great meal. We’d ordered more normal fair too. Typhoon had a Chinese chicken curry dish that still haunts my dreams and their Filipino barbecue pork was always a ‘must order’ item. Then there were the insect dishes. Manchurian ants on shoestring fries were surprisingly delicious. The ants tasted like vinegar. Stir fried crickets in a very spicy sweet and sour sauce were delicate and nutty.

Then the scorpion arrived.

Now, I had expected a plate of small, fried scorpions, something like the crickets. This was…not that. Imagine a single pristine black scorpion sitting on a small white plate. No forks, no lobster crackers, no utensils of any kind. The scorpion easily measured four inches long with the tail curled tightly up over its body. The fried carapace gleamed shiny and hard.

My friend and I sat there and stared at it. He was tipsy; I was sober. It made no difference.

We stared harder. Neither of us made a move to try to eat the damn thing. The problem, you see, was one of commitment. With the other insects, we’d been able to see what we were getting into – literally in the case of the crickets. But this scorpion? We didn’t know. We couldn’t know. Would it be like lobster on the inside? Would be it something…else? The only way to find out would have been for one of us to grab the thing, bite down hard, and accept the consequences. This was a culinary leap into the unknown, a freefall without a parachute. This was looking into the abyss and discovering that not only was the little monster looking back, it made rude finger gestures. I like to think we both learned a truth about ourselves that meal.

We never ate the scorpion.

Thanks, Jenn. My sister used to live in Santa Monica and so I’d driven past that airport many times. I did not know about the restaurant though or I’m sure I’d have mounted an expedition to sample the insects. Even so, I doubt I’d have eaten the scorpion either.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Martha Carr

1 Comment » Written on January 28th, 2019 by
Categories: Plugs
Martha Carr

Back in November, as part of my misguided hey-let’s-do-four-conventions-this-month extravaganza, I attended the Indie Authors’ conference, 20Booksto50K®Vegas, it was easily the smartest thing I did that month.

This week’s EATING AUTHOR guest, Martha Carr, gave a presentation on the very first day—before lunch even—that just blew me away. I’m talking five stars of inspiration. And as I attempt to immerse myself in the Indie world and reinvent my career as an author, that kind of inspiration is nothing to sneeze at. Naturally, I invited her to come here and share a meal and I’m delighted that she accepted.

Martha credits her design to be a writer to that childhood day she walked into the Philadelphia Free Library and discovered they would let her leave with books! That, and a Vincent Price film she saw when her father dropped her off at the movie theatre without first checking what was showing. From such early influences has come more than thirty books (and that’s just since May of ’87!). Co-authored with Michael Anderle, and often under the shared pseudonym of Judith Berens, she has written such series as The School of Necessary Magic, The Daniel Codex, The Leira Chronicles, I Fear No Evil, Rewriting Justice, and Alison Brownstone.

Martha’s first solo series, the Peabrain Adventures, is coming out very soon now, starting with The Peabrain’s Idea from her own imprint, MRC Publishing. Books two and three will follow quickly.

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

MC: I’ve been very fortunate to eat in some of the best restaurants in the US and to have sat at some tables of some very good home cooks. But, every time I think about what was my best meal, I keep going back to a steak house in Little Washington, Virginia in the early 1970’s.

It was a non-descript chain steak house (I don’t even remember the name), that stuck to the basics – big pieces of beef, loaded potatoes and iceberg lettuce salads. I had my usual neon-orange dressing on top of my salad. Doesn’t sound like it would rate even a memory, much less, best ever but everything happens in context.

The Peabrain's Idea

I grew up as a preacher’s kid and money was always tight to the point of choking. We never went without a meal but there weren’t always seconds and things were pretty bare bones. Going out for fast food was a very big deal. It was always Burger King, me and my four siblings always had to say what we wanted before we got there and only one of us was allowed to go up to the counter. Mine was always plain hotdog, fries and an orange soda. Solid order.

Food for my family was generally what you ate to survive. An orange and nuts in my stocking at Christmas got me very excited and I treasured that orange in winter for a little while before I ate it.

Fortunately, there was that preacher’s kid thing. At the time, Dad was filling in at a little church in Little Washington in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. Just happened to be a return visit to his first ever church but this time with a few more kids. Every once in a while, parishioners felt moved to take us all out to lunch on Sunday after the service, which was very kind of them considering how many there were of us. Best restaurant in town was that steak house.

Waking Magic

I was allowed to order whatever I wanted within reason. That last part was my mother’s instruction delivered with an arched brow – I knew what it meant. Don’t embarrass her by ordering filet mignon. Keep one eye on the prices. Even with that stern order, I was in heaven. My own steak, a loaded potato and a salad with that neon orange dressing – my favorite. To this day, over four decades later, I can still feel that first flicker of an idea that the world had a lot more to offer than I initially realized. There was an abundance to this world and I was included.

I had missed some important clues about what could be accomplished in this world, what could be experienced and just how many choices there were out there. But it was okay, this steak lunch was telling me, there’s time and there will be opportunities to go out there and try stuff. I know, it doesn’t sound like a lot to a lot of readers, but for this kid it was a great lunch and a doorway to a new way of thinking about myself. Best meal ever and I didn’t have to share with anyone. Little bit of heaven just for a moment.

Thanks, Martha. That’s a precious memory indeed, the shift from a world of scarcity to one of abundance. I’m a little worried about that neon-orange dressing though.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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