Posts Tagged ‘Eating Authors’

Eating Authors: Madeline Ashby

No Comments » Written on November 6th, 2017 by
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Madeline Ashby

In just over a week I’ll be heading to Toronto, Canada, to give a reading at the famed Merril Collection and do a stint as the GoH at SFContario. So, naturally, this has had me thinking about SF authors who make their home in Toronto, many of whom have appeared here in EATING AUTHORS, and some who haven’t. This seemed like a good excuse to add to the list of Torontonians, which brings us to this week’s guest, Madeline Ashby.

Madeline works as a strategic foresight consultant, which she describes as “the best job in the world,” and basically seems to be, in large part, writing science fiction stories to suit the needs of people on the cutting edge of science and industry who want someone to help shape their narrative or show them some of the possibilities they’re missing. So, yeah, she might well be right.

When she’s not doing that (and seriously, getting paid for it!), she also writes science fiction for the reading public. You probably already know her for The Machine Dynasty trilogy (vN, iD, and reV), all from Angry Robot. More recently her novel Company Town was published by Tor Books, and went on to be a finalist for the Locus, Sunburst, and Aurora awards. More, it was shortisted for Canada Reads 2017, a reality show in which celebrities battle one another (sort of) as champions for different books, until they’re eliminated one by one, and along the way everyone (kind of) in Canada reads the books as well. That’s just cool.

LMS: Welcome, Madeline. What meal really stands out for you?

MA: It all started at Deception Pass.

Why my dad wanted to camp there, I don’t know. We’d had great trips to other spots throughout Western Washington: Mount Baker, Penrose Point, Lake Crescent, Baker Lake, the Dungeness Spit, even a trip to Lake Quinault and the Hoh Rainforest, with its cathedral of ancient mosses. I suspect it had something to do with the goal of the trip: namely, to camp with two other families, both of whom had young children. According to my mother, Deception Pass was simply the best location for all three families, and a place we’d never camped, besides, which meant it held some novelty. Its proximity to towns like LaConner and Anacortes, and local beaches, meant that the first weekend in August would be a delightful one no matter what we decided to do.

Company Town

Little did we know, when we crossed that nauseatingly high bridge, the same one that later featured so prominently in the English-language adaptaion of THE RING, was that Deception Pass was once the site of human trafficking and murder. White people smuggling vulnerable Chinese workers to lay the railway would “hide” them in burlap sacks so that they could easily be thrown overboard upon encountering other craft. And between 1910 and 1914, the Fidalgo side of the Pass was the location of a prison rock quarry, with about forty workers from the Walla-Walla State Penitentiary literally breaking rocks as punishment. In fact the whole area, the tricksy waters joining what are now known as the Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca, historically belongs to the Coast Salish tribes, the only people who knew how to navigate those shallow, rocky waters and traverse those verdant islands.

What I’m saying is, the place is cursed as shit.

But we had no idea of the region’s history when we crossed that bridge. That Friday afternoon in August, we were simply intent on finding one of the few campsites with enough space for three families, including five kids and a dog. And find one we did! Up went the tents and the rain flies, and down went the tarps and stakes. The air mattresses were pumped. The fire was lit. Being around eleven, I suspect my job was to keep two of the younger children — about three years old and a year-and-a-half — busy and entertained. I probably shared some snacks with them: Goldfish crackers, or apple slices, or something like that. And in all likelihood, the parents made something easy like hot dogs, or maybe my dad’s beer can chicken. I don’t remember being hungry. But I do remember what happened next.

Night fell. I remember that it was fully dark, when the other family came. They were late, but that wasn’t unusual. They’d left late, which also wasn’t unusual. The whole afternoon and evening, we’d craned our necks each time we heard the approach of a vehicle, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes when it wasn’t the third family’s ancient VW Westfalia. Finally, around 9pm, headlights swept across the campground and the van lumbered up into the remaining parking spot. Out poured our friends: a husband and wife, a tweenage girl, and a pre-school boy.

vN

“Sorry we’re late,” the husband said. “I couldn’t leave the house until I’d finished practising my trumpet.”

Reader, this was not a euphemism.

They explained all the delays in great and amusing detail, as beers were opened and catching-up was done. The kids stretched their legs. Our dog sniffed everyone dutifully and thoroughly. Speculation was made about the weather, and the stars, and the possibility of hikes. The kids started asking about dinner.

Eventually the wife — the one doing all the unpacking — said to her husband: “Honey? Where’s the food?”

Silence settled over the campsite.

“The food?” he asked. “Oh. Yeah. I didn’t bring any.”

That weekend was surprisingly cold — it hit record low temperatures for the first weekend in August. But this was the moment the mercury began to drop. And it didn’t stop falling. Not that night, and not the next, and not really until these two divorced years later.

“You didn’t bring the food?”

“Well… No.”

“I was at work all day, and you didn’t do any shopping?”

She had a full-time job. He was an artist.

“I did the packing! I just didn’t pack any food!”

“So…” You could see her trying to rationalize it. Trying to understand. What was his logic? What was he thinking would happen? How had he envisioned this scenario unfolding? “When were you going to get food?”

iD

“Tonight.”

“Tonight?”

“Tonight. I was going to go shopping here, at the Albertson’s on the way.”

“If you wanted to go shopping on the way, why didn’t you say so?”

“I didn’t want to go shopping on the way. I wanted to go shopping after we got here.”

“But we’re already here! And we have no dinner! We have nothing to eat! Do you understand how embarrassing this is?”

He might not have, but the rest of us did. We shifted uncomfortably in our camping chairs, and pretended to be very interested in the fire.

“Fine,” he huffed. “I’m going shopping. I’m going shopping right now. See?”

He stalked off to the van. He reached to close the sliding door. As he slammed it shut, the whole door fell into the mud below. It slid right off the tracks with a groan and fell off, like a gangrenous limb, into the dirt.

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

“That keeps happening,” their daughter said. “It happened on the way to school, the other day.”

And that is the story not of my most memorable meal, or the best one I ever ate, but a meal that was simply never eaten, at a place called Deception Pass.

Thanks, Madeline. So, what happened next? How many of the campers survived, and who did you eat? And what about the dog?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Kayleigh McCollum

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Eating Authors: Ruthanna Emrys

No Comments » Written on October 23rd, 2017 by
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Ruthanna Emrys

About a month ago when I was down for the day at the Baltimore Book Festival, I participated in two panels. One of the things I like most about the festival is meeting new people, especially when we’re on program together. Ruthanna Emrys was on both of mine. Naturally, this was a sign to invite her to be a guest on EATING AUTHORS.

You might know Ruthanna from the H. P. Lovecraft reread series of articles she’s being doing on Tor.com with Anne M. Pillsworth, which they describe as “two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox.”

All of this scholarship is reflected in her own fiction, her novelette The Litany of Earth and first novel Winter Tide. I’m hoping for more of the same in next summer’s sequel Deep Roots, because she, as one reviewer put it,”subverts Lovecraft’s notorious racism by making his monsters — which were often thinly veiled stand-ins for people of color — sympathetic protagonists.” How could you not want more of this?

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

RE: On July 16, 2005, I came downstairs wearing a cloak, with every watch in the house dangling from my wrists, and announced to my wife: “Look, my muggle disguise is perfect!”

Winter Tide

It was release day for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and we and our friend Nora were on our way to Oak Park’s giant launch party. The Chicago suburb takes its literary celebrations seriously: the town green had transformed into Quiddich field surrounded by a fairy market, and all Oak Park Avenue was done up as Diagon Alley. Every store on the alley held an appropriately themed event; every restaurant competed to produce the best butterbeer.

After a long day of cheering on Quiddich players, mooning over holly wands, and mocking each others’ houses, we decided it was time for dinner. Looking around for someplace not completely jam-packed, we spotted a brand new French restaurant on the corner of the alley. Nora, a French teacher just returned from an exchange in Paris, was dubious but willing to give it a shot.

About half an hour later, she admitted that this was, in fact, the best French food she’d had in her life. There were the simplest possible steak frites, perfectly cooked and seasoned. There was kobe beef burger topped with foie gras and aioli. There was a trio of crème brulées: thin layers of lavender, chocolate, and vanilla custard beneath exquisitely crispy burnt sugar crust. Our wild speculations about Snape were punctuated by moments of eyes-closed blissful meditation—and because some Ravenclaws are also New Yorkers at heart, a lot of mutual congratulations for having found a new favorite restaurant.

The Litany of Earth

Wandering back out into the night, we heard church bells ringing. After a moment we realized they were playing Hedwig’s Theme from the movies. Following their siren lure, we found the church’s inner sanctum lit with floating candles down the center aisle, and the priest herself playing court with the sorting hat.

A few weeks later, we attempted to return to our new favorite restaurant. You can probably guess what happened. The storefront was closed without explanation, the kobe burgers gone as if they had never been–as if the world’s best French food had never truly been part of Oak Park at all.

There are plenty of people looking for Platform 9¾. When I find it, I know exactly where I’m going first—and it isn’t Hogwart’s.

Thanks, Ruthanna. You just can’t sustain that kind of bliss, both fine French dining and a kick-ass Harry Potter festival. Something had to give.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Vivian Shaw

1 Comment » Written on October 16th, 2017 by
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Vivian Shaw

Last month I marked the autumnal equinox by once again participating in the Baltimore Book Fesitval, or at least a day of it anyway. It’s a glorious event and well worth the two hour drive to get there (and not because it gives me an excuse to stop at a Waffle House on the way down). Books, books, books, and lots of authors. It’s grand to see old friends and meet some new faces. One of those new faces this time around is this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Vivian Shaw, with whom I shared a panel. Her novel Strange Practice came out back in July and I confess I hadn’t read it yet. But hearing her talk about secondary worlds on the panel we shared convinced me that I had to invite her to come around and talk about her most memorable meal.

To my credit, I was able to restrain myself until the end of the panel. Fortunately for all of us, she said “yes.”

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

VS: If you’d asked me this two years ago, I would have had no difficulty whatsoever in coming up with the best meal I’d ever eaten. That was in 2004, in Chicago, the same day I met Scott McNeil and George Romero: I was at a Transformers convention and decided to take myself to an actual steakhouse for an actual steak, and I can still so clearly remember the gorgeous rich mineral taste of that first-ever filet mignon, the way it almost dissolved in my mouth. The vivid greenness of the two asparagus spears on the plate, the peppery kick of the Shiraz that accompanied it — even thirteen years later it’s incredibly easy to recall.

(The most memorable, however, was the time on British Airways in the 1990s where for reasons known only to themselves somebody had decided to add bits of squid to the fruit salad. Memorable doesn’t equal pleasant.)

Strange Practice

And then I met my wife, and going out to dinner became a kind of constantly evolving, unfolding pleasure. There was the pizza that was the apotheosis of all pizza, from a restaurant in New York that has since vanished — we had that sitting on the floor of the hotel room the night before we got married, telling each other stories, pausing to make helpless appreciative noises at how incredibly good it was. (The fact that the restaurant is no more seems somehow fitting, as if the universe decided it was going to give us perfect pizza one time in our lives, and had picked that particularly apposite moment to do so.)

Wherever we went, we found amazing things — always, from the very beginning. There was the two-course brunch at Marea, with the most flavorful chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life, after the courthouse ceremony. Steak at the Prime Rib, at Salt, at the Wine Market, at Brewer’s Art, at Cinghiale, in the restaurant of the Hotel Diplomat in Stockholm. Extraordinary steak at Bar Vasquez with spicy chimichurri, following a salmon ceviche of brilliant clarity and delicate balance. Mussels in coconut-curry broth at Lobo’s in Fells Point, and chicken-with-broccoli at Empire Szechuan Kyoto at 67th and Columbus. Pizza from Zella’s and pan-seared sea bass from NTL. Saffron fried rice and fino at Huertas. Earl Grey ice cream at the Lafayette and green tea gelato at the Met’s Balcony Cafe. Cold sesame noodles and scalding-hot gyoza. And everywhere, sushi, sushi, sushi.

It’s not just one meal, or one dish, that’s the focus of my memory now. It’s a huge, rich, delicious library-collection of memories, all of them lovely for different reasons. There are places I absolutely want to go back to and try the rest of their menu, dish by dish; there are places I want to go back to and order exactly the same thing I had the first time, because it was amazing. But it’s really the experience of going out to dinner with my wife that makes it more than just a somatic response to somebody’s culinary artwork.

I don’t often have much of an opportunity to describe food in my writing — yet, anyway — and I am looking forward to playing with that when the chance does arise. Over the past two years I’ve collected so many dishes I want my characters to experience, and that kind of intense visceral description is both challenging and exhilarating for me. One day, perhaps, I might even find the right place for the fruit-salad-with-squid — but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Thanks, Vivian. Having given up meat some seven months ago, all this talk of steak has my head spinning. Vicarious meals may be what saves me.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Lee French

No Comments » Written on October 9th, 2017 by
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Lee French

Though this blog series appears bright and early every Monday morning, I often put the individual pieces to bed days before they’ll post. Not so today’s installment. Rather, I’ve just returned from a phenomenal weekend at Capclave, one that began early Friday morning and only ended when I arrived back home, weary but quite contented on Sunday afternoon.

And it was at just such a time and in just such a state, that I realized “whoops, I hadn’t prepared the next EATING AUTHORS. Fortunately, this week’s guest, Lee French, had already long since sent me her most memorable meal.

Lee’s the author of assorted books, likely most known for the Maze Beset Trilogy, and The Greatest Sin series (the fifth book of which, A Curse of Memories, came out last summer), but has also written other works, some set in her fantasy world of Ilauri.

Right about now I suspect she’s organizing and preparing for the madness of NaNoWriMo, some three weeks away, because she generously serves as a Municipal Liaison for the Olympia region in Washington state.

Oh, and she also bikes.

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

LF: A slice of berry pie, a scoop of ice cream, and a banana at 7am. The banana made it a respectable breakfast. I sat alone on a hilltop, surrounded by a thousand people, in bright, warm sunshine and a light breeze. Thin plastic sheets covered a herd of aluminum picnic tables assembled to accommodate the endlessly shifting crowd inside a volunteer fire department station. Others nearby enjoyed more traditional breakfast fare in the form of pancakes, eggs, sausages, and fruit. The view beyond the horde, the tractors, and the haybales revealed the bumpy, hilly terrain of northeast Iowa, thick with trees and stubbornly terraced fields, sprawling houses, and winding roads. The small town with a name I don’t remember had collected a small army of friendly residents to serve and sell us the food.

The Fallen

The best meal ever happened on the final day of Ragbrai XLVI, the 44th iteration of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Every year in late July, as many as twenty thousand cyclists descend upon Iowa. Like a plague of locusts, we sweep across the state, from the Missouri to the Mississippi in seven days, and devour every kind of food and drink we can find, leaving a trail of money and memories in our wake. The ride is a carnival on two wheels. Beer, pie, bacon, and corn fill the air and our bellies. Water rains from sprinklers and temporary fountains set up for us. Sometimes, it’s over 100 degrees. Sometimes, it’s under 30. Every day is a minimum of fifty miles.

This meal, though, wasn’t just a meal. It was a Moment. Number 44 was my fifth time riding. Thousands of miles of training led to it. Hundreds of hours of sweat and aching muscles led to it. Dozens of mad, endorphin-incited grins led to it. It’s the best worst vacation I’ve ever taken. Like thousands of other lunatics, I keep going back for more punishment.

Ragbrai is awful. I camp, which I hate. I ride, which is grueling and painful because it takes six to eight hours to get from one town to the next. I train, which takes time away from things I like doing more. I eat, which involves shoving copious quantities of food into my food-hole to avoid exhaustion, not the more pleasant savoring of delicious things. I sunburn, which happens because I’m fair-skinned and sometimes miss spots or forget to reapply in a timely fashion.

Girls Can't Be Knights

I’ve battled heat exhaustion and hypothermia, ridden through rain, hail, tornado warnings, and clouds of flying bugs. I’ve evaded disastrous crashes by pure luck. I’ve leaned against my bike and cried for how hard it was that day. I’ve been insulted for my girth while wearing my Ragbrai XL jersey (Extra Large, get it? Hilarious.). I’ve put on wet clothes at 5:30am in 40 degree weather because I had nothing dry to wear. I’ve had to stop because suncreen ran into my eyes and temporarily blinded me. I’ve gotten food poisoning.

Once, I blacked out while assembling my tent. Another time, I fell over because my pedal clip got stuck and scraped the heck out of my hand, knee, and elbow. There are no words for the peculiar pain of the posterior caused by prolonged contact with a bicycle seat.

At least one person dies on the ride every year, and it could be me. And we use porta-potties for a week straight.

But then, I’ve also seen the orange and pink of sunrise on my bike with no excuse not to stop and enjoy it. Strangers talk to strangers and we remind each other that, no matter what we see on the news or internet, people are mostly decent and kind. Libraries in small towns have excellent people. Nothing beats the joy of conquering a steep hill without getting off the bike to walk. I make jokes and we’re all too tired and spent not to laugh. Some of the landscape in Iowa is amazing. The sheer volume of endorphins is the most amazing high imaginable. The simple joy of an unexpected real toilet takes you by surprise the first time you feel it.

Dragons In Pieces

Also, you can eat things like a slice of chocolate covered frozen cheesecake on a stick and feel no remorse. Biking requires calories. Lots of calories.

Many people bring friends or family with them and ride together. My first year, I went with a group of people I had nothing in common with. Every subsequent year, I’ve gone alone. Which is why I had a Moment that morning on that hill.

Knowing that Ragbrai would probably be my last — chronic knee problems plus increasing professional obligations have made it more and more challenging every year — I paused to savor the last morning, covered from head to toe in UV clothing and sunscreen. The pie tasted like freedom and victory. I did a thing for me and me alone. No one else got a say in whether I did the thing or not. No one else trained for me. No one else climbed the hills for me. No one else took care of my bike for me. No one else drove me out there, and no one else would drive me back.

Thanks, Lee. There is no pie, no taste, as exquisite as embracing the power of your own choices.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Bo Balder

No Comments » Written on October 2nd, 2017 by
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Bo Balder

This week’s EATING AUTHORS guest is Bo Balder, a member of Codex, the online writing community we know and love. Bo also lives in the Netherlands, and so I never expected to actually meet her. But of course that was before this past summer’s world science fiction convention in Helsinki, and the rest as they say is history!

Bo is primarily a short story writer — and perhaps you’ve seen her work in such venues as Clarkesworld or F&SF — but she’s also written a novel, The Wan, which takes on the challenges of what happens when humans reach another world but forget their own history and technology, amidst a hostile and alien biosystem. The solution embraced by one of the book’s main characters managed to both delight and horrify me at the same time, giving new meaning to the old phrase, “you are what you eat.”

LMS: Welcome, Bo. Share the where and why and what of your most memorable meal,
please.

BB: The restaurant was a tottery wooden shack reached after driving down from the cliffs of Bretagne, France, to the seaside. The sea in question was the Atlantic, reaching far inland with a probing finger that would flood by high tide and become mud flats at low tide.

It was low tide. We pulled off our shoes and went reconnoitering over the muddy sea bottom. We learned how oysters are farmed (in sacks on racks). We saw a French family sprinkle salt over holes in the mud and capture the razor shells that came questing up. They put them in a plastic bag, already half full, and told us they were planning to eat them that evening. I vowed to try them if the restaurant had any.

We cleaned our feet as best we could (sea bottom is sticky, blackish mud) and entered the restaurant. The lobby was a big open room, with a shallow pool in the middle, with dozens of kinds of fish and shellfish in wooden crates for sale. Apparently the restaurant doubled as fish market… We wended our way through to the dining room.

It was full of large French families waiting for food. Luckily we had reserved a table ahead — my husband grew up in Brussels, which is a good thing, because although I have some French, it’s not phone proof. His is…

The Wan

We were seated at one end of a long narrow table and got a menu and a small bowl of appetizers: periwinkles, accompanied by a winkling implement to get the little suckers out of their shells. They had an intense, dark, almost liquorish-like taste. Interesting, for sure, but not in large quantities.

Then the lobster bib arrived. The waiter tied the sleeved, lap-length bib around my husband’s neck and behind his back and proceeded to lay down something like a hammer and tongs. I was glad I’d chosen the oysters, I knew I wouldn’t have to open them myself.

While we waited for the food to arrive, the other tables started getting served. Huge platters of seafood got carried in, and not just for the large parties. A five-pound heap of everything that swims in the sea was set down for an elderly couple and they set out to devour it. I wished I’d chosen a huge variety of food like that! I wished I could eat that much… What is it with French people that they can eat like that and only gain a little bit of middle-aged spread?

After my lobster bisque, my half dozen of the famed ridged oysters of the region, the “Creuse de Belon” were absolutely delicious, superfresh and salty, not even needing pepper or lemon. My husband destroyed the lobster with all his might until his platter looked like a red and pink striped bomb site.

The food was simply prepared, but so fresh and so good that I could eat there every week. Too bad it’s a ten-hour drive from home…

Thanks, Bo. Having “gone pescatarian” a few months ago, I’m paying much more attention to author meals involving seafood. I still don’t understand the appeal of oysters though.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: JY Yang

No Comments » Written on September 25th, 2017 by
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JY Yang

Regular readers of my work know that I’m very “old school” in my approach to writing speculative fiction. At some level this is doubtless shaped an unconscious attempt to recreate the “sense of wonder” from the stories and novels that I imprinted on in my youth. But tempus fugit, and just as the world around me has changed, my reading tastes have changed as well. I still very much enjoy reading that “classic” style in my SF, but there’s so much more out there now, stories from new voices with compellingly different backgrounds and world views and life experiences that have molded their fiction. And fortunately, there are markets that are bringing these works to readers, places like Light Speed Magazine and Uncanny Magazine and Clarkesworld.

This week’s EATING AUTHOR’s guest is a prime example of what I’m talking about. JY Yang writes from the experience of a journalist, a scientist, and an editor taking on issues of gender, race, and class. Their two novella Tensorate Series comes out tomorrow from Tor.com, and J has described it as “a melange of everything I wanted to see in epic fantasy: Adventure, romance, martial magic, megafauna.” And it won’t end there, as two additional novellas in the series are already scheduled for publication.

I’m not usually one to invoke the hackneyed “if you read only one book this year” line, but I’m tempted to here. Except, I’d amend it to tell you to read both of these novellas. The real question is, how do you decide which to read first?

LMS: Welcome, JY. Tell me about a memorable thing you’ve eaten.

JY: This is about salmiakki.

I went to the recent Worldcon that was held in Helsinki, Finland. Now, the two things they tell you when you are about to go to Finland are 1) saunas, do the sauna thing, and 2) you should eat salmiakki. Now, the Wikipedia page for salmiakki, or salty liquorice, has this to say about this particular Nordic delicacy, citations and all:

Salty liquorice, also known as salmiak or salmiakki (in Finland), is a variety of liquorice flavoured with ammonium chloride, common in the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, and northern Germany. Ammonium chloride gives salty liquorice an astringent, salty taste (hence the name), which has been described as “tongue-numbing” and “almost-stinging”. Salty liquorice is an acquired taste and people not familiar with ammonium chloride might find the taste physically overwhelming and unlikeable.

Waiting on a Bright Moon

You know when they put “acquired taste” in the first paragraph of the Wiki page that it’s got to be something special. I mean, I come from Southeast Asia, land of the durian, and the Wiki page for that only mentions that some people think it tastes objectionable in the third paragraph. What a food needs to do to tastebuds in order to have that information moved right to the opening, I can’t even guess.

So I was in Finland, and salmiakki was a thing that you could get at candy stands, which sold these footlong sticks of liquorice in various flavours. I have a rapacious sweet tooth, and I can chow through my body weight in candy in an astonishingly small amount of time. In Stockholm the week before Worldcon, my friend Grace and I each bought five sticks of liquorice in a bag from a stall by the marina, in an assortment of fruity flavours. By the end of the day I had demolished all but one stick of candy, while Grace had barely finished her first. She was impressed, and when I say “impressed” I really mean “mildly horrified.”

Well. You can imagine that I was tempted by the candy stall that was parked right outside the dealers’ room at Worldcon. Because I was. But everytime I looked at the tantalising, tar-black laces of salmiakki, I would remember the immortal words of my friend Lara, who had tasted salmiakki before. “It’s like eating a concentrated tablet of cat piss.”

I don’t have cats. I’ve helped a friend catsit while they were away for winter break. I am familiar with that particular tang. I was really not committing myself to eating an entire foot of candy that tasted like that. So: hard pass.

Worldcon rolled on. Every time I passed by the candy stand, I cast a furtive glance, then remembered the noxious fumes that rose from my friend’s litterbox. And quickly moved on.

The Black Tides of Heaven

It was now Sunday, the last day of the convention. I was hanging out with my agent sibling Alex Wells and their friend Corina. We were outside the convention center checking out the Viking blacksmiths, who were these rugged, shirtless Finnish men clad in scraps of fur and leather, stoking fires and swinging metal implements. Kind of like Mad Max, but Nordic. Our interest was purely in the knives and metal jewelry they were selling, of course. So while we were, ahem, examining their wares, I noticed that Corina was eating some kind of candy out of a clear bag.

I asked: “Is that… salmiakki?”

“It is,” she said.

“It’s disgusting,” Alex added, with the rawness of someone who’d tried some and did not come away unscathed.

I looked at the candy Corina was holding. My brain, that wretched little imp, was thinking: You can’t leave Finland without tasting this stuff. You need to know what its like. Just one bite. How bad can it be?

I looked at Corina again. She seemed fine eating this stuff. Pretty cheerful, in fact. If it was like swallowing cat piss, she wasn’t showing it.

I said: “…can I try some?”

As Alex frowned at my folly, Corina tore a chunk off the stick and handed it to me. It was soft. Malleable. I put it in my mouth.

I chewed. It was actually salty. Like it said on the lid. It was weird, having this texture between my teeth I associated with something sweet or tangy, and having it taste like the ocean. But not really. The saltiness was very mild. Gentle. It came with a slight whiff of ammonia, barely even noticeable.

The Red Threads of Fortune

Still, I was waiting for the shit to hit the fan. It had to be coming, like the way wasabi lets you think hey it’s not so bad after all, before punching right through the roof of your mouth and into your braincase. At some point, I was sure, the salmiakki would unleash its ammoniac power into my hapless being.

I continued chewing. Alex and Corina watched me carefully.

Nothing happened. I blinked. Was this it? Was this the entirety of what salmiakki tasted like?

“It’s… not bad?” I ventured, my voice lifted by disbelief. I chewed some more. No, this was definitely great. It was soft and chewy without being cloying, the taste of salt light in my mouth and the notes of ammonia somehow cleansing. “I… I actually like this.”

And I did. It was great. I wanted more.

Corina’s smile was a little smug as she held out more of the candy to me.

Alex said: “I’m disowning both of you.”

Anyway, that’s my story of eating salmiakki in Finland. I don’t think there’s a moral to it, except maybe “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, because it may surprise you”. Or “tastebuds, what are they, we’ll never know”. One thing I do know, though:

Durian is delicious. I will fight you over it.

Thanks, JY. I had a similar experience with that licorice booth outside the dealers’ room. It took days, but I finally succumbed. So glad I did!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Mark J. Engels

No Comments » Written on September 18th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
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Mark Engels

I’ve spent much of this past week revising Barry’s Deal, the new Amazing Conroy novella that will be coming from NobleFusion Press late next month. In addition to Conroy and Reggie, the story features the return of everyone’s (or at least my) favorite gambler, LeftJohn Mocker, as well as the return of Angela “Gel” Colson, last seen in the first novella, Barry’s Tale. I’ve been doing a lot of writing in 2017 but not a lot of publishing, so this will be a very welcome release.

Needless to say (though I just did), working on this novella has had my brain full of furry critters. Sounds like potential for a segue into this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, right? Absolutely, because this week we have Mark Engels, whose debut novel, Always Gray in Winter, came out just last month from Thurston Howl Publications, and as you might infer from the name of the publisher, Mark’s novel is anthropomorphic fiction! It’s got shapeshifters, but if you’re not familiar with furry fiction, you’re in for a very different ride!

Speaking of rides, Mark’s a railroader. He’s worked as an electrical engineer, designing signal and comm systems for railroads. As if that wasn’t cool enough, he began writing articles for the transit industry trade magazines. Somewhere along the way that morphed (see what I did there?) into werecats, and here we are. And expect Mark to stay in this place for a while as he admits there are at least two, maybe three (maybe more?) books he’ll need to write to fully tell the story he’s begun.

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

MJE: One memorable occasion comes to mind from the late 90s, not long after I’d moved to the Twin Cities from my native Michigan. A couple weeks later a co-worked spotted a tiny model next to my computer monitor. We became fast friends after he identified it as Guardian-mode Veritech as featured in Harmony Gold’s Robotech TV series. Shared interests in Japanese anime and manga kindled our interests other Japanese cultural aspects, especially cuisine.

I was raised in a meat-and-potatoes household. College had expanded my culinary horizons, however, and now living in the Big City for the first time I was eager to Try All the Things. So was my friend Kristopher, having come from rural Wisconsin. And St. Paul was more than happy to accommodate us. A sushi restaurant in the heart of downtown named Sakura became our de facto haunt. At that time one could still request booth seating around a low table featuring tatami mats. Kristopher and I did so often enough to brand us as regulars. Having come to enjoy nearly everything on both the nigiri and maki menus, one evening as we strode past Sensei on our way to our usual booth Kristopher told him “surprise us.”

Always Gray in Winter

Partway through our third bottle of sake, our server plunked down a boatful of some of the finest sushi you ever saw. At the bow sat a pair of amaebi (which I would later come to know as “sweet shrimp.”) Beside them were the prawns’ heads, deep fried in potato starch and poised with their walking legs facing each other. As if they were fighting.

Fighting?

I don’t remember who grabbed his chopsticks first. I do recall Kristopher and I animating our prawns in mortal combat to the amusement of those seated across the aisle from our booth. Upon realizing we were the center of attention, we shrugged and popped the shrimp heads into our mouths.

“Wait! You not supposed to eat that!”

Our server’s admonishment froze us both mid-bite. The wide-eyed look on Kristopher’s face conveyed my same thoughts: Are fried shrimp heads friggin’ poisonous or something? Will we both have the screaming heebie-jeebies tomorrow? She managed to make it to our table before she lost it, howling with laughter at the joke she’d sprang on us. Fellow diners all around joined in. Once over our initial bout of self-consciousness—and after swallowing our shrimp heads—we laughed along until our server brought us another bottle of sake. On the house for being such good sports, natch.

I’ve learned in the decades since amaebi is commonly served much the same way. Kristopher and I have come together many times between then and now to eat sushi, though never again to such fanfare. And with much more moderate sake consumption, too, which suits me quite fine. Though our culinary comedy helped inspire a scene in my paranormal sci-fi thriller about the modern day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats. When Tommy welcomes his wayward twin sister Pawly home to Chicago for a Polish/Korean mixed family reunion, he learns the hard way making pie-iron pierogi one ought not mistake kimchi for sauerkraut.

Thanks, Mark. You know, I have never understood the fascination with eating the head of whatever protein source is on your plate. No shrimp heads for me. And don’t even get me started on crawfish!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Russell Davis

No Comments » Written on September 11th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
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Russell Davis

If things go as planned, about the time this week’s installment of EATING AUTHORS posts, I’ll be sending in the completed revisions of the BARSquel to my editor. And I do so with both relief and regret. Sequels are tough, particularly when the first book in the series was something I’d been mulling over for more nearly three decades and this book came together, from conception to completion, in a couple years. I think fans of BARSK will like this one even more, though you’ll have to wait until next summer to judge for yourself. It definitely replaces it’s predecessor as the best thing I’ve ever written. Which is how it should be, but man, I am exhausted! And alas, no rest for me, as I need to jump back into writing mode and finish the revisions on the new Amazing Conroy novella so that publisher has it in time to release next month. And after that I have two collaborations, a game proposal, and another novel or clamoring for my attention before month’s end.

I don’t expect any sympathy for the abundance of writing awaiting me. It just means that I’m moving further along that continuum from dilettante (where I don’t think I’ve been for some years) to working writer (which is how I like to think of myself). And that’s a good thing. That’s also about as good a segue as I’m going to get to introducing this week’s guest, Russell Davis.

I’m really happy to say that I’ve known Russell for years, but I can’t say I know him well and we’ve only met face to face a few times. It all began while he was the president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and I was stepping up to take over as the organization’s Election Officer. I continued in that role for about eight years and under several other SFWA presidents, but working under Russell gave me my first glimpse of how that particular sausage gets made and I was impressed by the attention and thought that I saw going into his decisions. It was a great introduction to my own service to the organization, and over the years I’ve come to appreciate it more and more.

On the other hand, it took forever to get him here, so no more flattering words for him!

If you’re not familiar with his name, there’s still a very good chance you’re read him anyway, because not only is Russell the very definition of a working writer (see, there’s the segue connection!), he’s also a master of disguise, or at least of pseudonyms. You can find him writing under such names as David Cian (Transformers novels among other things), Garrett Dylan (spy novels), Jenna Solitaire (the Daughter of Destiny series), Christopher Tracy (TV movie novelizations) and several more. It’s inspiring. But then, that’s just how he rolls.

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

RD: This is an incredibly difficult question for me to answer, which perhaps explains why I’ve struggled with responding to the ever-patient Lawrence with my reply. It’s difficult because I grew up in the restaurant business, from the time I was eight and taking trash out of the kitchen of the Holiday Inn where my mom worked for $1/can until I was in my late 20’s, and finally escaped. Mostly. Sort of. That’s a long and different story, but the point is that I’ve eaten out in a lot of really excellent restaurants, and I’m no slouch in the kitchen, which means I’ve had quite a few meals at home that were pretty damn fine, too. And there’s been any number of memorable meals at the homes of friends and relatives, where the food was good and the mood celebratory.

So… picking the best one? Not so easy.

Murder Ink

I could tell you about my mom’s slow-roasted English prime rib, or her pheasant stroganoff – both of which we had one year when I was hosting a Super Bowl party. There was a sort of pot-luck brunch I recall where everyone had to eat standing up because the entire table was covered with food and a Bloody Mary bar that looked like it was straight out of a magazine. There was a lunch at my first WorldCon, when I sat with George R.R. Martin and he let me pick his brain for about forty-five minutes on world building in fantasy novels. There was one, really excellent meal and company, at the Fairmont in San Francisco, where I learned that Bob Silverberg knows almost as much about wine as I do (though he’d tell you the opposite), and that Len Wein can draw a Batman on the back of a bar napkin (which I still have, framed, and I’m not giving it back, no matter what). That was the night I learned about Mary Robinette Kowal’s voice talents, which she could use to make a really good living, if she ever decided that writing and puppetry weren’t working out. (Seriously, she could launch her own “I’ll record your voice mail message,” business and make serious bank.)

And isn’t that the trick, really? The best meal sort of implies the best food, but sometimes, what makes the meal is the company, even when the food is, at best, forgettable. I’ve been in the publishing industry for a long time, and have had the pleasure of sharing meals and drinks with people I long admired, and some have even become friends. There are fine memories there that I’ll no doubt be mining for many years to come.

But the best meal… forced to pick, the one that really stands out to me was at Harrah’s Steak House in Reno, Nevada. I ate there several times over the years I lived in Nevada, including on my wedding night. But in order to understand what made Harrah’s special, you must understand that before I ever went there, I met the head server at a gourmet coffee house event and he personally invited me to come to the restaurant. His name was Bong. James Bong.

No, I’m not kidding.

The Twilight Zone: A Gathering of Shadows

Bong had been at Harrah’s for years – we’re talking decades here – and had served many celebrities and VIP’s. One evening while we were there, I met Jim Kelly, the great Buffalo Bills quarterback. The restaurant itself is on the bottom floor of Harrah’s casino, and you’d think it would be noisy, but it’s not. The exterior walls are soundproofed – you can’t hear so much as a slot machine – and the booths are constructed of heavy, padded leather that wraps around the table, ensuring a sense of privacy that an open table never does. The regular evening host was a man named Michael, who remembered us by name on our second visit, after Bong introduced us when we came in for that first meal. Part of a great dining experience is the service, and great service is almost priceless when it comes to having an unforgettable dinner. The service and atmosphere at Harrah’s was always first rate.

So, the particular night I’m thinking of was intended to be a quiet date night, celebrating our third anniversary. What happened instead was a dinner experience I’ll never forget. As usual, Michael remembered us and ensured we were seated at a booth, and Bong remembered that I drink Jack Daniel’s on the rocks and had one at the table before I even ordered it.

Our menu selections that night were as follows:
Appetizer: Steakhouse Ravioli
Soup: Lobster Bisque (and if you ever go there, have the bisque – it’s amazing)
Salad: Tableside prepared Caesar Salad
Entrée: Tableside Flambéed Steak Diane
Desert: Crème Brulee

Now, all of that sounds fine – and it was – but what really made the night was the wine and after dinner drinks. Oh, and the group of people sitting at an open table next to ours.

Knowing that I was a bit of a wine snob, Bong had set aside a bottle of Duckhorn Merlot for us – I think it was a 2006 – and it was outstanding. And not too long after we’d cracked the bottle, the table next to us found out we were celebrating our anniversary, and we all shared a toast. Then we started passing wine bottles back and forth, because they had an excellent wine, too. The conversation was friendly, and our two-table group sort of took over one little corner of that dining room. Servers came and went, food appeared and disappeared, laughter among strangers with very little in common except the meal we were all enjoying – and sharing without any hesitation at all.

After dinner, came one of Harrah’s specialties: Café Diablo. This is an alcoholic coffee drink prepared tableside. It consists of several different liquors, orange peel, cloves, and coffee, and if you want to see it for yourself, there’s a video on YouTube. I’m a little bit in love with it, and I’d have it far too often if it was easily accessible, so it’s probably a good thing that it isn’t.

The End of All Seasons

As the evening wound down, I realized that there was wine left in most of the bottles and the other table had also ordered Café Diablo, so there was plenty to go around. I quietly suggested an idea to my wife and the other table, and everyone agreed to my plan. I called Bong and Michael over and requested that they bring glasses and cups for themselves and the service staff so that they, too, could share in the moment and as a thank you for their service. Not too long after that, there must have been close to a dozen service staff standing around our two tables, drinking and laughing and talking with us.

Finally, the check came and when I looked at it, I realized that there must have been some kind of error. There was no charge for our wine, our Café Diablo, or our dessert. I stepped up to the host station and asked Michael and he smiled and said the wine had been paid for by the table next to us, and the Café Diablo and dessert was on the house – gifts for our anniversary. I was taken aback by the generosity. On our way out, we thanked the other table and the service staff profusely, but there wasn’t a single sign of hesitation or regret at the cost.

So, why is this dinner so very special in my memory? Because the food was excellent, the service was outstanding, the atmosphere flawless… but the company, the experience of enjoying a meal with total strangers who had no expectation of us other than to have a good night, was worth every penny we spent. Anniversaries are special, of course, and those dinners I mentioned before… I’ll never forget them, either. But often, as writers and publishers and editors and whatever other “public” hats we wear, we sit down to dinner with our friends and colleagues and there are expectations: of what we’ll say or do or talk about, and of who we are in relationship to the industry we work in or each other. It’s rarely spoken aloud, but it exists nonetheless.

For one night, my wife and I went to a fancy meal, celebrated our anniversary, and had a great time and an excellent meal, and those were the only expectations we had to meet. We didn’t exchange names with the people sitting next to us; we didn’t compare ourselves to each other. We simply enjoyed all aspects of it, and returned home… utterly and completely satisfied. There’s no better meal than that.

Thanks, Russell. You know, I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life, and never been tempted to, until now. If we’re ever in Las Vegas together, I think I’d join you for a cup of Café Diablo without hesitation.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

author photo by Richard Man

#SFWApro