Eating Authors: A. C. Wise

                No Comments » Written on August 12th, 2019 by
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                Last week was crazy. It was a medical appointment jamboree involving major tests, injections and dyes, dental cleanings, some minor outpatient surgery, much more serious surgical consults, and I’m pretty sure we more than hit the insurance policy’s stupidly high deductible. Hey, have I mentioned lately that I have a Patreon page to help defray my monthly healthcare costs?

                Anyway, I am desperately hoping that this week is calmer (or at least more focused) and will involve less time spent around doctors and more time spent with authors. Galactic Philadelphia is happening tomorrow, and if you’re able I hope you’ll stop by. Moreover, that seems like a good segue to introduce A. C. Wise, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest who, though born and raised in Montreal, now makes her home here in Philadelphia.

                It’s likely you already know her for her short stories, many of which have been collected in The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again and The Kissing Booth Girl & Other Stories, or for her column “Women to Read” that ran from 2013 to 2016 at the now defunct SF Signal. Whether crafting stories or essays, she writes smart.

                Her newest fiction is the novella, Catfish Lullaby, which can be pre-ordered now and will be available in three weeks.

                LMS: Welcome, A.C. If you had to pick your most memorable meal, what would it be?

                ACW: Picking my most memorable meal isn’t easy; I’m spoiled for choice. Cooking is my dad’s passion. When he was eighteen, his mother convinced him to take a cooking class with her because she didn’t want to go into the city alone. As far as I know, my grandmother dropped the class after the first one, but my dad was hooked. Over the years I’ve been a willing guinea pig as he tries to perfect various dishes, and I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a plethora of truly delicious meals. That’s not even taking into account that my mom is also an excellent cook, as are many of my friends, or that I myself enjoy dabbling in the kitchen, not to mention meals out at restaurants. All that said, one meal that sticks in my mind is the dinner I had the first night my husband and I were in Rome on our trip to Italy eight or nine years ago.

                Pretty much everything we ate on that trip was wonderful, but the first night stands out. Not necessarily for the food – the meal itself was actually pretty simple (pasta with mushrooms, and a cheese plate), but for everything around it. We flew to Rome overnight from Philadelphia, and spent the day walking all over the city, part of it carrying heavy bags because we couldn’t check into our hotel yet.

                We were trying to go as long as we could before eating or resting to acclimate to the time zone. Around 5:30 or 6, we finally gave up, which is of course ridiculously early for dinner in Italy. But we were done, so we stopped at the first place that was open. We were the only people other than staff in an absolutely over the top dining room – mirrors, crystal chandeliers, gold-flecked paint, and a spiral staircase winding up to the second floor. We were jet-lagged, exhausted, and probably dusty, disgusting, and sweaty to boot. And in that moment, finally sitting down, knowing we could go back to the hotel and crash soon, that simple pasta with mushrooms and cheese was the best damned thing I had ever tasted. I still think about that meal to this day.

                Thanks, A.C., it’s like they say, “when in Rome…?go to dinner early to kill time, defy jet lag, and then crash in your hotel.” Or something like that.

                Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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                Eating Authors: Susan Forest

                No Comments » Written on August 5th, 2019 by
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                I’ve been juggling too many things. While this is my normal state, and indeed how I prefer things, I find myself wearing a little thin (figuratively speaking) of late. I suspect a chunk of this can be blamed on my knee problems and I have an appointment with an orthopedist in a couple hours to explore options (it’s about noon on Friday as I prepare this post). I doubt that there are any immediate miracles in my future, but the forward motion will likely free up some mental space.

                Meanwhile some things must continue as planned, including these weekly visits from authors with meals to share. This week’s guest is Susan Forest, mostly like known to you as a very talented writer from Canada, where she’s several times been a finalist for the Prix Aurora Award for her short fiction, a two-time winner for that award in Best Related Work for her editorial work with Laksa Media. She’s also won both the Galaxy Project and the Children’s Choice Book Award.

                I first became aware of Susan’s fiction when our terms on the SFWA Board of Directors overlapped (she served as Secretary in 2015 and 2016). I owe her a great debt, because with only a couple exceptions, I’d somehow managed to be oblivious to incredible talent coming out of Canada in our field. I’ve since rectified that short-sightedness and sampled the fare from most provinces.

                Susan’s new novel, Bursts of Fire—Book One in her Addicted to Heaven series (slated for seven volumes!)—comes out tomorrow.

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

                SF: The first thing you need to know about me, is that I come from a family of mountaineers. My father was the first person to climb all the peaks in the Canadian Rockies over 11,000 feet and the oldest person to climb Mt. Logan, Canada’s highest mountain. My older sister was part of the first all-woman team to attempt Mt. Logan, and my younger sister is a full mountain guide. So, as a far less accomplished climber tagging along on easier trips, some of the meals I’ve had were unique.

                Meals taken on backpacking trips have to be well planned. My brother was unfortunate enough to be on a ten-day canoe trip once, when the woman in charge of food decided it was a good time to be on a diet. It wasn’t. My dad missed supper one night when his climbing party of eight was benighted on a mountain and had to finish their climb the next morning. Starving, they threw two meals into one pot to cook a quick breakfast of beef stew and fish chowder. My sister, stranded on Mount Cook in New Zealand, shared a chocolate bar with two friends for dinner—or would have, if the man who brought it out of his backpack hadn’t dropped it down the mountain. Yes, part of planning your meals is remembering to bring food.

                But those were the exceptions. Many times, when mountaineering with my father, we would make camp after a full day of climbing around 4:00 or 5:00 PM, and have the long twilit summer evening to cook and eat. And when you pack only one pot, it is a multi-course meal. The one I remember in vivid detail was eaten after climbing Mount Tupper in the Rogers Pass area of Canada’s Glacier National Park.

                The climb, itself, was not technically difficult (though it had its moments), and the day was blessed with a spectacular bluebird sky and fantastic views from the exposed rock ridge, but the five of us had risen early, and were pretty tired by the time we came down off the climb to our backcountry campsite in Hermit Meadows.

                After shedding our backpacks and swapping out climbing boots for camp booties, our first course was tea. We set up a kitchen of flat rocks a little distance from our tent so cooking smells wouldn’t attract wildlife to the sleeping area: a single large flat rock pushed well into the bracken to be stable as a platform for the stove. We snuggled our sleeping foamies into nooks in the sloping ground to create backrests for reclining, where we could view the panorama of peaks, pink with alpenglow. Of course, it takes an inordinately long time at altitude for the water to boil, but once it did, we sat back with hot, sugary tea topped with a splash of “take-off” –Triple Sec and overproof rum—for relaxation, conversation, and stories of past adventures.

                The sun disappeared, leaving an immense cobalt-blue sky, and we made soup (dried food is light to carry) with crackers with antipasto. There’s something deeply soul-satisfying about sitting in a mountain meadow with the crisp scent of juniper and knickinick and heather, the hush of the wind, and the bite of crisp air as you sip hot, salty soup. We finished every last bit of soup, from hunger, from thirst, and from the need to empty our bowls before the next course. Of course, stories continued.

                Noodles were next, and once they were doled out, the meat sauce was heated and added. By this time in the evening the light was beginning to fade, creating a haziness over everything. We put on warm sweaters and built a small campfire, adding the smell of wood smoke and the mesmerism of flickering flames to the spicy Italian fare.

                Finally, deeply satisfied, dishes licked clean and washed in the stream with a bit of sandy moss, we finished with another cup of tea. The sky had shifted to deep blue and indigo, and the stars were visible. My dad recited poetry; Robert Service: The Shooting of Dan McGrew, Barb Wire Bill, and The Spell of the Yukon.

                That day was a long time ago. My father has since passed away (a heart attack, cross-country skiing with my older sister and her husband), but our family still hikes and backpacks, though not as often as before. But when we do, we know the rituals of dining in style, with one pot and a plethora of stories.

                Thanks, Susan. I’ve never climbed mountains, but I used to hike and camp and can attest to the perfection of quietly sipping from a cup, watching the day come to a close, surrounded by nature, and miles from any other human being.

                Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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                Eating Authors: Michael Penmore

                No Comments » Written on July 29th, 2019 by
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                Yesterday I celebrated my 60th birthday by massively indulging in Dim Sum (my birthday present to myself was to not flinch at the bill). A few days before that, I had wandered into the DMV to pose for a new driver’s license. There’s a bit more gray in the beard, but otherwise I think I look much the same. I’m getting more exercise than in years past (even with the bum knee) but I have a ways to go yet in reducing both my weight and blood sugar. It’s good to have goals.

                As noted last week, the relaunch of my Amazing Conroy series is moving along nicely, with a fourth title expected to drop on Thursday. It’s a busy time, what with re-releasing old books and writing new ones, and that’s my segue to this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest because Michael Penmore just published his latest novel, Escape From Rockwall, Book One of the Her Last Run series, a couple weeks ago. Book Two, Fall of Libertalia releases in late September.

                I don’t know much else I can tell you about Michael, though I’m a bit suspicious of his claims to have had a gig requiring him to dress up as Little Red Riding Hood (c.f., his Amazon bio). Still, it’s hard not to like a guy who wants to show his young son all the things he loves and cites that as a reason he writes science fiction.

                LMS: Welcome, Michael. Regale me with the tale of your most memorable meal!

                MP: I’m not a gourmand at all, but I can say without a doubt that I have a sweet tooth. A few years ago, my weakness for sugar led me to the discovery of a fabulous Italian dessert.

                On a sunny day at the end of April, my wife and I were exploring the picturesque city of Milan. It was our belated honeymoon, and we took in every sight that we could, better to savour the memories later.

                The weather was “taps aff” (Scottish slang for warm enough to walk about in a T-shirt), and we blissfully strolled through the most touristy place in town – the Sforza Castle.

                After three hours spent in the medieval structure and the various museums inside, we left via the back entrance and found ourselves in the long green stretch of Parco Sempione. Walking at our leisure, we took another hour to reach its end with the majestic Porta Sempione (Milan’s reply to the Arc de Triomphe).

                We decided one of the restaurants overlooking the Porta was as good a place for lunch as any. Our choice fell on a pizzeria (of course!). Inside, a vivacious waiter got us seated and took our order. I couldn’t choose anything else but a pizza with slices of ham spread over a wonderfully thin and crispy crust. My wife went for the vegetarian option – an enormous leafy salad.

                We spent the next hour eating and discussing the things we just saw. After we finished our meal, the waiter approached me with a cheeky grin. “Would you like some dessert?” he asked in heavily-accentuated English. Thank goodness for his linguistic skill, as my Italian doesn’t go much further than ‘grazie’ and ‘prego’!

                As mention, I like to eat sweets, but on this occasion, we were both quite full already, so I declined. However, the waiter wouldn’t take a no for an answer. He inched closer, the cheek cranked up to eleven, and said, “Are you sure? Come on. It will be good!” I swear that he winked at me. I looked at my wife, who was close to bursting with laughter. She knew exactly where this was going.

                “Alright, but just one piece for the both of us,” I became predictable and succumbed to the call of desserts. “What would you recommend?”

                That charming cad had his answer ready, as befits someone who sells food for a living. “Millefiori.”

                It didn’t look that impressive when it arrived in the shape of a small round cake in the middle of a large plate. We picked up forks and tried the first tentative bite.

                The sweetness spread through my mouth. The Millefiori melted on my tongue. It was very sweet, too sweet for some tastebuds, I’m sure. But for me, it was perfection. The events may have skewed my perception somewhat. There I was enjoying a sunny spring in Milan, sharing a cake with the beautiful woman I love. What else can a man ask for?

                I left the waiter a good tip and was slightly disappointed when someone else showed up to scoop the money from the table. On leaving the restaurant, we turned once more towards the park. The waiter stood nearby and puffed a cigarette.

                “Did you enjoy your meal?” he waved to get our attention and smiled brightly.

                “We did very much.”

                “That’s perfect! Have a nice day!” He sounded as though we had just made his day.

                I’ve never been back to Milan, and I’ve never had another Millefiori. Perhaps I am afraid of spoiling the memory.

                Thanks, Michael. Although I think you should take another trip to Milan if the opportunity presents itself, I agree on not attempting to repeat the Millefiori. Once you have tasted perfection, what could possibly compare?

                Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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                Relaunching the Amazing Conroy

                No Comments » Written on July 23rd, 2019 by
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                Last week, specifically on Monday, June 15th, the relaunch of my AMAZING CONROY series began with the release of “Buffalo Dogs,” the short story that started it all. It’s completely free, no strings attached. And it’s available in both mobi (Kindle) and epub (pretty much everyone else) formats.

                The rest of the series (at present) consists of a short story collection, four novellas (each a Nebula Award finalist), and two novels.

                One of those novellas, Barry’s Tale, is also available for free when you sign up for my newsletter.

                I’m happy to announce that yesterday, Monday, June 22nd, was the release of the new short story collection Buffalito Bundle. Full disclosure: many of the stories in this collection were last seen in the previous (and now out-of-print) collection Buffalito Buffet. The new collection also includes a brand new short story, “Mind Din,” which fans have been awaiting for some time. You can get a copy at Amazon by clicking here.

                I hope you’re loving the new covers as much as I am, as well as the timeline material which comes with each title. The next book should come out on August 1st, and then four more, one every four weeks.

                The best advertising is always readers telling their friends, so if you enjoy the adventures of Conroy and Reggie please spread the word far and wide (and a 5-star review on Amazon wouldn’t hurt either).

                If all goes as planned, once the relaunch is finished, I’ll start releasing a series of short novels in the spin-off series featuring Angela (Gel) Colson.

                Eating Authors: Quincy J. Allen

                No Comments » Written on July 22nd, 2019 by
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                It’s a crazy month. Last week marked the relaunch of my AMAZING CONROY series, with the story that started it all, “Buffalo Dogs,” being posted as a free download. Then I went away to Indiana to gather with forty-plus Klingon speakers (and the creator of the language gave us, among many other new terms, the word for “novel!”) for five days of yammering in an alien tongue. Also my dog turned 10 (since I was away on his birthday I’ll be celebrating with him today). And there was something about a 50 year anniversary of a moon landing over the weekend too.

                Today, the new collection, Buffalito Bundle goes live on Amazon. I have an appointment with my physician to discuss, among other things, what can be done about my bad knee. Oh, and on Saturday I turn 60.

                But none of that matters to you and your insatiable appetite for new writers sharing their most memorable meals. Which is all the segue I have time for to introduce you to this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Quincy J. Allen (no relation, that I’m aware of, to convicted serial killer Quincy Jovan Allen). What first caught my attention about Quincy was a two sentence quote that appears on one of his social media pages: “I have a mohawk. Your argument is invalid.” Hard to argue with that.

                Quincy describes himself as a cross-genre author, having done media tie-in work, hard SF, and epic fantasy steampunk. He’s a writer who writes. He also edits and publishes short story anthologies, does book design, and marketing. Clearly, there is power in the mohawk.

                LMS: Welcome, Quincy. What meal stands out in your memory as the most special?

                QJA: I’m an accomplished foodie, with appetites for just about every kind of cuisine there is. I’m also an accomplished cook, and that’s not just me saying it. I’ve had folks rave about my burrito casserole, raviagna, ox tail stew, goat vindaloo, and even BBQ ribs. I also make one of the best sausage Bologneses you’ve ever had. I do Asian, Indian, Cajun, Italian, Hispanic, and a few others, mixing and matching ingredients and spices as I go along. I’ve also dined in restaurants from the bottom of the barrel to five-star, and love most of it. It’s where I get much of my inspiration when I’m in the kitchen.

                But a special meal? Experienced or prepared? That was a hard question. And the more I thought about it, the more I came back to what can only be called a regular event I have at home.

                You see, the lady in my life—we’re set to be married in October—is also both a foodie and a cook of considerable talent. She brings to the table southern cooking, Cuban, Fusion, and is a master of finding amazing meals on Pinterest. She’s an experimentalist who likes to try the next recipe that she’s never tried before. Between the two of us, there’s little we won’t tackle, and so far, we’ve been pretty successful, if I do say so myself.

                The truth is, there isn’t really a single meal that stands out in my memory. What stands out for me is what happens whenever the mood stirs us, in our own kitchen, and we get to work our magic together. We’re motorcyclists, and we like to travel. We putter around the house, and we walk our dog. But above it all, probably one of our favorite things is when we have the opportunity to spend an evening or afternoon or entire day in the kitchen.

                It doesn’t matter if we’re cooking for just the two of us or for a large group of friends we’re having over for dinner. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quick meal or something elaborate that takes a couple of days to prepare and then consume.

                For us, it’s all about that special time we get to spend together preparing a meal.

                Over the past two years—since I moved in with her—it’s become one of the best ways we spend special time together. It all starts with talking about what we want to prepare, and then there’s the trip to the grocery store—often on our motorcycles. She had a big Can Am with a ton of storage, so we can haul home quite a bit. Once we get everything home, we turn on Pandora, put on comfortable clothes, and get to work.

                Our favorite jams are either Steely Dan or something with a Latin beat. I don’t recall if the music has ever matched the meal, although now that I think about it, I’m going to start tracking that. When the music begins to fill the house, something special happens. We disconnect from the rest of the world, and it’s just the two of us working together in a sublime act of creation.

                Our kitchen isn’t large, and although she is rather petite, I fill a space like a dump truck. I’m usually likened more to an ogre than anything else. To make things worse, when I get moving in one direction, I’m a lot like the X-Men’s Juggernaut. And yet, there’s always room for the two of us. It doesn’t matter what we’re cooking or who gets what job. Sometimes I’m at the stove and she’s prepping. And sometimes I get the knife work and she’s making her magic with the burners. It turns into a dance of sorts, where we slide past each other, grabbing a hug or a kiss or even the occasional pat on the backside while we work. And as we get into it, the universe disappears. Suddenly, it’s just the two of us, moving together like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but with pots and knives and flaming burners.

                We test each others work along the way, tasting a sauce—I’m a pretty fair saucier—or gravy, appetizer, side, or entrée. There are always plenty of “yummy” sounds and suggestions about adding a bit of spice or vinegar or juice. We make jokes and laugh and sing, full to the brim with the delights of the moment. And as we work, we achieve a sort of synergy, where two creative minds come together and produce (usually) something pretty amazing.

                And the fun, the sheer delight, doesn’t end there. When everything is done and we’ve plated up the meal—whether it’s a complex, five-course endeavor or just a bowl of stir-fry—we then get to sit down together and sample our handiwork.

                I suppose what I’m saying is that the food, while it is the foundation upon which this experience is built, is almost ancillary to delights we derive from the sum total of the endeavor. Preparing the meal, regardless of what it is, takes a back seat to sharing the time together in an act of creation. Make of that whatever you’d like, but there is something inherently beautiful in those special times the two of us get to cook together.

                For us, it’s a mini-vacation, or an adventure, or perhaps even just a date, but no matter what you want to call it, from the quick and simple to the laborious and extravagant, it’s the whole experience of preparing virtually any meal that we find sublime.

                Our “special meal” is every meal we prepare together, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

                Thanks, Quincy. Sounds like culinary synergy to me (did I just make up that phrase?). Next time, capture it all on film. Your readers want to see the magic!

                Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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                Eating Authors: Rati Mehrotra

                No Comments » Written on July 15th, 2019 by
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                I’ve been running the EATING AUTHORS blog every Monday since June of 2011, there are well over 300 meals awaiting binge readers over on the Master List. I tend to send out invitations in waves, typically after returning home from a convention, and authors being authors some people respond eagerly, others express interest and desire but request I contact them again in a few months because they’re under deadline, and some never reply. These are all valid responses, especially the “I’m too busy just now” answer. I’m usually in similar straits. But apparently, on at least one occasion, I was so busy that an author responded with a meal and I forgot that she’d done so. And so it sat in my mailbox for some 17 months before I stumbled across it.

                Which is how this week’s guest, Rati Mehrotra, comes to be here today, after accepting my most heartfelt apologies.

                Born in India, Rati has traveled the world working a DayJob in Environmental Policy. She settled in Toronto, Canada, where her love of mythology ultimately led her to write about a group of women worshipping Kali in a post-apocalyptic world. You know, that old trope.

                LMS: Welcome, Rati. What stands out as your most memorable meal?

                RM: Ooo, what a delicious question. Food is very important to me. It’s also an important part of worldbuilding when I write, which is why you will find mention of several dishes in my novel Markswoman.

                I cook every day for my family, and each winter I return to India to sample both street food and my grandmother’s cooking. Okay, that’s not the only reason I visit India, but sampling local cuisine is definitely a big part of holidaying anywhere. I can remember so many delightful trips through the food I have enjoyed there: pizza in Rome, rosti in Zurich, fish and chips in London, dimsum in Beijing, curry in New York’s Jackson Heights, caviar in Stockholm, mofongo in Puerto Rico, golgappas in Delhi. And of course, the famed Mughlai cuisine of my hometown, Lucknow. And I happen to live in Toronto, which is no pushover in the food department.

                But my most memorable meal was one that I cooked myself, many years ago. At the time, I was working at IUCN in Switzerland, and I had called my friends over to make samosas. I loved cooking with friends, sharing my recipes and learning new ones. Samosas seemed ideal: such an ancient dish, and well-liked by everyone.

                We were a group of eight, and everyone was hungry and eager to begin. They arrived at around 6 pm, and after some chitchat we got down to it.

                Now, making samosas is not easy, unless you are experienced at it. I knew this, intellectually speaking, but I had never actually made them before. Haha, I thought, many hands make light work. And I allocated the tasks, full of anticipation. Danielle, who was an excellent bread-maker, kneaded the dough. Patricia peeled the potatoes, Margo chopped coriander, and I prepared the filling. Another friend rolled small balls of dough into flat rounds, and we all filled them with the potato mixture – very fiddly work, trying to close the edges and give them a somewhat samosa-like shape.

                All this took about a minute to write, but around two hours of real time to accomplish. I was astonished to look up at the clock and see that it was over 8 pm. But the prep was done; sixteen small samosas stood ready. All that was needed was to fry them. That wouldn’t take too long, would it?

                Now, here’s the thing: samosas have to be deep fried on a low flame, otherwise they’ll just puff up with air and look really funny. Also, they won’t cook well through to the center.

                I had a wok for frying, but not a very large one. I could do it in batches of four or five. And so I stood there in the kitchen, surrounded by my hungry friends, and slowly deep fried the samosas in four batches. Once they were done, we had to let them cool slightly.

                At around 10.30 pm, we finally got to eat two samosas each. They were so delicious. Crispy, flaky, golden-brown samosas that melted in my mouth. They must be the tastiest (definitely the most hard-won) samosas I have ever eaten. And they were gone in seconds.

                We all stared at each other. I could practically hear stomachs grumbling. Danielle ventured, “I hope there’s something else to eat?”

                And so I got up and made lentils and rice to feed us all. My friends left at midnight, late, but happily full.

                That is the last time I have ever made samosas. I love eating them, and I know some pretty good places to buy them in Toronto. But I’m not attempting to make them from scratch again!

                Thanks, Rati. That sounds like a great evening with friends (though I can appreciate why once is enough). Sounds like I need to add samosas to my dinner plans the next time I’m in Toronto.

                Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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                Eating Authors: Chen Qiufan

                1 Comment » Written on July 8th, 2019 by
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                Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve had the privilege of visiting China three times in as many years. Each trip has involved seeing amazing places and things, as well as meeting some of China’s best SF authors. Which is how I came to know this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Chen Qiufan, as part of a group of writers from the US, Canada, England, Australia, and China, exploring the R&D division of Ant Financial. Like many Chinese who work with Americans, he has another name he uses, and so I know him as Stanley Chan.

                His short fiction has appeared in translation in markets like Lightspeed, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Clarkesworld. Two months ago, English readers got the chance to experience his longer work with the release of the translation of Waste Tide (translated by Ken Liu). What you may not know is that Stanley has been celebrated in his native language for years! He’s won Taiwan’s Dragon Fantasy Award, as well as China’s Galaxy and Nebula Awards.

                In addition to his award winning short and long fiction, Stanley is also a screenwriter and an evangelist for the growing wave of Chinese science fiction throughout the world. It keeps him pretty busy. I don’t know how he finds the time for it all, but I was very pleased last May when he came by to visit with me while I was in Beijing. Naturally, I invited him to share a meal that stood out in his mind, in this case one that haunts him still.

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

                CQ: It was almost ten years ago while I was working for Google. We had small NGO groups in the company organizing employees to participate in charity or social activities such as public education on the search engine, donations for poverty children, etc. And Google matched an equal share of money as we donated as part of our culture benefit, which was quite encouraging.

                One sunny weekday, we were organized to visit a orphanage named “Golden Sun” founded by a private sector. The founder was a 50 year old lady with a warm smile on her face. Everyone called her “Granny Zhang.” She used to be a government staffer working in the prison. There are many children whose parents were in jail and had no other family or relatives to take care of them. They didn’t fit into the category defined by the terms of the orphan adoption policy, and so could not be received by the official orphanage. Thus Granny Zhang founded the organization, to raise and take care of all these children, and got funding from all over the world.

                We played with the kids, bringing them books, clothes and toys. They seemed to be very happy in a understandable way but also I realized they all looked very pale and thin. At lunch time, Granny Zhang told us all the food was prepared by the kids. The vegetables and fruits were grown in the yard, the eggs were given by the hens, and the kids had baked the bread themselves. The kids served the food to the table, and then stood still, in a line, head down, just like servants or something worse. This made me really uncomfortable. I suggested that we could all have lunch together. But Granny Zhang rejected, saying “The kids shall not eat before the performance.” One boy looked up, peeking at the food on the table. I could tell he was really hungry. But we were the guests, so we obeyed the rules.

                The performance began with kids singing and dancing. It was poorly designed, off the key, mostly about praising the happy life and their protector, Granny Zhang. The kids smiled so hard that I felt they had to befaking. We applauded after the show. The kids couldn’t wait to rush to the tables. Granny Zhang yelled at them, “Behave, your bad manner was from your parents. You shall behave before our honored guests!” We were kind of shocked but no one said anything since she’s Granny Zhang, the savior of all these kids.

                I couldn’t quite recall the taste of that simple meal. I believed the vegetables were fresh and the bread was soft and sweet. But the whole atmosphere was weird enough. All the kids swallowed food like they’d been starved for quite a time. The boy who peeked at the food choked on an egg. Something was wrong here, very different from the media reports, not to mention all those celebrities’ picture on the wall. But we said nothing. Everyone just keep chewing and thinking about getting out as soon as possible.

                Not long after our visit, the scandal was revealed. Granny Zhang used the kids to raise funds that she put into her own pocket. The food and other resources donated for the kids were sold or left to rot in a warehouse. She never fulfilled the needs of those children. She’d used the same methods she’d used in the prison, training and restricting the kids as they were prisoners just like their parents. Even worse, some sexual abuse happened in the orphanage.

                Too many thoughts rushed into my mind after reading the shocking news. The memory of that bizarre lunch emerged. It all makes sense to me now. Why did none of us said anything and accepted it as some kind of rule? Where will all those kids be sent? Is there anything we can do to avoid this from happening in the future? There are more questions than answers I can come out with. And there is always a choking boy in my mind, reminding me about that meal, about the blindness and indifference among us.

                Thanks, Stanley. A meal like that would stay with a long time. I suspect it also served to fuel some of your writing and that Granny Zhang will show up, in some form, in your fiction.

                Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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                Eating Authors: Stephanie L. Weippert

                No Comments » Written on July 1st, 2019 by
                Categories: Plugs
                Tags:

                I’m a bit saddened this week, because my plans to travel to Utah recently derailed and I will not be in attendance at this year’s NASFiC (aka SpikeCon), and as I think I indicated earlier, I won’t be in Dublin for the Worldcon either. But it’s probably just as well, the travel I did in May resulted in major disruptions in my writing process, and while I did manage to get back on that horse midway through June, I have lots of lost time to make up for.

                Which is no kind of segue at all to introduce you to Stephanie L. Weippert, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest. Like many writers who are trying to make ends meet (at least until that big movie deal comes a-knocking), Stephanie has a Patreon page. I have one too, and last month, out of the blue, Stephanie put up a post on Twitter listing several authors’ Patreons and encouraged her followers to show some love/support. And she included me in that list. Well, I was blown away, and it seemed only right to return the favor and ask her to show up here and talk about her most memorable meal.

                I don’t know much about Stephanie, though we have a common origin. If she is to be believed, her writing began with a story about a slug, for a convention whose mascot was a slug. Whereas, back in 8th grade, one of the very first things I wrote (this would have been for Mrs. Brunk’s English class, for any Culver City Junior High alums) was a short story entitled something like “When Slugs Took Over of the World.” To Mrs. Brunk’s horror, I followed it with “Return of When Slugs Took Over of the World” and even “Son of When Slugs Took Over of the World.” And, a few years later, at UC Santa Cruz’s (now vanished) College Five, I was the editor of the Graphic Stories Guild, which put out All Slug Comics. And I tell you these things because the world is really a small place, and coincidence is just the universe’s way of laughing at us.

                LMS: Welcome, Stephanie. What do you remember as your best meal?

                SLW: The best meal I remember, isn’t really one meal; it’s my birthday dinners. I grew up in Eastern Washington cattle country, which means my parents bought a whole beef every year and we had steaks regularly growing up. Dad got into grilling the steaks during the summer and he got damn good at it.

                Anyway, my family lets the person pick out what they want for dinner as their ‘birthday meal’ and every year I ask Dad to barbeque T-bone steaks for me. He’s happy to do it, too. Mom makes salad and baked potatoes to go with it so we get our vegetables; it’s one of my favorite memories growing up.

                As usual, on my birthday this year I asked for the same thing, so when I parked in my parent’s driveway I could smell the mouth-watering scent of steaks cooking on my dad’s grill. That delicious smell of fire cooked marbled beef can make your mouth water from a block away. Most times, I’ve noticed that not long after Dad starts grilling, neighbors start up their grills, too. It’s got to be that deliciousness wafting over the fence. Right?

                Everyone’s on the back deck, so I walk in the open door and through the house to the sliding glass door. Dad gives me a hug when I step out on the deck. “Got T-bones like you wanted.”

                “Thanks, Dad,” I reply. “They smell wonderful.”

                I get a Pepsi and find a seat out on the deck with everybody else. We catch up on family gossip and funny anecdotes since we saw each other last. Not long after this the steaks are done, so we gather in the kitchen for squeaky-clean plates to bring to Dad next to the grill. After we receive the ‘blessings’ from the grill, we return to the kitchen to fill up the rest of our plate. Mom cuts one of the huge baked potatoes in half, and asks me if I want the other half as I pile two or three types of fresh crisp lettuce, shaved carrots, tiny chunks of turnips, and shredded cheese into my salad bowl. Hungry, I shake my head and answer, “No thanks, I want a whole one.” When Mom moves over to the butter dish I stab a whole potato from the platter with my fork and move it to my plate.

                Our plates full, we gather around the glass top ‘outside’ table to eat. Jokes and funny stories fill the deck with laughter and happy voices. About the time I’m ready to take my plate back inside, Mom asks “Who’s ready for birthday cake?”

                “What kind?” my son asks.

                “Chocolate ice cream, of course,” I tell him. “The best kind.”

                “At least it’s chocolate,” Mom declares. “Not white or yellow. Birthday cakes are supposed to be chocolate.”

                “As long at it’s cake,” my uncle declares. “It’s all good.”

                Mom goes inside to cut the cake, while her younger sister helps.

                They bring out slices on saucers and when Mom hands me mine I get my birthday card too. I open it to read sweet mushy sentiments that make me feel loved.

                “Thanks,” I say, trying not to choke up on reading things I wish I had heard growing up.

                “Welcome,” Mom answers. “I made sure to get a mushy one instead of a funny one like everyone else.”

                “Count your blessings,” my aunt declares. “At least she didn’t dress as death for your birthday and give you a older than the hills card like she did for me.”

                “That’s because you are older than the hills,” I reply with a smirk.

                “Your turn is coming, y’know!” she replies with a laugh.

                I stick my tongue out at her. “But you’ll always be older than me. So there!”

                We laugh.

                Thanks, Stephanie. After reading this, I think I want your uncle’s quote “As long as it’s cake” on a button.

                Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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