The literary feast

Recently, my friend Andy (one half of the podcasting duo behind Four Courses—where they really do care what you had for lunch) asked me to name my favorite food/dining/cooking scenes from literature. It’s a topic that comes up in one of their future episodes—I’ll post a link when it goes live—and he was having a tough time thinking of things.

I thought, well, that shouldn’t be too hard, but when I tried to actually think of anything, I couldn’t think of a thing. Eventually, I mentioned the dining hall scenes at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series—I still want to know what butterbeer tastes like—and just about every page of Like Water for Chocolate. With the latter, though, I couldn’t remember if I’d actually read the book or was just remembering the scenes from the spectacular movie that was made of the novel. To be honest, the same question could be asked of my Harry Potter memories.

I won’t exactly say that it’s a shame, how many of my food-based literary recollections are colored by their translation to film. I think it just points out how much of a leg up the movies have in that respect. Have you ever seen The Big Night, for example? One of these days, I’m going to attempt to make a timpano because of the scene in the film with that dish.

Children’s literature seems to do a better job of representing food, though. There’s Oliver Twist, of course, and Alice in Wonderland and the Winnie-the-Pooh series, and (though this may not be strictly children’s literature, it’s something I read as a kid) all of the hobbitsy obsessions with meals in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Again, there’s an instance where the movies kicked that up a notch.)

It disappoints me how few I can remember, especially when I considered that one of the stories I’ve written that I’m still fond of today—and I view my back list of stories the way I suspect a lot of writers regard their past work, with deep suspicion that it was written by someone else—is a story that revolves around a restaurant, love, and bread pudding. It was called “The Key Ingredient” and appeared in the anthology The Dirty Diner. I read an excerpt from it at Swoon in 2013. I set out to make that story an homage to Like Water for Chocolate, in fact, though with a very gay twist. Whether it succeeded is for other people to say, but it does capture my deep and abiding appreciation of bread pudding.

So! What’s your favorite food or dining or cooking scene from literature? What makes it stand out for you? Tell us all about it in the comments field—and include recipes if appropriate.

2015's reading goal: not so many white people!

If you recall, my goal in 2014 as a reader was to find and consume fewer stories by straight white guys. Looking back at my list of books read last year, I managed to do that pretty well. Out of thirty-six books, five were written by straight (as far as I know) white guys. Not that there’s anything wrong with straight white guys! It’s just that, well, most of the stories we hear about are written by and about them, and I kind of get burned out on them. Variety, spice of life, and all that. Not to mention expanding our perspectives and tuning in to voices outside that mainstream that also deserve to be heard. As a writer who’s gay, I can relate.

Continue reading

They're not resolutions, they're goals. Here are mine.

I know that if I go back and look at my posts for January 2014, I’ll find something about setting goals. (Oh look! Here’s one of them! And hey! Here’s another one! And here’s one about my reading goals for 2014.)

How did I do with those? Well, I said I wanted to read fewer books by straight white guys, and out of the 36 books I read last year, five of them were written by the dominant paradigm, so that’s an improvement over the prior year. I want to keep up with that—although right now I’m reading a book by, you guessed it, a straight white guy. He is, however, a friend of mine, so I’m declaring an exception to the rule. (It’s also really good. I’m enjoying it.)

I also submitted more stories to magazines and contests last year. Twenty-six submissions, a couple honorable mentions, a handful of personalized rejections (very nice)—and one acceptance, which is of course AWESOME. That story, “Looking for Bigfoot,” will be coming out early this year from Little Fiction. Stay tuned for that.

I also applied for some residencies and a fellowship, and am waiting to hear back on some of those. I did hear back from the Vermont Studio Center, where I’ll be spending the month of May, hopefully finishing up one of the things on my yearlong to-do list. So that’s pretty awesome.

So, this year, my goals are:

  1. Agent. As in “find one.”
  2. Finish the sequel to The Unwanted.
  3. Apply for another fellowship.
  4. Send out one story a month.
  5. Put together a set of stories for a collection.
  6. Lose five pounds.
  7. Perfect my technique for making an old fashioned.

So, what are you working on?

Best-of 2014? Me? (Or rather, my book)? Aw, shucks.

It’s nice to see The Unwanted get a little end-of-2014 love from readers. Hilcia over at Impressions of A Reader puts The Unwanted among her favorites of last year, a list which also includes The Bears of Winter, where you’ll find my story “Snowblind.” Her list also includes Jess Faraday’s The Affair of the Porcelain Dog and Turnbull House, both of which I loved. There are several others on her list that are still on my to-read list, including Cub by Jeff Mann.

My friend Andy, pop culture fan and co-host of the Four Courses podcast (which I mentioned in yesterday’s post) also put The Unwanted on his year-end best-of list. You can check out his original review from May, where he mentions that it’s always a bit tricky when one of your friends is the creator of the media and entertainment that you consume. That’s the main reason I don’t write book reviews myself—that, and I try to follow the advice “don’t shit where you eat.” That being said, I admire anyone brave enough to wade into that arena. Also, check out the other books on Andy’s list, which include one of my favorites from last year, Grasshopper Jungle. And check out his best-of-TV and best-of-movies lists.