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

The word Smith dba ’Nathan Burgoine

’Nathan BurgoineEnough of tooting my own horn. I’m going to sing someone else’s praises for a while.

I met ’Nathan Smith (who publishes under the name ’Nathan Burgoine) in May of 2009 when Michael and I went to the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. I knew a little about him already at that point, because we’d both just had our first stories published in the same anthology, Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction, from Cleis Press. He wrote a story titled “Heart” that is still one of my favorites from him.

At this point, I should warn you that ’Nathan writes stories that will make you cry. Keep Kleenex® handy when you read him.

We spent a lot of time that weekend hanging out with ’Nathan and his husband Dan, and it kind of felt like we were going through Writing School orientation together: this is how you give a reading, this is you signing your work for the first time, this is your life slowly starting down the track that you’ve had in sight for more years than you can count. For me, it was a relief not to be going through that alone, and to have made a fast friend who could say, “I know exactly what you mean.”

The thing about my circle(s) of friends is how often their members live in farflung cities. If I’m lucky, I get to see some of them once a year. In many cases, years go by before we’re able to catch up in person. The irony, when I started grad school in Vancouver, was that though we were both in the same country (’Nathan lives in Ottawa), I was actually farther away from him and Dan here than I was in St. Louis.

Still, most every year we’ve caught up in New Orleans and talked about writing, living, dogs, cats, and why coffee is so much better than tea. (I’m kidding about that last part; we don’t talk about it, though coffee is obviously superior.)

I’m sure ’Nathan lost track of the number of times people asked him, “When are you going to write a book?” ’Nathan loves short stories; he loves writing them, reading them, telling people to pick up this fantastic anthology he’s been reading, and on and on. He’s got more than two dozen of his own stories in print, perhaps most notably in the recent anthology This Is How You Die, where his story is the lead-off in this sequel to the Machine of Death anthology. He’s so good at writing stories, he doesn’t have to write a novel, and really, I don’t think writers of stories should feel pressured or be expected to think of their work as a springboard to a novel. Stories are wonderful creations in their own right and are, if you ask me, a lot harder in some ways.

That being said, the next time someone asks “When are you going to write a book?” ‘Nathan can say, “Oh, I already did that.”

Light‘s about Kieran, an unlikely superhero. An unlikely gay psychokinetic superhero (and how often do you get to say that?) who can also refract light in spectacular and sometimes blinding ways. He has his hands full with a fundamentalist preacher/prophet who decides to bring his message of hate to Pride Week and things get violent. If that weren’t enough, there’s also Sebastien, who takes a liking to Kieran and who also has Pilot, who might be one of my favorite dogs in fiction. He’s certainly my favorite of the moment.

I can’t wait to read what ‘Nathan comes up with next.