Thursday, April 24, 2014

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Roxanne Barbour, Author of An Alien Collective

In my world-building, both aliens and humans love food.  But that shouldn’t be surprising—food is the sustenance of life.  But it is much, much more than that!


Cyn-Tia Silverthorne wakes up to find herself stranded on an alien planet.  She finds seven other teenaged humans and they are as confused as she is.  To Cyn’s delight, and some apprehension, twenty-four aliens (all teens on their own planets) have also been deposited: eight Temman, eight Irandi, eight Reannone.  Every day, supplies and instructions are delivered to their village for pickup by the managing committee—which consists of Cyn, Stire, Frakis A Kirba, and Tine Jana—one representative from each race.  After a time, the four races create a working collective, but they soon decide to rebel.  The Guardian appears and sends them on a series of quests, but the grand purpose of the experiment still eludes them. 

In this novel, many of the plot points are triggered by food. 

For example, cooks from all four species gather in the new community building to prepare the first meal:

                I turned back to the kitchen.  Stire was listening to a discussion.  The stances of the participants indicated a disagreement.  I walked a little closer.
                “I am not going to let some alien watch me cook our food.  Cooking is a private matter.  We have many rituals we perform while we cook.  It is part of our religion,” said an Irandi.
                “That is indeed a problem,” agreed Stire.  He looked at me. 
Was I supposed to come up with an answer?  Probably, since the other cook involved was a human. 

My motivation for this scene was to point out the first of many battles the managing committee would encounter in their attempt to get the four races to work together. I also wanted to introduce the notion of uniqueness of culture, and food rituals were a not-so-obvious place to begin. 

Another excerpt:
                Just then, a male Reannone walked up to our table.  “You wanted to see me, Frakis?” he asked.
                “Yes, Gree.  Where have you been all day?”
                “Oh, I took a day off.  I’ve been working too hard at these menial tasks.  It was some alien’s turn.”  Gree seemed quite defiant.
                Frakis tapped the table.  “It doesn’t work that way, Gree.  We all need to pull together and get our village running.  We don’t know why we’re here, but we need to make the best of this situation.  And making the best of it means everyone contributes.  This is our life, for the time being.  We’re all taking turns at the tasks and, while I agree that most of them are menial, they’re necessary for our survival.”
                “Well, I’m not going to do any.”  Gree straightened his posture.
                Frakis glance at us before she replied, “Then you don’t get any food or housing.  That’s what we’re all working for.”
                Gree stared at Frakis for a moment, and then walked away.

I used this scene to plant my first seed relating to rebellion.  I wanted to show that while the members of the managing committee were working well together, not everyone else was having an easy time of it—which put further pressure on Cyn, Stire, Frakis, and Jana. Would the eventual large-scale rebellion lead to loss of food for everyone? Find out in AN ALIEN COLLECTIVE.

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Roxanne!

Friday, April 18, 2014

FOODFIC: The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

I love carnival food. Who doesn’t? My favorite is the fries; they have that inexplicable something* that is somehow conjured up by every unique traveling show, yet can be found nowhere else on Earth.

Maybe it’s magic.

Now don’t tell me you don’t believe; real magic is in fact the heart (if not the stomach) of this story. Magic that hides in plain sight by masquerading as trickery.

There is Celia, billed by the night circus as an illusionist, but who actually can alter reality; her show might involve tossing a coat into the air only to have the silk fold in on itself to form the shape of a raven and then fly away.

Marco’s similar, if arguably lesser, ability enables him to manipulate perception – closer to what we think of as stage magic, yet he needs no diversionary tactics since he can truly manipulate what one sees.

Unfortunately, their magical prowess doesn’t equate to psychic ability and the two don’t know that they’re actually being pitted against each other in a contest to the death – the arena for which being the circus that they travel within.

So there’s magic and mystery and romance, yet I can’t help but circle back to my favorite question: What are they serving at this magically real venue? More magic hidden in plain sight, of course! There are fantastically delicious cinnamon things – layers of pastry and cinnamon and sugar all rolled into a twist and covered in icing, as well as spiced cocoa with clouds of extra whipped cream on top. Completely expected carnival foods made exceptional with magic, but still believably real. The only hints at the unusual are the chocolate mice (not at all like the Harry Potter frogs) and the edible paper featuring detailed illustrations that match their respective flavors, which frankly doesn’t sound at all appetizing to me.

And therein lies perhaps the truth of it all: we think we want the bizarre, but we really just want the best-ever version of the usual. We have to be able to relate to it in order to accept it; we need to believe that we are seeing and tasting the exceptional but normal, because admitting that it’s supernatural, might make it suddenly untrue. As in, It can’t be magic, because then it wouldn’t be really happening. Since nobody wants that, we have to deny the magic in order to enjoy it. See? I need them to serve me magical food out of a real-looking fake kitchen cart so that I can savor the flavors without letting doubt and disbelief sour the taste. ;)

*Probably oil that’s been sitting in a fryer for 50 years and would be labeled toxic by a health inspector if one could ever catch up with the show. But I wouldn’t have it any other way; some secrets are better left unexamined. ;)

Friday, April 11, 2014

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Ksenia Anske, Author of Siren Suicides

Darling Shelley invited me to guest post on her blog about food. Food my characters eat. Curiously, in my first trilogy, SIREN SUICIDES, there is hardly any talk of food except human souls, which is what sirens sing out of people, for, well, nourishment. But in my second novel ROSEHEAD a 12 year old American girl, Lilith Bloom, and her talking whippet Panther, travel from Boston to Berlin for a family reunion, and there they pig out on hearty German food, which is partially inspired by my own memories of traveling from Moscow to Berlin (I was 11) and marveling at the abundance of food unlike what I have ever seen in my life, considering the fact that while I devoured fat German sausages,  most Russians had to get food by coupons.

Upon arriving for the first time for breakfast, Lilith approached it uncertainly:

She expected breakfast to be the usual American fare, but what she saw made her gasp with glee. The table offered all kinds of jam, marmalade, syrup, and nugat-crème; plates of rolls, bowls of yoghurt, and trays of freshly made waffles that issued a delicious smell. 

In contrast to this, Panther tells Lilith that he eats mastiffs for breakfast, as a joke. You see, there is a vicious mastiff in the mansion, and, of course, there is an immediate rivalry between the two, although later Panther primarily eats raw steak, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, because both Lilith and Panther very much like Holmes and Watson, investigate the cause for the rose garden surrounding the mansion to behave strangely, and suspect it to be carnivorous, there are also many instances when Lilith is close to losing her breakfast, although she never does. She often skips lunch, her and her dog, traversing in the midst of foul smelling greenery, hoping to find the cause for both the stink and the noises the flowers produce. If it were me, I certainly would prefer to do said activity on an empty stomach.

There remains the case of dinners. On most days, exhausted and scratched all over (remember, this is a rose garden we're talking about), Lilith and Panther usually came back to the mansion to eat dinner, and, funny enough, Lilith requested breakfast for dinner, nostalgic of American food:

Can I please have breakfast for dinner?” She said to the housekeeper. “I’d like an omelet with cheese, American style, with bacon, sausage and blueberry pancakes on the side. Oh, and a bowl of steak for Panther.” 

They do, however, eat the typical German sausage, the bratwursts, and rostbratwursts, blutwursts, bockwursts, knckwursts, leberwursts, and, of course, potatoes, fried potatoes, potato salad,  potato pancakes and the like, with mustard. Well, now my mouth is watering from just writing this. Panther manages to steal the sausage right off Lilith's fork, all the while telling her (he is a talking dog, after all) that he would prefer squirrels, that he even dreams of squirrels:  

It was the most beautiful dream I’ve ever seen! I was chasing squirrels, a dozen fat juicy squirrels.” He rolled up his eyes. “Then I caught them, they tasted like— (He gets interrupted and sadly we never find out what exactly they tasted like.)

There are also macabre and grotesque references to unusual food images, like this one: 

Whatever happened to your beret?” Gabby asked suddenly. “I thought I saw you put it on this morning." 
Lilith inhaled, exhaled, and resorted to the only defense she had against her mother’s wrath. “Wild elephants ate it, mother. They thought it was a gigantic strawberry from Mars. In fact, the garden was full of them. Elephants, not strawberries. I’m dreadfully sorry we missed dinner. We watched them do a private ballet performance for us. In tutus. Right, Panther?” Panther raised his ears and flashed her a look that could only mean, Did you really say, elephants in tutus?

I think in all, I had fun writing in food choices into ROSEHEAD and playing with them. And now I will go make myself some German sausage, because all this writing about German food made me hungry. So thanks for reading, and bye. *opens the fridge*

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Ksenia!

 You can find Ksenia and her books here:

Friday, April 4, 2014

FOODFIC: Jinx - Sage Blackwood

The only problem with this book was me. Most specifically, my current stage of life, which revolves around small children.

I’m NOT saying this book isn’t for parents of small children, nor other adults, nor children. In fact, it has something for all of those people – wizards and witches, werewolves and trolls, new worlds and even new words (for me, at least!). *

No, what kind of grabbed my leg and wouldn’t let go was the stepfather/wizard/exchange-of-young-boy situation that launches the story. As a parent, I found it extremely difficult to witness even a fictional man selling a child to a stranger in the woods. And then the boy going home with said stranger had me practically yelling aloud, “Don’t go!”

That’s why I had to step outside of myself to continue reading; my personal concerns were blocking me from enjoying the story! When the stranger (later revealed as wizard) brought Jinx to his isolated home in the woods and served up what to the boy was a feast like he’d never before experienced (bread, cheese, pickles, jam, apple cider, and pumpkin pie), and my inner voice screamed, “It’s all a trick; he must be a pedophile**!” I had to silence it for good. (Okay, for 350 pages.)

Once I removed the mom-tinted glasses and went forth with the bright and clear eyes of a young reader, I loved every scene Blackwood showed me. Yes, I could just enjoy that hot cider without having it spoiled by the bitter taste of suspicion!

Better yet, I could see the world as Jinx did, with every person’s feelings expressed as colors and images around them. Turned out, Jinx had his own magic before he even met Simon the wizard – perhaps metaphoricizing the magic innate to every child that life/adults take away.
So the moral here is the same for people of all ages and stages: read this one as a child – better yet, with a child! – and just enjoy the magic. And the pumpkin pie. ;)

*Demesne. Look it up; I had to!
**Let me be clear: the wizard is NOT a pedophile, nor are there child molesters of any sort in this book.