Food for though, huh? Listen, I'm an author who's fat. Or perhaps I'm a fat man who happens to be an author. Whichever. But I will acknowledge that food plays an important role in my life, probably too important a role. And as with many parts of my life, my love for food plays an important role in my writing. I spend some time in many of my works talking about what the characters eat and drink. I'll talk about a few of them with you.
In my short story "Shug," appearing in the anthology Shadows Over Main Street 2, the setting is a farm in the years right after World War II. The main character, Vesta, has lost her husband in that conflict and lets the farm fall into decrepitude. Along comes Shug, and he helps her get the place back into shape so that he can plant some…well, you'll have to read the story to find out exactly what he plants. But there are plenty of scenes of eating, all good, 1950s farmhouse stuff—fried chicken and mashed potatoes, split pea soup, okra and plenty of vegetables right out of the garden, strong coffee, bacon and eggs. She even makes a strawberry cake with boiled icing, just like my grandmother used to make.
But food figures even more prominently in two of my other stories. And here's where it's vital you understand that I am a horror writer, and these stories might be (should be!) disturbing. The first we'll talk about is "The Mellified Man," which appears in my collection Little Deaths: The Definitive Edition. The story concerns sweets. Candy. I wrote it with my brother Robert in mind. He had a notorious sweet tooth growing up, and I wanted to explore the idea that a sweet tooth could get you into plenty of trouble.
I'd read somewhere about this concept of a mellified man. In either ancient Arabic or Chinese medicine (I can't remember which), there was a sort of legendary practice of steeping a dead body in honey for a long, long time until the honey saturated the flesh. This honey-steeped corpse was then cut into small pieces and doled out to people suffering from various maladies. To eat. Let me emphasize this point: patients were given chunks of a dead person's honey-macerated flesh to eat. Yum. Or not.
A more recent story of mine is called "Purple Soda Hand." It appears in my latest collection Little Black Spots. I wrote the story for bestselling author Josh Malerman. I had this image of an unlabeled bottle of grape soda found by a kid on a hot day. Sealed tightly, its cap unbroken, it lay on the side of the road. No label. But, man, did it look refreshing. So, the kid unadvisedly cracks the soda open and take a few healthy swigs. It's the most delicious, grapey grape soda he's ever tasted.
The problem is—and isn’t there always a problem with these things?—that there's also a tiny, amputated human hand in the soda bottle, too. Does this change his mind about drinking more of the soda? Would it with you? You'll have to read the story to figure out what happens. But I can assure you, it's not good.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, John!
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