My character Iris, a Deaf twelve-year-old tech whiz, is about to embark on a grand journey to track down the world’s loneliest whale. But first, she’ll need to fuel up. On her way to the assisted living center to pick up her sidekick grandma, Iris stops at the gas station. Since she lives in Houston, there are plenty of good Mexican restaurants around, but Carlos’s Gas ‘Em Up has the best breakfast tacos. This isn’t the kind of place that has all the food pre-wrapped in plastic. One side is like the ordinary convenience store you’ll find at most gas stations, but there’s also a family-run café that serves excellent Mexican food. If you’re unfamiliar with breakfast tacos, think of a regular taco on a flour tortilla, but fill it with breakfast food: scrambled eggs, cheese, maybe some bacon or sausage, and salsa. This morning, Iris orders her taco with eggs, potatoes, and cheese. She also orders a coffee. She’s never had coffee before, but it seems like an appropriately grown-up drink for a trip like this. After one bitter sip, she throws it away and goes back to the check-out counter for her usual chocolate milk.
For the next few days, Iris and Grandma will be far from Houston and the gas station tacos. The whale she’s searching for isn’t swimming anywhere around here—they’ll have to hop onto an Alaskan cruise to get close to him.
When I was writing Song For a Whale, I was lucky enough to be able to research the setting in person, though I live in the Houston area like Iris does. I work as a sign language interpreter for my “day job,” and shortly after I started writing the novel, I saw an assignment for a week-long Alaskan cruise, interpreting for three Deaf passengers. I got to do that again a year later, when I was revising the manuscript. In addition to being a lovely place to work for a week at a time, seeing the ship and the scenery really helped with the setting details I added to the story. Of course, that included food! After Iris’s first cruise ship dinner of salmon and mashed potatoes, she orders a crème brûlée for dessert. She has no idea what it is, but it looks like it’ll be worth finding out. She and Grandma are too full to finish their dinners, but magically find more room when the desserts arrive. Iris still isn’t sure what’s in crème brûlée, other than sugar and some sort of cream, but she decides it’s her new favorite food.
The next day at the breakfast buffet, she’s overwhelmed with the selection, which is like “…every breakfast buffet from every restaurant I’d ever been in, all shoved into one place.” It’s not every day you can have a waffle, a pancake, and French toast all in one meal. With the help of her new friend Bennie, Iris quickly learns where to find the shortest buffet lines and the best places to sit and enjoy a plate of salmon eggs benedict and banana waffles.
Grandma is ready for full-time cruise ship life, but Iris is more like me—ready to be back home after an enjoyable week at sea. I imagine she still loves her gas station breakfast tacos, but maybe makes her own version too, with some grilled salmon added.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Lynne!