Saturday, January 5, 2013

More Food on the (Travelling Round Table) Fantasy Guest Blog

And here's the second round of posts on Food in Fantasy, from Chris Howard, Valjeanne Jeffers, Carole McDonnell and Theresa Crater. Enjoy!

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Chris Howard
How do you eat underwater?
 Food wasn’t high on the list of difficulties to tackle for a series of books about people from the sea, with at least half the action taking place deep underwater. If I divided up my world-building time for the Seaborn books more than half of it would go  to undersea combat and the kinds of powers, “bleeds”, magic, breathing, as well as sorting out their limitations, how they are passed to children, and other details.  Most of the other half was in cultural development, cities, history, interaction with the surface, social structure, why a people who are apparently successful have such a low population—in the millions. 

But food proved to be more difficult than combat.  Even if there’s magic involved in making things work in a fight, it can be applied to the weapon once. Everyone in battle-space doesn’t need to perform something crazy three times a day in order to sustain their strength and stop their tummies rumbling.  Right off the bat I imagined—given their technology and powers—you could reduce friction and drag in the water for edged weapons and bolts from crossbows, and spearguns, so that battles didn’t look like thousands of free-falling astronauts spinning and fumbling in slow motion, taking mad swings at each other.  And everyone looking stupid rather than dangerous or fierce.

Food wasn’t as easy to figure out. On the surface, Kassandra—the main character—can go to Starbucks or stop in for sushi and sashimi at Shizuko’s in Hampton.  She was raised on the surface, but when she gets underwater and sees what the seaborn have out for what appears to be an edible arrangement, she’s disgusted by it.  No potato chips, no bagels, no coffee.  Just these little lumps or wrapped packages of something she has no need to try.

Raw fish, sliced and presented neatly, was an obvious choice because it didn’t require cooking and you could eat it with fingers—it worked underwater.  But it was too obvious, too simple, and they can’t live on raw fish alone. In a typical surface kitchen you turn on the stove, you heat water, you make some pasta.  In another pot you’re making a sauce.  You serve it onto plates and you eat with forks, spoons, knives, chopsticks, sporks, fingers.  Easy.  In the deep ocean where the seaborn live I was looking at extreme temperatures, complete darkness, with most of the abyss cold, and water around hydrothermal vents reaching 800 F/426 C and NOT boiling because of the immense pressure.  I had plumbing in seaborn cities to pipe this water and heat anywhere I wanted, but how do you cook with it?  Food wrapped in ceramic containers, leaves? Where do those come from? Firing and glazing clay sounds difficult underwater.  The seaborn have light—can make it—and so they can grow seaweeds, hundred-foot tall macrocystis—the large kelp forests you always see in video off the coast of California.  Leaves were in, and they’re entirely plausible because that’s a common enough method for cooking on the surface, with food wrapped and steamed inside cabbage leaves, grape leaves, and others.  Fish was clearly a center course—cooked or not, with many options for vegetable-like dishes.

I didn’t take eating much further than this in the three books because food didn’t play enough of a role in the plot, but it surprised me how much trouble it caused—more than breathing underwater, pressure, darkness, and combat, all of which could be handled with sufficient technology—or magic.  Looking back, I wish I had given eating—especially the social aspect of gathering around food and drink—more thought.  My logic went something like dolphins don’t know thirst and they don’t drink anything their entire lives, so why would the seaborn? I went with a limited approach to developing their eating conventions and left it at that—with some jabs by Kassandra and others about how unappealing their food was.

Overall it was the complexity around something as simple as what do you eat underwater that got me. The ocean’s a complex environment made up of many layered environments, and many are radically different meters apart.  And stories set there have to deal with the environment.  Even with something as complex as underwater acoustics, with negative thermoclines and capacity for changing over long distances I just had to do my research and let it play.  Sound travels almost five times faster underwater than it does through the air, but apparently there’s no fast food in the deep.  At least I didn’t find any.
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Chris Howard is a creative guy with a pen and a paint brush, author of Seaborn (Juno Books)  and half a shelf-full of other books. His short stories have appeared in a bunch of zines, latest is “Lost Dogs and Fireplace Archeology” in Fantasy Magazine. In 2007, his story “Hammers and Snails” was a Robert A. Heinlein Centennial Short Fiction Contest winner. He writes and illustrates the comic, Saltwater Witch. His ink work and digital illos have appeared in Shimmer, BuzzyMag, various RPGs, and on the pages of other books, blogs, and places. Last year he painted a 9 x 12 foot Steampunk Map of New York for a cafe in Brooklyn. Find out everything at

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Valjeanne Jeffers
Food and Fantasy
Let's talk about food in fantasy. We eat when we're depressed or lonely. We eat to celebrate holidays and rituals. Eating is a part of life just like seeking shelter and intimacy. And, though we often do it just for the fun of it, it's definitely listed in the category of things we must do to survive. Quite simply we eat to live.
My favorite authors are the ones who manage to create men and women with the most human characteristics--men and women who enjoy roasting a yam over an open fire or sharing a pot of gumbo with a friend. These are the authors whose work I enjoy and the ones I take notes from to improve my own writing skills.
Food, I've realized, is part of the mosaic of a character's life. Food in fantasy, in all fiction, is an extension of one's plot--an extension of what is driving the novel. To illustrate my point here are two excerpts from my first novel, Immortal.  
 Excerpt 1.
At exactly 8:00 he knocked on her door. This time, Karla had dressed more casually in jeans and a sleeveless shirt, trimmed to reveal her ebony midriff. She wore hoop earrings, and a silver chain was wrapped about her belly. Joseph was dressed in jean and boots, his hair hanging loose about his shoulders.
The flat was decorated with paintings and glazed pottery, but little furniture. There was a futon, and a coffee table. Just outside the kitchenette, stood another table with two chairs. Colorful rugs decorated the wooden floors. Beyond the living area, he glimpsed a four poster bed.
“Did you have any trouble finding me?” Karla asked.
He shook his head. “Nope.” Especially since I spent last night across the hall.
One of her paintings drew Joseph’s eye: hanging on the wall beside the console, was an oil rendition of a dark woman: her eyes were closed and there was a look of rapture upon her face. An arm was wrapped about the neck of the Copper man standing behind her; his intertwined about her waist; his face bent towards hers. She’s got good taste.
“You like it?”
“Very much; I can’t wait to read your stories.”
Karla averted her eyes. “The food’s ready.”
The table was loaded with vegetables, protein sautéed in buttered garlic and fresh bread. As Joseph sat down, Karla emerged from the kitchen with a carafe of red wine. “I don’t drink. I’m sorry, I should have told you.”
 “No problem, somebody in the building will drink it.”
A tiny smile played about her lips. “I don’t drink either. I haven’t for years.” She put the wine back in the cold box, extracted two glasses of cold tea from her liquids machine, and placed them on the table.
Both could feel the tension mounting between them. They were moving into deep waters. Karla knew she must tell him about her dreams.
Excerpt 2. 
There was a knock at the door and she jumped. Get it together girl, that’s the twins. She walked into the living room, picked up her remote and pointed it at the entrance. It slid open and the eight-year-old twins, Carlos Jr. and Ashley, small and brown like their mother, ran inside. Ashley’s shoulder length braids were tied off with ribbons.
 “Good morning Karla,” they sang in unison, hugging her.
“Good morning love bugs. What do you want for breakfast?”
 “Waffles,” said Ashley.
 Carlos Jr. flapped his hand at his sister. “You always want waffles. Make mine French toast.”
When Karla and the twins’ mother had first become friends, Tatiana and Carlos were both working nights, and she’d offered to make breakfast for their children during the week. That was two years ago. Now Tatiana worked as a beautician, although her mate still worked evening shifts at the metal emporium. But fixing meals for the twins had become a habit Karla didn’t want to break. She was crazy about them, and Topaz’s food prices were next to nothing.
“Coming right up.” The dark woman took milk and breakfast pellets from her cold box, and slid the nuggets into a diamond shaped oven. In twenty seconds, they expanded with heat.
“Done,” the oven announced. The children sat at the table, just outside the kitchenette.
 In these two very different passages food is one of the metaphors used to bring my characters together on a very basic and ultimately human level. And are our characters not human? If we prick them do they not bleed upon the printed page? So why shouldn't they eat? Why shouldn't they come together to celebrate life, to work out their problems, to enjoy each others' company? Indeed they must for the story to become real. For food, in life, brings us together for so many reasons. And art, real art, imitates life.
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Valjeanne is the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend, Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, and the steampunk novels Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch II: Clockwork (includes books 1 and 2) and the space opera, Colony.
Valjeanne is a knight in the Traveling Round Table of Bloggers. She is also a graduate of Spelman College, NCCU and a member of the Carolina African American Writers' Collective. She has been published under both Valjeanne Jeffers and Valjeanne Jeffers-Thompson. Her writing has appeared in: The Obamas: Portrait of America's New First Family, from the Editors of Essence, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, Pembroke Magazine, Revelry, Drumvoices Revue 20th Anniversary, and Liberated Muse: How I Freed My Soul Vol. I. She was also semi-finalist for the 2007 Rita Dove Poetry Award. Valjeanne's fiction has appeared in Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction, Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, LuneWing, PurpleMag, Genesis Science Fiction Magazine, Pembroke Magazine, Possibilities, 31 Days of Steamy Mocha, Griots II: Sisters of the Spear (in press), and Steamfunk! (in press). She works as an editor for Mocha Memoirs Press and is also co-owner of Q & V Affordable editing.
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Carole McDonnell
Food in Fantasy
Foods in fantasy novels are as varied as they are in real life. As a lover of food and food blogs, Youtube cooking channels, discovery channel and travel channel food programs, I find the eating culture of different fantastical tribes very important as a way of showing cultural and religious beliefs, especially the connection of those beliefs with hospitality toward strangers, gratitude toward the gods, and the passage of time.

Wind Follower  benefitted from my love of anthropology and from my living in New York. In Wind Follower, I created four tribes that lived in a common cultural setting. In many ways, they were like the cosmopolitan New York area I live in -- many people sharing some aspects of the culture while preserving their own unique cultures with characters' wealth or committment to their religion being the factors that affected their eating habits.

But there were sexual taboo food issues in Wind Follower, and women were not allowed to touch or eat certain foods at "that time" of the month. In addition, some foods implied certain spiritual doctrines. Therefore to touch those foods implied challenging the doctrines.

In my story, "Lingua Franca," the eating of certain foods  -- or more specifically, the eating of flesh or the cutting of flesh with a tool-- is the crux of the story. In that story, the main character challenged her husband on his changing the "letter" of the law in order to do what the foreigners want.

In  The Constant Tower, my upcoming novel, different tribes eat different foods but the problem is not a big one. 
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  Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction, and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and at various online sites. Her novel, Wind Follower, was published by Wildeside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower.
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Theresa Crater
Food in Fantasy
“But what about second breakfast?” Pippin asks on the first day of the quest outside Bree.
Merry responds, “I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.”
“What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he?”
“I wouldn't count on it.”
Merry and Pippin delight readers and viewers alike with their hobbit gustatory expectations. Before Aragorn disappointed them, the two hobbits were delighted with their discovery at the inn. “They come in pints?”

 Although agent Donald Maas recommends cutting scenes with dining, food helps create character. In Tolkien, it also indicates moral standing. Elven bread is loved by those who are upstanding and moral, but the corrupt Gollum can’t abide it.
Food also provides comic relief. Merry and Pippin celebrate victory at Isengard by raiding Saruman‘s pantry and eating, drinking and smoking him out of house and home. The conversation about second breakfast occurs after being chased by the Nazgûl.Close to Mordor, Sam and Gollum argue in the gloom about the proper preparation of fish and potatoes. Gollum expresses disgust at the very idea of cooking fish and as for potatoes, well, he spits on the ground. “Nasty hobbitses.”

In many fantasies, food is initiatory. Alice eats magic mushrooms and must drink potions to make her bigger or smaller. The Mad Hatter’s tea party is a festive bunch of silliness, but also a place where Alice gains information about this new world. And allies.
And there’s food in dark fantasy—forbidden food. Vampires drink blood, and to become a vampire involves the exchange of blood between human and vampire.
Of all the marvelous meals and cooking I’ve read in fantasy, I still give first prize to Tolkien. After all, he was a hobbit in all but size.
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Theresa Crater has published two contemporary fantasies, Beneath the Hallowed Hill & Under the Stone Paw and several short stories, most recently “White Moon” in Riding the Moon and “Bringing the Waters” in The Aether Age:  Helios. She’s also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Colorado with her Egyptologist partner and their two cats. Visit her website at


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