Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Authors, Alcohol & Accolades: Volume 11

Do you drink?"
"Of course, I just said I was a writer.”
--Stephen King

I have returned with another volume in my fun series: Authors, Alcohol & Accolades. Please check Volume 1 for links to all of the prior ten installments. Each installment showcases some of my favorite authors, and I have returned to highlight more, to delve into their drinks of choice, from Beer to Sake. I have found this to provide a fascinating glimpse into the life of the writers I enjoy and hope you like the interviews as well. Support by my readers for this series has been very positive.

You can look forward to further volumes in this series and any authors who are interested in participating in future volumes can contact me.

So let's see what some of my favorite writers, all who have recently released debut novels, like to drink.

John Dixon (Twitter: @JohnDixonBooks)
John's debut novel, Phoenix Island, already inspired a television series, Intelligence, though I believe the novel is superior to the TV show in many ways. In addition, the plots of both are significantly different so that you might not even make the connection between the two unless you were told about it. Phoenix Island is about a troubled young man, Carl Freemen, sent to a military-like camp in order to straighten his life out, and become a productive member of society. However, the camp hides many dark secrets and Carl must fight to survive and try to prevent greater horrors from hurting those he cares about, and the larger world outside of the camp. It is grim and dark, action-packed and suspenseful. It is kind of like Lord of the Flies meets the Shawshank Redemption with a sprinkling of The Island of Dr. Moreau. It has been of my my favorite books of 2014, and I eagerly look forward to the sequel.

John's Preferences: "I'm a Miller lite guy. Always have been. I like the way it tastes. It's relatively cheap and easy to find. It's refreshing on a hot day, and drinking a couple doesn't leave me feeling like I've swallowed a loaf of pumpernickel. 

"In recent years, my allegiance has caused no end of entertaining friction with friends who've embraced the rise of craft beers. All of a sudden, guys I'd had fun drinking with in the not-so-distant past were treating beer like it was fine wine or single-malt Scotch. Their new-found contempt for my beloved Miller lite only spurred me to cheer its praises more loudly, escalating our beer battles into a full-blown beer war... until, in a climactic battle against my friend John D. Harvey, the king of all beer snobs, I struck the fatal blow -- with the help of the platypus. 

"We were standing around at our annual writing retreat, Camp Necon. John was drinking one of several overpriced beers -- like most craft enthusiasts, he never seems satisfied with any single variety and cycles through a selection every session -- and I, of course, was drinking good old Miller lite. When I mentioned that the platypus dreamed more hours of the day than any other animal, his beer animosity got the better of him, and he claimed I was making up my platypus trivia. I told him I most certainly was not making it up, and a bet was born. The burden of proof was on me. If I failed to back up my claim, I had to drink a six pack of Guinness. But if could prove my point, he would drink a twelve pack of Miller Lite. When I provided the Scientific American article where I'd learned that fun fact, John's cry of defeat was like a thousand overpriced beers shattering at once. His concession speech was brief and bitter, and he ultimately welched, drinking only a single Miller lite, but I didn't mind. His half-stepping balk left me with extra Miller lite, a finer celebratory libation than any champagne, and with that, I closed the truly glorious day that brought victory to Miller lite and ended the beer wars forever."

Brian Staveley (Twitter: @BrianStaveley)
Another of my favorite novels so far from 2014 has been Brian's The Emperor's Blades, the first in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne. With the assassination of the Emperor, a Machiavellian plot slowly unwinds, reaching out to endanger the three children of the Emperor. Can they survive the deadly plots and learn the truth behind the assassination? Brian has devised a fascinating fantasy world with interesting and well developed characters, a cool magic system, and a story that draws you deep into its center. The tale is told from three different points of view, and I think this allows us to more deeply understand the main characters, and each viewpoint is a compelling story in of itself. This is a book that will keep your attention from page 1 to the very end. Once again, I can't wait to read what comes next.

Brian's Preferences: "If we had known, when we bought this house in rural Vermont, about the beautiful hop vines clustered on the southwestern wall, I’m certain we would have paid double for the place. As it was, we bought it in the dead of winter, and didn’t realize until late spring, when the vines had found their way into the decaying greenhouse, creeping past rotted mullions and through cracks in the glass, that we had hops. More industrious folk would have embarked on a homebrew project; we opted for a scam.

“Have some hops!” we said to all of our brewing friends. “Take lots!”

“Can we pay you?” they asked.

“Of course not,” we replied, smiling shrewdly. “We just want some of the beer.”

And so our very own Hopfest was born. We hand out the hops in the fall, then the next summer, half a dozen amateur brewers show up with their best efforts for a delightful day of drinking, lawn games, and dozing in the sun. It’s a wonderful event for several reasons – good company, hoppy homebrew, and the delicious exploitation of talented friends."

Barry Lancet (Twitter: @BarryLancet)
Released last September, Barry's Japantown instantly interested me with its Japanese connection, and I was very pleased in the end that I chose to buy it. It is non-stop thrill ride involving an antiques dealer, Jim Brodie, who ends up taking over his father's private investigation business in Japan. Beginning with the murder of a family in Japantown, the actions spans from San Francisco to Japan. It gets personal for Brodie as the matter may touch on his wife's death and endangers his young daughter. With a number of plots twists, Barry deftly creates a compelling mystery that well integrates Japanese history and culture. It is one of those "one night" books, the type that you can't put down, no matter how late it gets, because you want to finish it. And to my delight, Sake even figures into the novel. The next book in this series, Tokyo Kill, is due out in September 2014 and I'm told Sake plays an even larger role in that book. A great debut and the film rights have even been optioned.

Barry's Preferences:

"Sake of Choice: Today, I want to recommend a type of sake that is hard to come by in its freshest form, but worth the effort to track down. It’s a well-kept secret, after a fashion. You need access to a sake maker, or to someone who works at a brewery. Or if luck happens to be on your side, you may only need to inquire if a brewery has just made up a batch, or might soon do so.

"What I am talking about is the traditionally pressed shiboritate, where the fermenting sake is poured into large sacks and, in the initial stages, allowed to hang and drip out naturally. Most sake is machine pressed. Shiboritate means “just pressed.” You can find shiboritate bottled, but by the time the precious liquid finds its way into a bottle, it’s too past its prime. Or this might be a generic brand. What you are looking for is the brew directly from the source, within hours after it’s been filtered. No more than six or eight; the sooner the better.

"With the right kind of sake and drunk soon after it is filtered, it is sublime. It is soft and mellow and seems to float on your tongue. It’s the closest thing to liquid ambrosia you’ll ever taste. A lot depends on the maker and the sake he selects for shiboritate, I would imagine. The one I sampled some fifteen years ago was made by a high-ranking employee for private consumption, and hand-carried up to Tokyo on the bullet train for a party later in the day. Traditionally pressed shiboritake may not be the Holy Grail but it is certainly close."

"Shochu of Choice: My choice of shochu, when I can get it, is Hyakunen no Kodoku. It was far less popular and easier to find when I first drank it some fifteen years ago, but demand has made it harder to come by. This shochu is made from barley and aged in wood barrels. The beverage has a subtle amber color. It has the pleasingly heavy body of a good scotch and comes in at a hearty forty proof. Hyakunen no Kodoku is as satisfying and evocative as its name, which is the Japanese title for Gabriel Garcia Marqez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. In other words, poetic and at times transcendent."

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