Sunday, February 17, 2013
Julia Pomeroy: Actress, Restaurateur, Author
MURDER MOST FOWL
My fellow panelists were to be Katherine Hall Page, who writes a wonderful series about a caterer; Marilyn Stasio, reviewer for the NYT, who has probably read more crime fiction than a Bouchercon banquet-load of fans; and your own Annamaria Alfieri, who is of Italian blood, and therefore gets a special papal dispensation to talk about food. My claim to food is that I once owned a small town restaurant, and my protagonist, in my first two books, is a waitress in a similar small town restaurant.
Luckily Bruce Kraig, our moderator, (who has written a tabletop book on hotdogs!) had asked us to prepare talks about our books and the food in them. Marilyn Stasio, thank God, went first. She had done her homework and read a bucket of food-related mysteries. She had wonderful points to make about food and its uses in crime fiction. Food used well and food used poorly. She talked about dozens of writers and she was lucid and interesting, and after a particularly stirring question or comment by one of the audience, she stopped and said, "I should write an article about this."
Then it was my turn. I explained my train of thought as I had prepared for the panel. I mentioned my two first books briefly, and how I'm more interested in the restaurant as a theatre-like setting, with front of the house and back of the house, than I am in the food. And that I rarely think about food or remember food in the novels I like. What does Harry Bosch eat? Nothing. At least, nothing memorable. Maybe a taco from a street vendor. But what does that say about an obsessive driven detective? When you think about it, quite a lot.
I told the audience how I delved into the internet, digging around to see what other people thought about food in mysteries. Someone described food, in the classic mysteries, as a sign of elitism in characters like Nero Wolfe, Maigret and Poirot. Not a bad point. There was definitely a class distinction in those books. Also, food as death! Think of all the poisonings in Agatha Christie. Roald Dahl's famous story, Lamb to the Slaughter, about a woman who beats her husband's head in with a frozen leg of lamb, then serves it, roasted, to the detectives.
Finally, Annamaria gave a wonderful explanation of how food in historical mysteries works to place the reader in the writer's world, reminding him/her, through the description of particular food, of that time and place. And it also makes the protagonist truly human, with mouth, gullet and stomach, just like the rest of us mortals.
And then it was over. The time had flown by.
As I write this, I think once again about my new thriller, and what part, if any, food plays in it. And it just comes to me that, yes, when it's there, food in my story is about family. Safety. Even if it's just a simple spaghetti sauce.
So, even though I have never thought of myself as someone who writes about food, I learned that I was wrong. We all are, us crime fiction writers. Either through inclusion or omission, we are all food writers too. And that's what I got from going to a cookbook conference. Life's funny that way, isn't it?