Since 2011, I’ve hosted an interview series on my own blog called Cooking the Books, which explores the intersection between food and genre fiction. Cooking the Books’ interviews with science-fiction and fantasy authors, agents, and editors have a thing in common: there’s a recipe at the end.
I was all set to post this great interview with Michael R. Underwood, author of Attack the Geek, the new book in the Geekomancy series (more on that in a moment), when I thought, “Waitaminnit, I think the GeekMom audience would love this a lot.” Mike thought it was a great idea too and offered to throw in a worldwide giveaway (more on that in a moment also), in addition to answering random food-related questions about his work and giving us a fabulous pizza recipe.
Book Giveaway! Recipe! Interview with awesome author! This is a brilliant plan. Let’s get rolling…
Michael R. Underwood’s Geekomancy series follows the adventures of Ree, who discovers that some people have the power to bring geek-culture icons to life, for better and worse. From Geekomancy to Celebromancy to Attack the Geek, Underwood keeps the action high and the geekery even higher. Welcome, Michael, to a special edition of Cooking the Books on GeekMom!
Cooking the Books/Geek Mom: The Geekomancy series’ main character, Ree, has worked in several service industry niches—food and sales, with Cafe Xombie (Geekomancy)—as well as getting her break in Hollywood (Celebromancy). Now she’s a barista at Grognard’s. Can you talk a bit about the restaurant/bar culture as it relates to both geeks and geeky writers?
Michael Underwood: As geekdom ascends in popularity, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen geekdom seep into bars and restaurants. Brooklyn has steampunk/SF-themed bar The Way Station, a group has kickstarted a geek bar, and there are others around the country. Fantasy taverns are the archetypal meeting place of adventurers and bars are frequently the cornerstone of any convention, from small regional conventions to big gaming and SF cons like GenCon.
Restaurants and bars are cruxes of socialization, and geekdom is social—it’s about sharing passion. So there’s really nothing better than some good food and drink to accompany shared enthusiasm and friendly arguments about beloved shows, books, comics, and more.
CtB/GM: Do you feel that you’ve taken the fantasy-style tavern brawl to a whole new level in Attack the Geek? How so?
MU: I honestly hadn’t thought much about Attack the Geek as a fantasy tavern brawl. I was more drawing on bottle episodes of TV shows, where our heroes have to hold out against attackers (like the “Jus in Bello” episode of Supernatural), on siege stories like the battle of Helm’s Deep from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and from “game comes alive” stories like Jumanji. Making the fortress a gamer bar and the gaming gear that comes alive in RPG/strategy games, I mixed up the influences to create something new.
CtB/GM: What are your favorite tavern/bar brawls from TV/film/literature?
MU: It’s hard to beat the bar brawls from Firefly and Serenity—from the pool cue bludgeons wielded by Jayne to people being thrown through holographic windows and Mal’s overly-cocky mugging for Inara to River’s subliminal-advertising-induced-intricately-choreographed ballet of violence that kicks off the plot of the whole film.
What makes these fun for me is how the fights so clearly reveal character: Jayne’s highly tactile approach to life, Mal’s chronic mis-calibration of morality to the situation and his devil-may-care attitude when things go wrong, Wash’s charming bravado as he threatens the locals with the Serenity’s non-existent guns, and River’s graceful, intricate approach to fighting and moving through life.
CtB/GM: If you could have one food item from pop culture, what would it be?
MU: If it weren’t for the trout-zombie virus included, I’d want to try the energy drink from The Middleman!
I could stand an Ent-draught or two to get a tad taller, or maybe some lembas as emergency survival food. My Whedonite tendencies would lead me to wanting to try the Fruity Oaty Bar from Serenity—or maybe that’s the subliminal programming talking.
CtB/GM: When we discussed your CtB visit, we talked about new business models for publishing. It seems as if the restaurant industry is looking into similar business model changes… do you foresee “book trucks” (like food trucks) on the horizon?
MU: Penguin debuted a book truck at BEA last year, and then they sent it around the country for promotional purposes. We already have bookmobiles run by libraries, so it seems only sensible that someone could start a book truck—especially if they teamed up with food trucks to offer fun reads that would accompany the great eats. Though it seems like they’d probably end up spending a lot on napkins/hand wipes.
Being more serious, I think that book trucks are less of a no-brainer than food trucks, just because technology has already delivered mobile reading devices—phones, tablets, and e-readers. Airports still sell a goodly number of books to a captive audience, but I think that quite a bit of the appeal of book trucks would be the novelty, and it’d take some innovative thinking and business planning to get beyond that initial novelty. Genre-specific trucks with decoration themes are obvious. Fantasy truck with ’70s fantasy mural on the side? Hell yes. Steampunk truck with Victoriana and airship stories galore? For sure. Truck done up like a CSI lab with mystery/crime novels? Go for it.
CtB/GM: What about publishing with Angry Robot do you like best? Are publishers like restaurants?
MU: One of my favorite parts of working with Angry Robot is developing supportive working relationships with authors, each of whom is their own literary chef, bringing their expertise and aesthetic to our big restaurant of food for the mind.
The other part is the innovation mandate. My boss Marc Gascoigne is dedicated to forging ahead, to finding new and cooler ways of connecting with readers, whether that involves trying out print+ebook bundling, partnering with new business models (like Oyster), or another cool and crazy idea.
Publishers are definitely like restaurants in a number of ways: They develop followings based on selection/menu, presentation/packing, and on the personalities. And like restaurants, most publishers aren’t as much in direct competition with one another as you might think. The more restaurants there are that deliver incredible food and a welcoming atmosphere, the more likely customers/readers are to take a chance on another publisher or restaurant, since they’ve already had good luck at least once when they expanded their horizons.
I think there’s also a degree to which individual authors are like restaurants. You still have to cultivate a following, get your work out in front of more people than just your core audience, and that most restaurants/authors become known for one particular feel. You’re a pizza place or an epic fantasy author. Any time an author tries out a new flavor, there’s a risk, but the reward, the upside of finding a new combination, is more than enticing enough to be worth going out on an aesthetic limb.
CtB/GM: What’s next for Ree? What’s next for Michael Underwood?
MU: I’m currently plotting and am soon to start writing Hexomancy, the third full-length Ree Reyes story. This will roll the plot of Attack the Geek into the overall plot of the series, and will also include some major developments in the characters’ relationships—plus, the usual mix of geeky comedy, superpowered geekdom, and action/adventure.
After Attack the Geek, my next release is Shield and Crocus (June 10), an action fantasy novel about a group of revolutionaries in a city built among the bones of a titan. They strike a bargain with one of the tyrants that rules the city in order to stop the magical storms which transmogrify and/or level entire neighborhoods at once, killing or transforming people along the way. It’s like what would happen if you set Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn in China Mieville’s New Crobuzon.
CtB/GM: Where might we expect to be seeing you this spring and summer?
MU: I’m going to be all over the place this year. Here are my scheduled appearances through the end of the summer:
- May 23-26, BaltiCon, Baltimore, MD
- May 28-31, Book Expo America, New York, NY
- June 5-8, Phoenix Comicon, Phoenix, AZ
- July 3-6, CONvergence, Minneapolis, MN
- July 10-13, ReaderCon, Boston, MA
- August 14-18, WorldCon (LonCon), London, UK
CtB/GM: Would you share a recipe with us?
I’m going to share my recipe for Ree’s favorite pizza from Turbo’s Pizzeria, affectionately known as…
The Pizza of Win
For the dough:
- 22 oz. warm water
- 1 tsp. active dry yeast
- 30 oz. unbleached bread flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 T medium or dark rye flour
- 1 ½ tsp wheat germ
- 1 ½ tsp mild-flavored honey
- 1 T kosher salt
- 1 T dried basil
- 1 T dried oregano
- Dash of garlic powder.
- Olive oil for greasing
This is going to take several stages, so I recommend podcasts (like The Skiffy and Fanty Show, or Fran’s own Cooking The Books podcast with Mur Lafferty [coming soon!]) to listen to while you work.
- Start by making a sponge with 15 oz. of warm water, the yeast, and a pinch of sugar to help get the yeast get going. Wait a few minutes for science!
- Add 13 oz. of bread flour, the rye, and the wheat germ; stir to combine. Wooden spoons are best, because tradition. And flavor.
- Cover the bowl and stow it somewhere room temperature warmish. Listen to podcasts.
- 90 minutes of podcasts later, add the rest of the water (7oz.), the rest of the bread flour, the barley malt, the garlic powder, the basil, and the oregano. If you have a mixer, use it. If you like being old-school and hardcore, mix with the spoon and then knead the dough yourself. This will also give you the sexy baker look (and the less sexy dough-all-over-your-hands look).
- Mix/knead until the dough will pull away from the edge of the bowl. Another rubrick I’ve heard is that you want to mix the dough until it has the consistency of your earlobe (folkways!).
- Get your pizza pan and use cornmeal to dust the pan and the dough, so it doesn’t stick. Plus, cornmeal gives the dough a great mix of textures.
- Once you’ve got your dough ready, you’ll need the materials to make the pizza into a pizza of win:
Basil Pesto Oregano:
- Roma tomatoes (sliced)
- Mild Italian sausage (or soysage)
- Feta cheese
- And a standard mozzarella or mozzarella/Parmesan mix
- The basil pesto is your sauce and the mozzarella/Parmesan is your cheese base. Then, top it with pre-cooked crumbled Italian sausage, feta cheese, and the Roma tomatoes.
- Cook for 12 minutes at 400 degrees.
- Raise a glass to Ree Reyes, Turbo’s pizzeria, and the glory of pizza.
Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, Celebromancy, as well as the forthcoming Attack the Geek, Shield and Crocus, and The Younger Gods. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. Always books.
Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiance, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines and stuffed animals. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he studies historical martial arts and makes pizzas from scratch. Visit him at michaelrunderwood.com and on Twitter.
Want to read more Cooking the Books? The updated library of interviews is here.