The first two pages of “Taste The Singularity At The Food Truck Circus” is, pardon the pun, a literal feast for the senses: muggy heat; AR work swiped from in front of the eyes; “that glossy-tongued hint of fry grease.” Tell us about what inspired this story.
I have a fascination with and love of food (especially street food), and that love informs this story quite a bit. I love the fact that on the streets of many cities, I can buy something that looks like a dumpster fire wrapped in wax paper and have it taste like heaven. I love the inventiveness that comes from having to be fleet of foot and cook in tiny spaces.
The River Market in this story is a real place in Kansas City, Missouri, just down the road from where I live. Too far to go to every Saturday, but close enough that I go one to two times a year. It’s one of my favorite places anywhere. I’ve changed it up a bit, in the future, envisioning an expansion that hasn’t taken place yet, but the basics are there today. And they’re amazing. I wish I could live there.
Lately, one of my driving goals with my writing is to envision the future of the places where I live. I feel like giant cities like New York are well enough represented in science fiction. For years, I struggled to write speculative fiction set in places I only knew through my own media consumption. I longed to see more stories set in the places I knew as a child growing up in Kansas. So I write stories in my own geographic locations now for the folks out there who feel like they’re not well represented geographically. It’s nothing on the level of the representation issues we as a field struggle with in regards to issues of race, gender, and sexuality, though.
In one of those funny “the real world gets ahead of your story” moments, downtown Kansas City now has streetcars, but did not at the time I first wrote this story. Luckily, no climate refugees yet, but I’m almost certain that they’re coming in the next twenty years.
You capture the bustle and energy of the urban market setting quite well, both in terms of the variety of offerings and the diverse crowd. How much of Jeremiah Tolbert ended up on the page? Do you enjoy open-air markets? Are you a people watcher?
A lot of me ends up on the page, distributed between different characters. I think I waffle back and forth between being a Nico type and an Alberto type. Nico’s more cautious and slow to embrace what he wants, where Alberto never questions what he wants and throws caution to the wind, even if caution might be prudent. But they both share my passion for interesting food experiences.
I am absolutely a people watcher, and one of the best places to do it is open-air markets. I find that crowds make people a bit grumpy, unless the crowd has gathered around food. Then the celebratory atmosphere overwhelms the anxiety of being pressed in shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers. You don’t see a lot of frowning people at an open-air market unless the food’s run out. I love that atmosphere and I wish we felt like that more often.
While the story could be classified as near-future science fiction, there is a distinct “down the rabbit hole” sense of the fantastic that carries it along, particularly during the FDA raid on the Circus, and the delightful “EAT ME” pigeon. Many writers are not comfortable blending genres, or even genre influences. When writing, have you ever felt constrained by the definitions of genre?
There’s definitely a touch of gonzo to the story, but I’m okay with calling it science fiction and not fantasy. I leave actually figuring out how animated marzipan pigeon would work to the real mad food scientists out there. I think we often get too focused on writing believable things, plausible things. That’s good, for sure, but if we do only write about what’s currently plausible, who’s going to write the impossible things that inspire makers? Science fiction has a rich tradition of inspiring scientists with the impossible: see all of Star Trek. So I think this story is mostly meant to be in that vein. Maybe if I’m lucky, some idea in there will be a spark of something impossible made possible by the culinary types of the world. All I ask is if someone ever creates a real-world Kaiju Experience, I be first in line to try it!
Sometimes, I just have to throw plausibility out the window and chase a wilder passion and energy. This was definitely one of those times for me. I don’t often feel constrained by definitions of genre—genre isn’t a writing question so much as one of market for me. Which is to say: I often leave genre up to the editor.
“Taste The Singularity At The Food Truck Circus” addresses issues of cultural differences through cuisine, opportunities, and the press of refugees from a near-future climate change, yet you take great care to flesh out the characters. These are people walking the cutting edge of technology and culture, not stereotypes; personification, not representation. What do you feel could be done to further encourage writers to both tell their own stories, and to respect and support the stories of others?
Thank you for saying so! It means a lot that the story comes across that way. I think the key word is respect. Practice respect and empathy for others in everyday life and I think it comes through in the fiction.
To encourage writers to tell their own stories, I would say this: Our own stories are often where we shine the brightest. “Write what you know” is a cliché, but it’s one that has stuck around for a reason. When you invest a bit of yourself in your work, it builds real connections between you and the reader. It’s a form of honesty and authenticity; a savory treat we’re all seeking in what we read.
Many of your stories are written with an optimistic, open sense of wonder. Even when circumstances are at their most dire, when the ending is not always “happy,” there is often a sense that things will turn out okay. Not always neat and clean, but okay. You’ve said that you love man’s capacity to constantly surprise you with new technology. Why is that?
I guess my stories reflect my reality there. In general, life turns out okay. This isn’t bad or good; it just is. We all have dreams we don’t get to live, but also, we have worst nightmares that never come true also. There’s an awful lot of room in the middle for a good life. That’s what most of us get, and we can still be remarkable and extraordinary, even if we don’t save the world, get the love interest, and become millionaires. I strive to tell extraordinary tales about ordinary people.
I love humanity’s capacity to surprise me with technology primarily because I’m a neophile. I crave and seek out new things and experiences (whether in technology or food or whatever). Technology, for the most part, also makes our lives better. It can definitely make things worse, but so many of us wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for technological innovation over the last century. Bad uses of technology can make me grumpy, too; it’s just that, when taken as a whole, it surprises and delights me. Just like food.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have pineapple-flavored tamales calling my name!
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