Food For The Gods by Karen Dudley – a review

Food for the Gods

I interviewed Karen Dudley back in September before her big book ‘Food For The Gods’ came out in print. I was there for her launch and had a wonderful time. Her story is a humorous romp through ancient Athens, following the escapades of Pelops, whose father, Tantalus, chopped him into stewing meat and literally served him up as food for the gods. Horrified, the gods put Pelops back together, minus his shoulder which was eaten by the goddess Demeter. He now sports an ivory ‘chip’ on his shoulder.

As did the gods, Karen Dudley has re-created Pelops, giving him a passion for the culinary arts. She has concocted a designer of delectable delights, infusing him with a flare for fixing fabulous food. All of the best houses in ancient Athens clamour for his roast lamb.

On occasion, Pelops comes across some of the gods, disguised as regular folk, who try to give him a helping hand, but inadvertently cause him more harm than good. However, when calamity occurs at one of the symposiums he caters, not even the gods can change the bad luck that befalls him. A hostile competitor harasses him, as does a creditor to whom he owes money. Havoc ensues and Pelops struggles to reverse his ill fortune.

Karen manages to seamlessly weave history into this story, giving the reader a feel for the time period, the customs and the scenery. There are also unique little bits, like advertisements, recipes, and advice columns in between some of the chapter breaks. One never knows what they’ll find when they turn the page. Her characters are memorable and the gods are sometimes less than perfect. Her humour had me bursting out-loud laughing, at times, and the mystery is intriguing. I have read all of her bird-named mysteries and love her Robin Devarra character. Pelops is just as charming and I look forward to reading more about his culinary exploits in the future. 🙂

Sunday Interview #18

Hello, dear followers and those who just popped in to see what’s going on here at ‘mywithershins’!

Karen Dudley

For my Sunday Interview today, I am thrilled to introduce to you, Karen Dudley who, as her website states, is a “writer of fine novels, preparer of fine foods and all ‘round good egg”! Believe me when I say, she is all that and more! Those who have been with me for a while might remember her name from one of ‘My Bookshelf’ posts, where I talked a bit about her bird-titled mysteries. Anyway, without further ado, please welcome Karen Dudley. (Whistle! Whistle! Whoot! Whoot!)

Hi, Karen! To start off with, if someone asks, ‘who is Karen Dudley?’ what would you tell them?

Hi Susan! Who is Karen Dudley, eh? You mean, apart from the all ‘round good egg stuff? 🙂 Well, let me see…I make great food in my kitchen and scented soap in my basement, I love a good laugh, adore the research end of writing, and I’ve been a sci-fi/fantasy/folklore/mythology buff forever. My vices are books and chocolate with almonds. I listen to opera in the concert hall and sing it in the shower. I drink tea instead of coffee, and more often than not, I am covered in cat hair.

I guess that’s why we get along so well – we have so much in common! Just substitute scrapbooking for soap-making. 🙂

I know you have been writing a long time and not just fiction. Please tell my readers what you’ve written in the past.

Great African Americans in Government (Outstanding African Americans)

 A number of years ago, I was working at Weigl Educational Publishers doing photo research when the publisher decided to develop a series of wildlife biology books for kids, ages 9-12. I’d taken a lot of wildlife biology at university, so I asked if I could write the prototype. I did, and she loved it, so I wrote five more in the series. I’m very proud of the fact that I was able to convince her to include in each book a section on the relevant animal in folklore and mythology. All part of my evil plan to bring folklore and myth to the masses!

Bwa ha ha! **ahem**

I also wrote a number of books for the same publisher on Great African Americans. Yep, that’s right, Great African Americans written by a white Canadian.

Hahaha! That is rather ironic! 🙂

What led you to begin writing fiction?

I’d been working on the wildlife biology series and it was bringing back all kinds of memories of studying the subject and of working in the field (I once spent an entire summer living in a tent and gathering data for The Breeding Bird Atlas of Alberta). At that time, there were a lot of mysteries being written in which the protagonist was an amateur sleuth, and it occurred to me, what better profession for an amateur sleuth than field biology? Field biologists are trained observers, up at strange hours of the day and night, and they travel all over the place. And so, Robyn Devara–and my career as a fiction writer–was born.

Every writer I’ve talked to so far has some kind of writing habit and place where they prefer to write. What are YOUR writing habits? 

That’s changed a bit since I became a mum. I used to be most productive first thing in the morning, which came as quite a surprise to me as I’ve never been a morning person. Now, I need to wait until I get my daughter and my husband out of the house before I can settle down to work. I know some writers work in coffee shops or other public places, but that’s never worked for me. I’m too nosy, I always end up eavesdropping on the people around me rather than working on what I’m supposed to be writing. So, I always write in my den, though if the words aren’t coming, I’ll often take a notebook down to the living room and write in longhand. I think I must be using a different part of my brain by doing this because even when I’m really blocked, I can usually get past it just by changing from computer to paper and pen.

Are you a plotter or a ‘seat-of-your-pants’-type of writer?

A bit of both. Writing is really an organic process for me. I start off with a basic plot, but I never stick to it. I tend to plot a few chapters in advance and then wait and see what happens before going any further.

Once you’ve completed a novel, what sort of editing steps do you take before sending it out into the world?

Anal retentive. Is that hyphenated??? Hyphenated or not, this is what I become once I finish a novel. I NEVER let anyone see a first draft. I fiddle and fuss and angst over it, and I only show it to my husband or my writers’ group when I’m happy with it. My editor tells me that I write very clean copy, so I guess it pays off!

You mentioned a writer’s group. Do you make use of other people, like critique partners or beta readers to give you feedback?

Beta readers and my writers’ group. Couldn’t live without ‘em! I would never send anything to a publisher without first running it by someone else. Have I mentioned that I’m anal-retentive? So much so, that I just noticed that I’ve hyphenated it here and not in the paragraph above. Aaaah! Now I’m going to have to look it up to see which is correct!

How did you manage to get your first novel published? Did you get an agent or did you just start submitting your manuscript?

Karen Dudley’s Robin Devarra mysteries

I just started submitting my manuscript. It’s very, very difficult to get an agent–especially if you’re a first time author. Heck, I’ve written five novels and fourteen kids books and I still can’t get one! After I finished writing my first mystery novel, I made a list of potential publishers and started sending out queries. Turnstone wasn’t on my list because at that time they weren’t publishing genre fiction. Then one day, I was leafing an issue of Prairie Books Now and I saw an ad for Alison Preston’s mystery novel, A Blue and Golden Year published by Turnstone Press. So I sent a query to them. It was pure serendipity—and excellent luck for me!— that Turnstone was about to launch a new genre imprint called Ravenstone. My first novel, Hoot to Kill, launched the imprint.

Sounds like the way it worked for me with Great Plains – and I love Alison Preston’s mysteries, too! 🙂

There are many writers who visit my blog. Since you have been widely published, is there any advice you would give a beginning writer?

To quote my website: Persist! Persist in following your dream of writing, even on the days when you have to drag the words out with a meat hook. Persist in trying to sell your work, if that’s the path you choose. Don’t let those rejection letters get you down. Instead, think of all the interesting things you can do with them: wallpaper your bathroom, make a collage, start your very own paper airline, or toss each letter one by one onto a burning blaze while you cackle gleefully and dance naked around the flames (check your city’s bylaws first).

Now for the fun stuff! I know you have a new book coming out, which is totally different from your previous novels. What prompted you to write it? Please feel free to brag about it all you like!

Ah, Food for the Gods! I love this book! It all started a few years back when I was sitting around thinking about the Greek myth of Tantalus (yeah, writers really do think about weird stuff like that. They also work in their pajamas. Trust me.). Tantalus was that guy who thought he was better than the gods and decided to prove it by chopping up his son, Pelops, and serving him to the gods for dinner. The gods were appalled, of course, and Tantalus was punished with everlasting thirst and hunger, and unable to assuage either need (hence our verb: to tantalize). Pelops, on the other hand, was kindly remade by the gods, though they had to give him an ivory shoulder to replace the one that Demeter accidentally ate. 

Well, I was sitting there that day and I started wondering what happens to poor old Pelops after these events and wouldn’t he make an interesting protagonist: a guy with the proverbial chip on his shoulder. I thought at first I might make him a student of Archimedes, that way I could write about some of the more interesting inventions of ancient Greece, but somehow, it just didn’t feel quite right. Then, I was flipping through one of our many reference books—a book called Life of Greece by Will Durant, when I came across a line that said in ancient Athens when people wanted a special dinner, they couldn’t go to a restaurant, because they didn’t exist yet, but one could hire the services of a professional cook who was usually a foreigner. Bingo. Or, more appropriately, Eureka! With that sentence, I had my protagonist, I had his profession, I had the city that he lives in and I had the title of my book, Food for the Gods. After all, that’s what he does and that’s what he was.

If my readers would like to find you, are there any social media sites that you would like to share?

I’ve got a website, which I don’t update nearly often enough (though I’m trying to be better at this!): www.karendudley.com

You can also find me on Facebook, which I use for professional purposes (i.e. go ahead and ‘friend’ me).

Is there anything else you would like to say before we say goodbye?

Two things, really. The first is that Food for the Gods is launching on October 3rd at McNally Robinson’s at 8 pm. It’s not invitation only, so come on out. It should be a blast!

The second thing is one last piece of writing advice—the single most important piece of advice that I can give another writer! There is only one way to get better at writing, and that is to write more. So, write on, Word Warrior!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Karen, and good luck with your new book! 🙂

 Thank you, Susan! And cheers!

If you haven’t read any of Karen’s books, yet, I encourage you to find one and dive in. Not only does she write a great mystery, there are always points in the story where you’ll find yourself chuckling or laughing right out loud! 🙂

My Bookshelf

eclectic

When I do school visits to talk about my books, I have often been asked what are some of my favourite authors. This is a hard question, because I have such eclectic tastes. I like Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mysteries, Spy Stories, Adventures, Forensic Science stories, Historical Fiction, Teen Fiction and everything in between as long as I think it’s been well-written.

You might have noticed my historical fiction in the top left corner. James Clavell’s Shogun and Noble House were two of my favourites of all time. On the shelf below that are some very old books saved from my grandfather’s library, including the complete works of Shakespeare. Sprinkled among those are a few romance stories. I don’t tend to read romances as a rule, but I was trying to write one for a contest a while back and thought I should read a few to see if I could pick out the formula. The romance I did come up with was rejected because there was too much story and not enough romance. Go figure!

The shelves on the left contain my professional books as well as my husband’s, which also includes handyman & DIY books. (My man is quite handy.) Above the National Geographic magazines are my favourite Sci Fi and Fantasy stories as well as the ‘based on TV series’ stories (Star Trek, Babylon 5, Earth 2, X-Files, Stargate, etc).

Some of Clive Cussler’s adventure novels

Here is a stack of Clive Cussler’s rollicking Dirk Pitt stories. You may have seen the movie Sahara, which was based on one of his novels. As with any movie based on a book, there were definitely some inconsistencies. The most glaring was the producer’s choice for the actor who played Dirk Pitt. Normally I would not complain about any movie starring Matthew McConaughey, but he certainly isn’t the ‘tall, dark & handsome’ type that I had envisioned Dirk to be.

Anne McCaffrey

Hiding behind some of the other books are SciFi & Fantasy novels by Ann McCaffrey, one of my favourite authors in the genre. While I have never read her Dragon Rider series, I loved her Powers That Be series among others. I had the opportunity of meeting her when she came to WorldCon back in 1995. She was a kind and gracious lady whose talent will be greatly missed.

If you look closely at the bookshelf, again, you should see the photographs and the scrapbook of our Las Vegas adventures. When we were there in 2005, my hubby & I went to the Star Trek Adventure at the Hilton Hotel. What a trip that was! Hubby got his picture inserted into the Borg pic on the right. (Have you ever seen a Borg with a moustache? ha! ha!) I ‘joined’ the Enterprise crew in the picture on the left.

There are also books from some of my favourite local authors: Chris Rutkowski, Alison Preston, Karen Dudley and Michael Van Rooy. First, I will talk about Chris, our ‘Fox Mulder’ of Manitoba.

books by Chris Rutkowski

He investigates and writes about strange phenomenon such as UFO sightings, and Alien Abductions, among other things. His book, Unnatural History, includes information on the Lake Manitoba monster called Manipogo (something like the Loch Ness Monster). He also reveals local places where ghosts have been sighted, as well as discusses crop circles and alien encounters. He has even written a children’s book, I Saw It Too based on the eye witness accounts of children who have seen UFOs and alien creatures. He also writes a blog to keep his readers apprised of the current UFO sightings. (see the Blogroll below for his link)

Alison Preston, Karen Dudley and Michael Van Rooy are all local writers of mysteries but each has their own distinct style.

Alison Preston

Alison’s books are set in the Winnipeg neighbourhood called the Norwood Flats. She has created a set of interesting characters who reside there and the unusual goings-on are investigated by one of Winnipeg’s finest, a cop nearing retirement, Frank Foote.

Michael Van Rooy’s Criminal series

Michael’s books are set in Winnipeg’s north end, a seedier sort of neighbourhood which suits the ex-con character quite well. Montgomery “Monty” Haaviko is trying to forget his criminal past for the sake of his wife and baby son, but finds it difficult as his past often comes back to haunt him. I love his dry humour and his innovative ways of dealing with the criminal elements while keeping the police off his back. Sadly, Michael was taken from the literary world too soon, suffering a massive heart attack, so we will not have the chance to read any more of his brilliant adventures.

Karen Dudley’s Robin Devarra mysteries

Karen Dudley’s books all have wonderful titles. Each one has a bird reference that is also a pun on a murderous expression: Hoot To Kill, Ptarmigeddon, Red Herron and Maccaws of Death. Her humour is evident, not just in the book titles, but also in the way her character, Robin Devarra solves the ecological mysteries. Each story revolves around a particular bird and their environment, which is being threatened by unsavoury people and/or corporations. Karen is currently writing a completely different set of books called Food For The Gods. If you would like to keep apprised of her activities, check out her blog (in the blogroll).

Well, I think I will wrap it up for now. Next time, I will discuss all the wonderful Canadian teen-fiction authors and the books of theirs I have on my shelves. Until then, happy reading…and writing!