About the FACOTMK cookbook project

When you’re a freelance writer, sooner or later you’re likely to learn that it can be dangerous to immediately kiss off a spur-of-the-moment project idea when it first appears to you, just because it seems like an unlikely bet. Eventually you’ll do this one time too many, and discover (a year or so down the pike) that the thing you discarded is now suddenly on everybody’s Must Have list, and that you’ve not only missed the boat, but torpedoed it yourself. After that you’ll become a bit more cautious, and let new concepts sit around in your idea-space for a while—at least long enough for a careful second look.

The website you’re now visiting, and the cookbook (theoretically) to come of it, is the result of one such second look.

In 2018 I started work on a sequence of interstitial works—short novels and novellas—intended to bridge the creative gap between the third of the then-extant main sequence Middle Kingdoms novels, The Door Into Sunset, and the forthcoming The Door Into Starlight. The LGBTQ-friendly world described in that series was my first traditionally-published fictional creation, and remains my oldest continuously-operating one; works set in it have been coming out at wildly-varying intervals since 1979.

As The Door Into Starlight will be the final main-sequence novel in that universe, part of the purpose of the ongoing “Tales of the Five” interstitial works has been to take a closer look at not just the individual characters—now finally beginning to engage with what a normal life will look like after one’s just played a major role in saving the world—but at the environment through which they move: the places and cultures that have (in the narrative sense, quite correctly) been pushed into the background by the main flow of events.

This shift of focus has given those five unusual people (and their readership, and me) a little more time to examine some of the finer-grained detail of the world where they live. It’s not a bad idea; when you’re busy remaking the world, it’s wise to have spent some time more closely examining the one you’re tinkering with. What I’ve been discovering during this writing work is that a surprising amount of information about the nature of a culture can be transmitted through the medium of the foods its people eat, and how those people treat them (and each other, when eating them). Surprising amounts of infrastructural detail can be revealed when one looks beyond the mere presence of the meal on the table to the issues of how it got there. And that detail in turn can wind up illuminating the remoter reaches of the characters’ personal landscapes, and the writing work as a whole.

Tales of the Five #2: The Landlady proved particularly revealing in this regard. Our heroine—until very recently the last surviving heir of an ancient house fallen on hard times—must take up the work of visiting the holdings for which her House made itself traditionally responsible, and must make sure the tenants are being treated fairly. Along the way, she winds up in one rural holding where one of her tenants is an amazing cook. And while the poor “landlady” Segnbora is complaining about all the exercise she’s going to have to do to work off the multiple farmhouse delicacies her tenant is inflicting on her, her writer had a lot of leisure to consider how useful a tool both food and food culture can be in revealing what’s going on with the characters and the situations surrounding them.

An unexpected side issue of this experiment was the readership’s response. Within days after Landlady came out, my e-mail bag started popping up repeated requests for recipes. Some correspondents were actively demanding a cookbook. And—though at first I thought it was a cute idea and nothing more—slowly that idea started taking root and producing unusual fruit.

In fact the first evidence of this was the article on “Whitefruit”—one of the native chiles of the Kingdoms—that originally was posted to my own main weblog at “Out of Ambit,” and then copied as a blog post at the MiddleKingdoms.com website. What I realized, as I devised and cooked one or two actual recipes mentioned in Landlady, was that approaching the Four Realms’ “food scene” in the same way a modern foodblogger might was teaching me far more about my fictional cultures than I’d expected. I was forced over and over to nail down in concrete forms questions I’d never got to grips with before… as in the mad dash of a main-sequence adventure novel, it’s rare to have time to stop and smell the bread baking. Now, though, I had time. And the more of it I took, the more I kept finding out about the fictional world where I’d been working, on and off, for forty years

After that realization came the final leap to the thought that there was no reason not to share this new material—meta though it be—with the Middle Kingdoms readership. It would, if nothing else, be a ton of fun… because I love to cook. There could, at the very least, be an online cookbook… and if there seemed enough interest, a physical one.

So that’s what will be happening here. The master recipe listing gathers together just about every food reference in The Door Into Fire, The Door Into Shadow, The Door Into Sunset, and the two interstitial main sequence works, TOTF #1: The Levin-Gad and TOTF #2: The Landlady. There are also references to foods and dishes in the yet-to-be-published TOTF #3: The Librarian. Every recipe mentioned will be cooked using this-Earth ingredients and techniques as close to the Middle Kingdoms-native ones as practicable, or possible; then photographed… and afterwards, described as if a foodblogger from another alternate Earth—ours—was discussing each recipe for the edification of possible food tourists.

If things go as planned, the results of all this work will be gathered together into a hardcover cookbook—probably (because I have no interest in rushing this process) some time in 2025/6. We’ll see how it goes. Check the posts tagged “FACOTMK meta” for project info.

In the meantime, you’re very welcome on the journey!

—Diane Duane
September 2021



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