Art Taylor’s fine instructional work of fiction, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, appears in the PANK Special Crime Issue. He speaks here about recipes, relationships, and writing.
1. What meal would you make to kill someone you love? What would be the killing ingredient?
Picking a poison to kill someone you hate is an easy question. Ricin makes for a particularly nasty death, for example; it’s apparently fairly easy to manufacture from a common plant; and there’s no ready antidote. Killing someone you love, however, requires you to navigate a more complex, even competing set of desires â€” because at least some degree of affection mixes in with the homicidal aims, right? In this case, I think I’d choose the poison thallium â€” “colorless, odorless, and tasteless,” according to Deborah Blum’s magnificent study The Poisoner’s Handbook, and “It mixes easily into liquids without the occasional grittiness of arsenic.” Symptoms for a major dose can be fairly severe, but for “subacute cases,” the only real symptom is hair loss. In order to lessen symptoms (there’s the love!) while achieving the end result, I think I’d have to prepare a number of meals with small doses. And if I could time it right, I’d make one of the final meals my victim’s favorite set of foods. Why not die happy right? one last meal, even if he/she doesn’t know it’s the last?
2. How did the initial idea of “Mastering…” come to you?
Necessity â€” and I’m a little hesitant to tell this story, because it sounds like I write really quickly and I don’t, but…. While I was thrilled with the opportunity to contribute to PANK’s Crime Issue, I found myself unfortunately without any fresh work at the time I needed to submit a story and with no significant window of time to write something new. I was already thinking of it as an opportunity missed. Then my wife (the writer Tara Laskowski) and I joined a couple of friends at a Chicago concert, which…. Well, let me just say that it was like hearing a very expensive cover band, and I soon found my mind wandering. What sort-of story wouldÂ write if I did have the time? What would be an interesting way to kill someone? (I wasn’t thinking of anyone on-stage at the time, I should stress.) And how could I make sure the story stayed short, since my tendency is to write long? The idea of a recipe popped into my head and then I came up with a couple of lines that might work as a twist (lines I jotted down on my iPhone somewhere in the middle of a bad rendition of “If You Leave Me Now”). The next morning, I wrote the whole thing in a quick burst, revised before noon, and…. And oddly, one of the recipes I consulted for making coq au vin looked really tasty, so I think Tara and I are gonna make it one day soon (albeit without the arsenic I added for the story).
3. Which would you rather do to a partner: cheat on them or kill them?
Cheat. She might at least recover from that, and maybe find someone better the next time around.
4. Do my thighs look fat?
Absolutely not! And I could just kill whoever said that they do! (Now where’s my strychnine?)
5. What’s the first meal you ever made for your current partner? Is it still the best meal you ever made?
Neither Tara nor I can remember, though I want to say it was pork chops, mashed potatoes and some sort of roasted vegetable…. So I don’t recall the meal itself, but do recall standing in the kitchen of my apartment and desperately wanting to kiss her. (I didn’t try to, which was good because she, as it turned out, had no interest in kissing me at the time.)
The year we got married, we started a “recipe resolution,” where each of us chose and made a new recipe each week, so we were cooking like crazy. Worst recipe of that year: The grilled duck breast that nearly burned down our back deck. Best recipe… ? Hard to pick, but you can browse through the remnants of our adventure at http://thereciperesolution.wordpress.com/ (The project continued through the end of the year, but we stopped posting in late October. Just got lazy on writing it all up….)
6. What is the most melodramatic way you’ve ended a relationship?
In the fourth grade, this cute girl and I had the same classes, used to sit with one another at lunch, etc., and so one day we decided to “go together” (though the cafeteria was about as far as it went). I was so excited about the idea of having a girlfriend that I couldn’t concentrate on my homework that night â€” in fact, could barely sleep at all! After about two nights of that, I told her very seriously and with a great weight on my heart that we needed to break up because the relationship was simply affecting my work too much.
(And if I’d only kept that same discipline in grad school, I might have a book out by now!)