Author David Walton: The Importance of Food When Telling a Story

Posted by on Oct 9, 2017 in Blog, guest | Comments Off on Author David Walton: The Importance of Food When Telling a Story

I’m delighted to have author David Walton as a guest! His new book The Genius Plague came out last week, and as you might guess with a glance at the cover, mushrooms–and other foods– play important roles in the plot…


The Importance of Food When Telling a Story

Genius PlagueEveryone eats.  To some people, food is central to their experience of family or national culture, a thing to be cherished and enjoyed.  To others, food is a sterile necessity.  How and what a person eats can tell us a lot about them.  When creating a character in a novel, then, it’s important to get the food right.  In one sense, it’s who they are.

In my newest novel, THE GENIUS PLAGUE, a South American fungus takes center stage.  That means a lot of the novel takes place in Brazil, with main characters who grew up there.  For me, that meant not just researching Brazilian food, but also talking with a native of Brazil to understand what food meant to him, and translating those feelings to my character.  Brazilian flavors include a mix of indigenous and Portuguese influences, mostly involving beans and rice.  In fact, beans and rice is such a common part of everyday life that the phrase “beans and rice” is a Brazilian expression meaning common or ordinary.

When one character goes to his parents’ home and his father cooks shrimp bobó, the delicious flavor means a lot more to him than just a good taste.  It’s comfort food that brings back memories of childhood experiences and better times.  Times when he and his brother weren’t on opposite sides of a bitter argument.  Times when his father wasn’t dying.  When he shovels a third helping onto his plate, it’s more than just food he’s eating: it’s memories and nostalgia and hope.

Another character is a mycologist–someone who studies mushrooms.  When he and a woman he barely knows are stranded deep in the Amazon, food isn’t a matter of taste or culture — it’s only his knowledge of what mushrooms are safe that allows them to survive.  I personally love to eat mushrooms, but I’m the only one in my family who does.  Which means a lot of mushrooms being passed over to my plate!  The mushrooms in the story, however, are not entirely safe, as it turns out…

Food is an essential part of who we are, both to stay alive and to form relationships and cultures.  If you are a writer, be sure to think about the food your characters are eating and what it means to them.  If you’re a reader, a story may not tempt your taste buds or fill your stomach, but I hope you’ll notice how food can enhance the flavor of our books, even as you are devouring them.

Look for THE GENIUS PLAGUE online or at your local bookstore!

Amazon Barnes and Noble | BAM | IndieBound | Powells
David Walton is the author of the international bestseller SUPERPOSITION and its sequel SUPERSYMMETRY. His novel TERMINAL MIND won the 2008 Philip K. Dick Award for the best SF paperback published in the United States for that year. He lives near Philadelphia with his wife and seven children.