Delicious Horror: John Edward Lawson

Today I have the very talented and very kind John Edward Lawson on my blog with a wonderful contribution to Delicious Horror! I’m very excited to share what he made below — enjoy! And check out submission guidelines here if you want to contribute to Delicious Horror yourself!

Although John Edward Lawson has been called “the forgotten Black man of horror” his novels, short fiction, and poetry span all genres. His writing has garnered nominations for the Dwarf Stars, Elgin, Rhysling, Stoker, and Wonderland Awards, as well as the Puschcart Prize.

John has released five horror soundtrack-influenced metal singles over the last year, and his horror photography is also available online. When he is not creating new works or traveling for events he is busy leading workshops at Broadkill Writers Resort.

In addition to being a founder of Raw Dog Screaming Press, former editor-in-chief of The Dream People, and editor of six anthologies, he currently serves as vice president of Diverse Writers and Artists of Speculative Fiction and has been organizing virtual events through AllAccessCon since late 2019.

John is a member of the Horror Writers Association, International Association of Innovation Professionals, Internet Marketers Association, and Nonfiction Authors Association. You can connect with John on Instagram, Goodreads, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Spy on him at https://johnlawson.org/

Tell us what horror book you chose to highlight and why it’s a favorite of yours:

The book I chose to highlight is a translation: Audition by Ryu Murakami. Yes, more than just being one of the films credited with launching the “J-Horror” craze there is actual source material in the form of a novel.

Audition is the story of a widower named Aoyama, and his film producer friend’s scheme to get him a new wife by holding auditions for a fake movie, which is how he meets a young woman named Yamasaki Asami. That totally sounds more like the set-up for a questionable romantic comedy as opposed to horror, but let’s just say things don’t go as expected.

It’s difficult to totally hate or totally like anybody in the story, except maybe the dog Gangsta, and I’m a fan of characters that live in the gray area. Also, it’s excruciating in the way that romantic comedies can be, with it being painfully clear to see how things could go well, how things could even maybe have a perfect ending, except: horror. It’s been 19 years since I first saw the film, then read the book, but I hadn’t seen a story done this way before and it made a huge impression on me.

In terms of currently being timely, there’s a moment when characters bond over the outsider experience of attempting to partake in society by way of dining out. “At it’s worst it’s a culture of collusion,” Aoyama tells Asami, going on to add, “…you need courage to walk into a place like that. It’s a tight-knit little community, and harmony is of the utmost importance.”

I found this relatable on so many levels despite the fact that eating in public is meant to be a communal experience, at least by sociological standards. Now, though? Who isn’t dying for a return to some semblance of normal public awkwardness? Who wouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief to be part of the out crowd publicly dining at the fringe while others take up all the air in the restaurant?

Audition is a story of social isolation, manipulation, naïvité, and unexpected, irreparable harm…things many of us associate with our childhood. It’s like the COVID-19 pandemic in that regard, forcing us to explore this difficult to navigate world through a disenfranchised and powerless perspective. It’s no wonder so many of us are trying to rebel against authority figures amidst all this chaos.

And above all Audition’s antagonist — if you want to call her that — is guided by childlike simplicity.

What did you decide to make to pair with the book, and what from the book inspired your delicious treat?

For me the final quarter of the year is what I most strongly associate with childhood, starting with Halloween. My family was poor and only ran our gas oven during the cold months, in part to reduce air conditioning costs during summer but also to warm the home as autumn slowly decayed into winter. That meant baking sweets and casseroles and squashes and, among many other things, one of our family favorites: rumaki.

My mother was fond of hyping up the Japanese origins of the dish, in particular so she could then run down sushi and unsanitary and unsavory while somehow ignoring the fact Japanese cuisine includes so much else. Of course, as an adult I have learned that rumaki was likely concocted by Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. — a.k.a. Trader Vic — at his Don the Beachcomber restaurant in California, as its first appearance was in their 1941 menu. Some form of the food itself might have come from Japan by way of Hawai‘i, and the name is likely an Americanized version of “harumaki,” the Japanese spring roll.

In this way rumaki goes perfectly with Audition because it is a delightful fraudulence that might be unhealthy in large amounts, not unlike a certain deceptive character in the book. And when it comes to the book, as you might expect with an adaptation, there are things left out of the film. One such element is Aoyama’s obsession with the traditional Christian pipe organ music of Germany, in particular orchestrating a concert for a specific organist from Wittenberg, in the former East Germany, to record a documentary about. Why pipe organs? No idea, but it certainly stood out to me.

“Organs.”

Naturally, the way my mind works, I think of literal organs such as chicken livers, and what non-meat substitutes we might find for internal organs. Hence the addition of canned beets. Sure, I love roasting fresh beets, but few foods are as visually visceral as lumps of beet-flesh in the spilled liquid they are packed with, that rich maroon eerily reminiscent of large, freshly spilled quantities of blood that haven’t yet had time to react fully to the oxygen-rich air.

Just like that which was splashed across the news segments of my childhood rife with wounded soldiers, bodies left behind by terrorist or government massacres, and the remnants of car accidents in the background as journalists with butterfly collars and earth-tone jackets tried to work their way up the local media food chain by somberly reciting details of the incidents. The 1970s were wild like that.

Can you share the recipe or a link to the recipe?

·  3 tbsp. soy sauce

·  1 tbsp. brown sugar

·  4 chicken livers, cut into thirds

·  3 water chestnuts, quartered

·  4 strips bacon, cut into thirds

·  1 (1″) piece fresh ginger finely chopped or grated

You’ll find fatty membranes, stringy sinew, and various clumps and blobs attached to the chicken livers. Go ahead and trim all of that off with a knife when cutting the livers into thirds; if it doesn’t look like a liver then it’s not part of what you’re meant to be eating.

Whisk the soy sauce, brown sugar, and ginger in a medium bowl. Add water chestnuts and chicken livers, tossing to coat; place in refrigerator to let marinate for 1 hour.

While preheating your oven to 400° strain the liver and chestnuts, reserving the marinade. Bring the marinade to a boil in a 1-quart saucepan; set aside.

Place 1 slice of bacon on a cutting board, then top with 1 piece of liver and 1 water chestnut. Wrap bacon around liver and chestnut; skewer bacon in place with a toothpick. Repeat process with remaining livers, water chestnuts, and bacon.

Transfer rumaki to a wire rack on a baking tray or cookie sheet lined with parchment or foil for easier clean up.

Bake at 400° for 15 to 20 minutes occasionally basting with the marinade. The bacon should be golden brown and, if cut open, the liver should be

If you want to take things over the top use a pastry/paintbrush to add a glaze — it should be noted that’s not what’s pictured here. While some people advocate all sorts of dipping sauces I’m not a fan since the marinate is already so strong without totally obliterating the natural flavors.

Variations: a Kosher alternate to this bacon-based recipe is to wrap the liver and chestnut in pastrami, and vegetarian options include pineapple or marinated watermelon in place of the liver and extra firm tofu pressed for 30 minutes in place of bacon (not something I’ve attempted, so I’m not sure if the tofu is just added to the skewer or actually wrapped around the other ingredients). Brown sugar substitutions that work well in this recipe are agave or honey.

As for the canned beets, although you can eat them straight from the can I prefer them heated in a saucepan; if you are not using pickled beets I strongly recommend saving the beetroot juice the beets are packed in for use with other recipes, as a natural dye, or for staging a crime scene.

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