Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Nexus of Writing and Cooking

I've been a home cook (not a professional chef by any stretch of the imagination) for at least 20 years. I became the principal cook for our family of five back when I first took up the mantle of "freelance writer" back in 2001 after layoffs cost me my dream job at Wizards of the Coast and my wonderful wife landed her dream job at Fisher-Price. We packed up our house and moved across the country — for a second time (stories for another time) — and I became a stay-at-home dad.

In the beginning, my cooking was pretty rudimentary. We had a lot of cereal and Pop Tarts for breakfast, PB&J and baloney sandwiches for lunch (or tuna fish if I was feeling industrious). And, because I grew up in the Midwest, we had a lot of meat and tater dinners. Pork chops cooked to an inch of their life in a skillet and boxed mash potatoes were commonly seen on the table. I also relied more heavily than I would like to remember on Hamburger Helper.

But, here's the thing: Eventually, I got better and better at cooking. I figured out I could cook my own pasta and add spices or a can of soup to make my own versions of all those boxed meals. I experimented and I practiced every day. (It turns out kids and spouses are pretty adamant about wanting to eat after school and work on a daily basis.)

At the same time, my writing was getting better, because as a freelancer, I also was practicing every day — and like my cooking, the results of my experiments and practice were put on display because there was no time to "play for myself" as it were; all of my words needed to go from my desk to an editor's desk.

Luckily, at home, I had a pretty easy audience. Kids aren't looking for Beef Wellington. They're fine with burgers and brats. But even back then I started to find my own style of cooking and favorites began to appear more and more often. I distinctly remember the day that I realized that not only were home-made mashed potatoes far superior to the box version, they weren't that had to make. Boil, mash, mix in milk, butter, and salt, and then keep adding milk until it gets really creamy.

Then came Karen's potatoes. This was a recipe my mom sent me from a friend of a friend who loved decadent comfort foods. Karen added sour cream and cream cheese to her potatoes on top of a LOT of butter. Oh. My. God! It was so good. From then on, I would look for new recipes whenever I got tired of making the same thing over and over. I wanted to really experiment and up my game in the kitchen.

Then we moved back across the country again when I landed a job in the video game industry in Seattle. I had less time to experiment and we needed quick foods after a long day at work, so tried and true became everyday, which meant lots of burgers and brats and pork chops and pasta again. 

But something had changed in the five years we spent in Buffalo: the Internet had really exploded and YouTube had arrived. If I wanted to try something new all I had to do was enter a search query and up came dozens of recipes. I would look for simple ones that had ingredients we had on hand and whip something up. My success rate was rising and I was getting a bit of reputation among the family at home as well as friends and co-workers at potlucks.

My wife and I missed German Potato salad, which we used to get from a can in the Midwest, so I found a recipe. My wife fell in love with Butter Chicken at an Indian restaurant near her office, so I found a recipe so I could make it for her. We went to see Avengers and afterward wanted to try Schwarma. After finding a fantastic restaurant in Downtown Seattle, I thought, "I can make that," and found a recipe I still use (we had Schwarma just the other night in fact).

Around this time, I also began experimenting with the recipes to make them more my own. I found a wonderful Moroccan spice blend that I substituted into my schwarma recipe. I love barbecue, so I found a rub recipe and made some modifications instead of relying a store-bought blend. (The image above, showing me applying my dry rub to a couple racks of ribs was taken as part of an application to become a traveling BBQ reviewer.) Just like with my writing, as I became more comfortable with how the different elements of the recipe worked together, I could make intelligent substitutions.

Then came YouTube cooking shows. I had watched a lot of Chopped, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and Alton Brown's shows on cable for a while and definitely learned a lot more from those than I ever had from following recipes. For one thing, I learned I hadn't been holding my chef knife correctly. I also learned how to season and cook steaks to perfection (as well as pork chops and fish — mo more dried-out meat in my house). 

But my education as a cook has increased ten-fold in the last few years since I became addicted to Binging With Babish. If you haven't seen this YouTube series, go check it out now and then come back in a few hours (or days) to finish reading this blog. Andrew Rea's show takes foods shown on television and movies (like Schwarma, but also like Sponge Bob's onion sundae) and shows how to make them — and how to make them better.

What I love about the Babish YouTube Series (he also produces Basics with Babish) is that he is self-taught (like me, only a LOT better) and talks to his audience as equals. His directions are clear and he explains why he is doing things and not just how to do them. I have learned more about cooking from watching Babish than from any other source.

So, today, when I am deciding what to make for supper, instead of thawing some ground meat and grabbing a box of Hamburger Helper, I go look in the freezer for inspiration. I check out the meats we have and the veggies and anything in there I can turn into a side dish and, in my mind, I create a meal plan for the night where every dish if building on the others to create something special.

Again, this is how I write as well. I get my characters together and their various plot lines and their histories that might come into play and I weave them together in — what I hope — is a pleasing story that not only hangs together but transports the reader to another world. As with my cooking, I am self-taught as a writer. But, like my cooking, I take inspiration from others — from professional chefs and cooking gurus who know more than I do and have things they can teach me.

And that's why I am writing this blog today. It is an introduction to a new series of blogs I plan to write about how the craft of cooking and the craft of writing are not only similar in that in the right hands, they are an art form, but that they both require a lot of practice and patience. They both require practitioners to learn the basics so they can then experiment intelligently with the elements to create something that is far better than the sum of its parts. 

I don't claim to know it all about either subject, but as a talented, self-taught, semi-pro at both, I think I have some insights into what is needed to succeed and, maybe, how to avoid dried-out, flavorless dishes.

Until next time, keep learning and never stop experimenting.

– Will

Monday, June 16, 2008

Worlds of their Own

A short story I wrote for the Eric Reynolds anthology, Golden Age SF: Tales of a Bygone Future, has been picked up to be reprinted in a new anthology featuring main stream SF works written by game-related fiction authors.

Check out the Paizo page for Worlds of their Own for more information.

The part that thrills me the most is the company I am keeping in this anthology. Big name authors like R.A. Salvatore, Mike Stackpole, and even Gary Gygax grace the cover. Pretty exciting stuff.

Cool cover too.

Can't wait to see this one.


Thursday, March 6, 2008


My latest piece of fiction will be in stores in less than a month.

Here's the link to the product page:

Shadowmoor Product Page

It is a new Magic Anthology. My story, "Meme's Tale," is an homage to The Jungle Book. I'm very happy with it. I hope readers enjoy it.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

RIP Gary Gygax

I know I don't post often enough, but this definitely deserved a post today.

I never met Gary Gygax, but I don't think it's hyperbole to say that every cool job in my life (including my current job) is directly attributable to his influence in this world.

There would have been no Magic: The Gathering (which spawned its own industry) or computer and video rpgs (including the juggernaut that is WoW or the game I am so lucky to work on called Guild Wars) without E. Gary Gygax and D&D.

But his impact didn't just impact me and my own personal career, he made thinking on your feet (and rolling dice to make decisions) cool for many millions of people. For that alone, he should have a special place reserved in history (and in the afterlife of his choice). We are all better people today for having played the game he gave us 34 years ago, and all of its offshoots.

The gaming industry has lost its Tolkien, its Shakespeare. I don't think we should let this day pass without spending a moment thinking about the magnitude of his impact on the world.

And then, go out and roll 3d6. May all your rolls be natural 18s, Gary.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Breach the Hull Review

Hey everyone. A friend of mine asked me to review this anthology. It's a good read (the anthology, not necessarily the review), Enjoy.

Breach the Hull Review

I met Mike McPhail through his wife, author Danielle Ackley-McPhail as she and I were ran the East Coast convention circuit. Mike is a huge fan of military SF and this anthology is truly a labor of love.

What Mike understands best is that military SF doesn’t have to be just about epic space battles and high-powered grunts waging war against alien bugs. In fact, Breach the Hull is at its best in stories like “Peter Power Armor” and “Forgotten Causes” by Asimov’s veteran John C. Wright and the two reprints in this edition, Jack McDevitt’s “Cryptic” and “Black to Move” (both originally printed in Asimov’s in the ‘80s), which bring us down out of the stars and delve deep into the human condition. That’s where SF does its best work, even SF of a more military bent.

But that’s not to say there aren’t some great space-faring yarns here. I really liked “Thresher,” which contained some truly innovative tech along with a well-developed story of personal loyalty and honor. And for just plain, edge-of-your-seat, wartime adventure, you don’t want to miss Jeff Lyman’s “Compartment Alpha.” This story also has some cool tech driving the plot, but what brings it to life are the characters, whom you can immediately connect with as they strive to survive in the heat of battle.

The final story in this volume, “Shore Leave,” by the always wonderful CJ Henderson, is an amazing romp through a fanciful future city where the military of many worlds come to relax. But again, it’s not the tech or the guns that make this story work, but the two incredible jarheads at the center of the action. While absolute caricatures, Rocky and Noodles made me believe in them and their often wacky future.

I have to be honest, though, some of the stories in this volume are a bit of a mixed bag. Not all the authors here are seasoned professionals, and it shows at times. It’s not that they’re badly written. No, I enjoyed every story for what it brought to the anthology. But some of the stories here just didn’t feel complete. Some had brilliant ideas and crisp writing, but failed to engage me with their characters. Others pulled me into the stories and made me care about the lives of the inhabitants, but didn’t deliver in the end.

Still I saw definite promise in these newer authors and I would give each of them a look again in the future. In the end, there is more than enough great SF in Breach the Hull for any true fan of the genre, military or not. And without small press anthologies like these that provide a venue for up-and-coming authors, the next crop of McDevitts, Wrights, and Hendersons will languish in obscurity, never given the chance to reach for the stars... and perhaps blow one up.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Visual Journeys

My most recent short story, "Resurrection Man," is now out in Eric Reynolds's latest anthology, Visual Journeys. This hardcover anthology from Hadley rille books, which features both great pulp SF stories from some excellent 21st century authors like Tobias Buckell and Jay Lake, as well as some amazing artwork from such luminaries as Bob Eggleton and Ron Miller, is now available on

If all goes well, I hope to have another, even more exciting announcement about this anthology in the near future. Stay tuned

Reader praise for Lasgun Wedding

I have been thrilled to see the response so far to my latest Kal Jerico novel, Lasgun Wedding. Here are some excerpts:

Kal does it again!



Another great book in the Kal Jerico series, I would say. It has the humour one has come to expect in this range as well as superb action and various twists and turns on the story. I certainly cannot wait for the next Kal book!

Book 3

23 May 2007


There are two previous titles about Jerico and his pals: Blood Royal & Cardinal Crimson. I have not had the pleasure of reading the two earlier titles; however, if they are even half as fantastic as THIS title is, then I would LOVE them! Even though I jumped into the series late, I never found myself lost, scratching my head in wonder, or confused. I easily immersed myself on the first page and never came up for air. This is a terrific read from start to finish by an exceptional author!

Fast, fun and furious

15 Jun 2007


Lasgun Wedding is a great book and is easily the best of the Kal Jerico books so far. The book is very well written with a fun and involving plot with many great fights and intrigue that will keep you turning page after page to find out what will happen. Will McDermott gives a great representation off the backstabbing political situation among Hive Primus' ruling classes and is able to give each of the noble houses a distinctive look and feel.