Sterling Correctional Facility is not the kind of place where people are known to play nice. A maximum security prison 130 miles northeast of Denver, it houses some of Colorado's most egregious offenders: murderers, bank robbers, even a few serial killers—rule-breakers of all kinds. Yet, every afternoon, half a dozen inmates gather around a table in the common room to join forces against imaginary foes in a cooperative game of Dungeons and Dragons (1974).
A few years ago, I sat down to begin work on a new novel. I was captivated by an obituary I had recently read about one of the last remaining munchkins from The Wizard of Oz. One detail stood out from among the others for me: when the man was born a dwarf in what was then Bohemia, his parents had tried, unsuccessfully, to have him stretched. I set about writing a novel, a fable-like telling, not about that man but about an invented character I called Pavla. She is born a dwarf and her parents try to have her stretched, only in my version, the treatment works. However, it puts into play a series of transformations in which Pavla, as her identity is stripped away, is hunted, humiliated, and silenced.
Why do we write the books we do? As I was working on this one, I didn’t know why the story compelled me, or why, whatever form Pavla took, she continued to be threatening, an object of fear, and therefore subject to harm at the hands of men. It seemed there was nowhere for her to go, no transformation I could invent — whether she became momentarily beautiful, or tall, or powerfully animal, or helplessly incarcerated — that did not put her in danger. Was this story relevant, I wondered? Was I writing something that would feel politically and socially quaint?
Big Bad Breakfast is a hybrid, a restaurant cookbook with a built-in angle. Big Bad Breakfast is the name of John Currence’s breakfast restaurants; the first opened in Oxford, Mississippi, in 2008, and a second, in Birmingham, Alabama, followed. And as the restaurants’ menus and about 130 cookbook recipes can attest, there is a lot that can be covered under the breakfast umbrella. This book covers everything from Southern specialties (shrimp and grits, biscuits) to diner classics (hulking American-style omelets, egg sandwiches of all stripes) to mutant breakfast dishes of Currence’s own creation (something called the Pylon: a waffle topped with hot dogs, chili, coleslaw, pickles, cheddar cheese, oyster crackers, pickled jalapeños, mustard, and mayonnaise).