“Reaching Beyond the Saguaros” and Reflections


The above image is the contributor’s copy of a project pitched to me in the fall of 2016. The editor of Reaching Beyond the Saguaros (Serving House Books), Heather Lang, proposed a haibun project to our Fairleigh Dickinson MFA group. A haibun is a Japanese travelogue combining prose and poetry. I loved the sound of this idea, especially since for much of my MFA I felt disconnected from the community of my fellow students because I lived in Utah and most of them lived in New York and New Jersey. I had clicked with Heather because of this distance (she lives in Las Vegas) and because I admire her literary magazine Petite Hound Press.

When I took up my section of the project I had recently learned that I had been accepted to Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. This began a new path in my life that I had been working towards, and wanting to walk on, since my high school days. And soon after the reception of this news, my days in Utah became a series of “last time for a long time” moments. One of these was a trip out to West Wendover, Nevada with several family members.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the small gambling town. I have absolutely no luck and there’s not much to do besides drink, gamble, eat at mostly okay restaurants, and go see shows at the concert hall. That weekend during my cousin Brent’s birthday Penn and Teller would be performing their comedy and magic act. I had seen the duo before in Las Vegas with our cousin Dylan, who in turn has seen them live almost a dozen times. My grandma, her sister, and two of her daughters also joined us for the show. We all went out to dinner at an Italian place called Romanza. They happen to make amazing cocktails and this was the restaurant that started my love of Caesar salad.

However, before this night began, Dylan and I drove into Wendover together. We discussed the upcoming election, the Marvel shows on Netflix, and other topics. Because this was going to be my last time for a long time, I asked if we could pull over at a rest stop that over looks the Bonneville Salt Flats.


It looks like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel. A blanket of gray-white salt left behind from when a great saline lake covered much of Utah towards the end of the last great ice age. Every kid in Utah learns about Lake Bonneville and we’re shown where the lake left geological imprints in the Wasatch Mountain rage. There were times when I would find myself looking at the mountains and visually tracing the lines of where the shores used to be.

There’s almost always wind whipping through the peaks of the Silver Island Mountain Rage along the northern edge of the Salt Flats. I can’t remember if this was the first time I noticed it, but that afternoon the wind blew salt onto my lips and when I licked them I tasted a unique sea. So different from the time I walked along the harbors of Long Beach, California. There was a distinct lack of fish, but supplemented with an earthy base note, almost as though the air were a salty, dry rain.

But when I returned home to write about northern Utah, Layton, and Salt Lake City for the haibun project I was smothered by writer’s block. Each word of the first couple of drafts of my part of the haibun was pulling out like teeth. It felt like an exercise in futility and seriously began to affect my self-confidence. I was unsure if my piece needed dialogue, but inspiration for some came from a conversation with my sister about my upcoming move. She reiterated how much she had missed the mountains of home while living in North Dakota, and warned me that I would soon feel their absence in England, in a place without them.

I rounded out my haibun with the constant memory of the mountains turning from spring green to summer brown every year and other recollections of what home was to me.

To my surprise Heather liked it. I passed it on to her to give to the next person in the travelogue chain and pretty much forgot about the project as I continued with my preparations for my PhD program and transatlantic move.

As the days continued to countdown to the day I would leave, I pulled my part of the haibun out of one of my iCloud files to read at my going away party. I’d never lived further than 40 miles from the city I was born and raised in, and since I spent the last half of 2016 preparing to move to England it seemed like a fitting piece to read aloud. I’ve always been very shy about sharing my reading in front of my family. A lot of my works tend to use colorful language and situations I dare not speak of in front of my grandmothers, but the haibun was my ode to the home I would be leaving behind.

There’s nothing like making people feel something when they read your work. One of the few times I’ve gone to an open mice night and actually got up to read, a woman handed me a note saying that she had been touched by my poems. That night in front of my family I began with Walt Whitman’s O Me! O Life!, a poem that I rediscovered at the beginning of my MFA program and one that basically set the internal tone for what I wanted to achieve with that degree. (Here is a short clip of Robin Williams reading part of this amazing poem from the movie Dead Poets Society.)

Then I read a short poem titled The Place (Without) (unpublished) inspired by Harold Pinter in an afternoon workshop I took from Renee Ashley. A prose poem titled Here to Live Out Loud (unpublished) and a free verse piece called Are You Alive from Planet Earth? (Here and There) (unpublished) inspired by two of my dearest friends, James and Jennifer.

I was in a rhythm as I performed and so when I got to “Layton, Utah,” my piece of the haibun. To avoid breaking any of that momentum, I kept my eyes focused on the pages in my hands. After I finished my ode to my home I looked up and saw that, the people I love and adore most in the word were all speechless and several had been moved to tears.

It was the best gift I could have ever received before beginning my PhD journey.


Layton, Utah

Ginger Lee Thomason


Being from Northern Utah: On a quick drive westward from
Utah’s capitol, through beige desert ranges, we stopped at the Bonneville
Salt Flats on the way to a little gambling town. (Possibly for my
last time in a long time.) When the wind picked up, we could taste a
desert sea blowing through the peaks, and almost see where the earth
curves amongst rippling refractions off asphalt and salt. Images to imprint.

The Wasatch, Uintah, and Oquirrh surrounding Home have just
been my whole life. Always to the east. Their millions of years of
memory seen through my infinitesimal birthdays.

“You’ll miss the mountains,” my sister said. “Their absence is an

Summer weekends up the Ogden, Farmington, Little, and Big Cottonwood
Canyons to find the evergreen amongst golden brush turned
into tinderboxes. To visit an old saloon, where they put brats on top of
hamburgers and see where people have stapled signed dollar bills to the
walls and ceiling. And there are initials everywhere of lovers, families,
and friends. You can find my graffiti at the Shooting Star in the ladies

I’ll miss memories the most.



© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. “Layton, Utah” was first published in “Reaching Beyond the Saguaros” Serving House Books, 2017.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image 1 was taken with a Samsung phone by Tami Forbes in May 2017. Images 2 and 3 were taken with an iPhone 6 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 2016.



How Bout them (Golden) Apples?

It’s been a hell of a year.

Just over one year ago, in early June of 2016, I decided to see if the idea that started to take shape during my MFA program would be worthy enough to make a decent PhD thesis. I drew up an Excel spreadsheet of PhD in Creative Writing programs in the UK that could take FAFSA student loans and narrowed them down based on other additional factors. Those included tuition, cost of living, and the coolness factor of where the school was located. Then I started reaching out to the schools to find an advisor that could supervise my science fiction and fantasy genre.

At the time I was pitched my PhD topic to focus on the food imagery in the works of Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman. A few times I got the response of “I’m sure we could find a supervisor for you.” Although the most common reply I received was, “I don’t think anyone here could supervise a degree that focuses on speculative fiction.” Or is silence better than kindness? There were a few silences too. I’m sure I could have been more aggressive but this was more or less an exercise in seeing what could happen. I had no idea if I could even go beyond asking. I still had to save up money, apply for a visa, and mentally prepare myself to leave home for at least three years.

On May 10, 2016, I received a response from the person who would become my second supervisor, Dr. Helen Marshall. Not only did she give full replies to some of my more awkward questions (I actually asked if British English grammar and punctuation would be expected of an American student), but she was wholly enthusiastic about my idea.

“Your project interests me because I find food to be such a strong component of speculative fiction, both, as you say, as a thematic device and as an avenue for world-building. All sorts of tropes come to mind, particularly taboos around eating food (such as in Fairyland for example) and in works that have a strong connection to those mythologies (Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, etc.) Anglia Ruskin could well be a good fit for your project as we have a real faculty strength in science fiction and fantasy, one that we expect to grow over the next three years.”

What? Seriously? I spent my whole MFA feeling like a bump on a log because I couldn’t fit myself into the literary fiction mold I tried so hard to fit myself into. But I was fortunate to find an enthusiastic mentor in Ellen Akins, she not only liked my straight fantasy ideas she encouraged them. When I told her I wasn’t sure about continuing on my with my Daeramere stories she asked in her wide eyed, straightforward manner, “why not?” (I try to take every opportunity I can to thank her for permission to write fantasy. Thank you, Ellen!)

There were several weeks of back and forth with Helen and then she introduced me to Dr. Tiffani Angus. Tiffani was also enthusiastic about my idea, except that both of them believed that I was “shoe-horning” the works of Atwood and Gaiman into my thesis idea. So I started to branch away, and was thrilled because I was once again given permission to explore the genre that has been my constant creative friend since I was a child.

When I arrived in the UK the time came for me to draft my real proposal, with a due date of the end of February. I must say the due date itself didn’t intimidate me at first. I figured I knew what I was doing, I knew this genre, of course I could get out in words what the (beep) I was going to become a self-professed expert in.

The truth is always harder and heavier than that isn’t it.

Like thousands of other postgraduate students (probably like every postgraduate student), I was immediately stricken with that most contagious of thought viruses: imposter syndrome. Other students were talking about doing their PhD’s on transformative works (aka fanfiction) and Tiffani told me that her PhD focused on chronotopes and heterotopias and spatialization…I felt like my terminology was so pedestrian for such lofty ivory tower ambitions.

Almost a year to the day after my first correspondence from Helen, I was told that my PhD proposal had been approved by the university. That I was worthy of literature.

I know when I say to a layperson, or even another student of creative writing and literature, that I’m studying the use of food imagery in science fiction and fantasy, particularly, how it shapes world-building and characterization, they usually reply that sounds really cool. Or variants thereof. The working title of my academic thesis eventually revealed itself as “Food and Cheer and Prose: The Gastronomy of Science Fiction and Fantasy.” Yet, when another creative writing or lit postgrad says something like, “my thesis is on the transmutability and false memory in the prose of Proust and Woolf,” I feel like I come up short. (I completely made that up but you get my point right?)

Those of you who know me well know that this is a huge part of my being, I always feel like I come up short when faced with the ambitions of others. But apparently ambition is something that is both singular and communal. Homer wasn’t the first person to tell stories about a ten-year war started by a beauty contest among the gods, but did so with his own twists because he wanted to tell this grand tale in a new way. Civilization repeated it over and over because it’s a good story and quite often tells us something about ourselves in how we retell the tale.

I guess this means I’ve got to remember that while others may talk of analyzing trauma and literary transubstantiation within the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin (again made up) that this is their part of the Trojan War of literature that they see. I see food and maybe when I tell you of a recipe hidden within prose it will either stir your stomach, or your mind, and then you’ll go and repeat the tales of brave Ulysses in your own way.

That is literature.

And this is my proposal:


Food and Cheer and Prose: The Gastronomy of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Proposed Area of Research

This doctoral thesis will be comprised of a creative piece of approximately 60,000 words and a critical analysis of approximately 25,000 words.

For a successful connection between reader and science fiction and fantasy literature the writer must evoke a convincing cultural milieu. My creative project, a speculative fiction short story collection, will explore food as a nexus of culture within literature. Each story will be paired with a recipe and will fall into one of the subgenres of science fiction and fantasy (SFF). The accompanying research will focus on how food imagery influences SFF world building, and how setting and characterization are shaped by different dichotomies found within the genre.

Aim of the Study

My proposed creative project, Odyssey in the Starwine Market: A Collection, will pair eight recipes with eight SFF works in a combined tasting and reading menu. Some recipes readers will be able to recreate for themselves, some perhaps not. The short stories will also fall under different subgenres, including high, urban, weird, and historical fantasy.

Aside from the subgenre of culinary mysteries, pairing recipes with prose is an uncommon occurrence in fiction. Although this medium has also appeared in nonfiction memoirs, Laura Esquivel’s magical realism novel, Like Water for Chocolate, in which a recipe precedes each monthly chapter, is one of the few examples where a whole menu is paired with the prose of the story.

Rosemary Jackson argues that fantasy is a “literature of desire, which seeks that which is experienced as absence or loss” (1981, pp.3-4). Food creates a connection between reader and story because it tends to literalize this desire in a variety of ways. Reading about Sansa Stark saving room for lemon cakes in A Game of Thrones, or Shadow Moon reflecting on his departed wife’s chili in American Gods, triggers Proustian moments in a reader.

One of my proposed stories, “How to Cook a Dragon,” will feature a typical post-Tolkien fantasy world. A cooking competition will serve as the catalyst to an unfolding mystery of sabotage and political intrigue between classic fantasy races. The story will also serve as a tongue-in-cheek observation of overused tropes of the genre (as examined in Diana Wynne Jones’s The Tough Guide to Fantasyland) and the popularity of television cooking shows.

Research Questions

  1. Why is food imagery important to works of SFF? How can it be identified and classified and how has it changed? How is it different in SFF versus other fiction genres? Does it change between SFF subgenres?
  2. What dichotomies arise in the types of food imagery in SFF? How special/sacred does a meal have to be or is the banal/profane just as important?
  3. How does food imagery play into world building and setting? How does food define characters in their response to the meals they eat or food they encounter?
  4. How does food imagery enhance or change a reader’s experience of a text with regards to dietary preferences and primal or cultural aversions to the consumption of taboo food?

Context for the Research

This PhD project addresses relatively new ground in academia. Fabio Parasecoli claims “food has only recently become a respectful object of interest and research in academia” (2008, p.11). I will investigate food imagery in SFF to see how it has changed over the years and how it has shaped the genre.

My research component will combine two of the oldest pieces of civilization: literature and food. Food in myth is about desire, as illustrated by the fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, the Trojan War starting with a contest over a Golden Apple, and the apple that appears in the Grimm Brothers’ Snow White tale. In stories about fairies all readers know “Fairies often ask for food or gifts,” and “one must not eat the fairy food” (Purkiss, pp.66 & 129). Because of the myth and fairy tale origins of SFF there is an underlying tradition of food imagery. To taste what a character is eating or cooking enforces world building, shapes the setting, and feeds into characterization. Tolkien’s The Hobbit normalizes Middle Earth and the hobbit, wizard, and dwarf races via a feast featuring a very British menu. In contrast, Daenerys Targaryen in Martin’s A Game of Thrones is served horsemeat at her wedding feast. During his first journey on the Hogwarts express, Harry Potter walks away from the food trolley with an armful of fantastic sweets, including chocolate frogs that actually hop around.

There is also another side to food imagery, where an author takes these vicarious pleasures and subverts them. In addition to his unusual speech patterns, Gollum is further alienated from Sam, Frodo, and the reader by his bloodthirsty diet. Authors may ask of readers to view a tray bearing breakfast as something nefarious. After chaining up and stripping the wizard protagonist Harry Dresden of his magic in Death Masks, the villain Nicodemus taunts Harry with food, asking both the protagonist and the reader to sell their soul for pancakes and coffee.


My research will include SFF short stories and novels, as well as cookbooks and food history texts. Food imagery, via the lens of literary theory, will be examined through the works of SFF academics such as Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James. Works about creative writing and the craft of writing will also be studied. Visits to historical kitchens, food libraries, and London’s Le Cordon Bleu will reinforce the living history of food and its ever-changing presence in our lives and in literature.

As my academic research progresses I will attend, and submit a paper to, the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery and SFF conventions, including NineWorlds, Eastercon, and WorldCon. Updates on my academic and creative process will be featured on www.foodcheerprose.wordpress.com.



Comparative Texts

Butcher, J., 2003. Death masks. New York: Roc.

Collins, S., 2008. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press.

Esquivel, L., 1992. Like water for chocolate: a novel in monthly installments, with recipes, romances, and home remedies. New York: Doubleday.

Gaiman, N., 2004. American gods: a novel. Readers’ copy edn. Ossining, NY: Hill House, Publishers.

Gaiman, N., 2009. Neverwhere: the author’s preferred text. New York: William Morrow.

Lewis, C.S., 2005; 1950. The lion, the witch, and the wardrobe. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Mirrelees, H., 1926, Lud-in-the-Mist, Glasgow, UK: Collins.

Rowling, J.K., 1998. Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone. New York: Scholastic.

Tolkien, J.R.R., 1997. The hobbit, or, There and back again. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Tolkien, J.R.R., 1986; 1965. The two towers: being the second part of the lord of the rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Tolkien, J.R.R., 2012; 1994. The fellowship of the ring: being the first part of the lord of the rings. Boston: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Creative Process/Craft

Burroway, J., Stuckey-French, E. and Stuckey-French, N., 2015; 2015. Writing fiction: a guide to narrative craft. Ninth edn. Boston: Pearson.

Card, O.S., 2010. Characters & viewpoint. Rev edn. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.

King, S., 2000. On writing: a memoir of the craft. New York: Scribner.

Lamott, A., 1995; 1994. Bird by bird: some instructions on writing and life. Anchor Books edn. New York: Anchor Books.

Mort, G., 2001. The Creative Writing Coursebook: forty authors share advice and exercises for poetry and prose. London: Macmillan.


Food Studies

Andrews, T., 2000. Nectar & ambrosia: an encyclopedia of food in world mythology. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Abc-Clio.

Dahl, R. and blake, Q., 1994. Roald Dahl’s revolting recipes. New York: Viking.

Davidson, A., Jaine, T. and Vannithone, S., 2014. The Oxford companion to food. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Freedman, P., 2007. Food: the history of taste. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lawson, N., 1998. How to eat: the pleasures and principles of good food. London: Chatto & Windus.

Monroe-Cassel, C. and Lehrer, S., 2012. A feast of ice and fire: the official companion cookbook. New York: Bantam Books.

Parasecoli, F., 2008. Bite me: food in popular culture. Oxford; New York: Berg.

Pollan, M., 2006. The omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals. New York: Penguin Press.

Pollan, M., 2013. Cooked: a natural history of transformation. New York: The Penguin Press.

Reeder, C., 2015. The Geeky Chef cookbook: unofficial recipes from Doctor Who, Game of thrones, Harry Potter, and more: real-life recipes for your favorite fantasy foods. New York: Race Point Publishing, a division of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc.


SFF Studies

Card, O.S., 1990. How to write science fiction and fantasy. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.

Clute, J. and Grant, J., 1997. The Encyclopedia of fantasy. US edn. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Jackson, R., 1981. Fantasy, the literature of subversion. London; New York: Methuen.

James, E. and Mendlesohn, F., 2003. The Cambridge companion to science fiction. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

James, E. and Mendlesohn, F., 2012. The Cambridge companion to fantasy literature. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, D. W., 1996. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. New York: Firebird Books.

Mendlesohn, F., 2008. Rhetorics of fantasy. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.

Purkiss, D., 2007. Fairies and fairy stories: a history. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing Limited.

VanderMeer, J., 2013. Wonderbook: an illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction. New York: Abrams Image.




© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image taken with iPhone 6 in June 2017 at Foyles Bookshop, London, England, UK.


The Whys

“Your only limit is your soul.”

So, here is the inaugural post for my PhD blog. As of this writing I am nearly two months into my PhD in Creative Writing programme at Anglia Ruskin University. A few weeks ago I submitted my proposal and now I feel a bit lost. I’ve been living in a foreign country for a few weeks now and while there are many familiarities with home, the physical absence of family and friends has started to weigh on my academic and creative progress. My advisor Dr. Tiffani Angus has set a few deadlines and goals for me, one of which is to official launch my PhD blog.

As an extremely introverted, and self-described “strange” teenager, I dreamed of leaving Layton, Utah for some academically exotic place like New York City, Los Angeles or, most of all, England. There was something about England in books, TV, and movies that seemed so magical. So if I were to give reason number one in applying for and aspiring to study in the UK, it would be to achieve this adolescent dream. When I left high school in 2005, I enrolled at Weber State University to study psychology before changing to history. I dropped out after only two years of study and returned to college at another school in 2011.

Though I finished my bachelor’s through Southern New Hampshire (SNHU) University and my MFA with Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, I have actually never “gone away” to school. All of my classes at SNHU were online, and aside from four writers residencies (conferences) with Fairleigh Dickinson, I lived and worked in my home state of Utah during my studies. The secondary reason for chasing this PhD craziness was that I knew I had to go big…or I’d end up going somewhere else in the US. Which is fine. I was also looking at a food studies PhD program at NYU (except after my first trip to NYC I learned I didn’t like the city that much) and the least exciting option was a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Oklahoma…yeah, um, no.

The third reason I wanted to go for a PhD has to do with my family. I learned at my Grandpa Thomason’s funeral in 2006 that he wanted to be a history teacher but never became one. This was one of the reasons I changed my Weber State major from psychology to history. My cousins and I loved his stories about family history and his life, he was a vivid but grounded storyteller, the kind any writer aspires to be. However there was one problem: I could never be a teacher for kids. I am well aware that college students aren’t much better, but it still seems like my calling. I love writing because I like sharing stories with people, and while at first I wanted to share my love of history with other people, now I want to help people find their own writing voice.

There is also a final and purely selfish reason for pursuing this PhD. Even as far back as my psychology aspirations I wanted to be the first person in my family to be called Dr. Thomason.

They tell me that I need to remember the reasons why I’m going for a PhD as time goes by. That I need to remember the passion behind my decision when it’s a late night and I’ve got a headache and a deadline, or when I lack the motivation to read or write another word. I have to remember that this is the accumulation of my love of learning. It’s also a huge part of something I’ve learned about in my twenties and what I expect of myself as I near my thirtieth birthday—that I can succeed and even more than that I will succeed.


Image belongs to Disney/Pixar.

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.