Athena Scalzi

Day One In Atlanta

Athena ScalziHello, Atlanta, I am in you! For the first time, in fact (unless you count tons of layovers in the airport).

After hitting the road at just past 8am yesterday, I ended up arriving a little after 5pm. Immediately, parking was a bitch. The hotel I’m staying at says it has “self-park”, and a public parking garage right next to it. I pulled into it and it had two machines, one for the public where you could take a ticket, and one for the hotel guests where you swipe your keycard for entry. I hadn’t thought to get the keycard and whatnot first, so I just took a ticket, parked, and went inside to check in.

I’m staying at the Georgian Terrace, which actually looks pretty cool from the outside.

And the inside isn’t half bad, either.

Okay, so, for some reason I thought I had to repark my car now that I had the keycard. I should’ve just thrown the ticket away, but my brain doesn’t work right sometimes, so I gave the ticket to the machine and paid ten dollars to exit the garage, then went around the block to re-enter with the keycard. I pulled up and swiped it, and nothing happened. It didn’t work. I tried it every-which-way I could, but to no avail. So, I reversed and did a 3-point turn to park in front of the hotel, then went in and asked about it.

Apparently, I needed a parking pass keycard, which is separate from your room keycard. So, I obtained a parking pass card, got back in my car and pulled back into the garage. Upon swiping the parking pass, nothing happened. I didn’t understand why it wasn’t working, and I was just about to reverse again when a car pulled in behind me. The panic set in as two more cars immediately pulled in behind that one. So now I had three cars behind me and a non-working parking pass. So I took another ticket.

I went back inside, said it wasn’t working, and was given a different parking pass. This time I had the common sense to throw away the ticket. Before moving my car again, I stood in front of the machine and swiped the parking pass. Instead of doing nothing, it said “no car on lot”. Okay, so it worked, it just didn’t sense a car. But I wasn’t fully convinced yet, so I decided to try exiting again, and if it didn’t work I would just reverse (hopefully).

Finally, it did work, and I exited, circled the block, and entered successfully with the parking pass keycard. SHEESH.

Also, if you stand in the middle of the lobby and look up, you see this:

And here’s the shot of it once you get off on your floor (depending how high up you are):

I’m not sure if every room comes with cookies, or if it’s just because I got a deluxe suite, but there were cookies in the room!

They tasted just like lemon cheesecake.

Speaking of the deluxe suite, I hate to be that bitch but you would think if you stay in a suite in what is claimed to be one of the nicest hotels in Midtown, that you’d get a mini fridge, or a microwave, or a bath tub. But there aren’t any of those things. And the bed is honestly pretty small even though I specifically got a king. Also, one of my towels had holes in it. So far, I’m not terribly impressed for the price. (Also the art is ugly, but that’s subjective.)

After settling in and relaxing for a bit, I set out for dinner. I was in the mood for anything, so I just looked around on Maps until I came across a ramen place that sounded bangin’, so I started on the twenty minute walk to E Ramen.

It was pretty crowded, which makes sense considering it was peak dinner time. The inside was open, sleek, minimalistic, and way too echo-y for how many people were there. It was uncomfortably loud (it got better after it cleared out a bit, once there were less people it wasn’t painfully loud anymore).

I ordered gyoza first, and it came out within about three minutes.

These gyoza were super delicious, some of the best I’ve ever had, and the sauce was really great, too. And there was plenty of the sauce as well, so I didn’t have to skimp on each dumpling.

I ordered The Dark Knight ramen, which is basically just black garlic tonkotsu ramen (my favorite kind). It came out in under two minutes!

The ramen was seriously delish. The noodles were really good, the egg was cooked perfectly, the broth was incredible, and honestly my only complaint is that the pork was a little on the dry side. I like a super tender pork belly, but I know some people don’t like the texture of pork belly when it’s all fatty and soft, so maybe they’d prefer this style.

I managed to stop before I got too full (just barely), and saved room for panna cotta for dessert:

This panna cotta was odd to me because it had a layer of what I can only assume was Rice Krispies on top. Between the crispy layer and the soft panna cotta was maple syrup. I thought it to be a strange combination, but it worked super well together!

It was really yummy, and was the perfect finish to a great meal.

On the walk back to the hotel, I saw some really neat stuff, like this frog!

And this very interesting stretching studio.

There was sign in the window that said “first stretch free!” How could one resist such a great deal?

And finally, I passed this church that I have dubbed “the gay church”:

After some more chilling, I decided it was high time for some Insomnia Cookies. If you don’t know what that is, Insomnia Cookies is a chain that is usually only found in cities and college campuses. They serve cookies until 3am, and even deliver. They’re quite pricey, with the deluxe ones being around five dollars a cookie, but so damn good.

The delivery guy got here quickly, and I’m convinced that he must’ve been driving like a maniac, because my cookies were wildly askew when I opened the box.

(My eyes were way bigger than my stomach, I ate half of one of the big ones and decided that was plenty for the time being.)

Also, I only ordered cookies, but somehow ended up with two cups of cookie dough and strawberry cheesecake ice cream.

The delivery guy handed me my box of cookies and a brown paper bag and drove away before I could question it. Upon opening it, I found the ice cream. So if you’re in Atlanta and ordered Insomnia last night and did not receive your cookie dough ice cream, I’m sorry. It was very tasty. Especially the strawberry cheese cake flavor, would highly recommend.

Then I went to sleep because it had been a long, pretty tiring day!

Not such a bad first day, I think.


Big Idea

The Big Idea: Sunyi Dean

What is fiction good for, anyway? Sunyi Dean has an idea, and in this Big Idea for The Book Eaters, she delves into it, and how our stories can cause us to change our lives.


Back in August 2012, I was attending a teacher training course and got talking to a fellow trainee. We drifted into discussing linguistics and literature. He loved reading, which we could agree on, but only nonfiction. I liked nonfiction, too, but was surprised by the vehemence of his distaste for novels.

“There is nothing in fiction which can surpass the complexity and beauty of real life,” he said. “What even is the point of stories?”

The kind of question that book-nerds dream of being asked.

“Stories aren’t in competition with reality,” I told him. “They’re a framework for making sense of reality.”

Everything in life is a story. Including this essay. Conducting a science experiment? Data is just a set of numbers until you draft a narrative to explain their relevance. Trying to win votes? Create a political yarn that frames your ‘vision’ of the future. Advocating for rights? Proselytizing for religion? All of that is crafting a narrative about the world and how it works, ordering pieces of the universe into a shape that makes sense to the human psyche.

We need stories to understand ourselves, as individuals. Share your story, social media begs—and we oblige, weaving narratives about our lives in which we are important, interesting, unique. Our species is adept at the self-made myth.

That’s not an indictment of humanity; we’re just doing what is necessary. Without those narratives, humans would be adrift in a sea of sensory input and chaotic data, struggling to impose order on existence. But with them, we can key into the universe.

Stories aren’t pointless; they’re powerful.

That power also makes them dangerous.

I grew up watching Star Trek, and it changed my life. The ST universe  portrayed an inclusive, socialist, and largely secular society. In other words, it was an antithesis to the conservative, suspicious, and theocratic culture that I’d been raised in. While the adults around me were busy insisting the world had to be a certain, fixed way, Star Trek cheerfully but adamantly assured me that it did not. 

That is where stories veer into being dangerous. Data can be skewed. So can politics. Advocacy can be subverted. Religion can be controlling. All of those negative aspects can be effected with a sufficiently skilled narrative. Stories can ruin us.

In writing, authors will say that villains are always the heroes of their own legend. This is equally true in real life, and not limited to fiction. Abusers tell themselves that their actions are justified. The wealthy elite spin stories where their wealth was deserved and earned. Dictators, criminals, and killers all have stories to shore up their actions.

Many people consider the human race to be bad, yet most people also don’t consider themselves to be bad humans. For better or worse, that cognitive dissonance is down to stories.

The question then becomes: how do we separate good stories from bad, or skewed stories from truthful ones? How do we frame the story of our lives in a way that is empowering for ourselves, without doing harm to others?

My debut novel, The Book Eaters, is about stories and their power—both good and bad—and navigating those tricky issues. 

The book eaters are a race of paper-eating humanoids who are dying out. Infertility is reducing their numbers, and an increasingly technologized world makes it harder to remain hidden and safe. To stay alive, they rely on an archaic system of arranged marriages and forced births to keep their dying species limping along, and live under a veil of strict secrecy.

In order to maintain their system of control, the family patriarchs have laid down strict rules about what books their children are allowed to eat. Girls are fed fairytales and taught to be ‘princesses’ who think only of marriage. Boys are given adventure stories and raised as ‘knights’ who enforce laws, or else patriarchs who rule houses.

In short, book eaters have crafted a very specific narrative about their society, one which keeps its members alive and safe even as it oppresses and warps them.

Enter Devon Fairweather, a book eater woman and the main character. As a woman, Devon is forced to comply with the system of arranged marriages, and produce children with different husbands. She desperately wishes things were different, but like the rest of her people, she suffers from a critical lack of imagination. Her worldview has been moulded by her family’s selective diet of fiction, and she struggles to imagine her life outside of the ‘story’ the patriarchs have framed.

Ironically, I also suffered from this failure of imagination.

In my early thirties, I thought my life was ‘over’ in the ways that mattered. I thought I had no path out of my marriage, or back into work. I had spent so long chasing happiness and being disappointed I could no longer imagine what it would be like to find it.

Writing salvaged me.

I began drafting The Book Eaters in 2018—my third novel, since the first two had failed to sell or attract interest. While grappling with Devon’s arc, I examined my life and really thought about who was telling my story. I realised that if I wanted things to change, I would need to relearn how to craft my own narrative; I would have to trust that the future could be different, even when I lacked the ability to envision that new path.

Long story short, I ended my marriage in the spring of 2020 and moved out, mid-lockdown. Starting over is hard; financial free-fall is terrifying. Covid was everywhere and the kids were miserable. I don’t miss those days.

But making drastic changes in my life became the catalyst I needed for understanding how Devon could make drastic changes in hers. A few months after separation, I finally had the clarity to type up an ending for The Book Eaters that did both of us justice, and set a new path.

Stories have power, especially the ones we tell about ourselves. What is your story, and what is it saying?

The Book Eaters: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

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