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What's next on Mackle's plate

Out of the reviewer's frying pan and into the fire of fic



Elliott Mackle knows food. He's written about food for various Atlanta publications for the past 20 years. He's dissected the best plates from some of the star chefs and restaurateurs. And by doing so he's gained adoring fans as well as bitter detractors.

But now, he's moving on, from the sensuousness of food to the sensuality of gay-themed fiction.

I met Elliott Mackle at a restaurant he's eaten at hundreds of times, the Colonnade, known affectionately by locals as "the gays and grays." A perfect locale for this patriarch of Atlanta's dining community to discuss his plans to take a hiatus from offering his criticism and turn his attention to creating fiction.

In February 2003, Mackle's novel It Takes Two is scheduled for release. It's a mystery set in 1949 Ft. Myers, Fla. The central plot revolves around the relationship between two men -- one a retired military officer, the other a police officer -- involved in solving a murder-suicide in the small Southern town. And yes, it has several erotic love scenes.

CL: So, why quit writing about food?

EM: I'm not quitting. I am transitioning from writing about food to writing fiction. To be a writer who's writing about gay men. I've written almost 20 years about food, but I wanted something different.

How did the fiction start?

I've been writing since I was 14. I was writing fiction while I was writing about food. I decided to hire a freelance editor. I tend to trust good editors; despite what some editors may think.

At this point, we are interrupted by a waitress who makes her way across the restaurant to talk to Mackle.

"Hello. Do you remember me? You wrote about me 10 years ago. You still have my afghan?"

"Of course I do. It's on my bed, but I just stored it away for the summer."

"Such a sweet man. You know, I'm 72 now."

After a little more chit-chat, she strolls back to attend her tables.

What was all that about?

I wrote a series 10 years ago for the AJC about people at work. She knitted me an afghan when it came out.

You remember her?

Not really. Edna Buchanan has a line in her book Corpse Had a Familiar Face that talks about how to you, [writing] is a job, but you become a part of their life, the people you write about. You gave them a moment. You told their story. It wasn't such a big thing for me, but it was a big thing for her. She went so far as to give me a gift.

What about the people who didn't necessarily enjoy what you wrote?

I keep a box with the ugly letters from restaurant owners. Let's just say, I doubt Pano Karatassos will buy one of my books. Is that a reason for quitting, I mean, transitioning to fiction?

A friend told me to quit earlier. It's all about switching gears. When I write anything, I play tapes in my head. I have to get a point to where it's happening. The story is running through my head. When it's about food, I am remembering flavors, waitresses. It's hard to switch those gears and go back and forth.

Now I am finally committing to fiction. But that doesn't mean that I have to turn it off. The climactic scene that gets the guys together in this book is over a meal. Early scenes in my second book, set in Atlanta, take place in the Colonnade although I don't use its name.

Was it hard to write about sex instead of food?

I didn't know I could write erotic scenes 'til I wrote them. My editor asked me to write one and, although he's straight, he said it got him wet. But most of the sex scenes are misfires. Someone gets drunk and passes out. They're there to further the plot and tell something about a character's personality.

What prompted you to this commitment to fiction?

For me, as a writer, I want to read books I want to read. When I run out, I have to write them.

So is it the end of Elliott Mackle the food critic?

I'm sure if I need to write something, I will and I'll find someone who wants to publish it. If anyone wants to read it.

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