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Our April author interviews: Perennial author Susan Wittig Albert--4/5, Sasscer Hill, horse racing insider--4/12, English historical, cozy author, TE Kinsey--4/19, Debut author, Susan Bickford--4/26.
Saturday Guest Bloggers in April: Heather Baker Weidner (4/1), Christina Hoag (4/8), Susan Boles (4/29). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 4/15--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 4/22--Kait Carson.
Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:
Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.
Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th. In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.
Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.
Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!
Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
We didn’t set out to incorporate food in our three cozy mystery series, but we ended up doing all of the above — as we realized, to our amusement, when a friend pointed out the high-caloric nature of our fiction.
At first, we countered with the simplest explanation: Our focus on food was automatic because we love good puzzles and we love good eats. How could we help but link the two together in our mysteries?
Moreover, food is one of the bedrock human needs. Most mysteries — including ours — are tales of everyday life gone wrong. Consuming food — a person’s first and (often) last pleasure — is a common denominator shared by every character. Everyone eats — the good, the bad, the eccentric, and the sleuthful.
Our friend remained unconvinced: “Authors of mystery novels wrote about eating long before you two were born or Maslow created his “Hierarchy of Needs.” Food has been a staple in many (most?) mystery novels since Wilkie Collins wrote “The Moonstone” more than 140 years ago. There has to be a really good reason why murder and munching go so well together.”
Happily, we were polishing off hefty helpings of superb Fettuccine Fra Diavolo at the time, definitely in the right frame of mind to muse about other explanations.
For starters, we noted that food is laden with allegory and imagery, and so deserves to be a novelist’s plaything. Although we hardly ever invent figures of speech purposefully (the best ones happen on their own), our “mindsets” obviously include assumptions about food that show up in our writing:
Food lightens the circumstances. It’s hard to be angry after a good meal. For the same reason, a dining scene is calming — even when the reader suspects that one of the diners will keel over from a touch of oleander in his/her tapioca pudding. Consequently, consumption of food is a useful “pacing device.”
Meals represent routine and stability in a mystery — islands of normalcy in a sea of misbehaving characters. People come together at mealtime; the very act of serving food demonstrates caring, even love. Consequently, arguments during meals are especially significant and an interrupted meal signals trouble (as when the CID inspector arrives in the middle of breakfast to interrogate the family).
For the same reasons, restaurants are unforeseen locales for murder — no one expects to be done-in at a restaurant, with the possible exception of Tony Soprano’s colleagues.
Turn things around and it’s obvious why food must be grabbed on the run in a thriller or action-oriented novel. Does anyone remember Jason Bourne or James Bond enjoying a quiet dinner?
Despite the profusion of “Alpha Male” heroes who cook well, they still have the power to surprise. The ability to prepare good food remains an effective symbol that signifies a streak of domesticity (and normalcy) under that gruff knightly exterior. Perhaps this is because most readers still see non-professional cooking (i.e., at home) as “women’s work.”
Speaking of symbols … novelists are advised to show rather than tell. Highlighting different tastes in food is a great way to illuminate the personality of characters with actions rather than words. Pippa Hunnechurch, our first heroine, is a gutsy Brit. We signaled her heritage — and her British bulldog nature — when she vigorously defended fatty roast beef and cholesterol-rich English Trifle. Pippa’s interlocutor was a health-conscious American who saw both foods as anti-heart missiles.
Eating is also a great reason to get diverse characters together and give them a logical opportunity to interact. A meal is an obvious opportunity to convey backstory details, express concerns, even express dislike that will soon ripen into a red herring (as when the aggrieved Miss Higginbotham tosses the clichéd beaker of wine at Lord Frangipane’s face hours before his suspicious demise, and thus transforms herself into a suspect).
Obviously, a “red herring” is yet one more allusion to food in mysteries (in this case, smelly food), although fish cured in brine strong enough to turn its flesh red is not our idea of a treat.
Lastly, food can be a convenient murder weapon — the most bloodless, though not necessarily the most painless. As everyone knows, poison is especially useful for female villains who prefer to murder their victims at a distance.
As we noted earlier, food in cozy mysteries has become… well, obsessive. It’s gone so far that several cozy mystery authors have produced cookbooks.
Our three cozy series are veritable larders. The Pippa Hunnechurch Mysteries are full of food — including the titles (“A Trifle to Die For,” “Bauble and Squeak,” and “The Curry Killing”). Ditto the Royal Tunbridge Wells Mysteries (“Dead as a Scone” and “The Final Crumpet”) and The Glory North Carolina Mysteries (although “Grits and Glory” is the only edible title). And yes, we did weave recipes into several of the novels.
At this point, our friend waxed on “Not only is food prominent in many mystery titles — but it apparently has to be baked into an awful pun. Why is that?”
“That’s easy,” we replied more or less together. “Using a foodstuff pun in the title communicates that the novel is a fun-to-read mystery with no in-your-face violence.”
“I still don’t get it,” our friend said. “Something as grim as murder shouldn’t be paired with something as joyful as… ice cream. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone wrote a mystery titled ‘The Two Scoop Terminator.’”
There seemed nothing more to say — especially because we expected our friend to pay the bill cheerfully. We left the restaurant musing to ourselves: Although few modern mystery novels treat food as solemnly as did the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout (his books taught us the right way to make scrambled eggs and cook corn on the cob), perhaps the time has come for mysteries to carry both ingredients and nutrition labels.
Ron has been a writer forever—initially on magazines (his first real job was Electronics Editor at Popular Science Magazine), then in corporations (he wrote speeches for senior executives), and then as a novelist. Over the years, Ron has authored ten non-fiction books, including the recently published “Know Your Rights — a Survival Guide for Non-Lawyers” (published by Sterling). Ron holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a juris doctor from the Duquesne University School of Law. He was a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Ron and Janet’s books can be accessed at Amazon.com.