Wednesday, March 30, 2016

An Interview with Joyce Tremel by E. B. Davis

The Allegheny Brew House is a dream come true for Maxine "Max" O'Hara,
who went all the way to Germany for her brewmaster certification and is
now preparing to open her own craft brew pub in a newly revitalized section
of Pittsburgh. But before she can start pouring stouts and lagers to thirsty throngs,
there's trouble on tap. Suspicious acts of sabotage culminate in Max finding
her assistant brewmaster and chef Kurt Schmidt strangled in one of the vats.

Between rescuing a stray gray tabby she names Hops and considering a handsome
ex-hockey player as her new chef, Max doesn't have a lot of time to solve a murder.
But with a homicide detective for a dad, she comes to criminal investigation naturally.
And if someone is desperate enough to kill to stop her from opening, Max needs to
act fast—before her brand new brew biz totally tanks...

I can’t remember when I first became acquainted with Joyce Tremel. It’s been years though, so when I discovered Berkley Prime Crime had released her first novel To Brew or Not To Brew (A Brewing Trouble Mystery Series) in December, I wanted to interview her. Since I knew a bit about Joyce’s background, her book surprised me. Read further—you’ll find out why.

Please welcome Joyce Tremel to WWK.       E. B. Davis

Joyce, you were a police secretary for years. I expected a more hardboiled subgenre—at least a police procedural—why a cozy?

The first books I wrote years ago, while not exactly procedurals, were procedural-like. They featured an ex-cop who was a martial arts instructor. I’m pretty sure they’ll never leave my hard drive. After I left the police department, I wrote a book with a police secretary protagonist called In Spite of Murder. That book landed me an agent who left the business, then it landed another agent who left the business, then landed my current agent who has been warned she’d better never leave agenting. Ever. Anyway, ISoM isn’t a procedural even though Irma Jean works at a police department. My first agent called it a cozy with an edge.

How did your series with Berkley occur?

My agent sent In Spite of Murder to several publishers, one of which was Berkley. The editor liked it and liked my writing, but it wasn’t cozy enough for their line. If you read Berkley’s books, you probably know what I mean. The books in their cozy line all have some kind of hook like a craft, food, etc. The editor told my agent that if I was interested in writing a cozy, that she’d love to take a look at it. Of course I said I’d love to give it a shot. I tried to figure out what kind of hook hadn’t been done yet and I came up with the brewpub idea. I wrote a proposal with a synopsis, ideas for subsequent books in the series, and three chapters, and sent it to my agent. A few months later I got the call that Berkley was offering me a three-book contract.

I know you’re from Pittsburgh. How much of the story comes from real life—Do you live in Lawrenceville, the section of Pittsburgh that serves as the setting?  Do you brew like your main character, Max O’Hara? Do you come from a large Irish-Catholic family, like Max?

I live in a suburb north of Pittsburgh, but it’s not far from Lawrenceville. My younger son lives in Bloomfield, which is right next to Lawrenceville. Whenever I’d drive through Lawrenceville to get to his place, I’d notice that just about every week there was a new store, restaurant, or brewpub opening up. I thought this would be a perfect spot for Max to open hers.

I don’t brew, but I do love beer. Real beer, that is—not the swill made by the corporate giants. Oops. I probably ticked off a few people by that comment. I had to learn about brewing by doing research online and visiting local craft breweries and talking to brewers. And trying their beer, of course.

I am a Catholic, but I’m not 100% Irish. I’m kind of a mutt—Irish and German on my mother’s side and Scottish and French on my dad’s side. I have three sisters—two older and one younger.

After Max finished her Masters in Chemistry, she went to Ireland to study whiskey distilling. How did she end up in Germany studying brewing?

Max had never been to Europe before, so she figured she’d visit a few countries before settling in Ireland. When she got to Germany, tasted the beer, and saw the brewing operations, she decided that was what she wanted to learn.

Your book reminded me of school field trips since I grew up in Pennsylvania. We visited a chocolate factory, a cheese-making shop, a bakery, a candy plant, etc. I loved the infusion of brewing terms—I could almost smell the yeasty mead. Explain the terms hefeweizen, stout, lager, dunkel, sparging, wort, and growlers (which I thought was another name for a hoagie).

Ha! We just call them hoagies here. Although I try to at least give a hint at what the brewing terms mean, I’m actually thinking of adding a page to my website with definitions. I just have to find the time to do it. Here you go:

Hefeweizen is a wheat beer. It has a nice, pale yellow color. It has a slight banana and clove taste to it even though there are no bananas or cloves in it. All the flavor comes from the varieties of grain, hops, and yeast that are used. Like Max, this is my favorite beer.
Stout is a dark beer (think Guinness). It’s usually very smooth with little or no bitterness from hops. It has a chocolatey, sometimes coffee-like character, that comes from the roasted barley. There’s nothing better than a piece of chocolate cake with a stout.
Lager is the typical “plain old” beer. Very drinkable, but ordinary.
Dunkel is a dark lager.
Sparging/lautering is the part of the process where hot water is poured on the mashed grains to extract the flavor. This flavorful liquid is the “wort” which is boiled and fermented to become beer.
Growler is a half-gallon glass jug that you get filled with your favorite beer. When it’s empty, you rinse it out and take it to your favorite brewer and get it refilled. Although they’ve been around for over a hundred years, they seem to be making a great comeback because they’re so environmentally friendly.

Max bought the old, out of commission Steel City Brewery and renovated the building to create her new Allegheny Brew House. But the old brewery had history for the city and the neighborhood. What was its history and how does that cause Max problems?

My fictional Steel City Brewery is loosely based on Iron City Brewing, which began in Pittsburgh in the 1800s. Like the fictional Steel City, Iron City moved operations out of Pittsburgh several years ago. There’s been talk lately of developing that property. It will be interesting to see what comes of it. Also like my fictional Steel City, Iron City made ice cream during prohibition.

When Max’s assistant Kurt is found dead in the brewery, she knows it was murder. Why doesn’t her police-detective father believe her?

I think he does deep down, but he’s a cop and has to go by the evidence and not by how he feels.

My favorite secondary character, Candy Sczypinski, is a baker in the neighborhood. She’s always knows things a baker shouldn’t know, and comes up with investigative ideas. She’s bound to have an interesting background. Will we get to know Candy better in other books? Did you find her last name in a Pittsburgh phone book?

In book 3, which I’m writing now (and I need a title—help!) we learn all about Candy’s background. It is really fun to write about what she did back in the late ‘60s. It’s quite shocking!

I wanted a Polish name for Candy, so I Googled “Pittsburgh Polish names” and that’s one that came up. I’ve finally learned how to spell it without checking my notes. It’s pronounced “Shipinski” by the way. You didn’t ask, but my favorite character is Elmer, my World War II vet.

Like most amateur sleuths, Max gets an idea of who the murderer is and who is vandalizing her brewery, but she gets it wrong when she finds her primary suspect dead in the brewery. Why doesn’t she throw in the suds and quit?

Good question. My husband says it’s a good thing he’s not a writer because he would have had Max chuck it all when Kurt was killed, lol. Max is just stubborn, I guess. She’s not about to give up her dream, although she did consider it a couple of times.

Is Hops, the stray cat she adopts, anything like your pet cat?

I borrowed the description of Hops from my cat, Layla. The cat on the cover doesn’t look quite like how I described her, but it’s close enough. Hops is way more adventurous than Layla, though. Layla’s a true scaredy cat. She hides from everything.

Kurt’s replacement chef is Jake Lambert. Why is Max shaken up by Jake?

Max has had a crush on Jake all her life. He’s her brother Mike’s best friend. When Jake comes back to town all those feelings surface again.

I know Pittsburgh is rabid for football and hockey. Is the issue of sports’ concussions a particularly sensitive subject in your town as it is growing into nationally?

I hate to say it, but I really don’t follow sports! I haven’t paid any attention to the subject of concussions. I shouldn’t admit this, but I’m probably the only Pittsburgher who dislikes the Steelers. Although I do like when they play—that’s when I do my grocery shopping because the store is empty!

Fran Donovan is a little-old-lady radical. She wants to close Max’s new pub down and make a museum of the old Steel City Brewery. But then, she helps Max. How does Max get her to change her perspective?

Fran finally saw that Max was trying to preserve the brewing heritage of the city and not tear it apart.

Among the growing restaurant menu featuring pierogies and kirschtorte, and the neighborhood bakery cupcakes and deli sandwiches, you presented a caloric array. Did your research include perusing the local restaurants, bars, and bakeries?

Although I visited a few places, I did a lot of the foodie research online. And I do try out different recipes to see what would fit in the book. Wait till you see the recipes in Tangled Up in Brew!

What’s next for Max and Jake?


Brew pub owner Maxine “Max” O’Hara and her chef/boyfriend Jake Lambert are excited to be participating in the Three Rivers Brews and Burgers Festival. Max hopes to win the coveted Golden Stein for best craft beer—but even if she doesn’t, the festival will be great publicity for her Allegheny Brew House.

Or will it? When notoriously nasty food and beverage critic Reginald Mobley is drafted as a last-minute replacement judge, Max dreads a punishing review. Her fears are confirmed when Mobley literally spits out her beer, but things get even worse when the cranky critic drops dead right after trying one of Jake’s burgers.

Now an ambitious new police detective is determined to pin Mobley’s murder on Max and Jake, who must pore over the clues to protect their freedom and reputations—and to find the self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner.

What’s your dream destination vacation, Joyce?

My favorite place is Gettysburg. We started going there when our boys were 10 and 6 (the older one is now a historian, so the trip made an impact on him). We try to get back there once a year. For the last couple of years we’ve gone for World War II weekend, which has been a lot of fun. I’m a 40s buff and would love to someday write a book set in that era.



  1. This sounds like a fantastic series. Can't wait to tap the keg on it.

  2. Thanks, Kait! Speaking of keg tapping, I got to tap the keg at Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh back in December. The first Wednesday of every month they have a big ceremony for their specialty beer of the month and they have a guest keg tapper. It was a lot of fun. There's even a video of it on YouTube where you can see me make a complete fool of myself. If you Google "Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh December keg tapping", you should be able to find it.

  3. Welcome to WWK, Joyce. Raising a frosty glass to your success.

    ~ Jim

  4. Hi Joyce! *waving*

    I keep thinking Pete needs to bring Zoe to the Allegheny Brew House on a date. Could make for an interesting short story!

  5. Joyce--Are there really old tunnels in Pittsburgh?

  6. That would be awesome, Annette. I think Zoe and Max would get along splendidly!

  7. E.B., Pittsburgh Magazine had an article about old tunnels in and around Pittsburgh a couple months ago. It was fascinating! My tunnels are purely a figment of my imagination.

    Underground Pittsburgh

    I hope that link works--I really don't know what I'm doing, lol.

  8. Hi Joyce!

    Kait, I can promise you the first book is a great read.

    And I would love to read a short story with Pete, Zoe, Max and Jake. Maybe Max can make a special stout for my PSP trooper? LOL

    Can't wait for the second book!

  9. That's a great idea, Mary. Max makes a pretty good chocolate stout, which, by the way has no chocolate in it. All the flavor comes from the roasted malt.

  10. Great interview, Joyce (and E.B.) I raise a glass to your continued success.

  11. Cincinnati has always been a beer city and is enjoying a surge in microbreweries. I look forward to learning about the brewing business by reading your book.

  12. Thank you, Margaret! I hope you like the book.

  13. My nephew is taking a brewing program at California Davis.

  14. How delightful to get to know you and your work. I am so beer ignorant. I have visited Gettysburg several times and always leave in awe. Congratulations.

  15. That's cool, Warren. There's a lot more to brewing than I realized when I came up with this idea. Thank goodness there are brewers around that don't mind answering my questions.

  16. Hi, Vicki! It's nice to meet you. I love Gettysburg. We go just about every year and always find something new to see or learn.

  17. Nice interview -- and fun series, Joyce! Hubs has one of those refillable jugs for a local brew pub, but I didn't know it was called a growler!

  18. Sounds like a fascinating series. I know craft beers are very popular.

    Next time you get to Gettysburg, try to visit the Battlefield Brewworks, on the Hunterstown Road. It's housed in a barn that was the one of the largest Confederate hospitals following the Battle of Gettysburg.

    I live in the area (my daughter claims it's just about the only small town where, when you say, "I graduated from Gettysburg High School," everyone knows exactly where you're from.) and we enjoy it, although I have to admit I don't go into town much during the tourist season. And I vividly remember trying to explain to my boss in Baltimore that I was late to work because of a re-enactment, waiting for Confederate Calvary to clear the road so I could get to work.

  19. Hi Vickie! Thanks for stopping by. You just reminded me my growler is empty. I must fix that!

  20. Hi KM! I really love Gettysburg. Was there a brewery in that same place years ago? I remember going to one on Hunterstown Road long before craft beer was popular, but I think it had a different name. I will definitely pay them a visit when we're there in September.

  21. Welcome to WWK, Joyce. I live in Ohio close to the PA border, and love visiting Pittsburgh.I
    have enjoyed visiting Gettysburg the several times I visited there. I'm very interested in history.'m not a beer drinker, but I think your series sounds like one I'd enjoy reading.

  22. Hi Gloria! Thanks for letting me visit today.

    Although the "hook" of the series is brewing, the focus is more on the characters and the small town feel of the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, so you might like it.

  23. Joyce,

    My hometown of York is about 30 minutes from Gettysburg. I remember on a field trip in elementary school a guide saying there were a lot of casualties at Devil's Den. We were playing on the rocks that formed the "den" at the time. And then he added that many of the casualties weren't so much from warfare as from rattlers that made their home in Devil's Den. We sort of took a few steps back and stopped playing. Of course, the snakes probably moved on after the neighborhood got rough during the war, but watch out in case the snakes decided to take it over again.

    Thanks so much for the interview. I hope your series is successful and that you'll come back and visit us again. Let me know when ARCs are available for your next in the series. Thanks! Elaine

  24. Elaine, I'm thinking the guide said that to stop you from playing on the rocks, lol.

    Thanks for having me today! It was a lot of fun. I just finished reviewing copy edits on Tangled Up in Brew, so ARCs will probably be available sometime in August. I'll let you know!

  25. Oh my gosh, beer and hockey. How have I not found you before this!?!! This story sounds great. Off now to order, make a hoagie, crack a beer and settle in. All best!