At thirty-four, six years older than her [Sarah],
Bill was too young to die. He still had so much
to do and so many more people to double-cross.
Debra H. Goldstein, One Taste Too Many, Kindle Loc. 91
I’ve known Debra H. Goldstein for several years, having met her at the Malice Domestic Conference and worked with her here, at WWK, and on the SinC Guppy Steering Committee. The one single aspect of writing Debra has taught me is that persistence pays off.
Debra, her book, Should Have Played Poker had been published by Five Star/Cengage. Then Five Star stopped publishing mysteries and left their authors stranded. Undaunted, Debra has launched a new series with Kensington Press. One Taste Too Many is the first book in Debra Goldstein’s Sarah Blair Mystery series. It was released on December 18, 2018. I found the ending a surprise, but of course I won’t spoil it for you. Authors who surprise me are a pleasure to read. I hope Debra surprises you, too.
If I miss asking Debra a question you have about the book, please pose your question in the comments section, a link to which appears underneath the interview. E. B. Davis
When the story opens, Sarah is already divorced from Bill, the homicide victim. How long ago did the divorce occur?
The divorce was only finalized during the past year, but the proceedings and changes in Sarah’s lifestyle began a little over two years before the book begins.
Sarah works for an attorney, Harlan, but, aside from her cat, RahRah, she seems to have received few assets from her divorce. Where was boss Harlan when her divorce settlement happened?
Harlan didn’t handle the negotiations of the divorce. He came into the picture when no one else in town would hire her because of her lack of skills. Sarah dropped out of college after one week to marry Bill when she was eighteen. During the years she was married, she gained some clumsy domestic skills and built a relationship with Bill’s mother and RahRah the cat, but for most of the time, other than looking good at events on Bill’s arm, she put his wants and needs ahead of hers. Consequently, she was naïve and gullible when the rat wanted a divorce.
Sarah and her twin, Emily, are very different people. They’re twins, raised in the same household by the same people, and yet Emily pursued a culinary career and Sarah married out of high school without fulfilling her aspirations. How did that happen?
Emily grew up having an inner fire to be the best chef she could be and to get out of Wheaton. Throughout high school, whether she was cheerleading or involved in other social activities, she was confident and always had her eye focused on her goals. Sarah was exactly the opposite of her sister in terms of confidence and goals. She did the chores expected of her during Perry Mason commercials and when the six-year-older Bill, who already was established as a wheeler dealer, showed an interest in her, she was swept off her feet.
The story is set in Wheaton, Alabama. Is Wheaton real? How far it is from Birmingham? It can’t be too small since the Food Expo is held in Wheaton’s civic center.
Wheaton, Alabama is a composite of many small Alabama towns, but it pays special homage to Wetumpka, Alabama. Every year, two mystery conferences are held back to back in Alabama using the same authors as panelists. When my first book, 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue was published, Murder in the Magic City (Birmingham) and Murder on the Menu (Wetumpka) were the first conferences that invited me to be a panelist. Although I had attended Murder in the Magic City for years as a reader, I wasn’t familiar with Murder on the Menu, which is a fundraising luncheon held at the Wetumpka Civic Center sponsored by Friends of the Wetumpka Library (F.O.W.L.). At Murder on the Menu, I fell in love with the people and charm of Wetumpka. Subsequently, I “borrowed,” but modified, Wetumpka landmarks in Should Have Player Poker and in my new Sarah Blair series. The real Wetumpka is over an hour away from Birmingham, but Wheaton is only fifteen minutes from Birmingham.
College applications are spread out in Sarah’s bedroom. If she decides to take classes, what will she major in?
Part of the evolution of Sarah in the Sarah Blair series is gaining the wisdom and confidence to make decisions for herself. Education is something she knows she wants, but she’ll have to get through the core courses before she decides on an undergraduate major. With the love she has for Perry Mason, it could be anything from English, History, Communications, or Criminal Justice, but her growth in the series might result in a Business or Theater major. What we do know is she’ll never major in Foreign Languages or Home Economics.
Is rhubarb a Southern favorite? Was it the rhubarb or the nuts in the crust that killed Bill?
Rhubarb is a more Northern dish (it grows better up there), but I loved the idea that part of it is poisonous. There is no question Bill is allergic to nuts, cats, and many other things, but what did him in is something readers will need to discover for themselves by reading One Taste Too Many.
Why did her friends play “Can She Identify What’s in the Box?” at Sarah’s bridal shower?
Sarah is a cook of convenience. She prefers to bring take-out in or make dishes using already prepared ingredients. For a potluck, Sarah always would be the one assigned to bring the soda, paper products, cut fruit, or rolls. At eighteen, when she was given a kitchen shower, her friends knew she wouldn’t know what most of the gifts were. In fact, as the book notes, when she opened a box with nice paper plates and napkins, one friend quipped, “Look, she got her good china.”
A tear slipped down Emily’s cheek. “Honestly, if I’d known Bill
was part of the operation when I was offered the job, I wouldn’t
have touched it with a ten-foot pole.”
Because of advice Sarah’s father told her, she suspects Emily isn’t telling the truth. Why would Emily lie to Sarah?
Sometimes family members lie to protect each other or to protect other people they love. Throughout One Taste Too Many, the core bond of the twins is influenced by acts and decisions based on this premise.
The advice, “If someone told you his actions were honest…you could bet something wasn’t on the up-and-up.” (Kindle Loc. 327) Did your father give you this advice? What other advice did he give you?
No, my father was a trusting creative person; my mother, who was more cynical, advised me that if someone tells you they are honest, they might not be. Both of my parents instilled different things in me – my father taught me to love the sound of the written word, to read anything and everything, to appreciate art, and to be a good, caring, and loving person. My mother stressed family devotion, integrity, reaching for the stars, and persistence when things don’t work out the first or even the second time.
What does a probated will imply? That effects have been distributed to those named?
A will has no legal meaning until it is probated – filed in the court system. Once filed, the executor or administrator must distribute the assets within the terms of the will as overseen by the judicial system.
I thought Colorado was our only state having marble. Alabama has marble, too?
Alabama marble, which is also known as Sylacauga marble, comes from a belt that runs through Alabama’s Talladega County. The marble is pure white in color and crystalline in composition. Alabama has several quarries for this marble, which was used in many of Alabama’s courthouses and other public buildings.
Sarah needs some success to restore her self-confidence. Does solving the murder help bolster her self-confidence?
Solving the murder and interacting with the other characters helps build Sarah’s self-confidence; however, her evolution in all facets of her personality is a major part of the series. The more books the series eventually has (so far three are under contract), the more the reader will see her growth and her stumbles.
I was surprised by Sarah’s reaction to Grace’s (a student chef at the restaurant where Emily works) tattoo sleeve. So many twenty and thirty somethings have tattoos. I always suspect older people of trying to look young by getting tattoos. Why was Sarah so surprised?
Until recently, Sarah’s opinions were formed by the conservative business viewpoints Bill held. Her world would have been comprised of men in white shirts, blue suits, and yellow ties accented with an understated high cost ring or watch. Unlike Emily, who, as a chef, would be immune to surprise at most tattoos, Sarah might have seen a butterfly on an ankle or small tattoos, but not sleeves.
Sarah figures out that Emily and her boss, Chef Marcus, have a personal relationship. How does Sarah react?
Sarah is thrown a little because her twin relationship of sharing food and thoughts no longer belongs only to Sarah and Emily.
Harlan teaches Sarah that every life decision is tied to a relationship, that emotional stimuli prompts business decisions. Do you think that’s true?
I believe that emotion and subconscious thoughts often influence decisions people make.
Working in a law office has taught Sarah a lot about life. She sees that people find themselves in trouble because they assume others live by the Golden Rule. Is Sarah adopting a Miss Marple approach to solving the crime?
I wouldn’t call Sarah’s crime solving a Miss Marple approach, but she is learning that being gullible or innocent in believing what others will do often results in making an erroneous and potentially dangerous assumption.
Why can’t Emily throw out her mother’s worn out can opener and buy a new one?
The can opener evokes sentimental feelings about her childhood in Sarah, but there also is the element of why spend money when she’s not going to use a can opener all that often.
When Sarah has to serve as Emily’s replacement in a Food Expo demonstration, she chooses an embarrassing recipe, one that no chef would consider and one you include at the back of your book. Was it a favorite of yours growing up?
I am not a cook nor am I particularly craft oriented. I was the kid who did my chores during the Perry Mason commercials. Consequently, when I decided to write cozy mysteries, I had a problem because most of them are culinary or craft related. Because I enjoy cozies, I figured there were other people out there who could relate to my lack of skills. Cozies must have recipes, so I researched some. When I found Jell-O in a Can and discovered it was a popular and easy 1950’s recipe, it seemed perfect for Sarah Blair. Until I tested it for inclusion in the book, I’d never had it.
Your book drew me in from the start. That first chapter is so important, and you kept the momentum going. What advice do you have for unpublished writers?
Write, revise, and throw out the darling words that don’t keep the action moving.
Have you developed a character arc for Sarah?
I haven’t developed a character arc per se for Sarah, but I know that for as many books as the series is permitted to continue, she will be an evolving character. She also will be instructing me on her growth because I tend to listen to my characters rather than forcing them into specific situations and reactions.
What’s next for Sarah and RahRah? Will it contain another questionable, but fun recipe?
Two Bites Too Many, featuring Sarah, RahRah, and a few more colorful characters, will be published in October. Although the recipes are for people, look for cat and dog related aspects to them.