Wednesday, May 26, 2021

An Interview with author Debra H. Goldstein By E. B. Davis


Sarah Blair gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in culinary school serves up a main corpse in Wheaton, Alabama . . .
Between working as a law firm receptionist, reluctantly pitching in as co-owner of her twin sister’s restaurant, and caretaking for her regal Siamese RahRah and rescue dog Fluffy, Sarah has no time to enjoy life’s finer things. Divorced and sort-of dating, she’s considering going back to school. But as a somewhat competent sleuth, Sarah’s more suited for criminal justice than learning how many ways she can burn a meal.
Although she wouldn’t mind learning some knife skills from her sous chef, Grace Winston. An adjunct instructor who teaches cutlery expertise in cooking college, Grace is considering accepting an executive chef’s position offered by Jane Clark, Sarah’s business rival—and her late ex-husband’s lover. But Grace’s future lands in hot water when the school’s director is found dead with one of her knives in his back. To clear her friend’s name, Sarah must sharpen her own skills at uncovering an elusive killer . . .


As Debra H. Goldstein explains in the forward of Four Cuts Too Many, the plot starts with a jump-rope rhyme. Creepy! But very effective since the victim dies of a culinary knife wound—a specific type of knife wound. (To find out how those two tie together—read the book!) What I don’t know! Like there are methods to knife someone to insure a kill. More creep factor—but the truth is that even though the premise and method are creepy, the book is a fun cozy read—really cupcakes and Jell-O are featured.


Main character, Sarah Blair, investigates the murder of a college official and arrives at the scene minutes after the murder. Grace, an up and coming chef and instructor is the primary suspect. We’ve met Grace before as a secondary character in previous books. A black, gay woman, Grace has overcome a disadvantaged upbringing. She’s a worthy person to champion, and Sarah strives to prove her innocence.


If I miss any questions for Debra, please ask them for me in our comments area.                                                                                      E. B. Davis

The cover art of your book, Four Cuts Too Many, is wonderful, delicious, and colorful. Do you have input in choosing the artwork?


Kensington asks me for general thoughts about my covers. I always ask for RahRah to be on the cover (which I think would happen even if I didn’t ask) and I highlight something to do with the murder or tied to the book’s title, but they create something far better than I ever imagine.


Have you wondered why many nursery tales and rhymes are violent? Were they passed down through the generations without thought? Were they supposed to be warnings to children? I never really thought about it before. Have you?


There are two schools of thought about why nursery tales and rhymes are violent. The first notes that they originally were meant to be told by adults to less educated or illiterate adults in a serial type of format. The violent elements made them more interesting. The second theory, which I think piggybacks the first, is that the rhymes reflect the political and social thoughts of the times that couldn’t be directly expressed without the speaker being beheaded or arrested. By couching the protests or beliefs in humor or silly rhyme, the point was made to all who heard the tale or rhyme without the risk of bodily harm to the writer. As it is often said, “A lot of truth is said in jest.”


Sarah’s cat, RahRah, was actually her mother-in-law’s cat. According to her mother-in-law’s will, would Sarah be able to afford to give up her job and go to school full time?


Although her mother-in-law’s will created an animal trust that provides for RahRah to own the carriage house and a caregiver who receives a stipend and reimbursement for whatever expenses RahRah has, it isn’t enough for Sarah to give up working to go to school full time.

Why would Dr. Williams, the head of the college’s hotel-hospitality program accuse Grace of murdering Dr. Martin without any evidence? It made me think there was something wrong with him.


Dr. Williams knew there was an argument between Dr. Martin and Grace, so he jumped to a conclusion that made sure not to cast any possible doubt on himself.


Sarah knows Grace well enough to call Harlan, the attorney she works for, to caution and defend Grace during questioning by the police. What responses does she anticipate Grace will make?


From her knowledge of Grace’s background, she knows Grace stands up for herself and is honest. Consequently, she fears Grace will be defiant with the police or blurt out something negative about Dr. Martin that can be construed against her.


Wanda, a student who was in Grace’s class and a former stepdaughter of the victim, Dr. Douglas Martin, is very forthcoming about her dislike of him. That surprised me. Why was she so verbal especially after his murder? Why would she choose to go to a college where he was an interim official?


Because the culinary program was so strong, Wanda was a student at the junior college at least a year before Dr. Martin took his job there. She doesn’t say anything negative about him in the hallway after he is found dead, but Wanda is lulled into expressing her honest feelings because in a situation where she is being protective and worries about Dr. Martin’s mother, Kait, who has been a grandmother and somewhat of a mother to her. She also, perhaps subconsciously, realizes that Sarah is liked and trusted by Eloise, a dear lifetime friend of Kait, who has joined Wanda for dinner at the retirement center to break the news of Dr. Martin’s death to Kait. I think her anger, fear, and churning emotions at that moment are what loosen her normally more reserved tongue.


Are personal weaknesses the root of failure?


To understand the concept of root of failure in any situation, one must analyze the base data of the failure and determine if it is a failure, a human error, or of no consequence. Sarah Blair is more frightened of the kitchen than of murder. Her personal weaknesses in the kitchen, as well as her fears after her divorce, result in her having a lack of confidence (and the potential for oven failures), but that is not really a failure. She has the ability to grow. While Sarah can’t overcome every personal weakness, she learns to live with them and to be successful despite them.


How can a “no kill” shelter put down ten percent of its animals and still be considered a no-kill?


That was my first reaction, too, but as I researched it, I discovered that often it is the animals who are ill or have other severe behavioral problems that are in that ten percent. Most no kill shelters strive to be well under the ten percent, but that is the defined permissible percentage. This is a significant difference compared to shelters that don’t follow no-kill policies.


I was surprised Glenn, the veterinarian, asked Sarah for a date. Doesn’t he know about her relationship with Cliff, or is it because he does know about the relationship that he did?


The period of time that the Sarah Blair series covers isn’t that long. Consequently, most people in Wheaton wouldn’t recognize Cliff and Sarah as being in a relationship because their interaction has been on and off. Plus, Glenn hasn’t been back in Wheaton long and, during the time he has been there, he’s been busy getting his veterinarian practice going.


Grace lied by omission to the police. What did she lie about?

 Grace admits to having a run-in with Dr. Martin, but she doesn’t go into the details beyond what he did to one of her students. One of the subplots in Four Cuts Too Many is the existence of a relationship between Grace and Mandy. As an author, I treated them with respect, but Dr. Martin’s comments and actions reflect a different societal viewpoint. Grace doesn’t feel that rehashing his behavior should have a bearing on what happened, so because she considers the matter personal and doesn’t want to involve Mandy, she leaves out any mention of that part of their disagreement when she talks to the police.


What did Jane propose to the college and the city? Would it have cut into Southwind’s business? Is the college private or government-funded?


Jane’s Place, Jane Clark’s restaurant and bed and breakfast, took a hit in Three Treats Too Many from which it hasn’t recovered. She proposes as a win-win that because the college’s culinary and hospitality classrooms are outdated, the college should pay her a fee for students to run Jane’s Place. Jane argues the college can claim a win by advertising to high-level culinary and hospitality students that their program will expose them to a study/work environment where the kitchen equipment is top of the line and the hotel side is up to date. In her own mind, Jane wins because she would be drawing an income without paying the fees associated with her building. She wants the city to enter into the partnership to give her proposal and the program more credibility and to steer tourists and events to Jane’s Place. Because she will offer discounts to the city for using or recommending her facility and hopes the college faculty will support having all of its events at Jane’s Place, the indirect impact, if the proposal is accepted, would be a drastic cut into Southwind’s business.


What is the “ice pick” method of stabbing?


The “ice pick” method of stabbing uses an ice pick or a knife with a very sharp point. When it is thrust into the neck or a part of the body, the point of entry and the weight of the stab is focused on an exceedingly small area. Consequently, it is an effective means of piercing the skull or a particular organ or artery. In Four Cuts Too Many, this method of stabbing requires good knife skills.


Dr. Martin’s mother, Kait Martin, lives in the Sunshine Retirement Home, as does Sarah’s mother’s beau, Mr. Rogers. Kait suffers from early-onset dementia. How did she come to have so much money?


Kait married the love of her life and traveled all over the world with him as he worked himself up the corporate ladder. When he died, whether it was from salary or investments, she was left a rich widow. The money and the assets passed to her rather than to their son, Dr. Martin.


Have you known any real-life matchmakers?

Yes. When I moved to Birmingham, there was a woman in the community employed by one of the organizations to do newcomer work. She decided to add a personal mission to her work. If a newcomer were single, she would extend a “getting to know you” invitation for lunch. After each lunch, she’d figure out the good matches and then concoct ways to introduce the single men to the single women. Although she didn’t formally claim to be a matchmaker, she was responsible, during a twenty-year period, for many successful marriages.


When Sarah gets together with Cliff, she drinks a lot of wine. Afterward, she drinks hot chocolate with her twin sister, Emily. Is Sarah more a sweets eater than a meat and potato gal?


Sarah will always take pizza and junk food, which includes ice cream, cookies, and, of course, the wonderful desserts served at Southwind, over meat and potatoes.


Sarah says to Harlan, “…but even as kind as you are, people view you as an authority figure. I’m different. People identify with my lack of kitchen skills and not-so-perfect life.” Is that the secret to Sarah’s sleuthing?


Yes, Sarah’s ability to be the common person with troubles and tribulations in her past, as well as an ability to listen, makes her a perfect amateur sleuth. People aren’t intimidated by her as they might be by Harlan’s legal credentials.


Sarah notices that her mother and sister do everything for the right reasons. Is this an affirmation of values that attracts readers to cozy mysteries?


It is an affirmation of the values of good over evil or caring for others that often is found in a cozy mystery. In writing the Sarah Blair series, I strive to bring family values and relationships to the forefront.


At certain points in the investigation, Sarah doubts Grace and her partner Mandy’s innocence. Why?


Sarah feels, rightfully so, that Grace isn’t being forthcoming with Harlan or her. She also worries that as she follows the money or blood trails that the police chief advocates, Grace and Mandy, based on the information she has, won’t have completely clean hands.


Your ending surprised me—the sign of a great mystery. What’s next for Sarah?


Kensington released Four Cuts Too Many on May 25. On May 12, I turned in the fifth book in the series, Five Belles Too Many.  In that book, which will be published in 2022, Maybelle and George are one of five finalist couples vying to win “the perfect wedding” in a competition being filmed in Wheaton by a national television show. To Sarah’s dismay, because the rules of the show require each belle to have a live-in chaperone to make sure the belle doesn’t engage in hanky-panky during the show’s taping, Sarah is drafted by her mother to be Maybelle’s chaperone.  



  1. Congrats on the new release AND on turning in your next book, Debra!

  2. Congratulations Debra on both accomplishments -- and the great reviews this one is getting.

  3. Great interview! Congratulations on the release of Four Cuts Too Many. I'm anxious to read it, and now I also can't wait for Five Belles Too Many.

  4. All the makings of a great read. Look forward to catching up with Sarah!

  5. Thank you everyone. I'm very excited about the new book and thrilled to have the next one turned in (on time... actually ready to go ahead of its due date). appreciate this interview and this blog!

  6. Congratulations on the book birthday and turning in your manuscript AHEAD OF TIME! Amazing! You deserve a delicious celebratory dinner and some champagne. Raising a glass to you!