Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

An Interview with Author Debra H. Goldstein by E. B. Davis

When Sarah Blair’s mother participates in a reality show competition for brides in Wheaton, Alabama, things get a little too real as a murderer crashes the wedding party . . .

Sometimes Sarah’s mother, Maybelle, can be higher maintenance than her Siamese cat RahRah. Maybelle and her friend, Mr. George Rogers, have been chosen to be one of five couples competing for a small-town “perfect” wedding and dream honeymoon on a Southern Belles reality show—and guess who has to be chaperone. Even more vexing, the producers have decided to put up the crew and participants at the restaurant/bed and breakfast owned by Sarah’s nemesis Jane Clark.
But when someone turns up dead with Jane kneeling by the body with blood on her hands, she goes from being Sarah’s chief rival to the police’s chief suspect. Neither Sarah nor her twin, Chef Emily Johnson, can stand Jane—still, they don’t think she’s a murderer. The producers vow the show must go on, but to protect their mother and the other contestants, Sarah vows to find the true killer before someone else gets eliminated . . .


Five Belles Too Many, Debra H. Goldstein’s fifth book in the Sarah Blair mystery series, will be released on June 28th. This book involves two things I have no experience with—reality TV shows and gambling. Most of my questions involve learning about these topics so please forgive my ignorance.


As a regular blogger with WWK, Debra needs no introduction. But please ask any questions I may have missed. Thanks!        E. B. Davis


Debra—did you study reality show psychology and marketing to write this book?


Having appeared on Jeopardy and participated in early try-outs for a show that never aired, I had a limited amount of personal knowledge of what happens behind the scenes on game shows. I also had the benefit of being able to interview a friend who once worked for an invitation company that produced an invitation that became a finalist for a similar “Perfect Wedding” segment. Finally, I networked and was put in touch with an individual who, having been associated with many reality TV shows, was able to explain the call sheet and the roles different people have for a television show to successfully be taped.


Jane is scathing to many people, but she creates her own problems by not taking the time to do her homework. Is she too busy, not detail oriented, or a scatterbrain?


Jane is none of the things you mentioned. She is an individual who dreams of hitting it big no matter what it takes to get there. Jane jumps at opportunities, but never thinks things might not occur the way she wants. Her continuous competition with Sarah and Chef Emily reflects a jealous desire to have the same level of success they do, but she fails to recognize the hard work they put into achieving their goals. When things to wrong for her, she blames everyone except herself.


Many of the contestants on the show know each other or have connections to the show’s production staff. Cliff is a contractor for the show and his uncle is a contestant. Maybelle is a contestant and her daughters own the restaurant hosting the show’s dinners. Aren’t all of these relationships conflict of interest to the competition of the show?


In real life, the interconnected relationships would never occur. I took some leeway in setting the show in a small town with a limited number of available venues, competitors, and experienced laborers. Rather than shying away from the conflicts, I highlighted them by having Jane and Chef Bernardi argue their impropriety, but I had the producer explain:

“We’re in complete compliance with the network’s rules for segments like this. We even have a compliance person on set every day. Jane’s Place and you will either win or lose on merit. The audience will vote on the invitations, dress, and things like that, but guest judges will be evaluating the competitions involving tasting of food and cakes. Their judging will be based on your abilities and final products.”


How can “no kill” animal shelters put down about ten percent of healthy animals?


Shelters have different philosophies in terms of killing unwanted animals. Many traditional shelters used euthanasia as their means of dealing with too many animals for the shelter or an overflowing population of unwanted animals. It was an adopt some and kill the rest approach. Today’s No Kill shelters specifically reserve euthanasia for irremediably suffering animals or those whose behavior precludes rehabilitation. Instead of using death as a remedy for otherwise healthy animals, No Kill shelters believe in promoting adoption, fostering, targeted spay/neuter programs, and other means that control the flow into shelter life. Ten percent is a maximum with most having and achieving a goal far less than that.


Sarah blurts out her comments about Cuban cigars without a filter, and then she worries she’s becoming her mother. Do we all worry about that?


Don’t you? Although most of us love/adore our mothers, there are the times that they chide us, ask a question we don’t want to answer, or say or do something that absolutely embarrasses us. When that happens, we all resolve to never become our mothers. There is even an insurance company that now has a series of commercials about becoming our parents. In Sarah Blair’s world, Mother Maybelle can be the perfect Southern Belle who smiles sweetly while saying “Bless your heart,” and the woman Sarah hopes to never become, but Sarah loves her mother and will do anything for her (despite Sarah’s groaning and fear of becoming her mother).


I’m surprised that in this era the show’s management thought that cigars would be a perfect gift for the male contestants. Am I naïve? Do guys really like them?


I used cigars for two reasons. First, many guys really do like them as evidenced by the number of cigar stores that exist in most urban areas. Second, it was a play on the Southern tradition of the Gone with the Wind era when after dinner the women retired while the men had a final drink and a cigar. Stereotypical images of the South are deliberately being emphasized by the reality show producers in Five Belles Too Many. Besides the cigars, there is a challenge that includes Southern Belle costumes and another one with flower arranging.


Are reality shows less about the competition and more about the rivalry and conflict like any drama?


Reality shows are edited to make the viewers engage with different characters. If you think of Top Chef, the Bachelor or Survivor franchises, or any of the Housewives shows, the editing always makes someone appear to be a villain and someone a well-liked angel. Similar to a novel, without episodic conflict or drama, there would be no reason for a reader to turn the page or a viewer to tune in to the show’s next episode.


Does it matter that the contestants weren’t randomly picked? I guess none of them really are.


Almost all shows have try-outs. The contestants are then chosen based upon demographics the show’s producers want to have represented. In Five Belles Too Many, the segment, which will play on a New York televised show, is being filmed in Wheaton, Alabama. The big rivalry in Alabama is between Auburn and Alabama football. Consequently, there had to be a couple representing each team. The show also needed to have a couple who represented the stereotypical image people have of the South (think Jethro and Elly Mae from The Beverly Hillbillys). With the South covered, I went the opposite way by having one couple be fans of the Day of the Dead. Finally, because most couples trying to win a perfect wedding are young, I had four couples be in their twenties, but I gave the final slot to Mother Maybelle and her friend, George, to represent an over sixty dynamic. The mixture makes for great fun!


Is there outside betting on reality show outcomes?


Hopefully not, but the reality is that bookies take bets on anything. If you Google betting on game shows or reality shows, you will find many advertised lines of bets taken on scripted and unscripted shows. There also is the history of scandals involving the giving of answers or questions in advance associated with original game shows like The $64,000 Question.


What is a gambling line? Do gambling lines change during the competition? What’s a push?


In gambling, the line is the odds. It can change based upon circumstances and betting. A push in betting is a tie between the better and the house. In that instance, the odds maker fails to make money and the better only ends up with the return of his/her original bet.


Is the type of gambling set up by Chef Bernardi illegal?


The best thing to say about the way Chef Bernardi manages the gambling in Five Belles Too Many is that his actions aren’t particularly kosher.


How did you manage to delay the murder until Chapter 7? Did your publisher comment?


My editor/publisher loves Five Belles Too Many and never mentioned that the murder doesn’t happen until Chapter 7. In fact, I never noticed that fact either, until you asked this question. I tend to write short tight chapters and there was a lot of fun character and gameshow groundwork to lay before a murder occurred.


Why did Sarah go out of her way to help Jane by getting her counsel and investigating when Sarah can’t stand Jane?


Sarah can’t help herself. Despite Jane (aka the Bimbo) breaking up Sarah’s marriage, trying to steal Sarah’s Siamese cat, RahRah, sabotaging Chefs Marcus and Emily’s restaurant endeavors, and being a general pain in the neck, Sarah doesn’t believe Jane is a murderer. Consequently, Sarah’s better nature beats out the hatred she feels toward her greatest nemesis.


I was confused by the doctor, who I assume was the ME or coroner, who took orders from the police chief. Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Isn’t the norm that they are separate offices so the chief wouldn’t have undue influence to bend the forensics to his line of inquiry?


Wheaton, Alabama is portrayed throughout the series as a small town with a limited police presence. Besides the Chief and another officer, the doctor does double duty as a detective and the coroner. In small towns, coroners are often appointed or elected. In Wheaton, it is an appointed position held by a very scrupulous individual who believes in doing things the right way rather than jumping to conclusions. In this case, it is clearly indicated in all the books that Dr. Smith never deviates from proper forensic behavior.


Sarah asks herself is Harlan a saint or fool for helping Jane, but he’s doing it for Sarah. Shouldn’t she ask herself that question?


Don’t all of us sometimes miss the most obvious question that we should be asking ourselves?


Is Cliff really changing or does he want to be with Sarah again?

Throughout the five books, the individual arcs for each character change. The Sarah from One Taste Too Many goes from being an insecure woman who married at eighteen, was divorced at twenty-eight, and only got RahRah, the Siamese cat out of the marriage, to a woman with more confidence and the ability to believe in herself as she interacts with others and successfully solves crimes that allow her to protect family and friends. Cliff, too, matures. They have a special relationship which may or may not be a permanent one.


A “Day of the Dead” wedding theme. Really?


When it comes to weddings, anything is possible. One thing to remember in terms of reality shows is that not everyone enters for the prize that is being given. In this instance, the Day of the Dead couple has an ulterior motive for competing and saw this wedding as a means to distinguish them from other competitors trying to win a spot on the show.


To me, tiramisu is much ado about nothing. What’s the appeal?


Tiramisu, which is a recipe found in Four Cuts Too Many, is either loved or hated. I, for one, love its strong coffee flavoring and the texture of tiramisu – as well as the fact that the amount of coffee and sugar the dessert contains gives one a quick energy boost.


What’s a bromance?


A bromance is a very close non-sexual relationship between two men. In the Sarah Blair books, Sarah often thinks Harlan and Chief Gerard have a bromance because of their mutual respect and interaction, despite the Chief always getting it wrong until Harlan and Sarah feed him the correct information and conclusions.


What’s a kill fee?


A kill fee is an amount of money a party makes after scrapping an agreed work or project. In writing, an editor may accept a story, but then, pay a kill fee when the editor decides not to run the story. Where parties have contracted for food or other services with reliance by the second party, the one canceling the agreement may pay a kill fee rather than having a dispute tied to breaking a contract


What’s next for Sarah?


That is up in the air. Her fate is in the readers’ hands.



Jim Jackson said...

Best wishes for this latest launch. Fingers crossed your readers come through for you.

KM Rockwood said...

An intriguing look at situations about which I know very little. I love stories that immerse me in new worlds.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congrats! Weddings are the perfect fodder for reality TV.

Kait said...

So delightful! Good luck with the latest.

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks for the interview, Debra. Culinary mysteries are one of my favorites. Add in pets and it's near perfect. Hope for number six!

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Thanks everyone.... appreciate the good thoughts and wishes