Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series, which debutes with One Taste Too Many on December 18, 2018. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter, serves on SinC’s national board, and is president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Find out more about Debra at www.DebraHGoldstein.com .
Jann: Today we’re chatting with cozy mystery author and Judge, Debra H. Goldstein. We’re going to spend some time today getting to know her, Sarah, and RahRah.
Debra: Maze in Blue was published by a small company (which ceased operations shortly after the IPPY Award). The company did very little PR and I was such a newbie that being published, attending conferences and being a panelist, and doing book talks and signings was already a heady experience. When I found Maze won an IPPY award, I was over the moon because it was recognition that my passion had value.
Debra: One thing I was doing was my full-time job as a sitting federal Administrative Law Judge. Somehow that took a lot of my time as did family obligations. In terms of the writing, after my first publisher went out of business in mid-2012, I still had more than six months of scheduled conferences and speaking engagements. I tried to interest agents and editors in doing some with Maze in Blue, but was told to “write something new.” Should have Played Poker was the something new I spent 2013 and the beginning of 2014 writing. When I finished the book, I queried agents and pitched it at conferences with little luck until Killer Nashville. After hearing the first two pages, the editor from Five Star indicated a willingness to read the entire manuscript. A week later, she purchased Poker, but it was so late in the year that the 2015 catalog was full. That’s why it was released in 2016. In the meantime, I wrote short stories and began One Taste Too Many, the first book in what will now be Kensington’s Sarah Blair series.
Debra: I love Sarah Blair. She isn’t the perfect protagonist, but could be any of us.
Married at eighteen, divorced at twenty eight, Sarah Blair has nothing much to show for the last decade but her feisty Siamese cat, RahRah, some clumsy domestic skills, and a desire to succeed at her law firm receptionist job. Sarah knew starting over would be messy and a far cry from the life of luxury she led during marriage, but things fall completely apart when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin sister’s award-winning rhubarb crisp.
With RahRah wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and Emily wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, Sarah is a cook of convenience who makes things like Jell-O in a Can. That’s why for Sarah, whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death—being in the kitchen!
Debra: Cozy mysteries often include cooking, crafts and cats. When I began plotting One Taste Too Many, I realized there were a few areas I wasn’t very proficient in – cooking, crafts, and cats. Consequently, I researched each of these and decided Sarah would be a cook of convenience who lacked any craft skills and had a cat named RahRah. The more I played with the cat, I knew having RahRah simply be a walk-on character wasn’t fair to him (in other words, he talked to me and told me he needed to be a prominent figure in the series). The more I wrote, the more RahRah developed. He’ll be making an appearance throughout the series.
Debra: Book 2, which will come out in October 2019, is called Two Bites Too Many. In that book, Sarah will once again be forced into solving a mystery when it appears the police believe her eccentric mother murdered a prominent member of the community. In book 3, tentatively titled Three Treats Too Many, competing restaurants and dishes are bad enough, but murder complicates everything.
Debra: I envy people who can write a certain number of words per day. I can’t. I write in spurts or bursts. Often, I go days without writing, but I have come to realize plotlines are percolating in my sub-conscious. When I finally write, it flows, and I lose all track of time.
Debra: Having been orphaned twice, the best advice I received was “write something new.” If I hadn’t taken this advice and had simply kept trying to find a home for the books that were meant to be the first in a series and are now standalones, I wouldn’t have written the new Sarah Blair series I’m so excited about, my writing wouldn’t have improved, and I would never have had almost forty short stories published since 2012, including “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine – May-June 2017) which was a 2018 Short Story Agatha and Anthony finalist.
Debra: Each of my books have been written with show music inoNE the background.
Debra: I love the sound of show music. I can’t carry a tune, but listening to the lyrics is what makes the music work for me.
Debra: I was lucky to have a legal career that included time as a litigator and a judge before I decided, a few years ago, to give up my lifetime appointment to follow my passion for writing. The only other career that might be fun, and which I get to do aspects of when I do a book talk, is comedy.
Jann: Debra, it’s been great spending time with you today. Wishing you and yours a fabulous holiday season. Looking forward to reading One Taste Too Many!!
Words are a writer’s ingredients. We love words – obscure words, descriptive or emotional words, those sets that make up the language of a specialty. Creating a passage of the perfect words hits the poetic, emotional and dramatic sweet spot — it’s more satisfying than a perfectly risen soufflé. Those words are not always based on literal meaning; otherwise Oscar Wilde would never have written: “The curves of your lips rewrite history.”
I have always been taken with the vocabulary of cooking. This is probably because I can’t cook. Maybe I think if I learn that vocabulary I can wield it like an incantation and my split pea soup will magically look less frightening, smell inviting and even taste good. It hasn’t worked but culinary terms, as a set of words, continue to surprise me — they’re just so aggressive.
Macerate, whip, beat, truss, pulverize, grind, batter, beat, scald. Whoa! All this to get something beautiful, delicious and nutritious? It works for most cooks. No matter how I slice or dice, shred, mince or mash, it seldom works for me. Must be in how you understand the terms and in nuance of use. Culinary terms work just as well to describe a cage fight as they do with a recipe for Angel Food cake.
Jared didn’t blanch facing the mountain that was Killdeer Kilze. He’d whip this fight up – he had to – the kids hadn’t eaten in two days. Time to mince this guy and reduce his essence. Zest infused Jared’s system, juicing his blood as he minced the mountain’s nose with one lethal chop, shred his kneecap with another. Scalded by the roar of the drunken crowd he beat at the massive chest, macerating the ribs. Sliced, diced and filleted to perfection, Killdeer Kilze lay trussed like the appetizer he was. The kids would dine well tonight.
Cooking is a gentle, homey pursuit – though some of those chef shows can be down right bloody so maybe it’s the competitive aspect that accounts for the aggressive feel. These words aren’t really homonyms. They sound alike and are spelled alike but they don’t have different meanings. The difference is in the sense of the meaning.
Linguists and other learned folk call this fine distinction, Polysemy. It’s the distinction that good writers always make. It’s part of why poetry can rock your world. Seeking just the right words with just the right nuance can make a love scene monumental rather than simply sweet, or enfold the reader in the sight, smell and sound of a setting. It’s the choice and use of the right words that makes a story linger in the reader’s heart — something every writer wants.
I do wonder how our language developed to make this particular set of words work for such opposing concepts. Is there a conflicted warrior inside every woman? I don’t know but if I dig far enough I’m sure theories abound. And while I ponder this conundrum I do it…again. I fritter my time away on obscure concepts and my carefully mixed cornbread hits the cooling rack and bounces. It sounds like a hollow rock. Clearly, it takes more than knowing the right language to make a great cook. But it is knowing the right nuanced words that makes a great book.
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