Welcome to Cozy Wednesday!
I am pleased to welcome Sharon Arthur Moore to Escape With Dollycas today!
While preparing this post on my personal journey to being a culinary mystery writer, I was curious about the word journey. I knew from my past word studies that journey carried a sense of time. “Soup du jour”, for example. According to my New Oxford American Dictionary, the word journey derived from Old French via Latin. A jornee meant “day, a day’s travel, a day’s work.”
These days that definition is broadened to mean travel of longer times and distances. Thus it has been for me. Becoming a culinary mystery writer was not a journey of a day.
While preparing, I thought of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. However, instead of two roads diverging in the woods, my journey to culinary mystery writing was two roads converging.
My earliest memories are of standing on a chair before my mother’s gas burner stove stirring eggs. I had to be very young because of where we lived at the time. We moved a lot, so I can date many of my experiences by recalling our “house du jour.”
I was the one in our family of five who loved cooking. My mother, a serviceable cook, had little passion for it. It was her responsibility. My sister, likewise, showed little interest and did what she had to do, but she wasn’t curious about cooking or experimental. I, on the other hand, took over responsibility for much of the dinner cooking whenever I could. And I became a serviceable cook, too.
At Christmas, when I was about twelve, my favorite aunt gave me a 12-bottle rack of spices. My mother turned to her when I opened it and gasped, “What have you done?” You see, my mother’s seasonings consisted of salt, pepper, cinnamon, and chili powder. This rack had exotic spices like tarragon, oregano, and basil! I was enthralled and eager to try them out. My mother knew that and dreaded what I might produce.
Fast forward to today, and I am an intrepid cook. I write a food column, “The Quick Cook”, for a small town paper in Arizona. I create recipes. I play with food. And most of the time it is quite edible!
The second, and simultaneous, path of my journey was that of being an early reader and writer. Nancy Drew enthralled me. In the 1950s there were not so many models of young women who wanted to make the world a better place. Young women who dared to do brave and scary things. Young women who competed with males for brainpower and pluck. Little did I realize that while absorbing all that subtle feminism, I was also getting hooked on mysteries.
I loved thinking along with mysteries that Nancy Drew introduced me to. It was in those, and other mysteries (Cherry Ames, Student Nurse; The Hardy Boys; Trixie Belden, and their ilk) that I internalized the components of a compelling mystery: the hook, the multiple suspects, the embedded clues, the logical resolution of the crime.
It was also in those mysteries, and other fiction I devoured, that I learned by immersion about the elements of any story. Compelling stories in any genre had to have engaging characters who learned or changed over the story, a plot arc presented ups and downs in the problem to be solved, and the ways settings were used. Sometimes it seemed that the setting was another character in the tale as in Edgar Allan Poe stories. Setting, I learned, could be a powerful force impelling the story forward.
And then, as an adult, I read Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson. It was my first culinary mystery. She wasn’t the first author of the subgenre culinary mystery, but she is arguably the best known. With punny titles (a characteristic of most culinary mysteries) and clever plot lines, I was hooked and read every one of her mysteries. How could I resist titles like Chopping Spree, Sticks and Scones, The Cereal Murders, and The Whole Enchilada?
It seems odd to me now that I never realized that I could put my two passions together: mysteries plus food! It was a big “Duh” moment for me when my two roads converged.
I had been writing fiction for decades, going back to my youth. I had written mysteries, even. But to put a mystery together with embedded recipes, well, my world rocked on its axis.
I wrote my first culinary mystery in the mid-1990s. It was pretty lame. Over many iterations I kept plugging away at learning the subtleties of culinary mysteries. And in 2013 Mission Impastable was accepted by Oak Tree Press, a small publisher specializing in mysteries.
In my culinary mysteries, Alli, my heroine, and her childhood friend, Gina, start a personal chef business. Their first client, Gina’s nasty boss at her day job, dies of food poisoning. Oops! Not an auspicious beginning for the struggling women.
I’m happy to say, now that I am firmly on my path, that books two and three came much more easily and will be published next year. Prime Rib and Punishment has my cooks teaching in a cooking school and Potluck has them wrestling with medical marijuana in food products. I am doing the guts of book four where they are demo cooks on a cruise ship, Ancient Grease, during National Novel Writing Month this November.
All of my books include recipes I created. Since I typically just throw ingredients together, it has been challenging to produce actual recipes! It helps that I devote Februarys in my blog, “Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary Time”, to daily recipes for the month in some category. That’s practice!
I began the last paragraph with the phrase “all of my books”, but that’s not exactly true. I also write erotic romances (under a pseudonym) that are 180 degrees from culinary mysteries. But the journey to erotic romance writing is for another post.
(Dinner is Served) (Volume 1)
Setting – Arizona
Dark Oak Mysteries (January 23, 2014)
Trade Paperback: 224 pages
How can it get any worse for a personal chef business than your first client dying of food poisoning? Alli and Gina scramble to make “Dinner is Served” a success, but those pesky police questions into their role in the death of Gina’s hospital boss force Alli to take the investigation into her own hands. The dreaded “Dragon Lady” at the hospital spawned a number of killer-candidates whose lives would be easier with her out of the way. Alli just has to find out which one while clearing their own names.
Alli and Gina already have an online presence with a blog and selling cooking mixes but they want to take things to the next level. Alli takes care of most of the current business but Gina wants to quit her job too. They decide to become personal chefs creating meals for several customers each and every week in the hopes of making enough money for the both of them. They are surprised and thrilled when Gina’s boss, Clarice Franklin aka “The Dragon Lady”, becomes their first customer. Before they first meal is even served strange things happen in their client’s home. The chefs try to do everything to keep their customer happy but when the Dragon Lady is found dead and it looks like she was killed by something she ate the girls are in hot water and their business may go up in flames.. Alli is determined to prove their innocence and keep them cooking.
Lifelong friends, Gina and Alli are as close as sisters. They are also total opposites. Gina is the planner and follows the rules. Alli is more of a “by the seat of her pants” kind of girl. Add in Gina’s mother with her lengthy opinions and prophecies and you have the start of a very entertaining cast. They try to stick together through all the drama but they are tested more than once as the killer remains at large.
There are also plenty of suspects in addition to the Dinner is Served twosome, several people were not too broken up my Ms. Franklin’s demise. From her family to the people at work, heck even the hired help were not mourning her loss much at all. Alli had her work cut out for her as she tried to catch the killer. I was right there with her as each suspect was eliminated. This was a well-plotted mystery.
I really enjoyed this story. I also loved all the description of food throughout the book and was happy several recipes were included. Sharon Arthur Moore is a new author for me and she is off to a great start for this series. I can’t wait to see what she serves up next.
About The Author
Sharon Arthur Moore lives in the desert Southwest with her husband (“a hunk”) and yellow lab. Their children live far away in cities she likes to visit. They don’t come home often enough, but that is probably due to them being gainfully employed.
She enjoys travel, reading, word games, and all manner of company. She fancies herself a cook, but not a chef, and loves feeding family and friends original recipes that sometimes turn out to be quite tasty. She is addicted to cookbook reading and TV cooking shows.
Sharon is thrilled to have three fiction books in print with more to come. She writes in a wide range of genre, thus never really mastering any one of them. You can find her mysteries under Sharon Arthur Moore, her romances under Angelica French, and some unpubbed-as-yet paranormal fiction under River Glynn.
She takes writing classes on-line and in real life, and buys books on writing like she is the sole support of the writing education community. As a “frequent buyer” of books at Amazon.com, she is negotiating with them for freebies.
A teacher at heart, she “transitioned” (“retired” is such an old person word) after 39 years as an educator to full-time writing. She is in various writing critique groups and loves sharing with others what she is learning.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”