70% Dark Intentions (Bean to Bar Mysteries)
by Amber Royer
I am very happy to welcome Amber Royer back to Escape With Dollycas!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! I live in McKinney, Texas.(Just north of Dallas). My husband and I are coming up on our 25th anniversary. I grew up in Southeast Texas, a ferry ride away from Galveston, where my bean to bar mysteries are set. I have been teaching creative writing for over a decade now. I love working with new students because I love getting to know new story worlds and characters, and see how these change as they are refined. I was a librarian before I became an author coach, so books have always played a part in my life.
I am a nut when it comes to linguistics, and have built grammatical rules for several of the languages in my science fiction. I am a language learner in both Spanish and Japanese. I read/write enough Japanese to pass the practice test for the JLPT 5 (easiest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test), though I’ve not taken the official exam.
I am an avid herb gardener, and I love to cook. I even have a cookbook that combines these two passions – There are Herbs in My Chocolate. I gave the cooking style developed in that cookbook to Carmen, the employee Felicity just promoted to official pastry chef at the beginning of 70% Dark Intentions. Now that we are beginning to be able to entertain again, I am looking forward to the opportunity to make cupcakes for people again.
What are three things most people don’t know about you?
I’m adopted. I’m working on the manuscript for the Bean to Bar Mysteries NO. 3, and I’ve uncovered that one of my characters is also adopted. You will get to know a bit about that character in 70% Dark Intentions – though he has no idea yet that he’s adopted.
I’m left-handed. They say people who are left-handed are supposed to have talent with visual arts and beautiful handwriting. Well . . . my handwriting is awful. It was so bad in high school that my teachers asked me to type instead (which explains why I type basically as fast as I can think). I can read cursive, but I never completely learned how to write it.
I am surprisingly good at Beat Sabre (a VR game where you have Star-Wars style light sabers that you use to hit floating squares to the beat of music. Kind of a cross between slashing at the squares and banging on the drums.) I took years of dance classes when I was a kid. So I guess now they’re not going to waste. LOL.
What is the first book you remember reading?
The first thing I can remember reading is Where the Wild Things Are. It was probably read TO me, as opposed to me reading it myself, but it was the first one that made an impression. This book exemplifies the Hero’s Journey – could there be any stronger call to adventure? Or a character more changed by the experience? Is it any wonder I fell in love with books?
What are you reading now?
I am just finishing up Assault and Pepper by Leslie Budewitz. I was hooked when I found out it was about a spice shop. And when I saw it was set in Seattle, I knew there would be coffee. And coffee is one of my favorite things. (Bonus: I was interviewed last year by Erin Andrews of Indi Chocolate, who has a shop in Pike’s Place Market, where Pepper has her fictional shop. It has been cool seeing that space brought to life in the story. You can catch the Virtual Chocolate Salon re-watch at: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=252215839559244&ref=watch_permalink ).
Next up on my TBR list is The Plot is Murder by VM Burns. I am a total sucker for anything that feels like it is going to be a bit meta, and from the blurb, it feels like this book is going to have a UHF-esque imagination dovetailing into reality kind of vibe.
As far as nonfiction, I’m just getting into Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. I want to get through the book before I watch the Netflix docuseries. I love cookbooks that explore principles (my favorite cookbook ever is Ratio by Michael Ruhlman) and this one promises to take the concept in-depth.
What books have most inspired you?
I still think Treasure Island is a beautiful example of how to tell a story without wasting anything. It is a big influence on how I think about putting together the different elements of storytelling.
But this time I want to talk a bit about Jane Austen. (Felicity, my protagonist in the Bean to Bar Mysteries, is an Austen fan. Go figure. In Book 2, Felicity forms a friendship with another character in part because they both appreciate Austen.) It is often said that story is character, and I believe that this is true. Austen is a master of psychologically examining her characters, which is why these stories endure and get adapted in different formats. Trends in structure have changed since Austen’s day (compare the book version of Emma, where the big climactic scene with Knightley takes place over 100 pages from the end, versus the more recent movie versions, where that scene comes at the end) but the way the characters are drawn as people – and the characteristics inside those psychological profiles that make us viscerally feel the romantic chemistry between her leads – doesn’t change. Austin is probably more of an influence on my writing than I realize, since no matter what kind of story I try to tell, my characters all wind up with awkward/complex friendships and compelling love interests.
Mysteries that have inspired me include:
—Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels.
— Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series
— Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who series.
— Dorothy Cannell’s Ellie Haskell series.
— Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldie Bear series.
What made you decide you wanted to write mysteries?
I’ve always loved reading them. I feel like all fiction has an element of puzzle to it, as we figure out the plot along with the characters. Mysteries to me are the most direct expression of this, which is why I think as a reader, it is so easy to get caught up in them. But they are anything but direct to write. You have to get to know the characters so well that you can see how each one of the possible suspects COULD have an element of darkness inside that would allow that individual to be a murderer – while at the same time making all the innocent ones likable enough that readers are okay with them showing back up in the next book. The plot has to be logical, and yet surprising. When I was a teenager, one of my first attempts at writing a novel was about half of a mystery manuscript. I just didn’t have the writing skill at the time to pull it off. But that convinced me for a long time that I COULDN’T write a mystery.
It wasn’t until I’d written a lot of other things that I took another stab at writing a mystery. (Pun mostly intended.) Felicity was a character who demanded to be written. She’s inspired in part by a number of different chocolate makers I’d met while researching and marketing the Chocoverse books. But a lot of her is also me, getting to talk about a fictionalized version of the area where I grew up and food that I love. The mysteries she finds herself involved in serve as a vehicle for Felicity moving towards understanding herself and what she wants in life.
Do you have a special place you like to write?
I write on my laptop, so I’m more of a will-travel-for-inspiration kind of writer than having any one set place. (I’ll write in the back seat of a moving car, since the glare of a laptop Over the past year, I’ve been more or less grounded, so most of my writing has taken place in my living room. I LOVE writing in coffee shops, though. (And I hope to get to start doing that again soon!) I used to meet up with some other writers at this little boba tea and ramen place, and I miss that vibe. I’m one of those people who has to have a bit of noise in the background to get anything done. I have a desk in our home office, but it faces a blank wall. Basically, I only use it if I am working on a project where I can bounce ideas off my husband, or if I’m doing something via Zoom, so there are other people virtually hanging out with me.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
Writers are observers. We take in elements of the world, and sometimes these memories can rattle around for years before they show up in a project. I love the ocean and the beach, so writing about this setting is a no-brainer. Galveston wildlife shows up in 70% Dark Intentions, and growing up, I visited Sea Rim State Park (on the mainland, not far from Galveston) and Galveston State Park a number of times. There are alligator observation stations in both, and this inspires part of the story. Sometimes you see something and it sparks an idea immediately. But sometimes it’s a combination of both. Another wildlife element that shows up in this book is the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. When we visited Galveston to film some clips for the Book 1 trailer, we came across a number of the Turtles About Town sculptures – which highlight these endangered turtles, and their nesting on the island. This came together in my mind with a visit Jake and I took about a decade and a half ago to a turtle sanctuary in Acapulco, where we got to see baby turtles awaiting release back into the ocean. This sparked another way wildlife shows up in the plot of this story.
When I build characters, I usually start with a name and a few details, and I write a little from that person’s point of view. Once I feel like I know a character well enough, I do a character interview and find out what they want out of the story, what they’re afraid of and what they value. I don’t intentionally model characters on real people, although I’m sure traits from people I know show up in my fictional people. I have had friends assume they are certain people in my stories, and I can sometimes see why they might think that, even though this was not intentional. When I envision a project, I usually do picture one of my friends who would particularly enjoy it. I’ve borrowed those friends’ names – with permission, of course – for the protagonists of some of my stories.
Writers are often told to write what they know, or to write what they want to understand. Ind that’s true. My story ideas are a mix, really, of things I know, things I want to know, things I’d love to tell my friends and cool things I uncover while living life.
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
My biggest challenge is still narrowing the story down to a reasonable word count. There are so many aspects to any story, and particularly to cozy mysteries – which have tons of support characters and suspects and a whole community to explore, not to mention possible love interests. It’s hard to narrow it down to just the characters who are relevant to the current installment of the story, and to focus subplots so that they don’t overtake the main plot.
What do you think makes a good story?
Story is about people and conflict. Most often that means people in conflict with each other. And there has to be something at stake in the conflict that both characters want desperately – and that is weighty enough to be worth a reader’s time. That what draws us in and keeps us reading. A GREAT story changes the characters along the way, so that the events of the story shakes them to their core and changes who they are and how they look at life.
There also needs to be an element of uncertainty. If we can easily guess the outcome of a story early on, there’s no puzzles to figure out. If it’s obvious who wins and how, we can’t worry for the characters – or with them.
For a cozy mystery, the character also needs a reason to solve the particular murder at the heart of your story. Maybe she cares about the person suspected, or is suspected herself, or somehow her reputation or her business is at stake. In most cozies, the protagonist isn’t solving the mystery as part of her job. So you need to manufacture a reason. If the sleuth has nothing at risk, we won’t believe that she cares so much about solving a murder, when there are other people on hand with catching killers in their job descriptions. This time, I dealt with this by attaching the disappearance of one of Felicity’s employees to the events surrounding the murder. And I’m having Felicity try to resist getting involved – even though the people in her life assume that having solved one murder that happened on her premises, she’s bound to investigate this second one.
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?
I think all my characters have a little of me in them – even the bad guys. Demographically, Felicity is most like me. I gave her a Cajun side to her background, because I wanted to get to pepper the series with food references and flavors of my childhood. Felicity has a good heart, and she genuinely feels bad when she makes mistakes while investigating. And like me, she loves books and reading and a good cup of coffee. But unlike me, she’s good at chemistry, and has a medical background, while I was too squeamish to even do my own experiments in high school biology. Which makes her strong and cool in a crisis, whereas I tend to go into panic mode.
Psychologically, I’m more like Autumn Ellis, Felicity’s best friend. Autumn is a former mystery writer, who wanted to be a poet since she was a little girl. She and Felicity met in eighth grade, when they were both doing UIL Poetry competitions. She’s more intuitive than logical. She speaks her mind – sometimes without regard for the consequences. And like me, she’s an extrovert who works from home, which means she needs routines for social interaction – and she gets terribly excited when she gets invited to a party.
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
My protagonist is a bean to bar craft chocolate maker, with ties to the chocolate making world. Between books, she travels to work with farmers growing cacao in different countries – and elements of that wanderlust come home with her and show up in the books.
The Bean to Bar Mysteries boarder on the more actiony side of cozy, with one of Felicity’s love interests being a former bodyguard. And in this one, one of Felicity’s employees goes missing at the same time as the murder. 70% Dark Intentions deals directly with the fallout of the first book in the series, where after being threatened by the murderer, someone in Felicity’s life has developed issues with self-confidence.
There is also a focus on character development for Felicity herself, as she continues to cope with the grief in her backstory that brought her home in the first place – and the fact that her friends’ lives keep changing around her.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I’m already drafting Bean to Bar Mysteries No. 3: Out of Temper. Book 1 dealt with the Gulf Coast’s tempestuous weather, and Book 2 deals with Galveston’s wildlife. Book 3 is going to bring in elements from Galveston’s cruise ship terminals. Which means a lot of the characters from the first two books are going to get to go on a little boat ride, when Felicity gets invited to do chocolate making demos and tastings on board a cruise.
I’m also working on a manuscript involving time travel and Impressionist art.
Thank you Amber for visiting today!
Keep reading to learn about Amber’s new book!
About 70% Dark Intentions
70% Dark Intentions (Bean to Bar Mysteries)
2nd in Series
Publisher – Golden Tip Press (July 20, 2021)
Paperback: 266 pages
Digital ASIN : B091KMVY8P
Felicity Koerber’s bean to bar chocolate shop on Galveston’s historic Strand is bringing in plenty of customers – in part due to the notoriety of the recent murder of one of her assistants, which she managed to solve. Things seem to be taking a turn for the better. Her new assistant, Mateo, even gets along with Carmen, the shop’s barista turned pastry chef. Felicity thinks she’s learning to cope with change – right up until one of her friends gets engaged. Everyone’s expecting her to ask Logan, her former bodyguard, to be her plus one. But even the thought of asking out someone else still makes her feel disloyal to her late husband’s memory — so maybe she hasn’t moved on from her husband’s death as much as she thought.
Felicity isn’t planning to contact Logan any time soon. Only, Felicity finds ANOTHER body right outside her shop – making it two murders at Greetings and Felicitations in as many months. That night, Mateo disappears, leaving Felicity to take care of his pet octopus. The police believe that Mateo committed the murder, but Felicity is convinced that, despite the mounting evidence, something more is going on, and Mateo may actually be in trouble.
When Logan assumes that he’s going to help Felicity investigate, she realizes she’s going to have to spend time with him – whether she’s ready to really talk to him or not. Can Felicity find out what happened to Mateo, unmask a killer, and throw an engagement party all at the same time?
More About Amber Royer
Amber Royer writes the CHOCOVERSE comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series, and the BEAN TO BAR MYSTERIES. She is also the author of STORY LIKE A JOURNALIST: A WORKBOOK FOR NOVELISTS, which boils down her writing knowledge into an actionable plan involving over 100 worksheets to build a comprehensive story plan for your novel. She blogs about creative writing techniques and all things chocolate at www.amberroyer.com. She also teaches creative writing for both UT Arlington Continuing Education and Writing Workshops Dallas. If you are very nice to her, she might make you cupcakes.
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