Today Mary Lee Ashford is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Risky Biscuits, her latest novel in the Sugar & Spice mystery series.
Welcome, Mary. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
MLA: Thanks for asking! In Risky Biscuits, Sugar Calloway and Dixie Spicer launched their community cookbook business a few months ago and now have a few solid clients. They’ve taken on The Crack of Dawn Breakfast Club who want to put together a collection of their recipes as a fundraiser to fund refurbishing a shelter at the city park. But things go awry when the key organizer of the group is missing and later found dead. Suddenly Sugar and Dixie find themselves in the midst of a murder investigation that involves secrets both past and present. and more sticky situations than, well, a sticky bun. So, while they are collecting recipes they are also collecting clues much to the chagrin of local law enforcement.
Risky Biscuits is the second book in the Sugar & Spice Mystery Series which begins with genesis of the cookbook business. After losing her job as food editor at a glossy magazine, Rosetta Sugarbaker Calloway – aka “Sugar” isn’t sweet on accepting defeat and crawling back home to her overbearing family in Georgia. So when she has the chance to work with blue-ribbon baker, Dixie Spicer, in peaceful St. Ignatius, Iowa she jumps at the chance to start over from scratch. The first book in the series is Game of Scones.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
MLA: In most cases for me, the central mystery always starts with a question. In this case, that question was: What if, in my small town where everyone knows everyone else, someone was killed who everyone liked. And if the victim was so well-liked, what could possibly be the motive for murder?
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
MLA: There’s almost always a theme as a part of my books, but I don’t always know what it is until the story unfolds. In the case of Risky Biscuits, the theme is “home.” An important theme to be sure and one that carries a lot of emotion of all of us. In the story, a hometown golden boy has come home to St. Ignatius and his return is the catalyst for all kinds of change. Also, Sugar who is researching her father’s family begins to examine her own definition of home.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
MLA: Many authors create extensive character sketches or fill out questionnaires about their characters before the get started. While I do keep files on my characters (mostly so I don’t create inconsistencies) I find I learn more and more about them as the book is written. After all, that’s how we get to know people in real life, isn’t it? We get to know bits and pieces about them the longer we know them. And then if we find ourselves in an extreme situation with them we really find out what they’re made of. Hopefully nothing as extreme as a murder in real life, but you get the idea. People (and characters) under pressure reveal who they are at the deepest level.
I’m partial to Sugar because I love her outlook on life. She is feisty but kind-hearted. Fiercely loyal and stubborn in a good way. Even when people are difficult, like her neighbor, Mrs. Pickett, she tries very hard to have patience. Though, make no mistake, Sugar is a strong woman who will stand up for what’s right, defend those she loves, and see things through to the end.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
MLA: In this series, I choose a setting that I’m very familiar with. I grew up in a small rural town in Iowa. If you remember the book or movie, The Bridges of Madison County, that’s actually where I am from. Although it was fun to write about a fictional setting that has a lot in common with my own background, I think the technique for bringing it to life is much the same as it was for other settings I’ve used.
I like to think about what makes the place unique. What is it about this place that the story I’m writing could only be set there. No other place would work. Only this place.
And then I like to explore, what do the people who live there think about the place. How do they view it? What do they love or hate about it? And next, I think about how do people who don’t live there feel about the place. What’s it like to an outsider? What unique things about the place draw them in? What things about the place drive them crazy?
Because in this case the town is fictional, I don’t get to bring in real snippets of history, but I did research several towns of similar size and characteristics in order to be able to sprinkle in some background for St. Ignatius.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
MLA: It the case of this series, I did a lot of research about cookbook publishing and talked to people who have similar businesses. Also, there’s a bit of research around police procedures and crime investigation. Though the books are cozy mysteries and not police procedurals, I want to make sure that I’ve not created implausible situations that couldn’t happen in real life.
And then finally, there’s the recipe research, but what’s more fun than finding great ideas for scones and biscuits, right? And, of course, once a recipe is created, it simply must be tested. Check out my Pinterest board if you’re interested in more recipes: www.pinterest.com/maryleeashford
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
MLA: These have been great questions! Thank-you for letting me talk about my books. The only thing that I would add is that I hope readers enjoy them as much as I enjoy writing them!
Thanks for answering my questions, Mary, and good luck with Risky Biscuits, the latest book in the Sugar & Spice Mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Mary Lee Ashford: She is a lifelong bibliophile, and avid reader, and supporter of public libraries. In addition to writing the Sugar & Spice mystery series for Kensington Books, she also writes as half of the writing team of Sparkle Abbey, author of the national bestselling Pampered Pets mystery series from Bell Bridge Books.
Prior to publishing Mary Lee won first place in the Daphne du Maurier contest, sponsored by the Kiss of Death chapter of RWA, and was a finalist in Murder in the Grove’s mystery contest, as well as Killer Nashville’s Claymore Dagger contest.
She is the founding president of Sisters in Crime – Iowa and a current board member of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest chapter, as well as a member of Novelists, Inc., Romance Writers of America, Kiss of Death the RWA Mystery Suspense chapter, Sisters in Crime, and the SinC internet group Guppies.
Mary Lee has a passionate interest in creativity and teaches a university level course in Creative Management to MPA candidates, as well as presenting workshops and blogging about creativity. She loves encouraging other writers and is a frequent presenter on a variety of topics at workshops, conferences, and writers’ groups. In her day job, Mary Lee is a Deputy Chief Information Officer. She currently resides in the Midwest with her husband, Tim, and Sparkle, the rescue cat namesake of the Sparkle Abbey pseudonym. Her delights are reading and enjoying her family and especially her six grandchildren.