Today Rae Katherine Eighmey is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery, her latest novel in the Potluck Paradise Cafe mystery series.
Welcome, Rae. 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.
RKE: The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery is set in December and January the two months before the Iowa Presidential Caucus. I have stories that take the four women central to the story through an entire year in the tourist community of Lake Livonia, and beyond. So I hope this will be the first of a series.
When we meet Susan Stewart in this book, she is six months into the adventure of reinventing a landmark cafe on Main Street. With the holiday season fast approaching, Susan Stewart’s fledgling Potluck Paradise Cafe is humming with the creation of new and delicious dishes to please the appetites of her community. But then, a mysterious note included in a Christmas card from her friend and mentor, Hazel Romer, who skipped town in the middle of a July night, raises important questions. What was the skeleton in Hazel’s closet that caused her to run away from the town she loved? And why had she left the restaurant to Susan? When a blizzard traps strangers in town overnight, the stage is set for a series of life-changing events for Susan, her teenaged children, and her friends, as the presidential caucus brings Iowa and Lake Livonia into national prominence.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
RKE: The mystery is central to the characters and, without revealing too much, they told me.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
RKE: When you live in Iowa it is hard to escape the presidential caucus. Candidates come through beginning a year, or more, before the voting held in late January or early February every four years. How it works may be a mystery to the rest of the country. As I began to think about it, I realized that the Iowa Presidential Caucus is a casserole of finest ingredients—policy ideas, active candidates, determined local politicians, dedicated political activists, and hard-working Iowans. Every four years citizens across the state meet to hash out their differences and make a selection. Seldom is one candidate an overwhelming caucus choice. Instead, several winning candidates combine into a single dish of patriotic participation, ready to share with the rest of the nation.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
RKE: The women, and men in The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery invented themselves. The Iowa presidential caucus is central to the story. It happens every four years. I began thinking about the book’s possibilities in time for the 2016 campaign, but it didn’t come together. So I’ve had Hazel, Susan, Lily, and June floating around in my brain. As the candidates began to come through Iowa this year, I figured it was now or never and the women began scrambling to get on to the page. And, may goodness; they had become very strong-minded over the years. On more than one page, I thought I knew where a chapter was heading and all of a sudden the words came out very differently from the character’s mouths. But, mostly, I was able to be the boss!
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
RKE: I’m drawn to two things to help set the scene and establish the characters for my fiction and non-fiction books—weather and food. The weather is particularly key in The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery when a suddenly developing blizzard unexpectedly connects key characters. Changing winter weather continues as a strand through the book. As to the food, when the main character runs a cafe, how can you avoid food? The recipes Susan Stewart picks for the caucus events discussions are drawn from midwestern classic comfort food.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
RKE: Researching the events and lives of the characters for The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery was much easier than the months and even years of research I’ve done for my non-fiction books about Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen and Stirring the Pot with Benjamin Franklin. I have written two other novels that did require extensive research but for this novel my work was much easier. I live in a similar north Iowa community to the Lake Livonia setting for this book. I’ve been to the presidential caucus over the years. However, I did need to verify the procedures for the 2020 caucus with the political parties. I also looked back through my old midwestern cookbooks to find specific recipes to fit the themes from the book’s caucus information night dishes. I selected some from WWI food conservation, classics from the 1950s, and even some health foods.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
RKE: While The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery is centred around a political event, it is really the story of four strong, very different, women. Susan, Lily, June, and Hazel cooperate in the best of ways. Susan’s teenaged children are a key part of her success. This is a cheerful story with 30 really great recipes.
Thanks for answering my questions, Rae, and good luck with The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery, the latest book in the Potluck Paradise Cafe Mystery series.
Online the novel is available on Amazon
About Rae Katherine Eighmey: She is an award-winning author and cook with blue ribbons from both the Iowa and Minnesota State Fair cooking contests. She is the author of a dozen books about food and history including Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen and Stirring the Pot with Benjamin Franklin.
She has written two other novels. Current events inspired this cozy mystery. A north Iowa resident, she is familiar with the Iowa presidential caucus and wanted to tell the tale of the caucus through the friendly story of three strong women who meet challenges in their lives and cook great food.