Today G.P. Gottlieb is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Smothered, the latest novel in her Whipped and Sipped mystery series.
Welcome. 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.
Smothered is the second book in the Whipped and Sipped Mystery Series. I’ve started writing a third book, in which the story is triggered by a neighborhood fire. The series is set in a fictional Chicago café, similar to the kind I used to spend time in but special because it serves only vegetarian, healthful food. I loved combining two of my passions – for mysteries and food, into this series. I probably spend as much time inventing recipes and perfecting them as I do writing and perfecting my novels. That means there is a lot of tasting required, but luckily, building employees, friends, and my spouse are all kind enough to help!
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
Most people think that city life is the least friendly of all lifestyles, but I live in a building that hosts a book group, a movie group and other events (now all online). We help each other when needed. But we’re in the middle of the city, and we’ve seen ambulances pulling away from the front door, horrible traffic accidents, and bodies pulled up out of the harbour across the street. We see the best of humankind, and sometimes, the worst – people stopping to give money and food, for example, to homeless people sleeping under the bridge next to us. I set this series in the middle of my real life!
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
Alene, my protagonist and her best friend and pastry chef, Ruthie, attempt to create community in the café and neighbourhood. They offer reading groups and knitting circles, they participate in city festivals by hosting big Chicago events like Pride Parade and Lakeview Arts.They donate trays to nearby shelters, and offer coupons to homeless neighbours who can come in for something warm to drink and filling to eat, all the while trying to succeed at a difficult, competitive business. I wanted to write about it because I’m impressed with several socially conscious businesses in the area, and they deserve attention. And there’s another theme in Smothered, but if I told you what it was, it would ruin the story!
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
I create my characters by sitting at the computer and writing. I remember starting with the café itself. I envisioned a counter filled with delightful-looking pastries, cakes, and cookies, and a crimson wall off to the side, covered with art-work and announcements about concerts and lectures. I got a little side-tracked thinking dreaming about what to order that day (I was sitting in a café), but also noticed the people around me – a skinny, very-slow server who kept bursting out in song, a cranky older woman who argued with the barista about how much her drink cost, a younger tatted-up woman who’d have been pretty if not for her angry expression. I loved giving them names, personalities, and backgrounds. I think my favourite Smothered character is Alene’s father, a quick-witted, retired guy who loves quoting aphorisms and has a great attitude despite his health problems.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
Before the pandemic I used to spend time in cafés. If I was alone, I’d look around at the people and imagine describing them in a story – I’d even give them back stories. Sometimes I’d meet a friend, and we’d have a visit before pulling out our laptops and writing for an hour or so. We were always conscientious about taking up table space, and made sure to keep ordering food or drinks while we were there. I knew for ages that I wanted to set a novel in a café because I love them so much. And although you didn’t ask, I’m partial to almond croissants!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
A few readers have pointed out to me that my books have more characters in them than a lot of mysteries. That’s because I want my books to illustrate the busy urban reality, the vertical nature of city buildings, the swarms of people we pass on a daily basis – – I know it’s sometimes a challenge to keep all the characters straight, but it’s part of the world that I tried to create.
Thank you for answering my questions, and good luck with Smothered, the latest book in the Whipped and Sipped mystery series.
The novel is available online at:
About G.P. Gottlieb: She has worked as a musician, a teacher, and an administrator, but she’s happiest when writing recipe-laced murder mysteries. Battered: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery and Smothered: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery take place in the spring and summer of 2019 and a third book in the series will center on a murder that occurs during the city of Chicago’s lockdown in May 2020. G.P. Gottlieb has always experimented in the kitchen and created her delicious vegan cookies and cakes in direct opposition to what she learned in courses at Chicago’s French Pastry School. She is host for New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network, the mother of three grown children, and lives with her husband in a Chicago high-rise that is strikingly similar to the building portrayed in the Whipped and Sipped Mystery series.