Today Debra H. Goldstein is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Four Cuts Too Many, her latest novel in the Sarah Blair Mystery series.
Welcome, Debra. 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.
Four Cuts Too Many is the fourth book in Kensington’s Sarah Blair cozy mystery series. Sarah Blair is a woman who finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder. Introduced in One Taste Too Many as having been married at eighteen, divorced by twenty-eight, with the only thing she got out of the marriage being RahRah, her Siamese cat, Sarah has evolved from being shell shocked to gaining some confidence in her abilities. Although she thinks she is the last person capable of solving murders, her concern for family and friends, particularly her twin sister, mother, and two friends who work in her sister’s restaurant, consistently compel her to become involved in finding out whodunit.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
Like Sarah, the kitchen is not my natural habitat. Consequently, to write this series I did extensive research behind the scenes in restaurants and talking to friends whose positions ran from owner/chef to waiter/busboy. As I learned about the culinary world, I became interested in how chefs learn their skills and how important their tools, especially their knives, are to them. Realizing that the culinary world can be competitive, gave me the idea to intwine culinary education, knife skills, and knife cuts together to create a path of death and intrigue.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
In Four Cuts Too Many, the theme of loyalty underlies the story, as does the comparison of the education system and the economics of running small businesses – in this case all tied to the culinary world. The development of my interest in these things is ironic in that I, like Sarah, find the kitchen frightening. I’m as liable to catch the oven on fire as I am to properly sear a steak.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
Two of the greatest influences for my creation of the Sarah Blair mystery series characters are living in the South and being the mother of twins. Although my twins are boy-girl, their personalities are so different that I often kidded that I gave birth to a litter. Creating Sarah, who is afraid of the kitchen, and her twin, Chef Emily, let me play off that kind of relationship and its ramifications in a small Southern town where everyone knows everybody and everything. It also let me create the twins’ mother as a woman from whose mouth phrases like “Bless Your Heart” flow with honey. I’m very partial to these three characters, but my favourite is RahRah, Sarah’s Siamese cat. RahRah doesn’t talk or think out loud. Instead, he communicates like a real cat – through his behavior. One minute he can be cuddly, the next a true alpha cat. I love his spirit and his influence on the other characters in the book because RahRah’s presence reflects the relationships pet owners and pets have.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
I don’t bring the place I’m writing about to life. Rather descriptions and sensations of the place itself bring it to life for readers. Beliefs about small Southern towns are ingrained in all of us, but I hope my writing takes apart any myths and lets the reader absorb the flavor of the place I am writing about.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
Besides reading and googling, most of my research for the Sarah Blair series has been hands on. For One Taste Too Many, I spent time in the restaurants of our community and talking with people who worked all jobs in the establishments or who were involved in economic development related to the culinary industry. Two Bites Too Many, which continued the underlying themes of restaurants and economic development, addressed animal shelters and rescue animals. For that, I visited shelters and interviewed owners of rescued animals. Three Treats Too Many included the community motorcycle club which was anything but the TV stereotype. For that book, I talked to folks who rode for fun and comradery and whose involvement in their motorcycle club included raising money and awareness for local charities. Now, for Four Cuts Too Many, I spent more time getting hands on lessons in the impact of different knives and knife cuts, while interviewing educators in both the culinary and the college world.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
Four Cuts Too Many, like the other three books in the Sarah Blair series, is meant to be a fun and easy beach, airplane, bedside read. Although each book addresses social issues, none beat the reader over the head with them. What does resonate for the reader is love and loyalty for friends and family.
Thanks for answering my questions, Debra, and good luck with Four Cuts Too Many, the latest book in the Sarah Blair Mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Debra H. Goldstein: Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (Three Treats Too Many, Two Bites Too Many, One Taste Too Many). She also authored Should Have Played Poker and IPPY Award-winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories have been named Agatha, Anthony, Derringer finalists. Debra serves on the national boards of Mystery Writers of America and is president of SEMWA. She previously was on Sisters in Crime’s national board and president of SinC’s Guppy Chapter.