Samantha Warren is visiting Ascroft, eh? today to tell us about A Dash of Death, the first novel in the Cocktails & Catering mystery series.
Welcome, Samantha. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about the novel that you live inside. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
Hi, I’m Samantha Warren, and I live inside A Dash of Death, the first in the Cocktails & Catering Mystery Series. I’m a laid-off journalist who was jilted a few weeks before my wedding. My fiancé ran off to New York City, leaving me with a broken heart and hundreds of bottles of homemade cocktail bitters I made as favors for our wedding guests. My best friend, Marisa, finagled an invitation for me to sell those bitters at the Highlands Historic Association’s Home Tour. Everything was going great until one of the Historic Association’s board members died after drinking one of my cocktails. Now, my reputation is at risk, and I’ve been swept up in a murder investigation. I’m hoping for my happy ending though, and maybe even a new business venture—one where murder isn’t on the menu.
Does the writer control what happens in the story or do you get a say too?
In the beginning, I definitely felt like someone was controlling my story. My life wasn’t exactly ending up as I’d planned. I lost my job, my fiancé, and then got tangled up in a murder investigation. A crisis of confidence in my past had me doubting my instincts and my ability to make decisions without input from my friends and family, so it was much easier for the writer to take control. But I’m working on trusting myself more and taking the lead in some of my decisions. Every once in a while, I assert myself in ways the writer isn’t expecting. It feels good to have more of a say in my future.
How did you evolve as the main character?
I popped into Michelle’s head one day as she was dreaming up a new character for a mystery series she wanted to write. She’s always loved cozy mysteries and was trying to find a unique idea that would fit the genre. If you want to know the truth, I think she drew a little inspiration from her own life. She was once a newspaper reporter, she grew up in Corpus Christi but now lives in Houston, and she enjoys making cocktails and dabbling with bitters and other cocktail syrups. Of course, I’m much better at it than her. I don’t think she has the patience to learn to make bitters, so she imagines what she’d like to make and lets me experiment until I find something interesting. I love Houston just as much as she does. And while my home base is the fictional Highlands community, I love to explore all the places that make the city interesting. As for how I got into investigating, I think it goes back to both of our reporting backgrounds. Michelle and I are a lot alike in that once we dig into something, we want to keep digging until we come up with a conclusion.
Do you have any other characters you like sharing the story with? If so, why are you partial to them?
There are so many fun characters. Of course, I’m partial to Marisa Lopez, my best friend. We became buddies when we worked together at the Houston Gazette, myself as a reporter and her as a photographer. She’s always really supportive, and knows when to call me out on being indecisive. Marisa’s girlfriend, Beth Myerson, is also turning into a pretty good friend. She’s a landscape architect and an amazing chef. We share a passion for cooking and using fresh ingredients to create unusual flavors. I’m blushing a little here, but I might be developing some feelings for my lawyer, David Dwyer. With dark black hair and green eyes, he’s very handsome. Plus, he has such a warm presence and a comforting smile. When I’m around him, my circumstances never seem as bleak as when I’m imagining the possibilities in my head. He’s also got an artistic side, which I find really attractive.
What’s the place like where you find yourself in this story?
Houston is an amazing city. People who have never been here have so many preconceived notions about it. They think of it as one big highway filled with traffic and oil refineries. Don’t get me wrong—you can find both in Houston, but there is so much more here. We’ve got wonderful parks, and amazing art and theatre organizations, not to mention food from all over the world.
I live in the Highlands neighborhood, which is one of the few in the city that still has beautiful historic homes. I live in a garage apartment, but I can still enjoy all the amenities of the community, which is almost like a small town within the larger city. There’s a quaint little Main Street area filled with cute little shops and boutiques. But anywhere in the Highlands, you are still practically within shouting distance of downtown’s skyscrapers.
During this story, I end up travelling frequently to Galveston Island as well. Galveston is the closest beach town to Houston. It’s filled with beautiful historic homes and buildings, and even has the largest concentration of historic Victorian homes in this part of the country.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about you and the book?
If you enjoy historic homes, custom cocktails and a little side of murder, A Dash of Death is the perfect book for you. Don’t miss the delicious recipes that are included in the back of the book. And stay tuned—my author is hard at work on the next book in the series.
Thank you for answering my questions, Samantha, and good luck to you and your author, Michelle Hillen Klump, with A Dash of Death, the first book in the Cocktails & Catering mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Michelle Hillen Klump: Michelle is a former newspaper reporter who covered government, courts and crime throughout Arkansas and Central Texas. Still a working journalist, she is also a member of Sisters in Crime. Her short fiction has appeared in Crimson Streets and Tales of Texas, volume 2, a Houston short story anthology.