Put together a great setting, wonderful food, and terrific writing, and you have a combination Publisher's Weekly calls "yummy." Now, here's Lucy to tell us more!
LUCY BURDETTE: Talk about providence. Not too long after I signed the contract to write the Key West food critic mystery series, I learned that the Key West Literary Seminar would be focusing on food writing in January 2011. The event was called THE HUNGRY MUSE, featuring foodie luminaries such as Frank Bruni, Madhur Jaffrey, Jonathan Gold, Diana Abu-Jaber, and many more. Not only would I be able to take notes from the best in the business, I could write the whole thing off!
I pictured my food critic character, Hayley Snow, as she anticipated covering this conference for her online magazine, Key Zest. She would be so thrilled to hear and meet her writing idols. But she would have mixed feelings too, as she tried to land interviews with bigwigs, write snappy but thoughtful articles, all while comparing her abilities and her fledgling career to theirs. And maybe Hayley had invited her well-meaning, foodie mother for the weekend, not realizing quite how vulnerable she’d feel working on this important assignment?
With the background in place, I looked for more ways to ratchet up the tension. Suppose the keynote speaker threatened to divulge some of the other writers’ potentially career-threatening secrets over the weekend? And suppose someone would kill to hide one of those secrets? And then what if a dear friend was implicated in this murder? Oh, I was rubbing my hands with fictional glee over the possibilities…
I write best when immersed in the setting I’m writing about. So I pictured Hayley attending the events I was attending—the opening lecture from a foodie luminary (in reality, Ruth Reichl; in Hayley’s world, Jonah Barrows), the cocktail party at the Audubon House, the panel discussions on topics such as “transubstantiation” and “cultural stew—spicing up language and life,” which became “Food Writing as a Funhouse Mirror—Marcel Proust Meets Bobby Flay.”
And then there was food! For Hayley's benefit, I snagged a ticket to one of the extra events, The Flavors of Key West, a multi-course dinner and wine-tasting at Louie’s Backyard. And ate more food—dinner at Santiago’s Bodega and lunch at La Creperie (chocolate crepe pictured on left), where Hayley takes some guests and quizzes them about the murder…I’ll let her describe it:
"The waitress delivered our meals: Greek salads thick with feta cheese and Niçoise olives folded into buckwheat pancakes, a spinach and mushroom omelet, and the ham and cheese sandwich crowned with an egg over easy and an order of french fries on the side.
“Besides, if the conference sponsors aren’t happy,” Sigrid said, plunging her knife into the sandwich so the yoke flowed like yellow lava over the ham onto the crunchy stalks of potato, “Dustin’s out of a job.”
I loved developing the oddball secondary characters, like my fictional novelist Sigrid Gustafson, mentioned above, and imagining what they might have written and how they'd talk about their writing at the conference. Here's Sigrid expounding on the meaning of her novel:
“In Dark Sweden, the murderer reveals himself over a platter of raw oysters…At the moment the detective recognizes how he’d missed this opportunity to clinch his case, he also understands that his finicky palate will continue to interfere with his job unless he opens himself up, like a reluctant mollusk.”
At night, he brings his apron home, layered with the detritus of his day.
A splash of blood from the rib eye steaks carved for the rich man on the hill.
A touch of green from lobsters cracked and cleaned for the fussy housewife,
Who will eat pink flesh but not green, no matter how pleasing the taste.
Marrow from hacked bones,
Distributed to fancy restaurants and slavering dogs alike.
“The thing about Key West is that it is ultimately a fragile place. Low and small and flat and just sitting there, unprotected, in the middle of all that ocean. One big hurricane, a foot or two of sea level rise, and we could be wiped off the map. Every day you live here, there’s a sense that you’re getting away with something.”
DEBS: And now I'm hungry (and envious that you got to hear Ruth Reichl speak...) I'm going to get out my copy of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES and contemplate recipes.
Readers, you can do the same. There are lots of ways to pre-order the book—you can pick your poison:
Barnes and Noble
Or for a signed copy, RJ Julia Booksellers
And don't forget to leave a comment to be entered in our double-barreled drawing--for a copy of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES and for a copy of KEYS CUISINE, Flavors of the Florida Keys, by Linda Gassenheimer. (So you can cook like Hayley!)