Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Lucky Twist by Julie Hyzy

LUCY BURDETTE: Believe it or not, An Appetite for Murder was not the only book released this week!:) In fact, one of my favorite cozy foodie writers also has a new release--AFFAIRS OF STEAK, #5 in the White House Chef mystery series. I picked the first book up this summer and was instantly addicted. If you haven't tried one of chef Ollie Paras's adventures, I recommend you trot directly to the nearest bookstore and buy one. Lucky for us, Julie agreed to visit the blog today and talk about the White House kitchen. Welcome Julie!

JULIE HYZY: One of the questions I’m always asked about writing the White House Chef mysteries is: Have you actually seen the White House kitchen? Up until last June, I regretfully answered, “Not yet.”

Mind you, I’ve done (and continue to do) exhaustive research by reading books, watching DVDs, examining floor plans, studying photos, and talking with staffers, so I had a good idea of what the main kitchen looked like even before I created Olivia (Ollie) Paras and her cohorts. But there’s a big difference between knowing everything about a location and experiencing it in person.

Last June I finally got my chance. My family and I were in D.C. for a few days as part of a two-week driving vacation (one van, two parents. three daughters—I could write a blog post on that alone!), and we’d snagged a tour of the White House through our Congresswoman. No purses, no bags, no cameras allowed. We agreed as a family that since we were visiting the president’s home we ought to dress up a bit, so that meant no jeans, gym shoes, or flip flops, either.

You need to understand that we’d visited Arlington National Cemetery the day before and spent hours there. Fortunately, I twisted my foot. Yep, you read that right. Fortunately.

I was wearing silver wedge sandals (they’re cute) because they were the only dressy shoes I’d brought along. Twisted foot + wedge sandals = not the smartest move ever, but I’m not complaining. Nope, not at all.

Visitors arrive at the White House through the East Wing (and metal detectors, natch). The tour leads through the Visitor’s Foyer and into the Central Hall of the ground level. A slew of temporary screen-like walls are set up on the west end of the Central Hall to discourage visitors from exploring. Not that anyone could. Two uniformed Secret Service guards are there behind ropes, making sure no one steps off the beaten path.

The tour continues up a tall flight of stairs. I’d taken this tour before and I knew I could probably make it up those steps, but I thought it might be worth asking if there happened to be some other means of getting to the first floor. I approached one of the handsome uniformed gentlemen. He grinned. “I could carry you,” he said, adding, “Just kidding.” He moved aside to invite me in to the cordoned off area. “Come on,” he said, “there’s an elevator.”

Officer Cornell (such a nice man!) walked fast, making it a bit tough for sore-ankle-on-wedge-sandal-me to keep up, but I did the best I could. He led me through a corridor, stopping at a white stone archway that was blackened in patches. He pointed. “See those scars? That’s from when the British burned down the White House during the war of 1812,” he said.

Did I touch the wall? You know I did!
And I tucked away a detail to add to the next book.

We took a left past the arch. The kitchen. Ollie’s kitchen. I felt as though I’d come home. Seriously, I’m not kidding. No one was working there at the time (what? I thought the team was there every moment!) and the place was a spotless sea of stainless steel. I’d described the kitchen as small, but I hadn’t appreciated how truly undersized the space was. I’d bet most restaurant kitchens are bigger. I can’t believe they create meals for hundreds of guests in that compact space. But they do. The real executive chef, Cristeta Comerford, produces thousands of amazing meals every year in an area not much larger than my family room. I was impressed.

Officer Cornell led me through the pantry to the staff elevator, also stainless steel. It was small, but serviceable and transported us up one flight into the main floor Butler’s Pantry. I made a mental note to include a scene here next time too. Let me tell you, I was in heaven at this point. We exited through the Family Dining room (where the rug was partially rolled up. No idea why), past the Usher’s office (yes!!!) and through the Entrance Hall where I rejoined my family right before they were about to tour the East Room.

I thanked Office Cornell, trying my best to look nonchalant. Was I giddy? Beyond belief. My husband gave me the, “I know you’re bursting to tell me,” look. My daughters were asking “What did you see, Mom?” and it was all I could do not to babble.

Back when I caught this lucky break—or should I call it a lucky twist?—Affairs of Steak, the fifth White House Chef mystery had already been written and turned in. In Affairs, Ollie is stuck working with Peter Everett Sargeant, the thoroughly unpleasant sensitive director (quite the contradiction in terms, if you ask Ollie) on a project assigned by the First Lady. I really like the way this story turned out. Affairs of Steak just came out two days ago—I’m really excited about it.

The sixth book, however, was still a twinkle in my eye last June. As of today, that one is written and turned in, too. Ollie’s lucky to be alive after this adventure. She sure came close this time! To be honest however, I’m feeling like the lucky one. Even though the kitchen was precisely as I’d imagined, injuring my ankle and meeting Officer Cornell were fortunate twists of fate. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to experience Ollie’s kitchen firsthand. Being there has made it even more real for me and that allows me to make it more real for my readers.

I want to go back, of course. Maybe I’ll take up skateboarding right before my next visit. What do you think?

LUCY: Such a fun story Julie! My husband and I have been listening to the Jackie Kennedy tapes--lots of good insider dope on living in the White House, including the dreaded disease White House-itis! I'll start the questions: Any sense of whether the White House approves of the books? And how long do you expect the Ollie series to continue? (and ps, here's a link to where you can buy Julie's books.)


  1. As soon as I saw this blog entry, and then read it all, my only thought was, "I really ought to read State of the Onion," which I bought long ago, spurred on by my love for anything presidential, but haven't read yet. I've put it on my to-read-right-away stack, making sure it stays near the top.

  2. Congratulations Julie on your book release and I look forward to reading Affairs of Steak and more and more of your books.

    Will see snippets of your White House kitchen tour in book #6?

  3. What a fabulous break, Julie! I have read all your books and can't wait to dive into "Steak." Congratulations on such a successful series - so glad it is continuing.

  4. OH, I am SUCH a fan! Julie, you know I think your books are quite exceptioinal--I laugh out loud all the time..and they're also terrific mysteries.

    WHat a great White House story! And such fun to merge fact and fiction.

    Maybe you can work the white house garden into a book... and the rolled up rug, u? Clearly to hide evidence..


  5. It always amazes me how things work out. Karma, higher power, luck...not sure which but who needs lottery tickets. Julie hit it big with a great series and a cool coincidence! Congrats Julie!
    W.S. Gager
    W.S. Gager on Writing

  6. I'm so happy SOTO has moved up on your TBR pile, Writer-Rory! I hope you enjoy it. In Ollie-years it feels so long ago!

    Dru - thank you so much! And there will most definitely be snippets of my personal tour in the next book.

    Edith - thank you! I hope you have fun reading Steak!

    Hank! Thanks! And, of course the rug is hiding evidence! ::smacks head:::

    Lucy - Congrats on APPETITE FOR MURDER. I loved that book. Hayley is such a fun character and I'm already looking forward to her next adventure. As far as whether the White House approves or not, I can't say. I suppose the fact that I haven't had Secret Service agents at my door is a good sign They've resisted contact, but I haven't given up yet. And as to how long the series will go - I don't know. I just turned in the sixth book, the last of my contract. I truly hope the series will continue. Fingers crossed!

  7. Hey, Wendy!

    Oh, I like that! Karma or higher power to provide me that opportunity! Thanks!

  8. Great story! You probably made Officer Cornell's day. It has to be a snore standing behind that rope all day.

    If ever you need to know what happens when you call the White House and (stupidly) ask for someone's home address, I can tell you.

    Love your series and look forward to reading STEAK.

  9. Hi Julie:
    There's nothing like seeing the real thing is there? I always love walking the New York streets that my heroine Molly walked so I can imagine how thrilled you were. Good luck with the book. I love the titles!

  10. Oh, Ramona - I *have* to know. What happened?

    Hi, Rhys! - Absolutely true. Experiencing a location makes writing about it so much more fulfilling. Congrats on the GLAMOUR recommendation. How cool!

  11. oh gosh, Ramona, we all have to hear that story!

    And for Julie, what kind of cook are you??

  12. Julie, what a great story! Guilty pleasure admission here: I love watching the annual HGTV show on decorating the White House, and when they stopped in the kitchen and talked with some of the chefs, I wondered "where's Ollie?" And when they carried out the gingerbread house -- well, I won't say what I thought b/c not everyone here's read Hail to the Chef, but I was crossing my fingers!

  13. Hi Julie! Love your books, loved your twisted ankle story! A twist of fate, indeed.

    And it brought back nice memories. I was invited to speak at the National Book Festival a few years ago. The authors were given morning coffee and a tour of the East Wing. It was fabulous! My daughter went to Washington with me and it was such a thrill for both of us.

    I was recovering from knee surgery (literally just out of the hospital) and after my event on the Mall, I caught my foot in a hole walking back to the hospitality tent, fell, and ripped my stitches open. Unfortunately, unlike you, all I got to see were some very nice paramedics and an ice pack . . . Now I know I should have taken advantage of the hobbling during the Morning Coffee!

  14. It was so dumb, but I wanted to invite the First Lady in Waiting, shall we call her, to a local arts event. I'm in her home state. The etiquette is to invite the governor and others so they'll see the funds are used wisely (of course they never actually attend). Since she's a longtime literacy advocate, I thought she should get an invite, too, but of course I waited until like two weeks before. I got the White House number from the website and called, told my story, and was fine until I reached a staff member who politely said she gets many invitations and you should send months in advance. I said of course, and we just wanted her to be aware of the event, and would it be faster to send it to her home, and could I have that address? Next thing I know I'm connected to a menacingly polite male voice, and I start babbling (because this is what I do under duress) that I don't need the address because I could figure it out on my own. Voice says, "And how would you do that, ma'am?" so I say everyone here knows where they live (smart!) and anyway, I know she can't attend because she's going to be at this event and that event (which made me sound like a stalker). Voice says, "And how do you know this, ma'am?" So I say I read it in the newspaper. All the while, my internal voice is screaming STFU but I kept talking, and I was too chicken to just hang up. Finally, I said I'd send it to the address on the website and he said that was probably the best idea, but could I give him my name again? I did, but I might have been whimpering at that point.

    She didn't attend, of course, but I was sweating bullets the whole time, looking out the window for big black SUVs. Six months later I received a very nice note thanking me for the invitation. So I guess I'm off the watch list, right?

  15. I'm so happy SOTO has moved up on your TBR pile, Writer-Rory! I hope you enjoy it. In Ollie-years it feels so long ago!

    I've tried a few mystery series in the past that didn't click with me (Including one bookshop-themed series), but then I thought I should look for series that relate to my interests. That's how I found yours. I can't pass up one that takes place in the White House.

  16. Hi, Leslie! I hear you! When I was watching the Obamas enjoy lunch on Inauguration Day - not in the White House - I was miffed. I knew Ollie would want to be part of the festivities.

    Oh, Deb, how terrible! But what a wonderful opportunity to tour the East Wing. That's a bit of a mystery for me. I have far less information on specifics in that wing than I do for the rest of the building.

    Ramona, what a story! I can feel your panic and hear that polite yet menacing voice. What an experience. I have a tendency to babble when I'm nervous and I can't imagine handling it anywhere as well as you did! Wow!

    Writer-Rory - Thanks! I hope Ollie's adventures do click with you. Let me know!

  17. Julie, what great luck! I'm looking forward to Affairs of Steak. Love the series. Congratulations!

    Lucy/Roberta, I'm sorry I missed your book launch day yeaterday, but a belated congratulations and hip, hip, hurray for the start of your new series.

  18. Thank you Linda!

    OMG Ramona, I bet Julie could use that story...

  19. Julie, your real-life stories are always as entertaining as your books! We still miss you being a regular at MLK, so it's nice whenever I get to catch up with you.

    Will definitely be adding STEAK to my TBR list! Best of luck to you and Lucy during launch week of your books.

    BTW, Ramona, you cracked me up with your White House tale--I can only imagine how scary that would've been! EEEEK!

  20. Julie! What a great story!!!!! I love this and can't wait to read Affairs of Steak. Yay, you!!

    Ramona - you made me howl with your story!

  21. Well, I definitely want to read all of the books that have been mentioned so far this week!(Ironically, if I want to buy all these "foodie" books, I'll need to give up buying groceries for the near future:-)Public Library, here I come!

    Ramona, I loved your account of calling the White House. A friend took a short course, possibly through Elderhostel, about lying, spies, espionage, etc. She said that she learned that liars tend to give very curt answers to questions such as the ones you were asked, and that "innocent" people tend to babble on and on. I think you're safe!

  22. Julie, that adventure is like right out of a mystery novel! I love that you do these things. xo

  23. Linda - Thank you! I'm so happy you're enjoying the series!

    Lynn - thank you! I miss being part of MLK, but Lucy's joining the blog this week. It's such a wonderful group. I love those ladies!

    Kaye - Thanks! It was fun and I'm eager to go visit again.

    Deb - that's good information. I'd love to take a class about spies and lying. How cool would that be?

    Reine - (what a pretty name!) Thanks so much. I wish I were as brave as my protagonists. Sometimes I have to channel my inner Ollie to get through things!

  24. My copy of Affairs of Steak is on its way and I can't wait. Read the others and loved them.

    Toured the White House once but if I ever go back it will be with a walker or a wheelchiar so I guess I'll get to see the kitchen. I had a friend who told me they took her up that way because she was wheelchiar bound.

    The only person I met was the smiling sharpshooter guy who thought my White House comments were funny...thankfully. I was whinning about a parking space while sitting outside the east gate.

  25. Julie, so great to have you here today! See you soon at Love is Murder..