Sunday, August 21, 2022

What We're Writing: Sugar Plum Poisoned by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay: I don't have any cover art to share and I don't think the book is even listed for sale or anything yet, so we are definitely in the it's still a twinkle in my eye phase of the writing process of my latest cupcake cozy -- Sugar Plum Poisoned. 

In the beginning of the year, I turned in a proposal for this 15th book in the series, it was approved, and we went to contract. I started writing, promptly decided I hated it somewhere around the fourth chapter, and rewrote a one page description of the book I wanted to write. I sent it in and my editor said, "Go for it."

Now if you know me, I'm a plotter, an outliner, a stick to the itinerary sort of writer. Yeah, well, that was chucked out the window on dark backroad and we are free falling, baby! I don't know who the killer is. I don't know what the weapon is. I don't know anything. It's terrifying.

For all you seat of the pants writers out there, I have one word: 


That being said, this is the only way this particular book seems to want to be written. Maybe it's because it's my first Christmas based cupcake mystery, or perhaps it's because it's book 15 and the world is built so there isn't so much leg work involved. Of course, it could be that I'm just changing up my method to make it more interesting for myself. I hope it's not some inner pen monkey masochism that decided I needed to make my job harder because the writing has been going pretty well so far. Yeah, probably that's it. LOL.

Side note: We had a contest for the title and Sugar Plum Poisoned won (AWESOME!)! but now I have to admit, I had no idea that a sugar plum was actually a hard candy called a plum because of it's oval shape. Please tell me I'm not the only one. I always thought they were some sort of candied plums. Doh!


In essence, SUGAR PLUMS are sugar coated seeds or nuts first made in the 17th century. They were made by skilled craftsmen who apprenticed for years, absorbing the nuances of a trade that makes Julia Child look like a scullery maid in comparison. First, they coated seeds or nuts with gum 

Arabic, then put them in a “balancing pan,” suspended over a large, low fire, and rolled them in sugar syrup. To keep the coating even and the sugar from crystalizing, they kept the seeds and nuts in constant motion, stirring them with one hand and moving the pan with the other. They controlled the temperature of the heat by controlling the intensity of the fire.

A depiction of the famous Sugar Plum Fairy.

Once the candy was coated, the confectioner set it aside where it dried for a day or two, then began the process again, stirring and moving, adding layer upon layer over a period of weeks. In the last stage, the sugar coating smooth as glass, he often added a flourish of color, mulberry juice or cochineal for red, indigo stone for blue, spinach for green and saffron for yellow.

How about it, Reds and Readers? Who knew what a sugar plum was? 

Here's the opener to Sugar Plum Poisoned. We'll see if it stays the same. 

“Oh…wow,” Angie Harper said. She was perched on a stool in the kitchen of the bakery Fairy Tale Cupcakes, which she owned with her husband, Tate Harper, and best friend Melanie DeLaura.

     Mel blew the bangs of her short-cropped blonde hair out of her eyes and glanced at her friend across the steel work table. “What’s up?”

     “A VIP is coming to Scottsdale,” Angie said. She wiggled on her chair, an indication of her excitement.

     “And…” Mel twisted the end of the piping bag full of rum flavored frosting before she lowered it to the top of an egg nog flavored cupcake, which she decorated with a fat dollop of frosting. Angie didn’t answer so Mel glanced back up to find her friend staring at her with wide eyes.

     Mel lowered the pastry bag. “Okay, you have my full attention. Or you will as soon as you garnish that cupcake.”

     “Oh, right!” Angie dusted a little bit of nutmeg onto the fresh frosting. She then turned her phone so that Mel could see the display.

     It showed a picture of a woman in a sequined, hot pink, micro-mini dress, over the knee white leather stiletto boots, and a blonde head of hair that was a mass of curls that reached her lower back. She was unmistakable. Shelby Vaughn.

     “Oh,” Mel said. She tried to say it without inflection. She and Angie had a complicated history with Shelby in that Angie loved her and Mel not so much.

     “She’s in residence at the Grande Hotel for the entire holiday season,” Angie said. “And, get this, she wants us to cater her VIP events.”

     “Really.” Again, Mel strove to keep her voice inflection free. It didn’t work.

     “I know you don’t like her,” Angie said.

     “I don’t know her,” Mel protested. “She’s from your life with Roach, of which, Tate and I were not included.”

     Angie nodded. “I know, those were some crazy days, but I really like Shelby, and when you get to know her, I’m sure you will, too.”

     Mel stared at her friend. Before marrying their mutual childhood best friend, Tate, Angie had dated a rock and roll drummer named Roach who played in a band called The Sewers. It had been a chaotic few months with Angie traveling back and forth from Los Angeles to Scottsdale and then going on tour with the band for brief stints. She had met a lot of famous people, one of which was Shelby Vaughn, who had been the opening act for The Sewers that summer.

     Mel had no idea how Tate was going to handle Angie’s rock and roll days coming back into their life and she wondered if she should point that out to Angie or let the married couple deal with it on their own. Being best friends with Tate Harper and Angie DeLaura-now-Harper since they were all in the sixth grade made Mel’s life a teeny bit complicated when things like this cropped up. Sort of like when Tate almost married Christie Stevens. During that drama fest, Mel had felt her best course of action was to keep her mouth shut. She suspected this was exactly what she should do right now, consequently, she pressed her lips together to keep from saying anything.

     “Um, Mel, we have a situation out here,” Marty Zelaznik, their octogenarian counter help, poked his bald head around the swinging door which opened to the front of the bakery.

     Mel gently put her pastry bag down.

     “What sort of situation?” Mel asked.

     “A limousine has pulled up outside,” Marty said. “A pink one.”
     “Ah!” Angie hopped off her stool. “That has to be Shelby.”

     She dashed toward the door, giving Marty just enough time to get back before she plowed into him.

     Marty grabbed the still swinging door and held it open. He glanced at Mel and asked, “Who is Shelby?”

     “Trouble,” Mel said. “I think she’s a whole lot of trouble.”


  1. Oh, boy . . . I can see a whole lot of trouble ahead for the cupcake folks [but I’m also really intrigued] . . . .

    As for the sugar plums, I did know they were hard candy, but I had no idea about how they were made . . . .

    1. We’ll, you had me beat - I really thought they were plums. LOL.

  2. I see a mystery unfolding and why do I suspect someone will be a prime suspect. Never knew what sugar plums were.

    1. Phew, I thought I was the only one! LOL.

  3. Jenn, I love this scene! How fun.

    I didn't know what sugar plums were, either. But you can see the fairy dropping them on the quilt in that cover illustration. Cool.

    1. Also - mostly pantser here. I think it's fun to mix things up, and you are such a fabulous writer, I know you'll figure out how to push aside the mists as you go.

    2. From your lips the the muse’s ears, Edith.

  4. Replies
    1. Ha ha ha…your confidence in me is impressively optimistic :)

  5. It may help to be eating sugar plums while you're writing. That's the sort of strategy that works for me. Well, any technique that involves food rewards, actually.

  6. Hi, Jenn. I love the opening scene! I adore Angie and her whole family. She is such a huge spark in this series. It will be great to see her and Tate deal with the reminders of her fling now that they are married and parents, to boot!

    I knew that sugar plums were candy but thought it was a generic term like "pudding" for dessert.

  7. Sounds like trouble just arrived for the cupcake crew!

    Sounds like your inner librarian wants to take a break, Jenn, and hand off the job of this book to your inner wild child. Go for it!

    Nope, no idea about sugar plums, and I confess to never having had enough curiosity about them to do this research. But now I'm astonished. What a process. No wonder they were highly prized.

  8. What a fun beginning! I did not know about sugar plums. Sounds like they were quite the delicacy back in the day.

  9. Hank Phillippi RyanAugust 21, 2022 at 8:58 AM

    Oh, that’s hilarious! I thought they were like… Plums dipped in sugar., maybe crystallized sugar. See, this is why this blog is so much a necessity! And welcome to the world of the pantser . You will love it. Sometimes :-) xxxxx

  10. I did NOT know what a sugar plum was - a thought it was marzipan shaped like a plum… love the opening, Jenn

    1. And for the record I’d love to be an outliner - Hallie

  11. No idea what a sugar plum was--what a labor-intensive treat! The story will come together--you'll see--there are ideas and thoughts and threads making patterns in your subconscious, which is raring to get this story into our hands!

  12. Jenn, I did know what sugar plums were, due to falling down some British rabbit hole at some point. Do you suppose anyone still makes them?

    Love the title, love the snippet, love the cupcake crew! And I feel your fear. As your fellow outliner, with every new book, I think maybe I'll just take off, start writing and see what happens! But it never seems to work out that way. At least not yet!

  13. Celia - well you floored me Jenn, I was thinking crystallized plums as crystallized fruit was always one of the Christmas treats when I was young. Then I thought - thinks - the only sugar plum reference that popped out was ‘visions of sugar plums’, and Moore was American! Duh on me. I so enjoy your writing and loved the extract, though I did wonder if Dolly Parton was in the mystery car. Not sure I should be using quotes from Disney oh wait Pixar, at my age but on the advice front - Just keep swimming.

  14. Hooked, I am so hooked - write faster, please!

    As for sugar plums - I always thought they were crystalized plums as anonymous above mentioned (is that you Celia?). Never knew they were hard candies. Yikes. With all the work that went into them, they must have been quite the treat!

    1. Tis me Kait, I guess if I want my name up in Google lights I’ll have to start my own blog on Blogger as nothing else work’s apparently- Celia

  15. Truthfully, I had never even thought to wonder what a sugar plum was although if I had to guess I would say it was a preserved plum! Hey, now I want to know what kind of plum little Jack Horner pulled out of that pie.

    Since I am way behind, Jenn, and have only read the first 2 of this series, I think your snippet has allowed me to catch up. But have no fear, I'm not skipping those other books because they are too good to miss!

  16. Squee! Snippets! That makes me so happy, Jenn!
    I did know that sugarplums were a candy not involving plums. My baking business is called Sugarplums because purple is my favorite color so that’s more of a play on the color of an actual plum.
    I have complete faith in you, Jenn. Personally I plan for everything but that’s just me being a little compulsive about double-checking everything I do.

  17. JENN: For some reason, Sugar Plum reminded me of Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker ballet during the Christmas season. I have been meaning to read your Cupcake bakery series. I need to start from the beginning.

    However, I loved, loved, loved your WAIT FOR IT and PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA rom-coms. Though I am not a big romance reader, except for historical romance, I loved your novels. WAIT FOR IT had a hero with a disability and it is rare for me to find a wonderful character with a disability in fiction. This character was like anyone else. The only difference was his disability.

    In our society, we have to deal with the ableism attitudes. I do not like being told that "I cannot do something because I am deaf". I never saw my deafness as a disability. Thanks to that awful Darwin's theory of "Survival of the Fittest", it set back the advances that Deaf people accomplished in the 19th century with Laurent Clerc and the French Enlightment. Just expressing my feelings here.


  18. I guess you've answered the age old question of when is a plum not a plum? I thought sugar plums were dried candied fruit. So much for that! For a moment there I thought Dolly Parton had come to town.

    1. This is Pat D. I guess I've joined the anonymous club.

  19. Hi All - sorry for the lag in responding. I’m at our cottage in Nova Scotia where we have very spotty wifi - a blessing and a curse! LOL.

  20. Love it! Can’t wait to read more!