Mystery writer Julia Buckley has released the first in a new food-based mystery series entitled The Big Chili. I just finished reading it and I have to say that fans of food mysteries and cozies are going to savor every bite of this debut. I certainly did.
I sat down with Julia to find out what prompted this new book and what the future looks like for her and her amateur sleuth, Lilah Drake.
What gave you the idea for a food based mystery?
I have always read cozy mysteries (along with other mystery genres) and liked them, and I thought it was a type of book that I could write well. I first wrote a book about a woman who owned a Hungarian restaurant, filled with detail about Hungarian food (which I know a lot about, since my dad is Hungarian). The book won the attention of my agent, Kim, but she wasn’t sure about my theme. She then asked me if I’d consider writing about a woman who had to hide her talent because other people wanted to claim the credit. I wrote up three sample chapters, and that was how Lilah got me a contract. J
Mysteries that revolve around food, hobbies and crafts have been very popular for a while. Were you concerned when you started writing this series that the concept might be played out?
Not really. One of the reasons I chose the genre was that I had noticed how well the books sell, and I thought I could write something that was different, but still pleased lovers of the genre. One of the magazines that reviewed the book suggested that it was an overdone genre and that a book had to be special to stand out, but they went on to say that mine did—flattery which was both a pleasure and a relief.
The recipes at the end of the novel look delicious. Did you create them yourself?
I don’t really have any recipes that I created from scratch—my creativity is spent on writing, not cooking. So I read a lot of similar recipes and then tried to give each one my own spin—changing ingredients and instructions to suit my story.
At times this story read like part mystery and part romance. Was that intentional?
Yes. I enjoy romance in the mysteries that I read, so I always end up putting it into the books that I write. I am romantic to a fault. Some readers love that (because they are romantics themselves) and some really dislike it, which I sort of understand. But I have to tell the story that comes to me, and that always contains romance.
What's next for Lilah? When can we expect a sequel to this promising debut?
Lilah will be back in September, in a book my publisher has named Cheddar Off Dead. The book is set at Christmastime, and Lilah has the misfortune of witnessing another murder, which will bring her back in contact with Detective Jay Parker of the Pine Haven P.D. And yes, it is a very romantic book. J
You've also got another series coming out in July - A Dark and Stormy Murder: A Writer's Apprentice Mystery. Tell us a little about that series.
I told my agent that I wanted to write another cozy series, and we chatted over the phone about some of my interests. We found out that we both loved the romantic suspense novels of people like Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt.
In my series, a young writer, through a series of serendipitous events, gets to meet her idol, the great romantic suspense novelist Camilla Graham, and become her ghost writer. I really love the series—the first one, A Dark and Stormy Murder, comes out in July. The books are wish fulfillment for me because when I was a twenty-something, there was no celebrity I would have wanted to meet more than Mary Stewart.
This one's for your fellow writers. It must be difficult to juggle one series, let alone two. What's your writing process like? Do you outline, or prefer to tackle your first draft without knowing where it's going?
I don’t normally outline—I like to go on a little adventure and let my brain provide details. Having said that, though, I will tell you that my publisher requires an outline before the finished draft of the book, so now I do a little of both. What I did with the last book was write about half of it just on creative fumes, and then I sat down, outlined what I had already written, and then plotted out the rest of the book in outline form. So I did a little of both, and the outline did help me finish the book by the deadline.
This is the first time I’ve had so many concrete deadlines, and it has been stressful, because while I was writing and querying I was on my own timeline, and now I am getting paid and reviewed, so there’s pressure to turn in something of quality by the time required. I have written all three of the Lilah Drake mysteries (not yet sure if there will be more), and I have written two of the Writer’s Apprentice books. So have one more to go on my current contracts. I hope that at least one of these series will be renewed, but if not, I’ll be back to the drawing board, trying to come up with new ideas.
Thanks Julia. Good luck with both series. I'm looking forward to the next Undercover Dish Mystery.
Thank you so much for the interview, Patrick, and for reading the book. This was fun!