by Barb, who enjoyed a happy weekend making Christmas cookies with my granddaughter
The Wicked Cozies are thrilled to welcome Lucy Burdette to the blog. We’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating: Without Lucy, there might not have been a Wicked Cozies at all. Sherry, Edith and I were all members of Sisters in Crime New England, but our friendships were cemented on the weekend we spent at Seascape, the writing boot camp Lucy (in her alter ego disguise as Roberta Isleib) ran with Hallie Ephron and S.W. Hubbard. Even more important, that’s where we got to know Liz, who hadn’t even planned on attending that year, until Lucy talked her into it. We all knew Julie and Jessie from SinCNE, and it took off from there.
Lucy has a new Christmas book out in her Hayley Snow Key West Food Critic Mystery series, and I’m chatting with her about that today.
It may be Christmastime, but thoughts of peace on earth, good will toward men, don’t seem to extend to the restaurant business. Food critic Hayley Snow has been assigned to interview Edel Waugh, chef/owner of Key West’s hottest new restaurant. But off the record, Edel reveals that there’s been sabotage in the kitchen and asks Hayley to investigate. Things heat up fast when the restaurant is set on fire—and a body is discovered in the charred wreckage. Is someone out to destroy the chef’s business—or actually kill her? Amid holiday festivities like the lighted boat parade, and visiting relatives who stir up mixed emotions, Hayley needs to smoke out an arsonist and a killer before they turn up the heat again…on her!
Barb: One thing you and I have in common is Key West. Lots of adjectives spring to mind when I think of Key West, but “cozy” isn’t one of them. What was your inspiration to set a cozy mystery in Key West?
Lucy: Such a good question Barb! I suspect the Disney cruise ship was wondering the same thing when they docked for a day during Fantasyfest (the Halloween week celebration that involves a lot of body paint and not much else, LOL.)
But Key West makes a good setting for a cozy because of its many layers. A great mystery setting becomes a character of its own–a place that readers yearn to visit. A place on the precipice of something happening. A place filled with secrets, and conflicts, and places to hide. A place like Key West, with its delicately balanced development, and its conflicts between old-time Conchs and newcomers, between the richest of the rich, the homeless, and the millions of partying visitors. Underneath its fashion-model looks, magical, whimsical, bizarro Key West has so much more. On the outside, warm weather, tropical plants, happy tourists, Sunset celebrations…and on the dark side, competition over money, space, and what kind of town we’ll become.
Barb: Oh, that’s so true! In Key West, it looks like it’s all hanging out, but there’s so much beneath the surface. I love Christmas cozies, which Death with all the Trimmings is. But Hayley is in the tropics, where the writer can’t rely on a snow-covered New England town square to set the mood. Can you give us a sense of the holiday season in Key West?
Lucy: Hayley and I are getting adjusted to Christmas in our Key West paradise. Though we miss the snow and the snappy cold air and our friends and family most of all, there’s something pretty magical about lights on a palm tree. But Key West goes a whole lot further than that. The town sponsors a lighting decoration contest, a lighted boat parade, and the hometown holiday parade, with elaborate floats from local organizations. And don’t let me forget the Winter Wiener Wonderland, which is a parade of costumed dachshunds. (I marched in that last year with my husband and our Australian shepherd—we all wore hot dog costumes.) It was so much fun to work all of those events into the book!
Barb: One reason I love the Key West Food Critic series is because your protagonist Hayley Snow seems to be growing up before our eyes. She’s very young and pretty naive in the first book, An Appetite for Murder, but she’s had a lot of experiences both good and bad since then. How do you think about Hayley as a person? Do you think about a personal arc for each book? Across the series?
Lucy: Thank you for that observation, Barb! I did get a lot of feedback on An Appetite for Murder about Hayley’s immaturity and self-absorption. To tell you the truth, I don’t think she’s much different than a lot of young adults in their early to mid twenties. She knew she needed to get out of her mother’s house, but how? The whirlwind romance gave her the perfect ticket out. Readers meet her just as that relationship has blown up. She’s in Key West, she’s panicked and desperate, she doubts herself, she’ll do anything to stay on the island. The good news is that leaves her room to grow! And understanding how the characters will grow and change is my favorite part of writing. There was so much I didn’t know about these characters when I started writing–they’ve evolved on the screen before my eyes. So yes, I think about what might happen in these relationships over the course of each book. And I have a bigger, more general idea for the series.
Barb: What are you working on now?
Fatal Reservations is due mid-January–yikes! One of the trickiest parts of writing a cozy mystery is figuring out the heroine’s stake in solving the crime. Why in the world would a food critic be involved in puzzling out a murder? I realize that readers are willing to suspend disbelief to a certain extent, but when I’m reading, I want to feel convinced that the characters are behaving reasonably. So I spend a lot of time figuring out that ‘why.’ In Fatal Reservations, which will hit bookshelves next July, Hayley’s dear friend the Tarot card reader, Lorenzo, is accused of a brutal murder. He’s been supportive of her since she arrived on the island and he’s clearly afraid to talk to the police. For these reasons, she has to step up to sort out what really happened.
Thanks so much to the Wicked Cozies for hosting me on your blog!
Readers: Do you have questions or comments for Lucy?
Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) is the author of 13 mysteries, including the latest in the Key West series featuring food critic Hayley Snow. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a past president of Sisters in Crime.
Lucy Burdette’s fifth Key West food critic mystery, DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, was published on December 2. She blogs about food and mysteries at Mystery Lovers Kitchen (www.mysteryloverskitchen.com) and Jungle Red Writers (www.jungleredwriters.com). You can also find her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/lucyburdette) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/lucyburdette) and Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/robertaisleib).