FOUR CUTS TOO MANY – Sarah Blair, who finds kitchens more frightening than murder, gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in the culinary school where her friend teaches serves up a main corpse. Sarah soon discovers that there’s no time to mince words when it comes to finding the real killer.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (Four Cuts Too Many, Three Treats Too Many, Two Bites Too Many, and One Taste Too Many). Her short stories, which have been named Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer finalists, have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Malice Domestic Murder Most Edible, Masthead, and Jukes & Tonks. Debra is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and president of SEMWA. She previously served on Sisters in Crime’s national board and was the Guppy Chapter president.
Do you write in more than one genre? Although my six novels are all traditional or cozy mysteries, my published short stories range from non-mystery literary works to different mystery genres. During my time as a judge and a litigator, almost all of my writings were non-fiction legal articles and book chapters.
What is your writing process, and what is most challenging about it? My true nature is to be a pantser who listens to the voices of my characters but only writes when the muse strikes me. I repeatedly tell myself I need to get up and write every day, but I constantly fail to do so. This was the exact style I used when I wrote the first Sarah Blair book, One Taste Too Many; however, after Kensington contracted the first three books, I faced several challenges. First, each book now had a deadline for submission, which meant I had to produce on time. That was a challenge I could easily meet. What was more difficult was that for each book, my New York editor wanted a detailed synopsis. It was emphasized to me that it needed to be detailed. Consequently, I spent weeks working out the plot of Two Bites Too Many and finally submitted an eighteen-page synopsis. My editor had only one comment: “Next time, double space.”
Although I wouldn’t say I like thinking the books out in advance, and I often must send my editor an email with a little change – like I discovered there needed to be a new character added to the cast in Three Treats Too Many. I have learned to write and appreciate having shorter, double-spaced treatments for each book.
Has any association membership helped you or your writing? When I announced that I was going to write mysteries, I was told to join Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. These two organizations provided classes and mentoring guidance that helped me develop my skills and understanding of the craft and business aspects of writing. They also have proven invaluable in helping me make friends at all levels of writing and who generously share their expertise and encouragement.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? The basic premise of the Sarah Blair books is that Sarah, who was married at eighteen, divorced at twenty-eight, with the only thing she got out of the marriage being RahRah, her Siamese cat, is starting over with no skills and a lack of confidence. As the series proceeds, Sarah evolves. She acquires new skills, including those needed to solve murders, and she grows in terms of her confidence level. Sarah’s interaction with the people around her set up several personal interaction sub-plots in each book. Whether the sub-plot revolves around family, friends, community groups, or her pets varies based upon the main plotline. I also work in social issue subplots, including economic development, mental abuse, ageism, and animal rescue. The key to these subplots is to make my point without banging the reader over the head with it. My goal is to have readers enjoy a carefully crafted whodunit but walk away with subconscious thoughts raised by the subplots.
What kind of research do you do? When Maze in Blue and Should Have Played Poker were orphaned, I knew I had to write something new and that I wanted it to be a cozy mystery. Having spent a great deal of time in small southern towns when I was litigating for the Department of Labor, I knew I could capture their essence in any book I wrote. I also had no problem making my sleuth an amateur. A problem arose when I thought about the fact that most cozy mysteries include crafts or cooking, and I hate both. Once I decided there had to be readers out there who hate the kitchen as much as I do, I had a hook for my series – a woman more frightened of the kitchen than murder. Despite Sarah’s unfamiliarity with the kitchen, I had to learn about it in order to write the kitchen scenes realistically.
Consequently, I approached several restaurant owners, chefs, and waiters in Birmingham, Alabama, which has become a foodie town. They graciously told me their stories and took me through their kitchens. From each person I interviewed, I learned something new that appears in the various books. For Three Treats Too Many, I wanted to write about a community motorcycle group and a veterinarian’s office. To get these things right, I interviewed a few individuals who collect motorcycles, and I shadowed a veterinarian for a day. I believe the more hands-on research I do, the more realistic and enjoyable my books are.
Website – www.DebraHGoldstein.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/
Twitter – @DebraHGoldstein
Instagram – debrahgoldstein
Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/debra-h-goldstein
Four Cuts Too Many and the other Sarah Blair books are available from indie and big-box bookstores but can also be purchased online.
Four Cuts Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)
Debra, great interview with a fascinating look into how you work. I love the perplexed look of the cat on that cover. You sound like an outstanding person. I’ll bet you’re a fabulous judge. Best of luck with your writing.
Thank you. I love the different covers Kensington has done for this series. Some are serious and some more perplexed or comic, but they all fit the story in the particular book.
Great interview, Debra and George. Thank you. vb
Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the interview.
Very interesting about how Debra Goldstein researched cooking and followed a vet on his/her rounds. I also like the story of how she wrote her first book in true pantser style and later had to write a synopsis for each of several subsequent books. I think it’s great that she doesn’t write on a schedule, but instead writes when she feels she wants to — when the muse strikes her. I believe writing shouldn’t be a chore, but rather a more enjoyable pursuit. I think the characters will then come alive and speak for themselves through the writer’s pen, pencil, typewriter, or computer.
Thank you for your comments. I agree with you about the enjoyment aspect. When a piece works for me, it flows. When I try to force it or force myself to write at a specific time, often what I produce is stilted and ends up in the garbage, so better to be doing something else productive.
Its great learning about your writing process, because none of your work ever comes out “half-baked”. I’m glad to see its possible to write cozies even if you hate cooking or crafts.
Wow, I really enjoyed this interview. Hating kitchens intrigues me. Is it the cooking, the smells or the informal setting. I have found that in a lot of southern households the kitchen is the place where most gatherings take place. Probably not in very affluent houses where the servants congregate, but in a lot of traditional southern homes the kitchen is the focal point for discussion and family meetings.
I was raised in Washington, D.C. in a rowhouse. I was not fond of kitchens. Too many times it was places where I was made to eat things I didn’t like, peas, carrots or other green things. They are still things not on my menu.
I loved your research techniques and will try to do what you suggested when a character needs honing. I generally pick places/settings that are within a 500 miles radius. To me I need to go there to get a feel for the place. Thank you for sharing your writings with us.
Great meeting you, Debra. Liked your thoughts on subplots. Continued success!
Interesting interview. Thanks for sharing your process. So fascinating.