DEBRA H. GOLDSTEIN

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.

Contacts:

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.

https://www.amazon.com/Four-Cuts-Sarah-Blair-Mystery/dp/1496732219

Four Cuts Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

10 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    Interesting interview. Thanks for sharing your process. So fascinating.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Debra. Liked your thoughts on subplots. Continued success!

    Reply
  3. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    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.

    Reply
  4. Nina Wachsman

    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.

    Reply
  5. John G. Bluck

    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.

    Reply
    • Debra H. Goldstein

      John,
      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.

      Reply
  6. Vicki Batman

    Great interview, Debra and George. Thank you. vb

    Reply
    • Debra H. Goldstein

      Vicki,
      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the interview.

      Reply
  7. Michael A, Black

    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.

    Reply
    • Debra H. Goldstein

      Michael,
      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.

      Reply

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FOUR AUTHORS WORKING TOGETHER – Part 4

DAVALYNN SPENCER is a Publisher’s Weekly and ECPA bestselling author with novellas in three Barbour collections, The 12 Brides of Christmas, The 12 Brides of Summer, and The Cowboy’s Bride.

Davalynn won the Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Inspirational Western Fiction and is the author of ten additional titles, both contemporary and historical. She blogs monthly for Christian Authors Network, Heroes, Heroines & History, contributes to the American Christian Fiction blog, and writes her own weekly inspirational blog. She appears on an area radio broadcast, Write Time Radio, and teaches writing workshops when not wrangling Blue the Cowdog and mouse detectors Annie and Oakley.

As the last author to join the Always a Wedding Planner collection, I had the advantage of coming into a story world that had already been created – a four-member team of friends who ran Weddings By Design in Loveland, Colorado. With the overall theme and setting established, I was free to concentrate on partner number four. I established a life, a personal story world, and a threatening challenge for my character, Saffron Fare, whom I made the chef for the business.

Each story is complete unto itself. In the writing of this collection, we four authors were in constant communication with each other, asking questions, double-checking on personalities, confirming the names and locations of key elements in a town like the business’s office. We’d often send emails to each other containing dialogue, followed by, “Would your character say it like this or not?” It was great fun reading excerpts from another author’s use of my character in a scene or two from her story.

I have contributed to several Barbour novella collections. Still, this one was unique in that all four stories focused on the same business yet were told from the point of view of a different business partner. We worked together to create the collection the same way our characters worked together in their wedding-planning business.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    Sounds like an interesting variance of POV. Best of luck to you.

    Reply

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FOUR AUTHORS WORKING TOGETHER – Part 3

LEEANN BETTS writes contemporary romantic suspense. Her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical romantic suspense.

She has released nine titles in her cozy mystery series. Together, she and Donna have published more than 25 novellas and full-length novels. They ghostwrite, judge writing contests, edit, facilitate a critique group, and are members of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, and Sisters in Crime. Leeann travels extensively to research her stories and is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary LLC.

When the idea first surfaced about writing an interconnected contemporary novella collection featuring the same characters with different main character roles in each story, several potential writers turned us down, believing we couldn’t be able to carry off the premise.

However, a dear writing friend, Darlene Franklin, who helped with the original idea, had recently published a similar collection featuring four friends who worked at different businesses but were involved in solving mysteries.

Our story was only a tad bit more difficult in that all four of our heroines worked for the same partnership and were not only co-workers but best friends.
Finding the perfect set of authors was probably the most difficult part of the process. We knew the stories would be a little tongue-in-cheek, so that was the number two requirement for each author. Number one was that they are followers of Jesus, strong in their faith and that their writing should reflect that.

Once we had the four in place, the process worked like a dream.

My approach to writing is to start with a one-sentence blurb – if I can’t encapsulate the story in twenty words or less, I don’t know what it’s about. Then I do the “back cover copy” or two to three paragraphs, and then I begin with the synopsis. I usually write all that by hand then transcribe it to the computer.
But before I write one word, I pray that the Lord would help me faithfully transcribe the story He wants told.

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4 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you’ve got everything pretty well organized. Good luck.

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    • leeann betts

      Thank you, Michael!

      Reply
  2. leeann betts

    Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog today!

    Reply

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FOUR AUTHORS WORKING TOGETHER – Part 2

R.L. ASHLY is a master seamstress with a Master of Arts degree in Literature.

R.L. hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Literature in the near future. A mother and grandmother, she is active in her local writing community, never says never to a home improvement task, and strives to one day write the Great American Novel.
RL Ashly writes on the run, enjoys a good mystery with a complicated plot, and iced tea is her beverage of choice. Hemmed In is her first traditionally published novel.

The nice thing about working on Always a Wedding Planner was the collaboration with the other writers. I enjoyed working with them and would do so again in a heartbeat. Leeann Betts and I share a mutual character, Camilla Parsons. We collaborated on Camilla’s characterization and how we were going to incorporate her into our stories. Leeann has a great sense of humor and when I read The Worst Kept Secret, I chuckle at how Leeann integrated Camilla into her tale. She did such a good job.

Since I am a seamstress by day, it was easy to give my lead character that career. The well-used saying, “write what you know,” works. It helps with planning the plot and adding flavor to the story. My approach to writing is different from other writers. I keep a notebook and my tablet in a bag and write on the go. I even write using my phone. Between work and chasing grandbabies, this system works best for me. In fact, I am writing this blog post on my phone while I sit in a waiting room for an appointment. Then I will finish it in my car before I run to my next stop on my errands.

One positive thing about living in this era—we have access to such wonderful technology. There is a learning curve, especially for us older folks, but it is so worth discovering how to use it. I can write while I’m taking a walk. Peddling on my exercise bike and writing is another option. I tied a shelf onto my exercise bike, and it holds my tablet. There’s something relaxing about writing and pedaling.

I have learned that it is important to write almost every day. It is easy to get out of the habit of writing and let life get in the way. There are days when getting any writing done is impossible. But I have found that even writing a few sentences keeps me in tune with my story and thinking about it. Then the next writing session will go faster because I processed the next scene or chapter in the story.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    I imagine being a seamstress is a lot like being a writer, taking some materials and putting them together to create something nice. Good luck with both of your careers.

    Reply

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FOUR AUTHORS WORKING TOGETHER – Part 1

Working Together in a collection by authors of “Always a Wedding Planner” Romance

TONI SHILOH is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.

When I was first presented with the opportunity to join the Always a Wedding Planner collection, I immediately jumped at the chance to have a character who was a wedding cake baker because . . . cakes! Although I have no experience baking on that level, I do love to bake. So, I delved into the world of cake baking and pinned way more cakes than was necessary on my Pinterest board for inspiration.

But I also wanted to create a character who had a deep desire to be married but couldn’t. Through brainstorming and maybe inspiration I saw through real life, I came up with a character who wasn’t able to have kids.

Felicity Edwards never knows when is the perfect time to tell a guy she’s dating that she’s infertile. This is a major conflict in her life and the reason she feels she’s remained single. But when Will Davenport walks into the story, she has to decide if being vulnerable is May 31st
worth the risk.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    Interesting concept having a wedding cake baker, Toni. Did you know that in ancient times it was a custom to throw the wedding cake at the bride? Good luck with your writing.

    Reply

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