Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome mystery author, Debra Goldstein to the blog this week.
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
Judge, author, litigator, wife, step-mom, mother of twins, transplanted Yankee and civic volunteer are all words used to describe me. My writings are equally diverse. Although my novels are traditional mysteries with cozy elements, my short stories tend to be darker with unexpected twists. My non-fiction essays reflect emotional slices of life.
I am very excited about One Taste Too Many, the first of my new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series being published by Kensington. In One Taste, culinary challenged Sarah knows starting over after her divorce will be messy. Things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin sister’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with her cat, RahRah, wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and her sister wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death – being in the kitchen!
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
Presently, I don’t have any pets (unless you count my husband), but in the past, I’ve had dogs. Traits from our toy poodle and bichon frise find their way into book two, Two Bites Too Many, but my limited knowledge of animals beyond dogs was a definite problem when I decided I wanted a cat to play a major role in the Sarah Blair mystery series. I remedied my lack of familiarity with cats by contacting a friend who has a very special Siamese cat, Suri. Suri’s behavior, tricks, and even appearance became the model for my absolute favorite cat, RahRah.
Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
One of the main characters in the Sarah Blair mystery series is RahRah the cat. Sarah married at eighteen, divorced by twenty-eight and in doing so swapped a luxury lifestyle for a cramped studio apartment and a job as a law firm receptionist. The only thing she can show for the past decade is her feisty Siamese cat, who previously belonged to her ex’s mother. Knowing RahRah already probably spent one of his nine lives when he was rescued, as a kitten from a hurricane’s floodwaters, Sarah is very protective of RahRah – when she isn’t wishing she could have the resilience and confidence he has. Basically, RahRah owns the world.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
One Taste Too Many is the first of at least three Sarah Blair mysteries. I’m doing final edits on the second book, Two Bites Too Many, and am writing the third book, Three Treats Too Many. In my spare time, I’ve been writing short stories. Several of them will be published in 2019 including The Dinner Gift, which won an award in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable competition, Harvey and the Red Head –The Eyes of Texas anthology, and Nova, Capers, and a Schmear of Cream Cheese – Fishy Business, an anthology compiled by the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
The earliest pet I remember having was a goldfish won at a school carnival. Sadly, it barely survived the transfer from its plastic bag to a small bowl. After a proper mourning period, my parents bought me three miniature turtles. I named them Turk, Dirk, and Lurk – perhaps a sign of the mystery bent my writing career would take. Later, we added a grey miniature poodle, Lord Silver Mist (Misty) to the family menagerie.
How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
I believe animals have true personalities and impact the lives of everyone in a household. Consequently, when I use an animal in my writing, as I do with RahRah in the Sarah Blair mystery series, the animal must be a fully developed character. I want the reader to enjoy the animal’s behavior and interaction with the human characters, not simply be a reference to a cat or dog because the book or story has cozy elements. For me, the interaction between animals and humans can provide the impetus to move the story forward, be an instance of comic relief, or simply serve to illustrate another character’s personality. RahRah does all of these things at different points in One Taste Too Many.
Why do you include animals in your writing?
I include animals in my writing because they allow me show, rather than tell, the reader about different aspects of the other characters’ personalities. For example, if a fussy animal rubs against the leg of a seemingly tough character, but the character unconsciously bends and pets the animal, we realize the tough guy has a soft side. My animals also create or dissipate tension through dramatic or comedic moments. Finally, I use animals because I like them.
What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
My favorite book with an animal as a prominent character is One Taste Too Many because after living with it for the past year, I’m partial to it. Bambi is the movie with a central animal character that had a lasting impact on me because of its plot twists, but those twists are what keeps me from using the word “favorite” with it.
Bambi was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. I was three years old and the movie was a treat my father took me to because my parents had recently brought home this thing they called my sister. I’m not sure if they wanted me to have one on one time with a parent or simply thought it a good idea to get me out of the house because every time they asked me to help by handing them something for the baby, I threw it at her – don’t worry, we are very close now. Although I still smile when I think of Bambi and Thumper, the animals, the scenes when Bambi’s mother was killed and where the fire spread through the forest were so powerful they made a lasting impression on me. I watched the movie again as an adult and was again disturbed by those scenes, but now I understood them from a writer’s perspective. Each was a major plot point change where tension and conflict occurred. For a writer, Bambi is an excellent lesson in how to effectively manipulate the emotions of a viewer or reader.
What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
When I first started writing, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought getting the story in my head on paper was all I had to do. I wish I had known more about the business side – agents, publishers, distribution, marketing, social media usage, and personal platforms. It has been a steep learning curve. The other thing I wish I knew when I started writing is how wonderful and supportive other writers would prove to be.
Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?
My favorite place to read or write is in an oversized club chair that my mother had made for my father for their first anniversary. My father wasn’t a big person, but he had long legs. She ordered the chair built with an extra two inches of length in the seat and plenty of back support. For years, my father used that chair to read the paper and watch television. When he wasn’t home, my sister and I used the arms of that chair as our imaginary horses and by covering it with a blanket, we often made it our tent or covered wagon.
When my father died, the chair, for the next decade, became the one my mother curled up in when she wanted to read or visit with any of her kids or grandchildren. If I was visiting, I’d wait for her to go to bed and then sneak into the chair to read or write. It just felt right. When my mother died, other than some art work, there was only one piece of furniture I insisted on shipping from California to Alabama. Today, the chair sits in my bedroom. I use it to read and write and our grandchildren have discovered how wonderful its arms are for make believe.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Do it! Passion should never be ignored.
One Taste Too Many is the first of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series by Agatha and Anthony nominated Judge Debra H. Goldstein. Her prior books include Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Debra’s short stories have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. She is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppies, serves on Sinc’s national board, and is vice-president of SEMWA.
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One Taste Too Many is available in print and e-book from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Taste-Many-Sarah-Blair-Mystery/dp/1496719476 ), Barnes & Noble (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/one-taste-too-many-debra-h-goldstein/1128297322?ean=9781496719478#/ ) and your local indie bookstores.