Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of One Taste Too Many, the first of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter, serves on SinC’s national board, and is president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Find out more about Debra at .
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, One Taste Too Many. When did you start writing and what got you into cozies?
I was the neighborhood kid who wrote plays for us to act in front of parents and other children and skits for school projects. Consequently, I grew up thinking I’d work in a writing related field. When I graduated the University of Michigan, I gave myself eight months to accomplish two goals: get a job in New York in publishing and become a Jeopardy contestant. In case things didn’t work out with my day job search, I typed law school applications at night. Eight months later, goals accomplished, I enrolled in law school. For the years I was a litigator and then a judge, I continued the other habit I’d started as a child – reading voraciously. My favorites, because I could enjoyably knock them out quickly on a flight or while relaxing, were cozy mysteries. They were fun. When I decided to write, the pleasure I got out of cozy mysteries was what I wanted to share with readers.
What is your book about?
One Taste Too Many is the story of how a woman finds the resiliency to overcome her fears and doubts about starting over to clear her sister’s name and avoid being in the kitchen. Married at eighteen, but now divorced at twenty-eight, Sarah Blair swapped her luxury lifestyle for a cramped studio apartment, a law firm receptionist job, and caring for her feisty Siamese cat, RahRah. She knew things might be difficult, but things fall completely apart when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by Sarah’s twin’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. With RahRah wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and her twin wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before she must take her twin’s place in a o. Unfortunately, for a woman whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worth than death – being in the kitchen.
I wanted to write a cozy mystery, but I ran into a big problem. Cozy mysteries usually feature divine recipes or accomplished craftsmen. Although I was a decent enough lawyer and judge, my cooking and craft skills are dismal. Pondering what to write, I realized I’m not the only person challenged in these areas. Consequently, I decided, as the mother of twins, to write a series that combined my knowledge of night and day twins with the concept of having one sister be a master chef like my sister, who shadowed our mother and is an excellent cook, while I lay on the couch and watched Perry Mason.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
My biggest challenges writing One Taste Too Many were making the characters believable and the recipes correct. Not being knowledgeable about the kitchen, I had to double check everything I referenced. The other challenge I faced while writing this book was personal. The book was coming together quickly when my mother died. I found myself unable to write. Months went by before I resumed writing, but there was a problem. My words were stilted. It wasn’t until I realized I’d stopped listening to my characters and tried to resolve the plot by making the wrong character the murderer, that I was able to put fun and life back into the manuscript. Of course, doing this required throwing out half of my draft and doing an extensive rewrite.
Did your book require a lot of research?
One Taste Too Many didn’t require a lot of research for its plot, but I had to research and try the recipes referenced in the book. Because Sarah is a cook of convenience, I had to search magazines and cookbooks for unique and amusing recipes. I was very excited when I found Jell-O in a can.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
I don’t write every day, so I often don’t notice when the muse is missing. If enough days go by without producing something, I try to work on my main work in progress, but if I can’t get anywhere with it, I write a short piece, or I tell myself, “Better luck, tomorrow.”
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
I don’t really have a vague sense of anxiety before I sit down to write. For me, the anxiety or frustration comes when the words don’t flow the way I want. I know I have a gem of an idea, but I’m not sure how to retrieve it. When that happens, I try writing the piece or paragraphs from other angles until one finally works. Once the words start coming, I slip into a zone that is peaceful rather than anxiety filled.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
When I was on the bench, I had very little free time, so I had to stick to a writing schedule – weekends and somewhere between midnight and four a.m. Once I left my judgeship to write fulltime, I thought I’d be as disciplined as I was while I worked full time, but I’m not. Now, I don’t stick to any schedule and almost anything can successfully distract me. The only time I put myself in writing jail is when I have a deadline.
What was your publishing process like?
My three books have all been traditionally published, but each followed a different process.
Maze in Blue found a home as an outgrowth of a program I moderated for a group of one hundred businesswomen. In response to a question, I mentioned I had a mystery I thought was ready to see the world. A few hours later, I received an e-mail from the publisher of a small house indicating her best friend told her there was a judge with a mystery and suggesting she might want to see it. The best friend was a noted publicist in town and knowing nothing about agents or submissions, I said “Sure.” I asked if she wanted me to mail it to her any special way. She told me to send it as an e-mail attachment with a specific e-mail header. Only after I e-mailed it did I realize if she didn’t like it, all she had to do was hit delete. A few weeks later, I received another e-mail: “My partner and I have read Maze in Blue and would like to offer you a contract.”
Unfortunately, shortly after Maze in Blue winning an IPPY award, the publisher ceased operations. All agents and editors I talked to told me to throw it back up on Create Space because I needed books to fulfill the speaking engagements I had and to “write something new.” Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery was my something new. An editor read the first two pages at Killer Nashville and asked for the entire manuscript. Five Star bought the book a week later. Five Star published the book but discontinued its mystery line the following year.
Again, I had to “write something new.” This time, I went the agent route and was lucky to be signed by one. She submitted my book to Kensington, who offered me a three-book deal for the Sarah Blair cozy mystery series. One Taste Too Many is the first of the series. Two Bites Too Many will be published in October. Kensington, from acceptance through publication, has been a delight to work with.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
When I finish a book, I close my computer except for checking e-mail and binge read the books building up on my TBR shelf.
How do you define success?
Success is knowing my family is okay and that I’m having fun with what I’m doing. If you had asked me this question years ago, my answer would probably have been different. Back then, I probably defined it as accolades, monetary bonuses, or in other materialistic terms, but I was lucky as a lawyer, judge, and volunteer to receive more than my fair share of “success.” The medals, trophies, certificates, and other rewards simply don’t compare to the non-tangible ones I now relish.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
Having always been a reader, I love meeting the people whose books took me to new worlds or challenged my mind. The kindness the people at the top of the food chain and those in my lower levels have shown me has been equal. I would not be where I am today in my writing career but for the encouragement and teaching of the members of the writing community. The words on paper make it possible, but the interaction with other writers defines the essence of this writer’s life.
What is your advice for aspiring authors?
Take classes, network, read books on writing and most of all, do it. Time passes while one is talking about writing and for many no words ever get on paper. Don’t be one of those authors.
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Thoughts?
Many writers view the process of idea to words on paper, revision. seeking agents, editors, and publishers, more edits, and final publication as being a fight at every point in the process, but they claim, as Orwell wrote, they don’t give up because they must write. I think that is true for them, but I don’t feel the compulsion as much as I see writing as a joyful release. I find a prompt or have an idea, but I only respond if I want to. The contrasting viewpoints are very similar to the ongoing philosophical argument over whether there is a God dictating our lives or if our actions are manmade. I’m content to write my books and short stories, while leaving the greater debate to others.
What’s on the horizon for you?
2018 was a marvelous year. Not only did I sign my Kensington contract for the new Sarah Blair mystery series, I also signed a contract with Harlequin giving them mass market publication rights of Should Have Played Poker. One Taste Too Many, a January 2019 release, will be available December 18, 2018 and in October 2019, Two Bites Too Many will be published. Harlequin is scheduled to release Poker in June 2019.
Besides my book deals, my Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine short story, “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place was named an Agatha and Anthony finalist. Five unrelated stories already have publication dates in 2019.
In a few months, I will finish my term as President of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I will continue as the Monitoring Chair and a member of the Sinc national board, but I also will begin my term as President of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
Besides spending time with family and friends, I’m looking forward to meeting new writers and readers. I can be reached at DHG@DebraHGoldstein.com .
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
Thank you for having me as a guest today. It was a pleasure spending time with you and your readers. I hope they will feel free to contact me at DHG@DebraHGoldstein.com or to check out my website (https:/www.DebraHGoldstein) and I encourage them, whether it is One Taste Too Many or the books available by so many other authors, to support writers.
Links to book:
Barnes & Noble: