Recipe for Reading, our original classroom resource for incorporating reading into the FACS curriculum, was written based on Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke. Ms. Fluke was kind enough to answer some questions for me about how she develops her novels and the original recipes included in them. This is the third part of the Q & A with Ms. Fluke. Enjoy!
FF: A recent Hannah Swenson novel, Apple Turnover Murder, recently appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list. Is this the first Hannah Swenson novel to earn this distinction?
JF: No, it’s not. Several other Hannah Swensen mysteries have made both the hardcover and mass market paperback New York Times bestseller lists. I’m very proud of that.
FF: If Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder were to be made into a movie, what actress would you see in the role of Hannah?
JF: I don’t know. Honestly. That’s probably because I’m a writer, not a casting director.
FF: Culinary mysteries are a popular genre in fiction today. Who are some of your favorite culinary mystery authors?
JF: I met Dianne Mott Davidson at a book event. Truth be told, we were both in line waiting for the ladies’ room! She was very nice. We agreed that the dinner we had been served would have been better if Hannah and Goldy had been hired to cater it.
Culinary mysteries are a subset of cozies and there are so many good cozy mysteries that I hesitate to recommend any particular writer. Here are some that I’ve often enjoyed: Laura Levine, Barbara Colley, Nancy J. Cohen, Laurien Berenson, Leslie Meier, and the ever outrageous R.T. Jordan. And, of course, we all owe our craft to the great Agatha Christie.
FF: You seem to always have a new Hannah Swensen novel ready for publication. How long does it typically take to develop and write one of the novels in this series?
JF: In the past four years, I’ve been writing two Hannah mysteries a year. That means I can’t take longer that six months to complete each one. That doesn’t even count the time I spend traveling on book tours and attending signings and other events at bookstores, schools, and libraries. If I had to give you a time limit, I’d say at least four months of solid work is involved in writing one Hannah Swensen mystery.
When it’s time to start thinking about a new Hannah book, my husband and I sit down to hash over ideas. He’s a retired TV story editor and he’s worked on numerous detective shows. (No, that’s not why I married him, but it’s certainly a wonderful bonus for me!)
Talking story and plot with my husband is a lot of fun. Several books ago, we celebrated the event by going to a fancy dinner. When coffee and dessert were served, I pulled out my notebook and we began to plan the next murder. After a few minutes of discussing who we really wanted to kill off this time and precisely how we’d do it, we noticed that the waiter hadn’t come back to refill our coffee cups, and the tables around us were empty. I asked, “Do you think they thought we really…?” My husband nodded and suggested we leave. Immediately. Before someone in the kitchen decided to all the police. Now we stay at home to plan our murders.
Once the murder and method are set, we make a list of possible killers—anyone who might have a reason to want the victim dead. After I choose the person that I like best, the others become suspects for Hannah to eliminate during the course of her investigation.
The outline comes next. It’s my guide to writing the book, but it isn’t set in stone. Sometimes a character just won’t behave and do what it says in the outline. Then every sentence I write is like pulling teeth and the story grinds to a screeching halt. If that happens, I know something’s wrong and I may have to rework the outline.
One thing I never rework is the ending. I don’t write the ending ahead of time, but it runs like a movie through my mind. My grandmother always said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t get there.” That’s as true when you’re writing a book as it is when you’re driving a car.
The Q & A with Joanne Fluke concludes in tomorrow’s post. Be sure to check back because you don’t want to miss the surprise ending!