Nothing is better than enjoying a delicious snack or meal while reading a fabulous book. But if cooking is an integral part of the novel you’re reading—even better! Please welcome Wendy Eckel with her book Mystery at Windswept Farm. Bon appétit!
When I was almost certain I had the finished version of Murder at Barclay Meadow, the first in the Rosalie Hart Mystery Series, I decided to participate in a five-day writers’ workshop to do some final tweaks and to cash in on the promise that I’d be able to pitch to a New York agent. We twelve participants camped out in small cabins and spent pretty much every minute together. It felt like I was back in summer camp, something that left me homesick and miserable every year. But I thought I was almost there with my first attempt at writing mystery and was ready for the green light. Until the workshop leader shook his head and said, “There’s no hook. A cozy needs a hook.”
My mystery series has been described as cozy with an edge, but I like the cozy genre and the amateur sleuth and no violence on scene, so, I decided this was a no brainer — cooking will be my hook. And I dug back in for another edit.
So why cooking?
Humans have an interesting relationship with food. Some see it as a necessity, others see it as so much more. Although Anthony Bourdain has said some controversial things, he once said, “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” And that was a mouthful.
In the beginning of my series, my protagonist, Rosalie Hart, has been dealt a devastating hand of cards. She escapes to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to an old farm and house bequeathed to her by her dear Aunt Charlotte. Lost and at sea, she decides to bake bread. At first she is timid, who will eat it? For a woman who has spent most of her life nurturing others, it felt odd. She remembers her aunt’s words, “Rosalie, come and dust some flour on your small hands and drop the dough on the bread board. Knead it with every part of your hands: fingers, palms, and fists. Don’t think, just breathe through your young heart. Bread’s very essence allows us to nurture those we love, and feel connected to the good solid earth. For me, baking bread is like coming home.”
Having cooking as my hook has allowed me to give my mysteries another layer of depth with endless opportunities to engage my readers’ senses with tastes and aromas. It allows me to show and not tell. Readers learn of Rosalie’s generosity, courage, and curiosity, not by what she says, but what she does — offering a hurting friend a chat and a glass of wine, mustering the courage to offer her signature spiced goat cheese spread to an Italian chef, and plying the local sheriff for information with his favorite French roast.
Having cooking as my hook has also enabled me to indulge my own dreams and passions. In Mystery at Windswept Farm, the most recent book in the series, Rosalie is surprised with an opportunity to study with Marco Giovanelli, an authentic Italian chef and a cousin of one of her best friends. Juxtaposed with the mystery is five days of cooking classes with a raucous group of six characters, some who love food, others who are escaping their lives, and of course Rosalie, who is getting the chance of a lifetime to hone her skills and warm her heart. This story line allowed me to have my own immersion in Italian food — researching recipes and setting up my own test kitchen. My husband sure wasn’t complaining.
Bourdain said something else I was drawn to: “Food may not be the answer to world peace, but it’s a start.”
My take is that writing mysteries with cooking as my hook enables me to, in my own way, nourish my readers and hopefully leave them sated.
Readers, do you love to cook? Do characters in books draw you in with their food preferences?