Lea Wait here, with the tale of a tale.
It started when an agent suggested I write a contemporary mystery for children. My previous books for ages 8-12 were historical novels, not mysteries, (although many of my characters had secrets …) so writing a different sort of book was a challenge.
I ended up with Pizza To Die For. It’s set in New Jersey (a state I lived in for many years while dreaming of being in Maine,) and, yes, it includes a murder. And, taking a page from cozy mysteries, it also includes recipes.
My protagonist, Mikki Norden, wants to be a chef. She does all the cooking for her family and studies cookbooks. Her mother is an unpublished (so far) mystery writer, who studies books on poisons and plots.
Mikki’s parents have just separated, and she and her mom have moved from Seattle, Washington, to New Jersey, to live with a grandmother she has never met and (yuck) attend the same high school her mother graduated from. Mikki learns she’s half Italian, and finds a mentor in Anthony Baldacci (she calls him Mr. B) who owns a local Italian restaurant. And then, one morning, she and a new friend visit Mr. B … and find his body. And he smells of almonds.
As Mikki would tell you, having talked mysteries with her mother for years, the smell of almonds (without almonds in the vicinity) is a sure sign of arsenic poisoning. But the local police assume Mr. B died of a heart attack. What’s a girl to do when no one will listen to her? She’ll solve the crime herself — with the help of a couple of bumbling has-been hit men who, it turns out, used to work for her grandfather.
I had a lot of fun writing Pizza To Die For. It’s very different from any of my other books, for adults or children, because it’s funny, and populated by a lot of quirky characters. I even included some of Mikki’s recipes … grandchild tested.
But — here’s the writers’ dilemma — no publisher wanted it. Editors liked it, but said they were confused. They felt Mikki was too mature to classify Pizza To Die For as a book for 8-12 year olds. On the other hand, she was too young to fit into the Young Adult category. (Mikki changed ages several times in the writing, but ended up at fourteen, a freshman in high school.)
And, yes, she’s a mature — but sometimes naïve — fourteen. But I liked her, and thought my readers — both young and old — would like her, too.
So, for the first time, I decided to self-publish a mystery.
It’s shorter than my adult mysteries (200 instead of 300 pages.) It’s humorous. The characters, of course, all have secrets. The New Jersey suburbs are far from the coast of Maine, where many of my books are set, but my friends who live in NJ will recognize bits and pieces of real towns.
I’ve been pleased by early responses to Pizza To Die For, from both young and old(er) readers. Who doesn’t enjoy a light mystery sometimes?
As Mikki said, when she was in a quandary, “Maybe there was hope. In the meantime, there were desserts.”
And who doesn’t like desserts?
Pizza To Die For is available as an e-book for Kindle or Nook or from Kobo and as a trade paperback from Amazon
Lea, it sounds as if the plot is perfect for a large age range. It is so tiresome when one hears ‘not suitable for….’. That’s what happened in the music business and look how everything blew up and crossed genres. When I was in school, we had an hour long bus ride everyday. I always read to pass the time and from an early age many of those books were cook books. I even had an Auntie Miki. This will be a hard copy purchase I plan to enjoy now and share with my grand daughter when she’s a little older. She’s almost 4 at the moment. Thanks for taking the bull by the horns and doing it yourself!
Hope you enjoy it, Julianne! I love books written for reader sof all ages — and am hoping my readers do, too!
Sounds like a winner to me! I’m so glad you published it as YA, and I’ll be you’ll get lots of adult readers, too, as well as middle grades. The perfect crossover book 🙂
Hope you enjoy it!
Sounds good! I’ve really enjoyed your Mainely Needlepoint series and will try the other. I’d never heard that about almonds and arsenic. I always thought it was the fast acting cyanide that smelled like bitter almonds. I learn something every day!
Woops — you’re right, Jeanne — and (thank goodness) I have it right in the book. Doing too much too fast! Thanks for noticing! Lea
I just read another book in which someone dies a rapid death from arsenic– like falling over dead in the course of a play– and I always thought that was cyanide so I’m feeling confused right now. I don’t know if the author made a mistake or if Dame Agatha let me down! (What I know about poisons largely came from her books.) I knew you’d get it right no matter which it was so I figured I had it wrong.
Looking forward to the book!
Lea: Can’t wait to read “Pizza To Die For”! Sherie
Love that, Sherie!
Thank you just ordered.