D.B.: Hi, Liz: Jordan McAllister is about as worthy a protagonist as I’ve read in some time. On the rebound from an old flame, she longs to use her journalism degree to write sports columns for newspapers. Unfortunately, life’s been rough and she ends up in Ranchero, Texas, barely earning a living, writing personal ads and subsisting on fast food and Hostess Ho Hos. Have I summed up the basic plot so far?
L.L: Pretty much, but before I get into that, I want to thank you for having me on your blog. Five Scribes is one I try to keep up with. About Jordan, she was raised in Amarillo with four brothers who needed her outside to play football every afternoon, and although she can throw a razor sharp touchdown pass from 50 yards out, she can’t cook herself out of a box of macaroni and cheese.
D.B.: I like Jordan ;) Your protagonist’s big break finally comes when she’s summoned to the editor’s office Dwayne “Big Ears” Egan. Egan needs someone to fill in for the culinary reporter who’s on leave. You take a sports writer who knows nothing about food, and even less about cooking and make her a food critic. (No conflict there ;) How did this idea come about, Liz, and how much fun was it to write LIVER LET DIE?
L.L.: My agent submitted the first of a straight mystery series about five sisters, one of whom is a trash-talking ghost who comes back to help solve her murder, to an editor who had just moved from an inspirational publisher. Insert collective groan here if you’ve read that story where my ghost is really irreverent. I thought there was no way, but I still hoped. Imagine my surprise when my agent called to say the editor loved my voice and loved the story—had even quoted some of the ghost’s funniest lines….but…(Don’t you hate that word??) she was looking for a cozy. She said toning the story down to fit the genre would ruin it. So, she asked if I could write a cozy series―more specifically a “foodie.” She had just cancelled a series like that and was on the hunt. At first I said no way. I’m one of nine children and grew up eating casseroles. All the foodies out there were about gourmet food. Not only do I hate fancy food, but I don’t eat any red meat except cheap cuts of steak with gravy and ground beef. So, my agent said to sleep on the idea, and if I decided not to write it, call her in the morning and she would see if any of her other clients were interested. In the middle of the night, I shot up with this idea of a girl who couldn’t cook a lick suddenly thrust into a position where she was supposed to know good food. And that’s how Jordan was born. To answer the second part of your question, LIVER LET DIE was a blast to write. I absolutely love the eccentric characters. They get to say and do everything I wish I could…without cussing.
D.B.: Jordan’s assignment goes wrong from the start as she’s sent to Longhorn Prime Rib for her first food review. Only problem is Jordan doesn’t eat red meat. And that’s where the foie gras comes in. She wants something edible, and in Jordan’s estimation, foie gras is not. I thought this was ingenious how you plotted this scenario. But I am curious, how did a woman from Dallas learn so much about duck liver, and how did this scenario make it into your book?
L.L.: How else—Google!! Like I said, I devoured cozies before I actually sat down to attempt one. There was a mention of foie gras in one of them along with a snooty lady who ordered it. Since that is something I would never ever try and never even heard of, I researched it and was amazed at the inhumane way they treat the ducks. I knew I had to work that into the plot somehow.
D.B.: Jordan may be down on her luck, but she’s not in bad shape in the friend department. Every single girl should be surrounded by a cast of characters like those who reside in the Empire Apartments. There’s Michael and Victor, Lola, a psychic and tarot card reader, Ray, a retired cop, Rosie, an excellent cook―these people become Jordan’s closest allies. They play cards, they drink margaritas and sing karaoke. Tell us about these characters and who or what inspired them.
L.L.: I think I mentioned I am one of nine children. Actually, I am number 8, so I have way older brothers and sisters who I adore. They all have the same sense of humor as I do, so family gatherings are always so much fun. Then I have a group of girls I play bunko with, some of whom I’ve known for almost three decades. We vacation together every year, leaving hubbies at home. I get my best lines from them. I always try to have comic relief in my stories, and Victor fit the bill perfectly.
D.B.: As I mentioned, Jordan is no cook, but fortunately Rosie is. You create some fantastic recipes that make it into Jordan’s column, and from that point on the Ranchero Globe’s subscriptions take off. Taking a simple casserole and calling it something exotic, Jordan goes from low man on the totem pole to small-town celebrity in no time. During Jordan’s first restaurant review, she orders fois gras. However, when she finds out it’s duck liver, she stuffs it into her purse.
That same evening a waiter contacts Jordan with an urgent message, and the next thing we know, said waiter is found dead under the Empire Apartments’ staircase. He's been stabbed to death and one of Jordan’s knives is missing from her butcher block knife collection. With so many characters and so much transpiring, I’m curious how you set this up and kept it all straight. Do you work in drafts? Do you do character sketches, spread sheets?
L.L.: LOL here. I am a card-carrying plotter. I have these great character sketches I have made up, using a little from all the ones out there. I totally know my characters and their back stories before I ever write one word. Then I make a list of what I call plot points. All the stuff about ARCs and black moments and story boards drives me nuts. Of course, that’s not to say that I follow the original plot all the way, in fact, most of the time I don’t. So, I guess I am a plotser (plotter and pantser.) I write longhand, then use Dragon Naturally Speaking to transcribe it to the computer. I send every chapter to my CP after I’ve edited it a zillion times. The good news is that I never have to tear the draft apart during edits.
D.B.: Great. A Ploster. You’ve coined a new term ;) Something else you do in this story amazed me. I would classify LIVER LET DIE as a cozy mystery. But you introduce a second POV character of Alex Montgomery. Is this common in cozies, and how did Alex’s point of view character make it into the novel?
L.L.: One of the things that had me thinking there was no way I could write a cozy was that most of them are written in first person. I decided I would have to put on my big girl panties and get over that. But when I asked the editor if I could write multiple POVs and third person POV, she said that I could do what I wanted. Originally, I had two or three half-page scenes in the killer’s POV, and in edits, she suggested we get rid of those since cozies are all about the main protagonists. She didn’t think they gave any information to the reader that they didn’t find out later, anyway. She loved Alex’s POV, though. In Book 2 and Book 3, I stuck with Jordan’s third person POV only.
D.B: Jordan is a sports’ fanatic, something I’ve noticed that she has in common with the author. How much is Jordan like Liz Lipperman, and how is she different?
L.L.: In a lot of ways, we’re identical –well, except that she’s skinny and gorgeous and 28!!! I was always a tomboy growing up, and am still a rabid sports fan. I even run a fantasy football league every NFL season. As I mentioned, I don’t eat much red meat or fancy food, but I am a great casserole cook. Matter of fact, most of the recipes in the back of the book are really mine. I submitted ten recipes, thinking the editor would take her favorite two, but she wanted them all.
D.B.: LIVER LET DIE is your first cozy mystery. You’ve written romantic suspense and darker manuscripts before, correct? How hard was it to transition into a cozy writer?
L.L.: I thought it would be more difficult than it actually was. In my straight mysteries I use some bad language, have gruesome murder scenes and steamy sex scenes—none of which are allowed in a cozy, I thought. Come to find out, you can get away with a few bad words and the sex is allowed behind closed doors. So, now Jordan says “crap” a lot!! Other than that, there really wasn’t much difference writing it. What I have a hard time with is not putting too much romance into my stories. There will always be some, but mystery readers tend to like just mysteries.
D.B.: You also did something that any author would envy. You sold your first book on proposal. Now that you’ve “survived” to this point, would you recommend that to first-time authors? What have you learned from this experience?
L.L.: I was very fortunate in some ways and naïve and stupid in others. Quickly, I wrote three chapters and a synopsis and in two weeks, I had a three book deal. I thought cozies were about 55K, but the contract came back saying 80K. I nearly fainted since I had only plotted for the smaller amount (remember I’m a plotter.)
I can’t say I wouldn’t recommend it to a debut author, especially in this day and age. However, I think the anxiety of writing the book and worrying that the editor would hate it was like a demon in my head. The self-doubt was unbelievable. I even parted ways with a longtime CP who was very negative about the first few chapters. I couldn’t deal with her and me at the same time. Also, I wish I could say I learned to be disciplined with time management. I get nine months for each book. I putz around until I am in panic mode, which is exactly where I am now for book 3, due January 1st. I saw a cute cartoon on FB today about a “muse” standing behind the author with a gun in his hand. I wish I could hire him!!
D.B.: How long have you been writing, and what advice would you give to today’s aspiring authors.
L.L: Geez, Donnell, you’re about to date me. I started writing about 20 years ago on a story that remains the story of my heart. I quit for a while, then got serious in 2002 and got an agent in 2006. It wasn’t until about 2008 when she looked me in the eye and told me I wasn’t a romance writer. Her first clue, I guess, was that I always killed people!! Anyway, that’s when I wrote the ghost story. If I had to give advice to a new writer—along with all the other clichéd stuff floating around out there to keep writing, butt in chair, etc—I would have to say, be flexible. I had to go way out of my comfort zone to write the cozy. I liked big involved plots with multiple POVs and a lot of humor. I almost said no to this golden opportunity and guess what? I get to do all that in my cozies, anyway. So, if your genre isn’t selling right now, branch out a little if you want. (Ring a bell, Donnell??)
D.B.: Subtle as a brick, Liz. ;) You did a great job of sewing all the plotlines together. You had some laugh out loud moments and this was a very fun read. What comes next for Liz Lipperman? Will you be signing, doing book tours? Are you on another deadline?
L.L.: I am so glad you enjoyed the story, Donnell. There was some dialogue that my editor initially took out because it was too racy—then she put it back in because she said it was too funny to leave out. As for what’s next, I am waiting on the edits for Book 2, BEEF STOLEN-OFF and I’m a third of the way into MURDER FOR THE HALIBUT. I have been madly doing promotions for LLD, and October is insane. I am doing four book signings and I’m guest blogging nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. If any of you get a chance, pop over to Berkley’s FB page, Crime Scene, from 3-4 pm today where I’ll be fielding questions.
And another thing, Berkley has graciously offered to send a copy of LIVER LET DIE to one lucky commenter (US residents only per their request) Donnell can pick the random winner.
I want to thank Donnell again for having me today. This was so much fun.
My pleasure, Liz. We're thrilled for your success. However, I am still trying to figure out how to get my name in your books. But that’s another blog. Five Scribe readers, do you have any comments or questions? Are you a PLOSTER? Comments or questions will enter you to win LIVER LET DIE.