Gale Deitch‘s books center around a caterer named Trudie, who narrates the books. Her best friend, Zach, serves as her partner in the business. In her first book, A Fine Fix, Trudie and Zach get their first big job catering a party for the parents of Trudie’s roommate from culinary school when the host is murdered and Zach arrested. In her second, Fine Dining, Trudie’s close friend May is arrested when she is found next to her murdered brother, holding a knife. In the third book, Fine Arts, Trudie caters an art exhibition when the owner of the gallery gets murdered and the artist arrested. In each book, Trudie takes it upon herself to help the friend who is in trouble. Trudy also talks food throughout each book, whether describing her cooking or using food words as expletives. The books are each a lot of fun and creative in their plots.
How did you get started writing books? And what inspired you to write culinary mysteries?
From childhood, I’ve always loved to write, whether in diaries, journals, poetry or short stories. As a wife and mother of young children, I wrote a novel over the course of several years, but never brought that book to publication.
In the meantime, I took writing classes, joined two critique groups, and attended a one-week writer’s retreat every summer. It was at that retreat one year that I created my character, Trudie Fine. Because I love food, cooking, recipes, and cooking shows on TV, I decided to make Trudie a caterer in the DC area, where I was born and lived my whole life. Then, to make the book interesting, I threw a dead body into the first chapter and went from there.
Speaking of culinary mysteries, I understand that a chef provides the recipes for the back of your books. Tell me a little about him and what your process is for working with him in choosing the recipes to use.
Yes. I am so fortunate that James Turner, Executive Chef at Blue 44 Restaurant in Washington, DC provides most of the recipes in the backs of my books. He is a phenomenal chef and very willing to work with me.
When I finish the first draft of a book, I send James a list of the dishes that appear in the story and let him choose how many and which ones he’d like to provide recipes for.
Then he sends me recipes to test out at home to make sure the recipe is user friendly for a home cook, see how it tastes, and to tweak anything that needs less salt or more cheese, for example. We usually communicate through email with questions I might have as I’m following the recipes like: Do I simmer with the pot covered or uncovered? What size can do I use? Can I use the butternut squash already cubed from the produce section instead of cutting the whole squash in half? James is always very open to working with me on adapting a recipe so it’s easier for a home cook to make.
What is your favorite food to cook? Do you share any of Trudie’s favorites?
When I come home from a long day at work, I often use whatever meat, chicken or seafood items I have available along with a variety of veggies and do a quick stir fry, like Kung Pao Chicken with peanuts or Shrimp Scampi or Beef with Snow Peas. Serve them over rice or pasta or cauliflower rice (to cut down on the carbs) and I’ve got a quick, tasty meal with leftovers for hubby’s lunch the next day.
I have favorite recipes from each book, like Ally’s Cookie Bars (peanuts optional) in “A Fine Fix” which is great to bring to a party.
In “Fine Dining,” James Turner’s Gumbo is incredible and often his customers will call ahead to his restaurant to see if the Gumbo will be on the menu that day.
With a Thanksgiving food theme in “Fine Arts,” the Butternut Squash Soup and the Sweet Potato Biscuit recipes James provided are both to die for!
Your third book, Fine Arts, includes a dog, Zeus, who is a champion at agility competitions. What inspired your creation of this delightful character?
I learned about dog agility training from my very talented narrator, Kristin James, whose dog Zeus had won several ribbons in agility competitions. I thought it would be great to add a dog who is an agility champion to my third book. While writing that book, Kristin’s dog, who was her constant companion, had surgery and passed away soon after. She was devastated by the loss. That’s when I asked if she would mind if I named my dog in the book in Zeus’ memory. She loved the idea. So when you listen to Kristin as she narrates “Fine Arts,” you should know that she has this connection with Zeus.
Fine Arts features a lesbian couple as the key secondary characters. I have read hundreds of cozy mysteries, but I have come across only two other authors who have any gay characters in significant roles. What influenced you to use a lesbian couple? Why do you think other cozy mysteries don’t contain same-sex couples?
Without wanting to offend the sensibilities of cozy readers, I admit that I have pushed the envelope a little in all three of my Trudie Fine books. In “A Fine Fix,” a character has an abortion in a flashback; in “Fine Dining” there is an interracial relationship; and in “Fine Arts,” as you note here, there is a lesbian couple. All of these things were merely incidental to the stories and not issues that I was attempting to push onto my readers. They just seemed to fit the characters as I wrote. Also, Trudie Fine has a caring soul and, although I never portray her as an activist, she is a social advocate for various issues. These are all things we see in everyday life, so I try to reflect our current society without stretching the cozy boundaries too far.
One of my favorite characters in your books is May, who owns the Cajun restaurant Maybelline’s, which appears in all three books but is especially featured in Fine Dining. What was your inspiration for this character?
I agree about that. I love May, and I love the way Kristin has narrated her voice, which is patterned after Queen Latifah in the movie “The Secret Life of Bees.”
Trudie has an eclectic mix of friends. May seemed the natural person to have a New Orleans themed restaurant like Maybelline’s. She is a wise soul who we first glimpse in “A Fine Fix” where she helps out Trudie in so many ways.
Now May is in trouble, and Trudie is going to do whatever she can to help her friend.
What did you enjoy reading as a child, and what do you like to read now?
My parents had a lot of different books around the house when I was a child, and I would pick up whatever I could find. We had 20 volumes of an encyclopedia, and one of them had a whole section of fairy tales, which I gobbled up. My parents helped me get a library card when I was six years old and could barely write my name. I loved going with my dad to the library to get books. When I was in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade, I remember reading children’s biographies of historical women like Dolly Madison and Betsy Ross. Then as I got older, I enjoyed reading some of the classics that my teachers assigned.
Now I read a whole mix of genres, but I often enjoy the newest bestselling novels that are out. Often, I listen to CD books from the library as I drive back and forth to work.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
I will soon be retiring from my 9-to-5 job as an executive assistant at a very large non-profit senior living campus. People tend to discount older adults and overlook them and their advice and opinions. But so many of our residents have had rich, full careers and lives, like a famous archaeologist, a renowned photographer, even a cattle auctioneer! Not to mention over twenty Holocaust survivors living on our campus. What a wealth of story ideas for a writer! Besides books, I love to write short stories and some poetry, and often these are about older adults and turn out to be some of my best writing.
Will there be more books coming out in the Trudie Fine Mystery Series and what other projects are you working on?
Yes, there will definitely be at least two more books in the series. I’m hoping to have the next one out by the fall. After all, there’s a baby to be born and a wedding or two on the horizon. And, of course, dead bodies thrown into the mix.
On a different note, my new novella, Pineapples and Pearls, which is part of the Lei Crime Kindle World Series, was just released on May 12th. I am one of several authors who have written fan fiction for Toby Neal’s series. I have taken one of Toby’s characters and built a spinoff from Toby’s world. Although I have kept to the culinary theme and put recipes in the back of the book, it is not a cozy. These Lei Crime Kindle World books are only available from Amazon in Kindle version. I plan to write a sequel to this book to be ready for Toby Neal’s next surge of fan fiction, possibly in the fall.
Enjoy my interview with Gale’s narrator Kristin James, including pictures of Zeus with his many ribbons and a video of him doing an agility competition.
You can read my review of A Fine Fix
You can read my review of Fine Dining
You can read my review of Fine Arts