Meow my guest this week is mystery author Ellie Alexander!
Ellie Alexander writes the bestselling Bakeshop Mystery series for St. Martin’s Press, set in the Shakespearean town of Ashland, Oregon and featuring a romantic, artisan pastry chef, Juliet Montague Capshaw.
Ellie is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she’s not coated in flour, you’ll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research.
You can find her online at:
R: Welcome Ellie! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
Thanks ROCCO! I wrote my first mystery in 3rd grade. It was titled The House on the Hill and had very little plot or character development, but plenty of creepy details like cobwebs sweeping across the rafters of an old abandoned mansion. Two young girls get flat tires and have to trek up to the house to find help. After many terrifying encounters with dusty basements and creaking doors they find a bicycle repair kit and pedaled happily home. I think I was destined to write cozy mysteries from a young age.
R: Tell us about the Bakeshop mysteries. How did the idea for that come about?
The Bakeshop Mysteries are set in Ashland, Oregon—home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—and feature a romantic pastry chef, Juliet Montague Capshaw who has returned home to help run the family bakeshop and heal her broken heart.
My dad taught English and is a huge Shakespeare buff. We visited Ashland on many occasions when I was growing up. I fell in love with the small town. It’s designed like an Elizabethan village, complete with shops and restaurants themed after Shakespeare’s characters and works. Despite being tucked into the Southern Oregon mountains visitors from all over the globe descend on the hamlet to take in a production of Shakespeare under the stars when the theater is in full swing.
It’s the perfect setting for a traditional mystery and given that the entire town revolves around the theater company I get to weave in extra touches of drama that might not work in another town. For example in Ashland no one would bat an eye if they walked past a man dressed as a jester performing a juggling act in the town square.
R: Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share? How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?
I was really lucky in that I had offers from a number of agents for my first mystery. I think sometimes it’s a matter of synchronist timing and doing a lot of research. No one had set a mystery in Ashland before and Oregon had been getting lots of press as a travel destination when I got “the call”. I also spent many hours researching which agents represented some of my favorite mystery authors. I think that makes a huge difference. I didn’t send out a mass of queries. I only sent out a round of about ten to a very targeted list of agents.
When the first call came in I danced around my living room. Then I had a moment of panic because I knew that there were other agents still reading the manuscript and I had no idea what to do. I quickly googled “What to do if you get an offer from an agent but other agents are still reading your work?”
Thank goodness other authors had posted about their experiences. I emailed the other agents letting them know that I had an offer and then things got crazy. Agents who had had my manuscript for a couple of months replied with lightning speed asking for a few days to finish reading. I ended up chatting on the phone with everyone who made an offer which was entirely surreal. I felt like I was walking around in a dream world until I made my decision to sign with my agent. Then it happened all over again when he sold the series a few weeks later.
R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?
Coffee! That would be true regardless, but I do write a series set in bakeshop with an artisan coffee bar so I get to call it “research”. Juliet is a masterful pastry chef and each book in the series includes recipes so whenever I’m working on a new book I plaster my office with pictures of pastries and coffee. I also spend many hours baking in my home kitchen. There is something so sensory about getting your hands sticky in bread dough or rolling out a pie crust. I document what my kitchen smells like, the blast of heat from opening the oven, and the salty crunch of tasting freshly toasted almonds. It really helps me get into Juliet’s head. Although my home-baked goodies look nothing like Juliet’s professional pastries.
In the books Juliet bakes to clear her head and as a love language. The family bakeshop Torte is a gathering place for the entire community. People come inside for one of her cherry almond scones, a steamy latte, and to catch up on all the latest news and gossip.
R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?
I don’t know that I would pick one historical moment but rather would want to be transported back into the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for my entire life and have always been fascinated by their adventure. My family and I love to hike and explore the forests and mountains here. I always imagine what it must have been like to arrive in the west without modern roads or gear. And I’ve been equally captivated by Sacagawea. Her skills and talents navigating the terrain and translating were invaluable and she did it all with a baby. Talk about superwoman!
R: If a movie were to be made of one of your books, which one would you want it to be and who would you pick for the lead roles?
Meet Your Baker, the first book in the series. The book introduces Juliet, Ashland, and the entire team at Torte. In my dream world I want an actress who looks like Gwyneth Paltrow but with the personality of Reese Witherspoon and Kristin Bell to play Juliet.
R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
I’m fluent in American Sign Language and worked as an interpreter in a deaf education program right after I graduated from college. I think ASL is a beautiful language, and I think learning to communicate silently has been helpful in my writing. So much of the language is about facial expressions and gestures. You have to watch and pay attention which is also true in writing.
R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?
Ziplined off the side of a cliff in New Zealand to a pub at the bottom for a free beer!
R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
I hope that readers can escape from their daily worries when they read my books. Despite the fact that I write murder mysteries I try to weave in real life and depth into my characters. Plus I want them to be running to their kitchen or closest pastry shop for a sweet treat!
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Plotter. I write 30 to 40 page outlines before I ever start actually writing a book. In my opinion plotting is critical when writing a mystery. I spend a lot of time figuring out what each potential suspect is lying about or hiding which naturally embeds red herrings into the plot. I give myself permission to change things as I go (which almost always happens) but I couldn’t write without having a roadmap to follow.
R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Write! Write every day. Think of strengthening your writing muscle. Just like any other muscle in the body you have to use it daily to make it stronger.
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Both
Beach or Pool? Pool
Steak or salad? Salad
Favorite Drink? Anything with coffee in it
Favorite Book? The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
Favorite TV Series? Midsomer Murders
Favorite Movie? Pride and Prejudice
Favorite Actor: Colin Firth
Favorite Actress: Kate Winslet
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Pina Colada
Hawaii or Alaska? Alaska
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be Amelia Earhart
If I had just one wish, it would be_To see an end to Alzheimer’s
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be Brene Brown
Folks, Ellie will give away a signed copy of Fudge and Jury, the 5th book in the Bakeshop Mysteries and some delicious chocolate treats to accompany your read!
To enter, leave a comment on this blog post with your name and email address (entries without email will be disqualified). For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:
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Winner will be chosen at random using random.org. Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck!Contest ends midnight, March 15!