Meow, Today my guest is author Leslie Karst!
Leslie Karst Bio:
The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. Putting this early education to good use, she now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder, Death al Fresco), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California.
An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. She now spends her time cooking, singing alto in her local community chorus, gardening, cycling, and of course writing. Leslie and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i. Visit Leslie at http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/
Hi! Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Perhaps my most defining attribute is my ceaseless curiosity. And I have to admit, this personality trait has caused certain problems throughout my life. The need to constantly ask questions, to understand the details of absolutely every little thing around me, has over the years driven first my parents, then my teachers, and now my wife a little bit crazy. But I do believe it’s proved to be a benefit with regard to my chosen vocation as a mystery writer.
Do you have anything you would like to say to your readers?
Sure! Here are some non-writing words of wisdom: If you’re hosting a dinner party and something has gone awry with one of the dishes you’ve prepared, do not mention it to your guests. If you act as if everything is perfect, they will likely never notice the problem (especially if you’re serving cocktails and/or wine, as well). And even if they do notice, your mentioning it will only serve to make everyone uncomfortable. (And yes, this advice comes from first-hand experience.)
Please tell us about your newest release.
Death al Fresco is the third book in my Sally Solari culinary mystery series. Sally practically grew up in the kitchen of her family’s Italian seafood joint out on the historic Santa Cruz wharf. But ever since inheriting the trendy, upscale restaurant Gauguin from her aunt, she’s been trying to extricate herself from Solari’s so she can concentrate on running her new place.
Alas, it is not to be. In this third book, Sally’s been roped into helping her dad host a huge outdoor dinner at Solari’s in honor of the visiting mayor from Liguria, the birthplace of Sally’s great-grandfather. But just weeks before the big event, her dog sniffs out the body of an Italian fisherman—one of the Solari’s regulars—entangled in a pile of kelp on the beach. And when Sally’s father is accused of allowing the old man to plunge to his death after drinking too much during dinner, Sally’s life becomes very complicated, indeed.
What was the inspiration behind this story?
Although the first two books in the series certainly involve the family restaurant, Solari’s, they were a bit more concerned with Gauguin, and with Sally’s trial by fire in learning the ropes of running a restaurant so very different from the old-school eatery she grew up around. So for book three, I decided it would be fun to focus instead on the Italian American culture surrounding Solari’s, and the colorful cast of characters who frequent the hundred-year-old fisherman’s wharf on which the restaurant sits.
Tell us about your main character.
Sally Solari is an ex-lawyer who, after losing her mother to cancer, reluctantly returns to the family fold to help her dad run the her dad’s restaurant, Solari’s. She’s not yet forty and already experiencing erratic hormones and hot flashes. As a result, she can tend towards over-the-top emotions and sarcasm (though cycling and bourbon help). But she’s also smart, stubborn, and resolute, and rarely takes no for an answer. So when Sally sets her mind on tracking down a murderer, you do not want to be the one who gets in her way.
Your character has the music blasting. What’s playing, and what is she doing while listening?
Sally has a varied taste in music. Her mom played a lot of jazz around the house when she was young, and Sally also inherited a love of Italian opera from her granddad, Ciro, and her father, Mario (who’s named after a character in Verdi’s Tosca). But, having grown up in the 1980s, she loves rock n’ roll, as well. So while Sally’s whipping up a batch of fettuccine Alfredo or grilled salmon with habanero-lime butter for a dinner party with her friends, she’s equally likely to be listening to Stan Getz’s smooth saxophone, Maria Callas singing a heartfelt aria, or Elvis Costello rasping out a raucous rendition of “Watching the Detectives.”
I’m inviting your main character to dinner. What should I make?
Pretty much anything! Restaurateurs rarely get invited to dinner parties, as people are always nervous cooking for a chef. But what they don’t get is that cooks love food—all food. Although Sally does, of course, enjoy a tasty dish of Boeuf Bourguignon or Chicken Saltimbocca, she’s also utterly happy to chow down on some down-home meatloaf or a burger and fries.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to play the lead characters?
I’d cast Jennifer Garner as Sally, Brad Pitt as her ex-boyfriend/best pal Eric, and Robert Forster as Sally’s dad, Mario. (I can dream, can’t I?)
Is there an underlying theme in your book? If so, tell us about it and why/if it’s important to you.
The themes of family and the food movement, and how the two create a conflict between Sally and her father, are important to my series. The Solaris are descended from one of the original Italian fishermen who arrived in Santa Cruz in the 1890s, and Sally’s dad is fiercely proud of the family’s traditional Italian seafood restaurant out on the historic wharf. But when Sally inherits her aunt’s trendy restaurant, Gauguin, her father—hurt that Sally no longer wants to work at Solari’s—becomes convinced she now looks down on her family heritage.
In addition, each of the books has a secondary underlying theme—that of one of the five senses. Sight is one I focus on in the most recent book, Death al Fresco, in which Sally and her best pal Eric enroll in a plein air painting class.
Is there an author or book that influenced you or your writing in any way growing up or as an adult?
Absolutely: Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Our family was living in Oxford, England, at the time (my dad, a law professor, was on sabbatical there), and it was that year when I first started reading mysteries. Among others, I devoured all of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, and—being the daughter of an academic myself—was particularly taken with Sayers’ account of the life of an Oxford don.
But in addition, I loved the way each of Sayers’ mysteries would submerge me in a different subculture: how in one, I’d learn about the inner workings of a 1930s London advertising agency; in another, all about bell ringing; and in another, about painting and fly fishing in the highlands of Scotland. I think it was this aspect of Sayers’ books that much later on inspired me to try my hand at a similar concept, by incorporating one of the human senses as a theme into each of my Sally Solari mysteries.
If you could live in the world you have created, would you? If no, why not?
Yes! And, lucky me, I do! At the time I arrived in Santa Cruz in 1974 to attend college, it was a sleepy beach town, home to Italian fishermen, ranchers, retirees, and summer vacationers drawn by its famous redwood trees and Boardwalk. But over the years—largely because of the advent of the university in the late-1960s (the reason I came)—the makeup of Santa Cruz has expanded. As a result, the town is now also teeming with hipsters and hippies, who have brought with them their more cosmopolitan culture, including art movie houses, a variety of music, and fabulous restaurants. So for me, it’s now the ideal combination of old and new, traditional and hip, pastoral and urban.
What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Realize that rejections are the norm in the publishing business. Literary agents receive dozens—if not hundreds—of queries every single day, and most only represent between twenty and thirty authors at a given time. So not only does your book need to be well-written and compelling, but it needs to jump out as special to that particular agent (or acquiring editor). In other words, although getting traditionally published takes an enormous amount of hard work, it also takes a certain amount of luck—for your manuscript to land on that one agent’s desk at the particular time that the agent is looking for something just like your book.
So my advice is never give up and never stop believing in yourself as a writer. As the fabulous developmental editor Kristen Weber said to me when I became discouraged after receiving more than eighty passes on the manuscript that ultimately landed me my publishing contract, “You can get hundreds of rejections, and many writers do. But remember: It only takes one yes.”
What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I was the lead singer, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter for two different bands in my younger years—a new wave group called Enigma in the early-1980s, and a country-rock band called Electric Range in the ’90s.
Cats or dogs?
True Stories, directed by and starring David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame
Favorite book to movie?
The Wizard of Oz
Favorite book or author? Yeah we know it can be hard to choose! ;)
The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell (kind of cheating here, because it’s actually four books)
Yellow—the brighter the better!
How many paperback/hardcover books do you own?
At least 1,000.
What book are you reading today?
An advanced reader copy of She Her Run, a mystery by fellow Santa Cruz author, Peggy Townsend (releases June 1, 2018).
Thanks for a great interview, Leslie.
Death Al Fresco, published by Crooked Lane, is available now!