Posted on May 9, 2013 - by Lucy
A book launch is soooo much fun and this week was no exception! Here’s the famous celebratory cake that we served at RJ Julia last night–I so appreciate all the friends who turned out. And I’m very pleased with the press so far. Here’s a snippet from Phil Jason at the Florida Weekly:
“What’s most fun with this loony crew is Ms. Burdette’s perfect-pitch parody of food talk as made familiar on “Chopped” and other popular food programs where judges and competitors try to top each in their descriptions of preparations, styles, successes and failures.
Sweet and savory, “Topped Chef” captures Key West’s sensory enchantment, and Ms. Burdette’s bubbly protagonist is once again the main ingredient in a sure-fire recipe.”
Posted on April 20, 2013 - by Lucy
I received my author copies of TOPPED CHEF last week which means the book’s launch is barreling down at us! I’ll be making quite a few tour stops, both online and in person and would love to visit with you at one or more.
Today, by the way, I’m talking about reality in fiction at TYPE M FOR MURDER.
Visit me on the Cozy Mystery tour at these stops:
May 1, 2013 – Socrates Book Review
May 2, 2013 – Book Lady’s Book Notes
May 3, 2013 – Traveling with T
May 4, 2013 – YA Book Nerd
May 5, 2013 – Cozy Up with Kathy
May 6, 2013 – Read Your Writes
May 7, 2013 – Mochas, Mysteries & More
May 8, 2013 - Girl Lost in a Book
May 9, 2013 – Vixen is Reading
May 10, 2013 – Melina the Reader, Shelley Reads & Reviews & Dru’s Book Musings
And on May 2 and May 9, recipes from TOPPED CHEF will be featured on Mystery Lovers Kitchen.
And we’ll be throwing a big book launch party on May 7 at Jungle Red Writers.
As for real places, you can find me here:
May 2 SALT AND PEPPER BOOKS, Occoquan, VA
May 3-4 MALICE DOMESTIC, Bethesda MD
May 8 RJ JULIA BOOKSELLERS, Madison CT
North Carolina Mini-Tour…
The Unusual Suspects — Hallie Ephron, Lucy Burdette, and Jennifer McMahon tour Raleigh-Durham with Molly Weston
5/15, 2:00 East Regional Library, Knightdale, NC
5/15, 7:00 North Regional Library, Raleigh
5/16, 11:30, Carolina Club, UNC-Chapel Hill (luncheon)
5/16, 7:30, Southeast Regional Library, Garner
5/17 , 10:30 Cameron Village Library, Raleigh
5/17, 2:00 West Regional Library, Cary
5/18, 2:00 McIntyre’s, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro
5/19, 2:00 Halle Cultural Arts Center, Apex
5/20, 2:00 Eva Perry Library, Apex
5/20, 7:00 Page-Walker Cultural Arts Center, Cary
May 29 WILBRAHAM, MA Library panel for Sisters in Crime with Steve Ulfelder and Edith Maxwell
More to come after that–stay tuned!
Posted on February 24, 2013 - by Lucy
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ ” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.
— A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Evinrude woke me from a sound sleep, first with his rumbling purr and then with a gentle but persistent tapping of paw to cheek. I blinked my eyes open—the bedside clock read six fifteen. I hissed softly at his gray-striped face. “I love you dearly, but you’re a monster,” I told him as I rolled out of bed. “Spoiled rotten cat flesh.”
Tail hoisted high, he trotted out of the room ahead of me, meowing loudly. Miss Gloria’s lithe black cat, Sparky, intercepted him before he reached the food bowls lined up in the corner of the tiny galley of our houseboat. He sprang onto Evinrude’s back and wrestled him to the floor. While they boxed and nipped at each other, I poured a ration of kibbles into each bowl, refreshed their water, and then staggered onto the deck to check out the morning.
The plum-colored night sky was shifting to pink to make room for the day, which looked as though it might turn out “glorious and whimsical,” as the Key West Citizen had promised. A quartet of wind chimes tinkled lightly from the boats down the finger. Had there been a stiff wind or the first spitting drops of a cold rain, I’d have gone directly back to bed. But on a morning like this, there was no excuse to avoid the dreaded exercise I’d prescribed for myself.
Twice in the past ten days, I’d lured myself out of bed to go jogging before work, with the promise of a thick, sweet café con leche from the Cuban Coffee Queen as a reward on the way home. In addition to adding heft to my resume, my position as food critic for Key Zest had added a bit to my waistline over the past months; I was anxious to reverse the trend. And besides that, the Key West Food and Wine Festival loomed this week—it promised a series of tasting sessions that could ruin the most stalwart dieter. Which I was definitely not.
And most pressing of all, my first real date with detective Nate Bransford had been rescheduled for this evening. (You can’t count a threesome including your mother as a romantic encounter.) So it wasn’t hard to convince myself that today should be the third session—not that jogging two miles would magically transform my figure from jiggles to muscles, but I had to start somewhere. And maybe it would help work out the predate jitters, too.
I hurried back inside, replaced my pajamas with baggy running shorts, red sneakers, and a T-shirt that read “Dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off.” I’d bought the shirt for Christmas for my stepmother—who, while a brilliant chemist, was famous in our family for cremating roasts and burning even soup from a can—but lost my nerve before sending it. Why jostle a relationship that had recently settled into a pleasant détente?
I tucked my phone into my pocket and dashed off a note to my roommate, Miss Gloria, who lets me live onboard her houseboat in exchange for errands like grocery shopping (which I adore anyway), and sending occasional reports on her mental and physical condition to her son in Michigan. I stand between her and a slot in an old-age home—and I take my responsibility seriously. The Queen’s Guard of Tarpon Pier.
I wrote: Jogging—ugh! Call me if you want a coffee.
Then I hopped off our deck, tottered along the dock, and started grinding up the Palm Avenue hill over the Garrison Bight, which is Key West speak for harbor, toward the Old Town section of Key West. There aren’t many changes in elevation in this town, so I was just as happy to get this challenge over with early on. I puffed past the U.S. Naval Air Station’s multistory building—Fly Navy—and then by the pale pink and green cement block apartments for enlisted folks and their families. I finally chugged around the curve onto Eaton Street, my lungs burning and my thighs cramping into complaining masses. I picked up my pace, pushing harder because I smelled bacon: The Coles Peace Bakery called to me like a Siren to Ulysses. Stopping for an unscheduled bacon and cheese toast on crispy Cuban bread would devastate my fledging resolutions.
As I hooked right on Grinnell, heading toward the boardwalk that wound along the historic seaport area, I tried to distract myself by thinking about my tasks for the day. There’d be e-mail to answer, as the biweekly issue of Key Zest, our fledgling Key West style magazine, hit inboxes today. And I was in charge of responding to the usual flurry of complaints and compliments. For the first time in my short career, I’d had to swallow hard and write a negative review. This was bound to come sooner or later. Key West is a foodie paradise, but like Anywhere, USA, there are lousy meals to be had, too. As a careful follower of the major newspaper restaurant critics, I’d read plenty of stories about critics suffering through horrendous dinners. Or worse yet, bouts of food poisoning. I’d actually memorized one of the New York Times critic Sam Sifton’s sharper quotes:
“And lobes of dismal-flavored sea urchin served over thick lardo and heavy toast were just dreadful: the eighth band after Nirvana to write loud-soft-loud music and call it new.”
But hearing about rotten reviews and writing them were two different animals. I wasn’t convinced that I would ever develop a killer instinct—famous critics seemed to enjoy ripping apart a horrible dinner. Me? I could only imagine the chef sweating in the kitchen, slaving over the stove, plating the meal, praying that his special whatever hit the mark. It broke my heart to think about dissing some poor chump’s food.
My second meal at Just Off Duval a couple nights earlier had started off well. True to its name, the restaurant was located a half block from Duval Street, far enough from the bustle of the town’s main party artery to mask the grit and noise. My friend Eric and I had ordered glasses of wine and settled into the pleasant outdoor patio edged with feathery palm plants to enjoy our dinners. The night was cool enough for a sweater, and the scent of roasting meat had my stomach doing anticipatory back-flips. A half loaf of stale Italian bread and a pool of olive oil that tasted almost rancid were the first signs the experience would be a downer. I jotted a few notes into my smartphone, agreeing with Eric: Any restaurant should be allowed a tiny misstep.
But then my chef’s special salad was delivered: a small pile of lettuce dog-paddling in thick blue cheese dressing that screamed “emulsifier” and wore powerful overtones of the plastic bottle it must have been squeezed from. On top of that were chunks of pale pink mealy tomatoes. Though the mashed potatoes that accompanied the main courses were creamy and rich, my thirty-eight-dollar fish smelled fishy and Eric’s forty-two-dollar steak was stringy. We didn’t have the nerve to order dessert. I hadn’t actually gotten ill, but my stomach had roiled for half the night in spite of the half roll of antacids I’d eaten. According to a text the next morning from Eric, who generally had an iron constitution, his gut still didn’t feel quite right as he and his partner drove to Miami for some much-needed R and R.
I had tried to wriggle out of writing it up. But there wasn’t time to substitute something else. And my boss, Wally, had specifically told me this restaurant should be included in the next issue of our magazine. But the words of former New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl kept churning through my mind: The more expensive the restaurant, the more damage a lousy review can do. And mine was definitely lousy. It started like this:
All kitchens have an off night. Unfortunately, my three visits at Just Off Duval coincided with three bad nights. JOD, a newish restaurant on a cul-de-sac a half block off Upper Duval Street, has been the site of four failed restaurants over the past six years. Whether this is due to bad cooking juju or simply uneven and overreaching preparation, I fear that Just Off Duval will be joining their ranks….
I shook the words out of my mind and staggered past the Yankee Freedom ship, which ferries tourists to the Dry Tortugas for snorkeling expeditions most mornings. Then I paused on the boardwalk along the harbor to catch my breath. Several large sailboats left over from the races the previous week still clanked in their slips, alongside catamarans loaded with kayaks and sport fishing powerboats. The pink streaks in the sky had expanded like silken threads of cotton candy, bringing enough light so I could make out the details of the early-morning activity. Nearby, a thin man in faded jeans with long hair and a bushy beard that reached to the middle of his chest sprayed the deck of one of the Sebago party boats with a high-pressure hose. The hair around his lips was stained yellow, as if he’d smoked a lifetime’s worth of cigarettes, and faded to white at the tip of his beard.
As I leaned against a wooden railing to stretch my calves, a bare-chested, red-haired man skidded around the corner, wearing a long black coat and a small American flag draped from his belt like a loincloth. He leaped onto the boat, pulled a knife out of his waistband, and, taking a fighter’s crouch, brandished it at the man with the hose.
Even under the pirate’s tricornered hat, I recognized him—Turtle, a chronically homeless man whose behavior fluctuated with the status of his mental illness. A couple of months ago, I would have backed away as fast as I could. But now I understood more. Since it was the end of the month, he’d probably run out of meds. And if the cops came, he’d end up in jail. Where he’d only get worse.
The bearded man spun around, growled, and pointed the hose at Turtle, who had begun to execute tai chi–like movements, waving the knife in shaky figure eights. My adrenaline surged as I pictured a throat slit right in front of my eyes.
“Listen, man,” the worker yelled, “get the hell out of here. You’re on private property.”
“They can’t take what I ain’t got,” said Turtle, crouching lower and moving forward.
This was going to get ugly unless someone intervened. “Turtle,” I called. “Put the knife down. Please?”
“Avast, ye stinking pirates!” Turtle yelled, swinging around to wave the knife at me. Heart pounding, I stumbled back a few steps.
“I’m calling the cops right now.” The white-bearded man sprayed Turtle’s legs, now wet to the knees, as he yanked a phone from the back pocket of his jeans.
“Turtle,” I said, “I’m going for coffee and a Cuban cheese toast. Can I get you one?”
His pale blue eyes darted from me to the white-haired man and back; the knife twitched in his fingers. Then he shrugged, shoved the weapon into his belt beside the flag. and hopped off the boat. I took a shaky breath and led him around the block to the Cuban Coffee Queen, wondering how to keep him focused in this world, not deep in his own crazy loop.
“I love this weather, don’t you?” I asked, glancing over my shoulder. He danced along several feet behind me, fending off imagined dangers with his cape and his knife. What would it feel like to be inside his head? Awful, I guessed.
As we approached the little white shack painted like an oversized Key West postcard that housed the Cuban Coffee Queen, he hunkered down and pulled out the knife again. A couple with a baby stroller were ordering breakfast at the walk-up window. The woman stiffened and whispered something to her husband. He moved around to stand in between his family and us.
“Turtle,” I said softly, “better put that away or you’ll scare the other folks. Would you rather have a Cuban bagel or a cheese toast?” I reached out to touch his arm but stopped when I saw his startled face.
“Cheese toast, matey!” he growled, sidling away from me and sliding the knife back into his belt again.
“Why don’t you wait here?” I suggested, pointing to a painted wooden bench about ten feet from the coffee stand.
He sat, tugging his cape around his body and closing his eyes. He rocked back and forth and his fingers tapped out a rhythm on his knees to a tune I couldn’t hear. I stepped up to the food stand’s window next to a large stuffed rooster.
“Two large café con leches and a cheese toast please,” I told the woman with dark hair and eyes who appeared at the window. I glanced over at Turtle. “Better make one decaf.” She took my money and I stuffed two bucks into the tip jar while the milk steamed and shots of espresso drained into paper cups. Smelled like my kind of heaven. She buttered a slab of Cuban bread, slapped on a layer of cheese, and popped the sandwich into the grill press.
As soon as my order was ready, a police car pulled up and stopped next to the coffee stand. Officer Torrence—a cop who knew my business a little better than I’d prefer for a man I wasn’t dating—peered out of the cruiser on the passenger side. His gaze darted from the sodden homeless man to the breakfast in my hands. He rolled down the window and smoothed his mustache.
“Everything okay here?”
“Just dandy,” I said, forcing a smile. Turtle had tensed, looking ready to spring. My hands trembling, I walked over to deliver his coffee and sandwich. He took off, Torrence watching him as he booked it around the souvenir shop and back to the harbor.
“Where’s your scooter?” Officer Torrence asked.
“I jogged here this morning.”
“You want a ride?” he asked, gesturing to the backseat of the cruiser. “You look a little pale.”
“No thanks,” I said with a weak grin and waved them on. I was terrible at keeping secrets—the worst. He’d want to know everything about Turtle and I’d find myself spilling the details of the altercation at the harbor and how he’d scared the little family at the Cuban Coffee Queen and likely Turtle would still end up in jail.
Besides, everyone on Tarpon Pier would notice me emerging from a black and white—I’d never hear the end of it. As I took my coffee and walked out to Caroline Street, a text message buzzed onto my phone.
FYI, Hayley, the owner of Just Off Duval called me at home. Freaking Out. Get to the office ASAP and we’ll make a plan.
I almost dropped the phone. My worst nightmare: facing the owner or chef whose restaurant I’d panned. It hadn’t taken long to happen.
I flagged down a pink taxicab to carry me home.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO PREORDER TOPPED CHEF, ALL THE LINKS CAN BE FOUND RIGHT HERE.
Posted on February 7, 2013 - by Lucy
Meanwhile, I was invited to visit with Jenna Stauffer on Good Morning Key West–you can find that link right here.
Hungry while you’re waiting? I’m a new regular food blogger on Mystery Lovers Kitchen. Here’s one of my recent favorites starring our special Key West pink shrimp with fettucine, spinach, mushrooms, and cashews!
Posted on February 7, 2013 - by Lucy
Hayley Snow and I love it when book groups read our Key West mysteries. So we’ve provided some questions to help get the discussion going. And if you want to serve snacks that fit the theme, you’ll find recipes in the back of the book!
I wish I could travel the country meeting with book clubs–nothing is more fun than talking with readers! I would love to consider attending your group–either in person or by Skype. Shoot me an email and we’ll discuss! Lucyburdette at gmail dot com
1. TOPPED CHEF opens with Hayley worrying about her first negative review. How do you feel about restaurant reviews, either online or in newspapers? Do you trust them? Do you write them? Do you feel critics should write about their negative experiences as well as their positive?
2. Do you watch celebrity chef or cooking TV shows? Which chefs do you like and why?
3. Peter Shapiro mentions several times that reality TV is entertainment. And entertainment means conflict. So all’s fair in what they film and how they attempt to goad the participants into reacting on camera. How do you feel about TV shows exploiting the conflict in real people’s lives? Which reality TV shows do you watch and why are they appealing? Would you consider being a participant in such a show?
4. One of the most challenging parts of writing a mystery with an amateur sleuth has to do with her stake in solving the mystery. Were you convinced by Hayley’s insistence on getting involved in this story? How does this fit with her character?
5. Hayley struggles with her feelings about the homeless people who inhabit Key West. What conclusions do you see her drawing by the end of the book?
6. Hayley puts her own safety at risk to rescue someone else. Do you see this as consistent with what you know about her? How do you think you would react in a similar situation?
7. In TOPPED CHEF, one of the contestants makes recipes from the tradition of molecular gastronomy. Does this kind of cooking appeal to you? Why or why not?
8. How do you feel about the quote from chapter nineteen, from Mona Talbott, that the grandmother is the ultimate cooking teacher in the world? What is your family’s cooking like? Do you have treasured recipes passed down from a grandmother or another relative?
Thank you for reading and discussing TOPPED CHEF! Look out for the fourth Key West food critic mystery, coming in February, 2014. And don’t forget to spread the word–leave your reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Goodreads–anywhere books are sold!
Posted on December 31, 2012 - by Lucy
Happy New Year Friends!
I had a wonderful tour of the cats inhabiting the grounds of the Hemingway House this week, thanks to my new friend Donna, and today my husband and I marched in the Dachshund Parade along with Tonka, who is by no means a wiener dog.
It’s always fun to find out what’s new in town. I adore the cafe con leche from the Cuban Coffee Queen, paired here with a glazed donut from the new donut shop next to the movie theatre.
Speaking of food, I’ve done lots of good cooking and eating over the last couple of months. Recipes for the best bloody Mary, an easy and tasty 15-bean soup, a gorgeous pomegranate, olive and walnut salad, and pesto pizza, are all posted over at Mystery Lovers Kitchen. Lots more to come, as I’ll be the regular Thursday correspondent on that site. Also busy with my fabulous friends at Jungle Red Writers–and starting work on the fourth food critic mystery. But more about that soon–I just wanted to wish you much happiness and many good books in the new year!
Love from Lucy
Don’t forget to pre-order your copy of TOPPED CHEF, which will hit bookshelves on May 7:
Posted on September 28, 2012 - by Lucy
I’m delighted about the reviews that have been coming in for DEATH IN FOUR COURSES.
Here’s one from Phil Jason in the Florida Weekly: “I’ll say it unashamedly: “Death in Four Courses” is mouthwatering. Hay- ley Snow is delicious. This humor- seasoned food for thought will tickle your mental taste buds.”
And from Booklist: “This enjoyable mystery series, with its attractive tropical setting, is also seasoned by the appealing characters and meals. The novel, done in the style of the Joanne Fluke series, is sure to attract food-fiction fans and will also appeal to Key West readers, although the combination of the two here is unique.” Booklist
And from Story Circle Book Reviews: “By the second book, Hayley has settled into her role more, though we rarely see her at her computer and we agonize with her over looming deadlines. Then magically she turns in that stunning article. Would that it were that way in real life. Still Hayley and the series show growth, and I’m eagerly looking forward to Topped Chef, next up in the Hayley Snow series.
From Shirrel Rhoades in the Key West Citizen: “The Food Critic series may feature Key West cuisine but I’d compare these tasty books to Chinese food: After reading one, in a half hour you’ll be wanting to read another.”
And I have new recipes up on Mystery Lovers Kitchen–fried okra from me, and recipes for roach poison and cough remedy from my grandmother’s recipe box: here’s a photo of the recipe for poison, in my grandmother’s handwriting. I can’t help saying that the handwriting was on the wall that I’d become a mystery writer–way back in my gene pool:).
And here’s Screw the Roux stew, which is one of the dishes Hayley makes in DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. I guarantee this will turn out to be a family favorite.
And last but not least, Back to School Hotdog Casserole: (embarrassing to admit, but this one actually appeared in a cookbook!)
As always, happy reading and I will so appreciate anything you do to help spread the word about the food critic mysteries!
Posted on September 20, 2012 - by Lucy
DEATH IN FOUR COURSES is now officially launched! Here are some of the stops along the way. (And trust me-this last few weeks has been hectic!)
I enjoyed writing this piece about where ideas and books come from for the New Haven Register’s blog.
Here’s a fun interview done by Susan Boyer at Get Lost in a Story:
And Ed Irvin of the Florida Book Review said of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES: “In a crowded cozy market, Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic series stands out among its peers.”
Mixed in among the book events and blogs over the last couple of weeks, I had great fun as part of the Sisters in Crime publishers summit team, chatting with publishing gurus across New York about where our industry is headed. Here’s a photo in the Penguin offices, with my editor at NAL, Sandy Harding, author Laura DiSilverio, Berkley editor Natalee Rosenstein, and me.
I also just completed the annual Seascape “Escape to Write” workshop in Chester CT with my fellow authors and teachers, Hallie Ephron and Hank Ryan. This weekend is a wonderful opportunity to meet with other serious aspiring mystery writers and work on a manuscript. We’ve already had our first reservation for next year’s workshop, September 27-29, 2013.
And just in case anyone’s interested in reconstructing the past (and who would be??), my Ph.D dissertation is now online.
Posted on September 6, 2012 - by Lucy
The book launch party for DEATH IN FOUR COURSES was a grand success! Thank you to RJ Julia Booksellers for hosting the night and to all my friends and fans for coming out to support me!
And then all my friends below–it couldn’t have been a better evening!
Posted on September 4, 2012 - by Lucy
We admit, we’re sizzling over the release of the second Key West food critic mystery, DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. Here are a few of our favorite reviews so far:
“All the elements of a winning recipe: Key West, food and fun! The not-so-secret ingredients? Lucy Burdette’s exquisite plotting and sly prose set her apart. Death in Four Courses is a full course feast!”
~~Julia Spencer-Fleming, NYTBS author of ONE WAS A SOLDIER
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “Near the start of Burdette’s yummy sequel to An Appetite for Murder, Key West food critic Hayley Snow brings her mother down from New Jersey for a visit… Outspoken Mom provides tart commentary as Hayley once again turns sleuth. Anyone who’s ever overpaid for a pretentious restaurant meal will relish this witty cozy.”
“What fun! ….Key West and food — a winning combination. I can’t wait for the next entry in this charming series.”
~~ New York Times bestselling author Diane Mott Davidson
“An excellent sense of place and the occasional humorous outburst aren’t the only things An Appetite for Murder has going for it, though: There is a solid mystery within its pages….Not only does Burdette capture the physical and pastoral essence of Key West, she celebrates the food.”
~~Ed Irvin, The Florida Book Review
To read about how I see the process of writing a book, here’s an essay on the New Haven Register’s book blog, hosted by the fabulous writer, Sandi Kahn Shelton.
And Susan Boyer’s terrific interview on Get Lost in a Story.
Did you know that early sales make a huge difference in whether a series is continued? Thanks for all your support–You can buy DEATH IN FOUR COURSES anywhere books are sold!