Have you ever wondered what Murder She Wrote might have been like if instead of a writer in New England, the series were based on the proprietress of a cookie bakery in small-town Minnesota?
Well, that's okay, Cakespy hadn't either until coming across the writings of Joanne Fluke, whose book series revolves around Hannah Swensen, a bakery owner who just can't stop accidentally stumbling upon murder scenes. Along the way, love triangles, a meddling small-town cast, and the heroine's cat Moishe all play into the stories. Each book has a dessert theme (Sugar Cookie Murder; Key Lime Pie Murder; you get the idea), and the chapters close with recipes from the current plot progression. A marriage intrigue and baked goods, these books are as pleasurable and cozy as crumb cake and coffee (but even more pleasurable with them). Cakespy had the good fortune of catching up with author Joanne Fluke just as she'd handed off her most recent book to the publisher; here's what she had to say:
Cakespy: How did you get into such a specific genre of writing, ie mysteries revolving around the baker Hannah Swensen?
Joanne Fluke: I had already written a number of romance novels and thrillers. I told my editor I wanted to do a cookbook of bar cookies with small town anecdotes. I wanted to call it, "Bar Hopping in Minnesota." He suggested doing it as a culinary cozy mystery series instead. Whammo, Hannah was born.
CS: Do you come up with the signature dessert from each book first and then write the story around it, or the other way around?
JF: Generally I select the title dessert first. Sometimes my editor suggests one based on what he thinks will make a good cover. Actually, I think Hiro Kimura, my cover artist, could turn mud patties into something scrumptious looking.
CS: Do you have a baking background?
JF: I'm a Minnesota mom, the daughter and granddaughter of Minnesota moms. Of course I have a baking background. But I'm a seat-of-the-pants small town baker with no special academic or commercial credentials, if that's what you mean.
CS: Do you come up with your own recipes?
JF: Many of Hannah's recipes are old family favorites, but, yes, I do dream up new ones fairly often. I work hard to make them as simple and yummy as I can. My husband helps by taste testing every experimental batch. He almost turned purple trying blueberry muffins. The dear man never complains about this arduous chore!
CS: Have you ever had any recipes that you couldn't quite get right?
JF: Yes, but let's not talk about it. I'll give you a hint: Watermelon Cookies.
CS: Why do you think it is that the "cream stack" (a Minnesota recipe featured in one of your books) never caught on nationwide?
JF: It didn't?
CS: What is your favorite dessert?
JF: My mother's Chocolate Meringue Pie. (And, no, I don't have the recipe.)
CS: What is your least favorite dessert?
JF: I never met a dessert I didn't like.
CS: Is it strange to hear your novels as books on tape?
JF: I've never listened to one. Folks have told me that Recorded Books does a good job of it.
CS: When will the next Hannah Swensen installment be available in bookstores?
JF: There's a novella included in "Candy Cane Murder" which will be out in early October. I just sent "Carrot Cake Murder" to the publisher. It will be out in March 2008.
Cakespy Note: Want to know more? Visit Joanne Fluke's website for information, recipes and more: murdershebaked.com.