LKBR: Thank you for being here today, Leslie! Please tell us a bit about you, and your book/series.
LESLIE: As the daughter of a law professor and a potter, I learned at a young age, 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, I now now write the Lefty Award-nominated Sally Solari Mysteries, a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California.
I moved north from Southern California to attend UC Santa Cruz (home of the Fighting Banana Slugs!) and, after graduation, parlayed my degree in English literature into employment waiting tables and singing in a new wave rock and roll band. Exciting though this life was, I eventually decided I was ready for a “real” job, and ended up at Stanford Law School. For the next twenty years I worked as the research and appellate attorney for Santa Cruz’s largest civil law firm. During this time, I rediscovered a passion for food and cooking, and so once more returned to school to earn a degree in culinary arts.
Now retired from the law, I spend my time cooking, gardening, cycling, singing alto in my local community chorus, reading, and of course writing. My wife and I and our Jack Russell mix split our time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawaii.
As for my mystery series, Sally Solari is a fourth-generation Italian, part of the community of fishermen who first emigrated to Santa Cruz, California back in the 1890s. Not yet forty, she’s 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.
In this newest book, The Fragrance of Death, Sally finds that after getting mixed up in one too many murders, her nonna’s friends have now taken to crossing themselves when they see her in the street. Adding to her woes, a sinus infection has knocked out her sense of smell, making cooking on the hot line difficult, indeed. Nevertheless, Sally is determined to stay out of trouble and focus on her work.
But then her old acquaintance Neil Lerici is murdered at the annual Santa Cruz Artichoke Cook-Off, and her powers of investigation are called into action once more. Sally plunges headfirst into the case, risking alienating everyone she knows, and soon it’s not only her restaurant and tentative new relationship that are on the line—it’s her life . . .
LKBR: Any hints or spoilers you can give us about your next book?
LESLIE: I’ve just finished the first draft of book six in the Sally Solari series, in which the dining room manager of a restaurant/food and cooking bookstore is found murdered on the night of a benefit dinner, and the primary clue is the simultaneous theft of a boxed set of signed first editions of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s due for release in August of 2023.
LKBR: Have you ever written a scene that you loved but had to remove it for the sake of the story?
LESLIE: In one of the earlier Sally Solari mysteries, I had a story line about Tomás, the prep cook at Gauguin, the trendy French-Polynesian restaurant that Sally inherits in book one. He’d just learned that he was undocumented—having come to California as a baby and always assuming he’d been born there—and Sally helps him through the ropes of securing his green card. But my editor thought that it took the reader out of the murder mystery, so the subplot was changed and condensed down to just a few lines.
LKBR: Have you ever gotten reader’s block? Just find it hard to get into reading because you are so into your writing?
LESLIE: Ha! Never! Reading is my joy, my treat for whenever life gets too stressful or difficult. So although there have certainly been times when I should have been writing rather than reading, I’ve never found it hard to get into reading. (Except during law school, when—although I would have far preferred to read novels instead of the dreary casebooks we were assigned for class—I literally had no time for any reading other than law. Boy, was I glad when that was over!)
LKBR: Are there any magazines/publications that as a writer you subscribe to? Are these or others something readers could also benefit from?
LESLIE: I don’t subscribe to any writing magazines (unless you include the online publications that come with membership in organization such as Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America). But I do adore my subscriptions to Food and Wine and Bon Appétit magazines, which provide terrific inspiration for the culinary aspect of my Sally Solari mysteries. There’s nothing like flipping through mouth-watering photos of linguine with clam sauce, roast chicken with blood orange and brandy, seared sea bass in a miso-butter glaze, and chocolate-raspberry mousse to get the wheels turning in my brain about dishes for Sally to whip up at Gauguin.
I also take three different newspapers (the local Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i papers, as well as The New York Times), which provide great fodder for potential plot lines for my books—especially the local stories and food pages.
As for what readers could benefit from, I’d say that anyone who truly loves to read can derive enjoyment from pretty much any written material—even the cereal box as you dig into that bowl of Shredded Wheat. At least that’s true for me, a gal who gets a huge kick out of reading what’s printed on other people’s T shirts. (But I will admit it’s probably not true regarding those law school casebooks I was talking about earlier....)
LKBR: Is there anything you would give up if you thought it would make you an even better writer?
LESLIE: Wow, interesting question. I’m not sure any such thing exists, because to my mind, all experiences, good and bad, can serve to make you a better writer. So unless there’s something that’s actively preventing you from writing—say, a drug addiction or a job that keeps you busy pretty much 24/7—there doesn’t seem to be anything worth giving up. As some author (I can’t remember who—was it Ken Kesey?) once said, “It’s all part of the movie.”
LKBR: Any new projects in the works?
LESLIE: In addition to the Sally Solari mystery number six that I mentioned earlier, in non-crime writing news, I’m excited to announce that a memoir I penned about planning and preparing dinner for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, entitled Justice is Served: A Tale of Scallops, the Law, and Cooking for RBG, will be published in April of 2023. Think of it as a mash-up of Julie and Julia and Notorious RBG.
LKBR: If you could ask your readers 3 questions, what would they be?
LESLIE: 1) What makes you decide to read a certain book and how do you tend to hear about the ones you do read?
2) What’s most important to you in the Sally Solari series: the culinary aspect, the setting, or the characters?
3) Have you tried any of the recipes in the books?
LKBR: Where can readers go to learn more about you and your books?
LESLIE: My website, LeslieKarstAuthor.com has loads of information about me, my books, and even my previous incarnation as a country singer and songwriter! I also blog with Chicks on the Case and Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.
LKBR: Thank you so much, Leslie, for letting us get to know you better!
LESLIE: You are so very welcome! Thanks so much for inviting me, Lisa!