Bente Gallagher (Jennie Bentley) is my third guest author who contributed recipes for Killer Recipes. She's here today to discuss her DIY series and her contributions to the cookbook.
Bente, congratulations on the success of your adorable series.
Thank you, Susan! The Do It Yourself home renovation angle seems to have been a hit with the readers, just as my editor hoped, so we’re all happy! Last I heard, Fatal Fixer-Upper was into a fifth printing, which is just awesome!
Please tell readers what inspired you to write this series.
In a word, money.
Actually, it’s kind of a twisty road, seeing as I didn’t originally set out to write a cozy mystery series about a home renovator. What I wrote instead, was A Cutthroat Business, a sort of romantic Southern chick-lit mystery/suspense novel about a real estate agent who stumbles across a dead body in an empty house. (It was released in June, under my real name.) I used that manuscript to find an agent, and she started shopping it to publishing houses in New York. While we were waiting for someone to decide to pick it up, an editor at Berkley Prime Crime approached us with the idea of the DIY series. They wanted someone to write about home renovation, my background as a Realtor® and renovator (I’m living in my 9th house since 2000) gave them the idea that I’d be a good person for the job – coupled with, I guess, the fact that they liked A Cutthroat Business even if they decided against publishing it – and the rest is history. I was offered a three-book contract with Penguin, and that’s not something you turn down when you’re a rank nobody just starting out in the publishing business.
Could you give us a short synopsis of Fatal Fixer-Upper, Spackled and Spooked, and Plaster and Poison?
I don’t know about short, but sure:
Fatal Fixer-Upper is book 1 in the DIY series. When the book begins, the main character, Avery Baker, is a textile designer in New York City. She loves her life, has a great job, a great boyfriend – also her boss – and a great, rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan, so when she inherits an old house (and two cats) on the coast of Maine from a relative she hasn’t seen in 26 years, she wants to get rid of it. But when she realizes that the perfect boyfriend isn’t so perfect after all, and she loses him and her job in one fell swoop, she decides to spend the summer in Maine renovating the house, to make some money. She hires local handyman Derek Ellis to help her, since she has no experience with renovating, and the two of them start butting heads immediately. Derek is a purist who wants to restore Aunt Inga’s Victorian house to its 1870s glory, while Avery wants to squeeze in every newfangled convenience she can think of. There’s a missing professor of history from a local college, a bunch of valuable antiques dating all the way back to Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, and some unsavory relatives heating things up, as well as Derek himself, who’s one of those hot handymen with power tools.
At the end of the book, Avery decides to stay on in Maine and work with Derek instead of going back to Manhattan, and in Spackled and Spooked, the two of them purchase their first house together: a supposedly haunted mid-century ranch they’re planning to renovate and resell. The supposed haunting stems from a murder that took place seventeen years earlier, and Derek believes enough time has passed for them to be able to sell the house and make a profit. But when they find a skeleton buried in the crawlspace, and then a next-door neighbor turns up dead, it becomes questionable whether anyone will ever want to take the house off their hands.
When book 3, Plaster and Poison, opens, they’re still trying to get rid of the haunted ranch house, and there’s no money in the bank to take on another project. As a result, Derek and Avery agree to go to work for their friend Kate, a B&B owner, to turn an old carriage house at the back of her property into a romantic retreat for two in time for Kate’s wedding to chief of police Wayne Rasmussen. But when an old friend of Kate’s shows up, and then ends up dead in the carriage house, it’s anyone’s guess whether the wedding will ever take place. It’s a book about family: Avery’s mother and stepfather are in town from California to meet Derek, and Derek’s family, the Ellises, features prominently in the history-mystery aspect of the book, which deals with tracking down a set of initials carved in the wall in the carriage house. There’s also a really cool connection to a real person by the name of William Avery Ellis who died during World War One.
Is there a favorite character that runs through the series?
Probably Avery herself. I spend so much time in her head that I feel I know her pretty well. She can be annoying, sure – she’s insecure as well as slightly neurotic with a penchant for jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions – but I like her. The scenes with Avery and Melissa are an awful lot of fun to write, too. Melissa is Derek’s ex-wife, and the person we all love to hate. Pure perfection, she was married to Derek for five years, and never lets an opportunity go by to remind Avery that she knows him better than Avery does.
When will the next DIY book be released?
DIY-4 is called Mortar and Murder, and will be released January 4th, officially. Sometimes the books make their appearance early, though, so in some places, I suppose you might be able to get your hands on a copy a week or two early. It doesn’t hurt to look, anyway. It’s a not a Christmas book, though: #1 takes place in the summer, #2 in the fall – how could I not take advantage of Halloween for the haunted house book? – and #3 in November and December. By #4 we’re into spring; the book actually opens on April Fool’s Day. In it, Derek and Avery are renovating a 1783 center-chimney Colonial house on an island off the coast of Maine, and they run into smugglers both historical and current. It’s a little less cozy than the others, in that it deals with the very current subject of human trafficking, but it has all the other aspects people have come to know and love, including a new kitten for Avery.
Where can folks purchase them and in what formats?
Most big bookstores should have them in mass market paperback. Same goes for any specialized mystery bookstore. Independents; yes or no, depending on size, I guess. Around here they have them, but that may be because I’m local. If you can’t find them in your local store, any bookseller should be able to order them for you. Amazon has them on Kindle, and Barnes and Noble have them for the Nook. There’s really no excuse not to read one!
Bente, you submitted recipes for my cookbook, Killer Recipes, with all proceeds going to cancer research. I thank you for that. I hope to try your Whoopie Pies over the holidays. Is there a personal reason you got involved in the project?
My mother died of cancer, and I have a young relative who’s just come off four years of treatment for childhood leukemia. She’s holding her own, and doing very well, so we hope the worst is over, but you just never know, do you? Cancer is the kind of disease that’ll end up touching everyone’s family sooner or later, and although I’m honestly not sure we’ll ever be able to come up with a cure for it, we can’t stop trying, can we? Can’t win if you don’t try, right?
We send love and prayers.
Do you have upcoming events you can share with us?
I’ve got a few things going on for the release of Mortar and Murder, including a signing at Mysteries and More bookstore in Lenox Village, on the south side of Nashville, on January 8th, and the Coffee County Library’s annual author day in Manchester, Tennessee, the following Saturday, the 15th. On April 7th, I’ll be doing a mystery panel for the WNBA – that’s the Women’s National Book Association, not the basketball players – and a little later in April I’ll be going to Bowling Green, KY, for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. And then it’s on to June and the release of Hot Property, the second book in the Savannah Martin series, after A Cutthroat Business.
Thanks for the interview, Bente. And folks, here's the recipe for Whoopie Pies. For the rest of the wonderful recipes, head over to Amazon where you can purchase Killer Recipes in print, ebook, and Kindle formats. They make great gifts and support cancer research.
Warped Whoopee Pies
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.
In a large bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, and egg. In another bowl, combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the milk mixture; beating until smooth. Drop batter by the 1/4 cup (to make 18 cakes) onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake. Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups Marshmallow Fluff
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, beat together shortening, sugar, and Marshmallow fluff; stir in vanilla extract until well blended. When the cakes are completely cool, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down gently to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies to make 9 pies. Wrap whoopee pies individually in plastic wrap, or place them in a single layer on a platter (do not stack them, as they tend to stick). You can freeze them the same way, by wrapping each pie in plastic wrap and putting them in a freezer proof container. Thaw them again in the fridge.
I loved the Savannah Martin Series! These overviews make me want to jump into the DIY series. I'm so glad the DIY has a few books out. Can't wait to read more.
You're so sweet! Thanks, Kourtney!
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