Thursday June 6 7/6c

Q&A with Joanne Fluke,

author of the Hannah Swensen culinary mystery series

1. Right now you’re working on BANANA CREAM PIE MURDER, the 21st book in your Hannah Swensen series. That’s a lot of books! What’s the winning recipe for a successful story, in your eyes?

Part of the “winning recipe” for a lengthy series seems to be winning recipes! I test every single one of Hannah’s recipes 3 times and they must work all 3 times. Then I give them to my son’s girlfriend, who is what we kindly call a “challenged” baker, and she tests them. If she can bake successful cookies, or cakes, or whatever it is from Hannah’s recipe, it goes in the book!

2. Take us to the very beginning – what was the inspiration for the series?

I had not even considered writing about Hannah Swensen before my editor, John Scognamiglio at Kensington Publishing, asked me if I’d like to try my hand writing a cozy mystery series. I had, however, been attempting to sell my cookbook of cookie bar recipes. I asked him if I could make my lead character a small town baker. He said yes. Then I asked him if I could include my own recipes in the books. He said yes. And that’s the reason I started writing the Hannah Swensen series.

3. Have you always been a cook? What are your favorite dishes to serve others?

I’m not like Hannah Swensen’s mother, Delores; I DO cook and bake. I started baking when I was four years old by stirring the bowl for my mother and grandmother. They encouraged me and I kept it up, all through high school and college. Whenever I get a hankering for a particular dessert, main dish, or bread, I experiment and come up with something. We’ve eaten some great meals throughout the years and I’ve also had some colossal failures. A word to the wise; don’t put tomato soup in a tuna casserole! The night I tried that, we called out for pizza.

Attempting to choose my favorite dishes is difficult. It makes me too hungry! But because you asked me, I’ll give it a try. I have two favorite cookies, Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies in Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, and the new cookie that was just published in Wedding Cake Murder, Butterscotch Sugar Cookies. My favorite main dish is John Brady’s Irish Chili in Sugar Cookie Murder, my favorite pie is the Lemon Meringue Pie in Lemon Meringue Pie Murder, and my favorite bread recipe is the one for Blue Apple Muffins in Blackberry Pie Murder. My favorite cakes are Red Devil’s Food Cake in Devil’s Food Cake Murder and the Cherry Cheesecake in Cherry Cheesecake Murder. And because I didn’t mention bar cookies, my favorite is the Double Fudge Brownies in Double Fudge Brownie Murder.

4. What do you think makes the cozy mystery genre so popular with readers? Do all of your books include a romance thread?

I think one of the reason that cozy mysteries are so popular is that people need a chance to get away from the everyday trials and tribulations of their lives. Cozy mysteries are set in a kinder, gentler world (except for the murders, of course). There’s a little humor, a little romance, and a little jeopardy, but everything always turns out all right in the end.

5. What has it been like having your books made into movies by Hallmark Movies & Mysteries? Any surprises?

It’s been wonderful to actually see Hannah on the screen. And even though Alison Sweeney is not a redhead and she isn’t overweight, she’s completely believable as the “movie” Hannah. The whole cast and crew are incredibly talented and I couldn’t be happier. At first, the Hannah fans were anxious about the differences between the characters in the books and the movie characters, but after the first movie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery, aired on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel, fans emailed to say that they thought it was just as wonderful as I did. With such a talented cast and crew, the Hannah movies are like a dream come true for all of us and we’re eagerly awaiting the next one.

6. What is your advice to people who want to write a mystery novel?

Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Once you’ve sampled the genres that are out there, decide which one intrigues you the most. Then go out and buy two blank notebooks. Label one notebook YES and the other notebook NO. Continue reading in your chosen genre until you find something you really like or really don’t like in a book. Write what you like in the YES notebook, and write what you don’t like in the NO notebook. You’ll be referring to these notebooks later when you actually start writing your novel. Keep reading and making notes in your notebooks until you feel that you’re ready to begin writing. Then find a writers’ group you can join so that so you’ll have other aspiring and published writers to advise you and critique your work. Once you do that, start writing. Write every day, even if it’s only a couple of pages. And don’t stop writing until you finish your book.

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