The Writing Life with Mystery Author Leslie Karst

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. An ex-lawyer like Sally Solari, her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. Leslie and her wife, Robin, divide their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawaii. Leslie Karst is also the author of Dying for a Taste, which was released to rave reviews in 2016.
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What’s inside the mind of a mystery author?

Why, new and creative ways to kill people off, of course!

But also, the never-ending questions of how many clues and red herrings do I need, and where can I best place them to make the mystery neither too difficult (i.e., unfair) nor too easy to solve? That’s the hardest part of writing good crime fiction, to my mind.


What is so great about being an author?

One of the best things by far about being a mystery author is getting to hang out and schmooze with all the other mystery writers at conferences and conventions. They are some of the warmest, most generous, and fun-to-hang-out-with folks I’ve ever met.


When do you hate it?

When I’m trying to plot out my next book and my mind is a blank. That’s scary, especially when you have a deadline looming. But it only rarely happens, thank goodness.


What is a regular writing day like for you?

After reading the newspaper and checking my email and social media pages, I settle down at my desk with a strong cup of coffee and spend the morning writing. I take a break for lunch and to walk Ziggy, my Jack Russell mix, and then put in another couple hours if my brain is still working straight. If not, I putter around the garden to recharge my creative engines.


Do you think authors have big egos? Do you?

I believe that the people with the strongest egos tend to be the ones who don’t come across as egotistical, because they’re confident in themselves. It’s folks with little self esteem who need the constant stroking and feedback.

In any case, the mystery authors I’ve met have (with only a few exceptions) been kind, sweet, helpful, and unfailingly generous with their time and advice. And I certainly hope I come across as the same.


How do you handle negative reviews?

Any author who claims to ignore them is probably lying (unless they truly don’t ever read their reviews). But I do my best to not let them get me down. After all, at least the person read the book. And I think having a few bad reviews—as long as there aren’t too many—shows that it’s not just your friends who are writing them.


How do you handle positive reviews?

Quite well, thank you! Because it can be terrifying putting your creative self out there, and it’s wonderful to hear that your work isn’t the garbage that the devil on your shoulder tells you it might be.


What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?

Surprise. “Oh, really?” they’ll say. And then the next thing they’ll often ask is how I found my agent or got published. Because let’s face it: most everyone we know has a manuscript, or at least an idea for one, squirreled away somewhere.


What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?

I call those “publicity/marketing days.” If I truly don’t feel like writing, there’s always other work to be done. As a writer friend recently said to me, the time spent by an author on any given book is one third writing, one third editing and revising, and one third publicizing and marketing.


Any writing quirks?

The advice you always hear about writing is to completely finish your first draft before you start editing, but I simply can’t work that way. Every day when I sit down to write, I reread what I did the day before—partly to remember where I left off, but also to revise and refine the previous day’s work. This system seems to work for me, so I’m going to keep on as I am.


What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously, or if they saw it merely as a hobby?

Before I found my agent and subsequently was taken on by my publisher, Crooked Lane Books, that’s pretty much the situation I was in. But it didn’t keep me from persevering and finishing my first Sally Solari mystery, Dying for a Taste. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else will do so.


Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate? 

Absolutely. My father, a constitutional law professor who wrote a slew of law review articles and books, once said, “There are only two times when I’m miserable: when I’m writing and when I’m not writing.” And I have to agree. Because when you’re in the middle of a writing project, you’re nervous about getting it right and doing it well, and you’re angsting that you should be working on it whenever you’re not. But when you’re not in the middle of a project, you feel as if there’s something deeply missing from your life.


Do you think success as an author must be linked to money?

Not at all. Many of the most talented and successful mystery authors I know couldn’t possibly support themselves with their writing. If you’re in it for the money, I advise you to seek other work. That said, being paid an advance—even a small one—is a wonderful thing for one’s self-esteem, and goes a long way toward showing that others believe in you.


What has writing taught you?

That even when a task seems terribly daunting—such as writing an eighty thousand-word manuscript—if you simply keep at it, following through with the process step by step (or page by page), before long you will have finished. Simply completing the first draft of the manuscript that became my first Sally Solari novel was an incredibly powerful confidence builder, both for my writing career and for my life in general.


Leave us with some words of wisdom.

If you’re hosting a dinner party and something has gone awry with one of the dishes you’ve prepared, do not mention it to your guests. If you act as if everything is perfect, they will likely never notice the problem (especially if you’re serving cocktails and/or wine, as well). And even if they do notice, your mentioning it will only serve to make everyone uncomfortable.


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Title: A Measure of Murder
Genre: culinary mystery (I call it a “snarky cozy”)
Author: Leslie Karst
Website: lesliekarstauthor.com
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

About the Book:

Sally Solari is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, Sally joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition: the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident.

Now Sally's back on another murder case seasoned with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin—set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?

In a stew of suspects and restaurateurs, trouble boils over in the second in Leslie Karst’s tasty and tantalizing Sally Solari mystery series, A Measure of Murder.

“Engaging characters, terrific writing, and a savory blend of musical and culinary erudition...polymath Karst sauces her plot without masking its flavor. And she’s a dab hand with the red herrings.” Publishers Weekly starred review


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