Inventing the Culinary Thriller
The wonder is that nobody ever wrote a culinary thriller before Beat Slay Love. Published under the pseudonym Thalia Filbert, the book was actually written by Lise McClendon, Katy Munger, Kate Flora, Gary Phillips, and me—all members of the Thalia Press Author Coop.
Yes. Five authors, one book. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Food has long been a popular ingredient of the mystery world, from Miss Marple taking seed cake with her tea to Jack Reacher ordering peach pie with his coffee. Male detectives are believed to be more nuanced when they can whip up a vinaigrette or produce a specialty that isn’t breakfast. Female detectives may ignore cooking altogether, but they can usually recognize a fine meal when one shows up and they always know the best available takeout.
An entire universe of cozy mysteries related to food has been wildly popular for years, offering bakeries and catering and B&Bs and cheese making and confectionary and wineries and pretty much any food-related setting short of the Deep Fried Bug Café (which may be under contract at Berkley).
Beat Slay Love takes the food-related mystery to an entirely new level.
Structured in classic thriller format, the book features a series of nasty chef-related murders in a range of memorable locations across America. An FBI agent and a food blogger team up first to acknowledge the existence of a serial killer and then to try to stop the killings. And the killer has an intimate acquaintance with the world of celebrity chefs, the Food Network, and all things foodie.
Technically the book adheres to thriller conventions: Multiple points of view, including the killer’s at a fairly early stage. Interesting and occasionally exotic locations. Snappy dialogue. Short paragraphs and fast pacing. An action-packed denouement that both surprises and renders justice.
Beat Slay Love was written in serial fashion by five established mystery writers whose communications were handled almost entirely by email. We literally cover the four corners of the country, from San Diego to Maine and Montana to North Carolina. With some 75 published novels and a century or so of mystery-writing experience, we began writing this group mystery about three years ago.
Little precedent existed for a serial novel, at least not since the 19th century. Multiple authors limited the field even further, basically to two books. Naked Came the Stranger was written by Newsday reporters in 1969 and Naked Came the Manatee was first published in the Miami Herald Tropic magazine in 1995.
I once participated in a convoluted serial novel where a hundred San Diego writers each contributed a couple of pages after seeing only the two pages immediately preceding their own sections. The lead-in pages I got were so incomprehensible that I covered myself by working in the possibility of perceptions being skewed by acid in the drinking water. I never even tried to read the final copy.
And so I opted out of the planning stages of Beat Slay Love. I didn’t see how this book could possibly work, particularly when it was clear from the get-go that there would be no outline, no rules, nothing but a commitment to let ‘er rip and see where matters went.
Amazingly, it did work. When I read the first sections written by the four authors who started down the Beat Slay Love road, I was hooked and signed on immediately. I learned not to worry where a storyline might be headed (or land), to pay reasonable attention to what had preceded what I was now working on, and to have faith that all the disparate threads we spun would eventually come together.
Those threads didn’t need to make a tapestry, either. I knew I’d be quite pleased if we only ended up with an awkwardly embroidered kitchen towel. But we did a whole lot better than that. We came up with a book I’m proud to be a part of.
Beat Slay Love is not a police procedural or a cozy. It contains no recipes, though a great deal of food preparation and gustatory delight takes place in its pages. It is more on the order of a romp with attitude. Did I mention there’s a lot of sex?
Beat Slay Love also displaces my 1975 piece on the Miss Texas Pageant as the most fun I’ve ever had on a single writing project.
Read an excerpt here: https://thaliapress.wordpress.com/beat-slay-love/
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