Five Authors Cook up a Group Novel That Sizzles

Chefs d’oeuvre
Five authors cook up a group novel that sizzles
By Lise McClendon and Kate Flora

beatFive years ago, an e-mail went out to a group of mystery writers asking if we’d like to form a blog group. That became the Thalia Press Authors’ Co-op. We called ourselves a co-op because, despite our solitary writing lives, we did cooperate. Not twiddling our thumbs but busy living our lives, writing our books, and helping each other navigate this brave new publishing world, we blogged together in a rich collection of experiences, points of view, new projects, and ironic takes on the life and writing, a collaboration which eventually led to the idea of publishing a short story anthology, Dead of Winter. Cooperating on a crime story collection was such fun we thought, perhaps unwisely, what’s next?

We were all novelists, so the obvious answer to “What’s next?” was . . . .A novel.

Could we write a novel together? How exactly does that work? None of us live near each other; all would have to take place online. As defined by a flurry of e-mails, the answer became yes, we could do it, we could write a serial novel where one person writes a section, then sends it on to another writer, then on it goes. But what to write about…? Hmm. That part took a while to figure out. Many Google groups, emails, and think-athons later, we came up with a concept: Someone is killing reality TV chefs. Someone really hates them–someone with an inside knowledge of cooking–and is quite creative in dispatching them.

Gary kitchen 1We all love food, right? It sustains us, it entertains us, it wows us once in awhile. Food across America is as varied as we are, writers who live on both coasts and in the middle, writers who are urban and rural. So, we mused, we’ll highlight the variety of American cuisine, taking readers on a cross-country food journey while making our mayhem. From barbeque in Texas to a trendy LA area restaurant serving color-themed food, from a Maine lobster cook-off to a TV Valentine’s Day special featuring huckleberries filmed at a gorgeous Montana hunting lodge, the killer stalks chefs, and an FBI agent and an intrepid food blogger stalk the killer.

And so we began. Baby steps. Deadlines? We don’t need no stinkin’ deadlines! We’ve got enough of those in our lives already. Time passed, words were written and the manuscript grew, passing from one author’s hands to another through the wonders of cyberspace. Some writers described horrible but well-spiced culinary homicides. Others invented backstory for the deliciously evil killer while still others concerned themselves with – ha! – plot! As each writer received the growing story, the questions grew as well: How would it all hang together? Would some author go off on an untenable tangent? Was it acceptable to revise another person’s work or even move it to another place in the story? Was this simply revision or stepping on tender authorial toes? How many times around did we have to pass this thing to finish it? Would one writer balk at the mess in front of him/her and quit in disgust?

And the character questions piled up as five different visions converged on the page. How many indignities could our serial killer endure as we explained the reasons for that thirst for revenge. Was our curious food blogger, who uncovered the first connections among a series of unrelated deaths, a schlump or a hipster? Would the icy FBI agent he salivates over ever thaw and if so, would that bring too much sex to the story? Could we even have too much sex in a send-up of serial killers, the tell-all world of TV reality shows, and the self-involved journey of Eat, Pray, Love?

Kate kitchen 1By some miracle the answers came like manna from heaven. The novel went around once, then again. The five writers, Taffy Cannon, Kate Flora, Katy Munger, Gary Phillips, and Lise McClendon, hung in there. Perhaps because we’ve known each other through the Thalia Press Authors Co-op, and through decades of mystery writing and convention attendance, we worked it out. We are, first and foremost, friends. We respected what the others had written and that respect, along with a well-developed sense of humor (a necessity to survive our decades in the business) made it all work. Everyone did some editing. Amidst the give and take and tweaking and reworking, we continued to be excited by the story as a whole, perhaps the hardest part of working with a bunch of individualists. We played off each other, spun elaborate confabulations, added great villains and victims, and just plain had a good time.

As one writer said, halfway through the process, “I never expected it to be so much fun.”

And fun it has been. The key to this may be the comic nature of the mystery novel we created. The title is Beat Slay Love, obviously a spoof of the bestselling novel, Eat Pray Love. We beat eggs (and stuff), we slay chefs, and we let our characters love a little (or a lot?). Mostly we poke fun at reality cooking shows that are mini soap operas with outsize personalities throwing tantrums and insults. Is there any better villain than a nasty chef? How about a whole bunch of them? And is there any better revenge than to turn some of the tools of their trade against them?

Three years after someone’s bright idea, we’re ready to lick the frosting on this cupcake. Or maybe not. The cupcakes in this book might be deadly.

With our sincere apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert , we offer up a slice of mayhem and laughs this October. Look for Beat Slay Love, written by the pseudonymous Thalia Filbert, from Thalia Press. Served up by Taffy, Kate, Katy, Gary, and Lise. Look for us at Bouchercon. We’ll bring the cocktails.

No. Wait. Could be there’s something dangerous in the cocktails, too. There was that scene in Montana?

So BYOB, put your feet up, and get ready to dive into a delicious, deadly, and often laugh-out-loud tale of what can happen in the cut-throat world of cooking when the wrong person picks up an extremely sharp knife.