Ann Myers, whose new novel Feliz Navidead published last month, shares why she enjoys writing seasonally themed novels in this exclusive LitChat blog.
Other than seasonal baking (and eating), I’m not particularly adept at holidays. I forget to get cards in the mail. I lag in putting up—and taking down—decorations. If anything, my family is worse, celebrating holidays minimally if at all. My parents, for instance, live in the country, out of sight from the nearest road and neighbors. Yet every Halloween they lower the blackout blinds. They also buy a bag or two of candy. Just in case, they say. In case lost costumed kids stumble by in the dark? Always be prepared is my mother’s motto, especially for what can go wrong.
Which leads to another confession: I’m not great at thinking ahead. For Halloween this means that although my husband and I continue the hiding-out tradition, we don’t get the backup candy. It’s bad planning since 1) we live in a city and trick-or-treaters could easily come knocking, and 2) I’d really enjoy having bags of mini Snickers around. For writing that means I didn’t think out the logistics—both wonderful and sometimes tricky—of publishing a holiday novel.
It’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. A holiday novel should come out a month or two before its holiday. Of course, you’re probably thinking. But I didn’t consider this when writing and pitching Bread of the Dead. Thankfully, good fortune and lucky timing were with me. My publisher accepted the manuscript in late spring, giving us time to prepare for a September release date. Perfect for Halloween and Day of the Dead! Almost like I’d planned it, except as a naïve new novelist, I hadn’t and probably couldn’t have even if I’d tried.
For my next two novels, I did plan for the release timings. My publisher wanted books in approximately six-month increments, and we chose holidays that fit the season. It’s been great to promote the books during their respective seasons. And now that Bread of the Dead is a year old, I’m discovering another benefit. Holidays come around every year, providing a fun way to connect with readers again.
I hope that readers enjoy the books out of season too. I, for one, think a frigid winter tale is perfect on a hot summer day. Plus the books also revolve around culinary themes, the Santa Fe setting, and especially their protagonist, Rita Lafitte.
Rita is a relative newcomer to New Mexico. She’s forty-one, recently divorced, and the mother of a teenage daughter. Although struggling to adjust to her new life, she loves working as a chef at Tres Amigas Café. She also loves learning about the regional traditions, holidays, and delicious foods, and I hope cozy mystery readers feel similarly.
Rita’s octogenarian friend and sleuthing companion, Flori, has Rita taste-testing buttery pan de muerto for a bread baking contest in Bread of the Dead. Rita also learns about Day of the Dead tastes and traditions from her friendly landlord—right before he dies beside his holiday altar under suspicious circumstances.
In Cinco de Mayhem, Rita takes on a food-cart battle. She goes beyond margaritas for her Cinco de Mayo celebration, whipping up dishes with French and Mexican influences to commemorate the 19th century battle the holiday marks.
Christmas might appear to fall in mainstream American holiday territory. However, when Rita’s Midwest mom comes to visit, she realizes things are indeed a little different in “The City Different,” from flickering farolitos to red chile-dusted bizcochito cookies to a devilish twist in the holiday pageant.
From scrooges to super-celebrators, most of us can probably relate to Rita’s holiday ups and downs. The holidays can be great. They can also be stressful and perfect settings for mystery, murder, and culinary mayhem. I’ll never get another chance at a debut mystery, but if I had to do it over again, I’d definitely go with a holiday. I’ve gotten to celebrate with Rita and her friends in ways I don’t in real life. I’ve also learned a lot and had fun and hope readers have too. Now if I’d just get a start on those Christmas cards… or New Year’s greetings… Cinco de Mayo?
ANN MYERS writes the Santa Fe Café Mysteries. The first book in the series, Bread of the Dead (2015), introduced café chef and reluctant amateur sleuth, Rita Lafitte. Rita and her friends stir up more trouble in Cinco de Mayhem (March 2016) and Feliz Navidead (October 25, 2016). Ann lives with her husband and extra-large house cat in southern Colorado, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, and cozy mysteries. Find her on Facebook.