Monday, July 27, 2009

Nadia Gordon and the Sunny McCoskey mysteries

I thought I'd bring a special guest to Fatal Foodies today. Nadia Gordon (aka Julianne Balmain), the author of the Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley mysteries, chock full of food, wine and murder!

What was the original inspiration for your Sunny McCoskey mysteries?

I’m friends with an extraordinary group of people who started cooking in a very authentic, uncompromising way. In any other era, that would be a meaningless sentence. But in our time, when a food that smells and tastes like strawberry might not have any strawberries in it, the attempt to cook food that is what it purports to be is a very important undertaking, for the environment and for people. This topic—great food prepared from locally grown and gathered ingredients—is a real passion for me. I admire the people leading this movement and wanted to write about them. I wanted to explore a life where you spent the days cooking food from ingredients with a supply chain that was entirely transparent. You know the patch of earth where the potato is grown, and you know the guy who grew it, and you’ve been in his shed and seen what kind of jars and bags of stuff are in there. If you open a guy’s shed and see buckets of Roundup, you know you’re in the wrong place.

How much of you is in your protagonist?

Much less than readers tend to imagine. The writer’s life—my writer’s life—is pretty vicarious. I’m in the business of observation. Sunny actually does things. I might go along on the wild mushroom hunt, but Sunny is the one who knows the best places, knows which mushrooms are safe to eat. I might hang out in the kitchen, but Sunny is the one who cooks. I cowardly, cozy, and sleep like a stone. Sunny is a fearless maniac who is always up roaming the countryside half the night looking for dead bodies and murderers.

I just finished your new release, LETHAL VINTAGE, and was definitely taken aback by the behavior of one of the reoccurring characters (no names mentioned, no spoilers). Definitely some unresolved character arcs and relationships going on. How many more Sunny M. books in the series do you foresee? Keep in mind the higher the number, the happier you will make your interviewer.

This is Sunny’s baggage. She is very much in control, of everything, and very solid. Not much rocks her boat. But what if her boat needs to be rocked? I see the first four books as the spoon tap tap tapping at her shell. As the first book opens, Sunny is a happy woman, doing what she loves, with a successful restaurant in paradise. She’s in the world’s most lovely rut. By the end of book four, she’s made up her mind to change. There will definitely be more Sunny books, just not for the next year or two.

Reading about Sunny's dishes for her restaurant generally has me drooling (in a good way!) and casting about for the perfect food/wine pairings. What is your background as a cook and/or an oenephile?

I’m a good voyeur and a great eater. I think the most important thing I bring to the table, so to speak, is a blank slate. I learn very slowly. The upside is an enduring state of Zen-style beginner mind. I still come at a glass of wine like a complete beginner, which means I can keep learning, keep tasting. Food and wine and how to make them are areas you can study for a lifetime. I was once at a dinner with a bunch of foodies that started early and went late. There were many, many good wines. Late in the evening, someone ordered an older, very expensive wine. The steward poured, someone tasted, and glasses were poured and happily consumed. There was a guy from Italy who had definitely had enough already. I thought that it was rather a waste we were all drinking a great wine no one could really taste anymore. He took one whiff and declared the bottle corked. It was. There is always plenty to learn.

What’s your perfect environment for writing and do you have a process you follow each time you write?

It’s pretty grim. The planning of a book is a great joy. I wax poetic. I am consumed by a passion to research the most minute details. My characters carry me away to an imaginary land. Then it’s time to execute and that means huge quantities of Peet’s coffee, lots of pacing, frenzied cleaning of the house, catching up on every bit of correspondence, agony, panic, etc. And then, at last, the incredibly satisfying plunge into the heart of it.

How do you balance out your role as a mother with your writing? As someone who only has cats (and finds them quite distracting), I would really like to know...

It’s difficult. My passion for my work is as strong as ever—stronger, even, since I have all this great new material—but I have much less time to write. Moms are forced to become extremely efficient. I get much more done in a hour these days than I used to, but I have far fewer hours! I became a mom rather late in the mom game, so I’d had plenty of time to explore the world and get to know myself. I had so much time on my hands I was doing yoga, surfing, rock climbing, mountain biking. All in one day! Well, not really, but a bunch. Now I’m lucky if I can score twelve minutes for a jog-walk around the park. But how sweet to have a child to steal you away from your work. There’s a Rumi poem that goes, “Before now I wanted/ to be paid for what I said,/ but now I need you/ to buy me from my words.” My son does that great service for me.

How do you promote your books? Do you blog/Facebook/Twitter and if so, do you think it's worthwhile?

I do think Facebook and Twitter are worthwhile means of getting the word out about your books, certainly right now. They can be extremely effective if you really engage with it. Personally, I don’t tweet and my Facebook participation is minimal. It’s an issue of time and privacy. I have a website that may one day soon include a blog of some sort. Back when the Internet was new, I had a column called “The Ex-Model Files” on Spiv, a Turner Broadcasting website that vanished with the Time Warner merger in the nineties. I wrote it under the pen name Cara Friedrichs. It was sort of a proto-blog, and I loved doing it. I might start doing something like that again—basically a weekly column I publish on my website.

What do you love about writing and what, if anything, do you hate about the business?

I love the deep dive of fiction writing. The way you sink down, down, down into the sea of story and bring back otherworldly treasure. I don’t particularly like the part of the process where you’re looking for a deal and negotiating it. That’s nerve racking. I also don’t love sitting down indoors all day. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to a pencil and paper in the meadow?

Do you write in other genres? If so, which ones? If not, do you want to?

I write pop culture nonfiction from time to time, meaning humor, light commentary, and how-to on a variety of topics. The next novel I write may not have a dead body in it.

If you weren't a writer, what would you be?

Marine biologist. My science career was cut short back in high school, but the sea and its critters, particularly the whales, have always been of huge interest. And I daydream the line of clothes I would present for each season, always have, so perhaps fashion designer. Fashion designer to the whales?

If you haven't read Nadia's Napa Valley mysteries yet and are a Fatal Foodie, hie thyself hence and check out her books! Thank you, Nadia!


Other Lisa said...

This is a great interview! I really appreciate the questions asked and Nadia's responses to them (I am not an expert but I love good wine and local food!). Thanks for introducing me to a new author - I definitely want to read these!

Dana Fredsti said...

They're a lot of fun. I bought my first one at a wine store in Noe Valley, along with a nice bottle of wine to sip while reading it. Great combo!

Hagelrat said...

great interview and these definately look like reads I'd love!

Dana Fredsti said...

Adele, trust me, you will love them! Just make sure you have wine and food on hand...