Elizabeth Logan is the pseudonym for a long time mystery writer who has published series with Berkley and Minotaur. The first book in her Alaskan Diner Mystery series was Mousse and Murder.
Elizabeth spoke to GWN about her new book. I’m currently reading it and hope to review it.
What inspired you to start writing the Alaskan Diner Mystery series?
Cozy mysteries and food seem to go together. My own taste runs to a classic American menu, as opposed to what anyone would call “cuisine,” and I thought it was time for a series based on that. A diner is a natural vehicle for malts, burgers, and an array of pies. Add red-vinyl-covered stools, and I was ready to go!
Why did you choose Alaska as the setting for the series?
I’d covered both east and west coasts with my first 4 series. Alaska presented a different kind of challenge, with its remote areas and unique landscape near the top of the earth.
Tell us a bit about the first Alaskan Diner Mystery, Mousse and Murder. How did you develop the plot line and your main character, Charlie Cooke?
In Mousse and Murder, I wanted to introduce a diner owner who was new to the job, making it possible to explain things to the reader—they would learn as Charlie learned. I gave her an unfocused background—grew up in her mom’s diner, went to college, then to law school, then to culinary school—again, to give the reader an interesting character rather than a single-minded one. Charlie is focused, however, when it comes to investigations. She’s always ready to help the Trooper, who has limited resources and is spread thin.
For me, character development requires limited competition in the novel. In a relatively short (~80000 words) novel, if you have too many characters, it’s hard to dig deep into the protagonist. So Charlie has her BFF, a possible dating partner, and a small staff. She has no siblings, and doesn’t play team sports or belong to a book club. And I send her parents on vacation a lot!
In Mousse and Murder, The plot follows easily as there is tension between her chef who wants to keep the old menu and Charlie who wants to experiment with new dishes.
What research was involved for Mousse and Murder? Did anything you learned surprise you?
Researching Alaska took considerable effort since nearly all its characteristics are dramatically different from my usual urban lower forty-eight settings. But, like any other research, I started with personal contacts and “experts” in Alaskan living.
Over the course of more than two dozen books, I’ve found that nearly everyone is happy to share knowledge and expertise. I’ve “interviewed” and had eager assistance from cops and detectives; embalmers (!); a veterinarian; quilters and other crafts enthusiasts; an EMT; and an assortment of scientists. For Alaska, I made contact with several people who are residents.
One thing that surprised me about Alaska was the existence of “dry cabins,” real estate listed as 0 bedrooms 0 baths! A dry cabin has no plumbing, sometimes no electricity, though it is easier for houses to be on an electric grid than a sewer line. A dry cabin is basically one room, about 400 square feet, sometimes with a loft. Some of them are isolated, others in a “development” of sorts. Water is obtained by traveling to a station, usually attached to a general store or gas station, filling a 5-gallon jug with water and carrying it home. The reasons for this choice vary from wanting to live off the grid to wanting to live simply and economically.
What scene or scenes from Mousse and Murder were your favorite to write?
My favorite element of fiction is dialogue. If I’m not careful I can get into a “My Dinner with Andre” scenario and discuss the meaning of life with Wally Shawn.
In Mousse and Murder, Charlie is unsure where her relationship with Chris Doucette, the local newspaper reporter, is going. He joins her on the team to help the Trooper on a case. The two get along well, with mild flirting, leaving Charlie to wonder what the future might be. (No spoilers here!) It’s easy to write dialogue in this case, especially if the genre allows humor, which the cozy genre does.
What’s next for Charlie and the Alaskan Diner Mystery series?
In the second Alaskan Diner Mystery, Fishing for Trouble, Charlie learns about the darker side of the fishing industry and (see above!) dry cabins. A college student, a summer employee at a processing plant, is murdered, and Charlie and her team are there to help find the killer.