Larissa Reinhart Paints a “Still Life in Brunswick Stew”
Posted by Sharon Wray
Today I’d like to offer a huge Kiss and Thrill welcome to my favorite cozy mystery author Larissa Reinhart.
Larissa spins stories, published by Henery Press, about murder and mayhem with a southern, comic twist. And she has the most wonderful titles. Larissa’s debut book Portait of a Dead Guy is a Dixie Kane Memorial Winner and a Daphne du Maurier Finalist, and her second release, Still Life in Brunswick Stew, has proven to be even more delectable. After all, how can you not love a female artist sleuth who loves to eat and has a name like Cherry Tucker?
Here’s a brief look at both!
Cherry Tucker’s in a stew. Art commissions dried up after her nemesis became president of the County Arts Council. Desperate and broke, Cherry and her friend, Eloise, spend a sultry summer weekend hawking their art at the Sidewinder Annual Brunswick Stew Cook-Off. When a bad case of food poisoning breaks out and Eloise dies, the police brush off her death as accidental. However, Cherry suspects someone spiked the stew and killed her friend. As Cherry calls on cook-off competitors, bitter rivals, and crooked judges, her cop boyfriend get steamed while the killer prepares to cook Cherry’s goose.
SW: Welcome to Kiss and Thrill, Larissa. We are so happy to have you here today and I’m going to just jump in and start asking questions. You have such wonderful titles. How did you come up with them?
LR: Thank you! And thanks so much for having me on Kiss & Thrill! I’m thrilled to be here. 🙂
I wish I had a method for titles. They’re more of a brain pop than anything else. I had the title for my third Cherry Tucker book, HIJACK IN ABSTRACT, with only a glimmer of an idea for the story. I use art terms in all the Cherry Tucker titles and I just liked how the words Hijack and Abstract sounded together.
I’m thinking about the title for book number four before I start writing it in August. It’s going to be a poison pen type mystery set at a private school where Cherry’s going to paint the backdrop scenery for the drama department. I’m stuck between POSTMODERN POSTMORTEM or POSTMODERN GOES POSTAL. Any opinions?
SW: I actually love Postmodern Goes Postal. I like the alliteration and the cadence. (and I also love puns :)) Cherry is such an off-the-page kind of character who is so hard to forget, I have to ask–which comes first, the characters or the mystery.
LR: The characters. The mystery is what I figure out just before I start writing, but the characters drive all my stories. I hear them talking, I can envision where they live, what they drive, what they eat, and their relationships to each other before I know the plot. Then I work out the crime so I can have the motives and behavior for the antagonist as I’m writing. And then I let go and hope it all works itself out!
SW: Your writing is so compelling, partly because you are so good at lining up a myriad of eclectic characters as suspects. What was the hardest aspect about writing a mystery?
LR: Thanks for saying so, that’s a wonderful compliment. I think having believable motives for your antagonist (and other suspects) is hard. I like how desperation can drive a criminal to do the original crime or attempt greater crimes, and I love thinking about the psychology of a criminal mind. One of my favorite books is Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. As I was reading it, I kept thinking this could take place anywhere, not just Russia. However, it’s also easy to get too into the psychology of criminals and end up with a psychotic killer in every book.
SW: How long did you write for before you got published?
LR: I’m incredibly blessed, and I believe I got very lucky with timing. I wrote in high school and college, then took a break for about twenty years. I started writing again when we were living in Japan in 2009 and came back to the United Sates with two completed manuscripts in 2011. I got my first contract about a year later in 2012. But I will say, I’m a pretty intense person, so once started, I immersed myself in the work.
SW: You paint such a wonderful portrait of a small southern town (pun intended!). What drew you to writing small-town mysteries in the first place?
LR: Small towns are in my wheelhouse because I’m from one (smaller than Halo). I find my mom’s stories about town doings and local gossip entertaining. Even as a kid, I treated my hometown like an anthropology project. I never felt I fit in, but I didn’t resent the town. I just observed and stored the information for later use.
SW: I adore Cherry Tucker’s name. Can you tell us how your first met Cherry and what she’s like to work with?
LR: Thank you! When I was in Japan, the first manuscript I wrote was set in the mountains of Georgia. While I was working on it, I kept getting flashes of conversation between other characters who lived in middle Georgia. I heard Cherry’s voice before I knew who she was. Then my father died and I returned to my hometown for about a month to stay with my mom. After my dad’s funeral, I had an epiphany about having this small town artist character who had to paint a coffin portrait. And her name, Cherry Tucker, just popped in my head. I found her funny. I just hoped other people did, too.
SW: I love how food plays a special part in your books, as if the food is its own character. Does that come from your own background? Or was it something that showed up when you met Cherry?
LR: I like to eat, but really, I like the idea of food. Food appeals to all your senses and tugs on your memory and psyche in such interesting ways. One recipe gives you comfort, reminding you of your childhood. The same food prepared another way triggers a vomit reflex because you ate a bad batch once. Food brings people together and defines customs. What else in the world does that? And what you eat defines some of your personality, don’t you think? Plus, I don’t know how you can write a Southern book and not talk about food. It’s such a part of the culture. So food and Cherry naturally went together. And because she’s almost manic, I imagine her constantly burning all this energy. So she needs to eat a lot. Or tries to eat a lot.
SW: Your work has been compared to Charlaine Harris and Sophie Littlefield. What did you do (or how did your feel) when you first heard those comparisons?
LR: I’m stunned and honored. I have to pinch myself when I hear things like that. I still feel amazed that someone besides my mom likes my stories!
SW: Well, I loved them! And I’m so happy for your success. And as a small gift to our readers, here’s a brief excerpt from STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW:
“As a Sidewinder native, it is my duty to eat Brunswick Stew, particularly at our annual cook-off,” said Eloise. “I love Brunswick Stew. You should know better. How long have we been friends?”
“Let me see,” I pretended to think, not trying to hide my grin. “Seems I beat you in the Forks County Art Competition in third grade…”
“And I stole your drawing and you promptly announced it over the PA, getting me in all kinds of trouble. I still have the handprint on my behind.”
“Serves you right, you art thief.”
“I loved your drawing,” Eloise’s eyes grew misty. “I couldn’t help it. I’d never seen such a beautiful unicorn.”
“It was not a unicorn. I would never draw a unicorn.”
“I’m pretty sure there were rainbows, too,” Eloise laughed at my horrified look. “You were eight. Anyway, I recognized talent then and now. I’m lucky to have a friend like you.”
“Are you kidding? You’re the one that got me into the Reconstituting Classicism gallery show. If I can pull off something great, that crowd will pay big bucks. I’m down to my last twenty dollars and change.” At that thought, I fished in the pockets of my cutoffs to look for Sno-Cone change, disappointed to find only thirty-five cents and a few gum wrappers.
“No one around here wants a portrait made, not even one of their pet,” I moaned. “I had the hunting dog market cornered there for a while. The art well in Forks County has mysteriously run dry ever since I was snubbed by the Bransons after painting the portrait of Dustin. Then Shawna Branson became president of the Forks County Arts Council and suddenly I have paintbrush leprosy.”
“How are those classical paintings coming?” Eloise dropped her eyes to her stew bowl. She knew me well enough to avoid conversation about Shawna Branson. “Aren’t you supposed to send digital photos of the portfolio soon?”
“Week from Monday,” I said. “Plenty of time. I’m doing famous Greek statues as paintings. Except to make it edgier I’m covering the model’s body in tiny Greek letters. Head to toe.”
Eloise swatted me with her spoon. “You haven’t done them yet? Don’t make me look bad, Cherry Tucker. The show is organized by my old drawing professor at UGA. He’s still ticked I went into pottery. I’m hoping to get back in his good graces and get my own show out of the deal.”
I held one hand over my heart, the other palm up in Pledge of Allegiance mode. “I swear I would never do anything to make you look bad, Eloise Parker. You have my word. I’m just having a little trouble convincing my model to pose nude as the Dying Gaul.”
“Who are you using as a model?”
It took a moment for Eloise to regain control over her laughter. I helped her right her chair when it threatened to tip.
“Luke is the perfect model for a Greek statue,” I explained. “Tall, lean, with great muscle definition. Especially those indentations between his waist and hips.” I paused a moment in delicious ecstasy, ruminating over Luke’s V-cut. “He even has the dark curly hair and the straight nose of a classic Greek. And I don’t think he’s got a drop of Greek blood in him. Pretty sure Harper’s not a Greek name.”
“Nor Roman. You just want to paint Luke naked,” Eloise cackled. “This doesn’t have anything to do with art.”
“Of course it does. I have an eye for beauty, that’s all.”
“You got a thing for beauty, all right. As long as it’s got a—”
“You can stop right there, Eloise Parker. No need to get trashy.”
“I’m not the one obsessed with painting Luke Harper nude.”
“He never lets me paint him, nude or otherwise. I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?”
“Probably because he’s worried the criminals in Forks County will laugh at him after seeing his bare ass in a painting,” Eloise lifted her brows. “Hard to arrest somebody when they’re laughing at you.”
SW: So, here’s the question of the day: What elements do you love in a cozy mystery (humor, romance, food, scary villains, crazy sister-in-laws, etc.)? And for one lucky commenter, Larissa is offering a free e-book of Portrait of a Dead Guy.
About Sharon WraySharon is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes novels of adventure, suspense and love for Sourcebooks. She's a wife, mother of twins, caretaker of Donut the One-Eyed Family Dog, and addicted to snapping photos and eating Oreos.
Posted on July 9, 2013, in Author Interview, book recommendations, Sharon Wray and tagged Henery Press, Mystery Writers, Portrait of a Dead Guy, Still Life in Brunswick Stew. Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.