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Utah author Josi S. Kilpack knows exactly where people should read her Christmas-themed mystery “The Candy Cane Caper” – at Snowbird Ski Resort.
Its view of the mountains, combined with the feel of the book âI want to stay inside and have a hot chocolate,â makes Snowbird the perfect place to curl up with its story, she said.
“The Candy Cane Caper” is the latest in Kilpack’s 13-book culinary mystery book series, but that won’t deter you from picking it up – with the exception of book 12, each has been written so it can be read. regardless of history, she said.
The series follows amateur sleuth Sadie Hoffmiller as she solves cases in her Colorado hometown and cooks delicious food along the way. Each book is named after a dish and includes the recipes featured in the story.
Kilpack, who is also known for her own novels and fictions focusing on members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the twelfth book is meant to be the last in the series.
But due to popular demand, she revisited her greedy sleuth in “The Candy Cane Caper”, which she described as “a Christmas special five years later”. He follows Sadie as she tries to help a terminally ill friend whose ancient adornments were stolen just before the holidays.
Kilpack recently spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune about what inspired the show, how it changed in the 10 years she wrote it, and where she got all of these recipes.
What inspired the series?
I started the series in 2005. I actually wrote the first chapter of the first book, which is titled “Lemon Pie”, as a contest entry. [for a competition] that J. Scott Savage had on his blog. And I ended up loving it. I worked there for the next two years. I was publishing contemporary LDS fiction with Deseret Book at the time, and so “Lemon Tart” was kind of my playbook. It was so far from my wheelhouse, but it did come together over time. When I finished it I submitted it to Deseret Book thinking they would reject it because it didn’t conform to the stuff they were posting at the time, but the timing was right and they were looking to new ideas. He was already in production when they suggested making it into a series, and he kind of grew up throughout the process.
Why did you choose to center your mysteries on food?
Originally, I didn’t. I just had my main character who loved food. But it was actually Lisa Mangum, my editor at Deseret Book, who suggested making it a culinary mystery. I wasn’t very familiar with the genre, but essentially it’s kind of a sweet mystery that involves recipes. The food was already there, so we just had to find the recipes.
Where did you find your recipes?
Some of them are mine and have done over the years. After “Lemon Tart” I asked (I had a blog at the time) people to prepare the recipes and make sure they were as good as I thought they would be. I got a really good response. I picked the first eight that responded, and five of them stuck with me throughout this 12-book series. So when I needed a recipe and didn’t have a good one, I contacted them. Many recipes are theirs. With other recipes, I would go online and find three versions of a dish, and use them to make my own.
âLemon Tartâ was released in 2009 and âThe Candy Cane Caperâ was released in 2019. How has the series grown and changed in the 10 years you wrote it?
He grew up precisely because he did well. The first one came out just after the economic troubles of 2008. Deseret Book warned me that they weren’t sure what would happen with this. But it is directly thanks to the readers that we continued the series. Typically in a series, the first book sells very well because people will start with that one. And then it kind of goes down from there, which is why you see a lot of sets that don’t go over three pounds. But with this series, once you got to the third book, every time a new one came out, all the books would sell a little better.
Story wise, it was a challenge for me to learn how to do a series. You have this main character that everyone loves and there has to be some growth, but it can’t be such a growth that it’s not recognizable. Lisa Mangum was absolutely invaluable, as she would help point it out.
What does the Christmas element bring to “The Candy Cane Caper” that isn’t in your other Culinary Mysteries?
The rest are all mystery murders and this one isn’t. Sadie’s friend has some ancient ornaments, and some of them are disappearing. Sadie is trying to make it the perfect Christmas for her friend, so she takes the case to try and find these ornaments. There are a lot of aspects of Christmas throughout the story, like Christmas recipes and Christmas events. It was really fun. I did a few Regency romances over Christmas, but it felt more like a Hallmark movie.
What are the themes of the book?
I like to explore difficult people. Thus, some of the themes explored in this book are death and death, and aspects of terminal illness. I have written extensively on family and family ties. There is a growing relationship between two people that I have explored, as well as the theme of forgiveness, which is always so good at Christmas. I also explored ideas from “How do you want to be remembered?” What are you leaving behind? The relationships we build on Earth will always have the highest value, but that doesn’t mean they’re the easiest part. These are often the most complicated, but they are worth working on.
You also write romance and fiction. Are there challenges to writing mysteries that you don’t encounter in other genres?
The mysteries are hard for me. Typically when I write a mystery I think I know who did it, but as I write this way I realize I made it too obvious so I have to pick someone else. So in some ways my stories play out as a surprise to me because I have a different expectation. I have to put a lot of brainpower into the plots.
Romance is much easier for me. In a romance, everyone knows how the story will end, but in a mystery, no one knows how the story ends. And yet the type of mysteries I write are aimed at the same audiences as the novels I write. It has allowed me to be successful in both genres, which is not always easy for writers to do.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
I am working on a new mystery series. It’s another cozy mystery series, set in Sedona, Arizona, and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s a challenge for my brain, again. And then I have another Regency romance. It will be released in the spring at Shadow Mountain.
Do you have any advice for aspiring mystery writers?
Take five detective novels in the genre you want to write, read the first chapter, find what is similar, and use it. Detective novels have a fairly specific formula, and this first chapter is very important. So pay attention to how other authors wrote their first chapters, and then find a way to incorporate those elements into yours.
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