We thought we’d take a break, have some fun this week, and give you a behind-the-scenes look at how a group-written mystery came to be. And who doesn’t love a good mystery! If you do–and you also enjoy the mystique of chef culture–you’ll love this newly published literary romp by a quintet of five mystery authors, one of whom is San Diegan Taffy Cannon, whom I got to know after moderating a writer’s panel earlier this year. Beat Slay Love by Thalia Filbert (Thalia Press/$14.99) is a marvelously gruesome comic mystery that follows the serial murders of chefs across the country in ways that will never let you look at food preparation in the same way again.
Nebbishy food blogger Jason Bainbridge tag teams with FBI agent Kimberly Douglas to suss out who the unpredictable killer is. A disastrous filming of “Kitchen Turnaround” in New Jersey launches the story, which then heads to Montana for a taping of “Love Bites” that meets a grisly end. The murders continue in Maine at “Lobstavaganza,” followed by death at an Austin barbecue competition. You’ll also hit San Diego and New Orleans, and then land in New York at the celebrated Chelsea Market where a Food Network-like show is being taped and culminates in a gruesome discovery nonetheless written for laughs.
All the while you’ll be immersed in an out-there view of chef culture, replete with inflated egos, kinky sex, and cut-throat competitiveness. It’s a wild, witty, enjoyable ride that has a remarkably consistent voice, given how many cooks prepared this delicious broth. And these cooks—Cannon, Kate Flora, Lise McClendon, Katy Munger, and Gary Phillips—were clearly having a great time playing together in their literary kitchen.
“The idea came up in email discussions about three or four years ago, after we published an e-collection of short stories called Dead of Winter,” recalls Cannon. “I have no idea who first had the idea, but I was busy with other projects at that time. Also I didn’t see how it could possibly work, since we live in San Diego, LA, Montana, Maine, and North Carolina — and were working without an outline. The project began with a theme — somebody killing the celebrity chefs of television — and a vague notion of the killer. From there on it was a leap of faith.”
The four other participants each wrote a section, says Cannon, and then in June 2014 she was given a chance to read it and sign on if she changed her mind. Well, she loved what they were doing and immediately joined in.
“We would send the manuscript around in order and each person would add material,” Cannon says. “Sometimes it would be brand new, sometimes it would be inserted in what had gone before, and always it would introduce new material in some fashion. I continue to be proud (and astonished) that it all came together so well at the end.”
One author wrote the beginning and concluding chapters. The rest went through a couple of rounds and then everyone had the opportunity to edit the entire manuscript—and everyone had to agree that they were finished, which it was by August 2015. Then Cannon’s daughter, a professional proofreader, reviewed it. Cannon says it was a totally amicable process.
In case you missed the play on words, the title is a send up of course, on the bestseller Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Cannon says it went through a couple of revisions before they settled on the final title. When the collaborators started talking about using a pseudonym, Thalia seemed natural since they are all blog participants in the Thalia Press Author Coop. Filbert, she says, was close to Gilbert, “and also a little nutty.”
Even the cover design was a group effort, says Cannon. McClendon, one of the founders of Thalia Press designed the cover, with much group input. And Cannon wants to make sure that she also gets due credit for cooking the bacon on the cover.