I am so excited to introduce my friend and fellow mystery-writer Laura Jensen Walker, whose first cozy Murder Most Sweet was officially launched on September ninth! Laura has loved mysteries ever since she read Trixie Belden in the fourth grade in her Danish-founded hometown of Racine, Wisconsin—America’s unofficial kringle capital. Laura is a former journalist and the author of several fun chick-lit novels and humorous non-fiction books, including Thanks for the Mammogram! She lives in Northern California with her Renaissance-man husband, Michael, and their canine daughter, Mellie. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Murder Most Sweet is her first mystery novel.
Welcome to Miss Demeanors, Laura. Let’s jump right in!
CONNIE: Small world: you and I both hail from Racine, Wisconsin (although we never met), and Racine features in Murder Most Sweet. How long ago did you leave Racine, and why did you decide to set your first cozy near there?
LAURA: I left Racine nearly 50 years ago, when I was 14 and my family moved to Phoenix. I set my first cozy in the fictional town of Lake Potowatomi, a dozen miles down the road from Racine because I wanted to honor my Racine childhood and my Scandinavian baking heritage. My Grandma Jorgensen was the best baker I know and she spoiled me with all her delicious treats growing up. (I was also spoiled by the fabulous Danish bakeries in Racine and their delicious kringle—yumm.)
CONNIE: As fellow Racinites, you and I both know—and love—Danish kringle. One of my earliest childhood memories is walking with my mother to Bendtsen’s Bakery in West Racine. Can you describe what kringle is to our readers?
LAURA: Kringle is 36 to 48 layers of buttery flaky crust, reminiscent of a croissant, compressed into an oval shape wrapped around fresh fruit, nuts, or other specialty fillings and topped with a glaze of white icing. My favorite flavors are cherry-cheese and raspberry. Luckily, my Trader Joe’s now carries kringle occasionally, so I can still get it now and then, but when I’m really craving kringle and Trader’s doesn’t have any, I go online to one of the Racine bakeries and order it. Kringle is the best.
CONNIE: Murder Most Sweet is not your first book—what was the title of your first book, and how many books have you written (in what genres?)
LAURA: My first book was the non-fiction humor book, Dated Jekyll, Married Hyde (1997.)After that, I wrote nine more non-fiction humor books, including Thanks for the Mammogram (which is being rereleased this month in a revised and updated version, I’m delighted to say.) I made the move to fiction in 2005 with my first chick-lit novel, Dreaming in Black & White and wrote seven chick lit novels, bringing my total book count to 17. Murder Most Sweet is my 18th book and first mystery.
CONNIE: I am truly impressed! How did you get started writing?
LAURA: I took a journalism class my sophomore year in high school and wrote for the school paper. By my senior year, I was the editor. Years later after spending five years in Europe with the Air Force, and several years afterwards flitting about trying to find myself, I repeated that same process in college, becoming editor of my college paper at 31, then winning an internship on my local paper, and in time, becoming a reporter and a columnist. Always, however, the deepest desire of my heart was to write books, but I was too terrified to try. What if I did and failed? Poof. There goes my lifelong writing dream. Going through cancer and making it out the other side finally pushed me to follow my author dreams. Life is short. I attended a writer’s conference where I made an editor laugh. The following year, when I was 40, he offered me my first book contract for Dated Jekyll, Married Hyde.
CONNIE: I’m in love with that title, Laura. Do you have a favorite book of yours you recommend?
LAURA: In non-fiction, Thanks for the Mammogram! In fiction, Murder Most Sweet tied with Reconstructing Natalie.
CONNIE: I happen to know you’re also an Anglophile like me, and formerly lived in England (my dream!). Where in England did you live, and why? Would you ever live there again?
LAURA: For three years in my twenties, I was stationed at RAF Upper Heyford in beautiful Oxfordshire with the U.S. Air Force. And I would live in England again in a heartbeat. (My fantasy is to someday become a successful bestselling author who can afford to live in a cozy stone cottage in the English countryside for 3-6 months of the year.) It’s nice to have fantasies.
CONNIE: So true. However, rejection is part and parcel of the writing world—do you have any rejection stories you’d like to share with our readers?
LAURA: Thanks for the Mammogram, the book of my heart, was rejected by 14 publishers over a two-year period. Those publishers (all males) were uncomfortable with the idea of breast cancer and humor. Finally, I met a great woman editor at a writing conference who loved it. The 15th time was the charm, and Thanks for the Mammogram was published in 2000.
The first cozy mystery I wrote, Hope, Faith & a Corpse, was rejected by several publishers, so my agent suggested we table it for a while and I write another cozy. I then wrote Murder Most Sweet and happily, Crooked Lane bought both that and Hope, Faith & a Corpse! Thank you, Crooked Lane. I also have a memoir, the book of my soul, that my agent’s been trying to sell for a few years which has been rejected by at least 20 publishers. Although they all agree they “love” the writing, they turned it down due to my lack of platform. (In non-fiction, you must have a “platform”—tons of social media followers, etc.) I haven’t given up, however. As I develop a whole new audience with my cozies, I hope that will help grow my readership and platform and this book of my soul will finally find a publishing home.
CONNIE: What made you decide to write a cozy mystery?
LAURA: I was talking to an editor friend and saying I wanted to write fiction again, but didn’t want to do chick lit, and had no idea what to write. She suggested cozy mysteries. My friend knows that I love books, tea, baked goods, dogs, cozy cottages, gardening, BBC mysteries, England and all things English—most of the things you find in a cozy mystery. After we hung up, I thought about what she’d said and started playing around with a cozy mystery idea. A week later, I sat down and began writing my first cozy.
CONNIE: In Murder Most Sweet, your main character, Teddie St. John, is a breast cancer survivor, like you. Is she based on you?
LAURA: Partially. Teddie and I are both cancer survivors, although Teddie’s only been cancer-free for five years, while I’m grateful to be 28 years cancer free! Teddie and I both opted for reconstruction after our first mastectomy, but once that saline implant popped and deflated, we both had the doctors remove that icky foreign object in our chest. Once we both found out we had pre-cancerous lumps in our remaining breast, we each had a second mastectomy and made the choice to “go flat” and unashamed. Now we’re even once again instead of being lopsided. (There’s a lot to be said for symmetry.) There’s a couple of big differences between Teddie and me, however: She’s in her early forties and single, I’m 63 (although I feel 43) and married.
CONNIE: Teddie is also a baker and makes some delectable desserts that will make readers mouths water. Are you a big baker too?
LAURA: Nope. I must admit the baking gene passed me by. I can do a box-mix birthday cake and brownies, and slice-and-bake cookies, but about the only thing I bake are peanut-butter blossoms (peanut-butter cookies with a Hershey’s Kiss on top) at Christmastime. Luckily, my husband’s an amazing baker! He created many of the mouth-watering recipes in the book and I taste-tested them. I’m a great taste-tester.
CONNIE: You’ve said that you’re an introvert, yet you used to be a speaker on the professional speaking circuit—how did you reconcile the two? Do you miss speaking?
LAURA: I’m definitely an introvert. My favorite thing in the whole world is to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. When I wrote my first humorous non-fiction book a lifetime ago, however, suddenly people started asking me to come speak, which was a surprise. Speaking came naturally to me, however, and as I continued writing non-fiction, I began speaking more and more—particularly once Thanks for the Mammogram released. I spoke to hospitals, women’s groups, and health organizations around the country (including The American Cancer Society and The Susan G. Komen Foundation.) I enjoyed being onstage—(someone once likened me to Robin Williams on speed)—and making people laugh, but afterwards, I couldn’t wait to get to my solitary hotel room and collapse. Rather than being energized by the crowd, I was drained—the sign of a true introvert. I don’t miss being on the professional speaking circuit at all, but I still love speaking to readers and writers at book clubs and writing conferences/conventions. What’s not to love about talking books and writing?
CONNIE: We are on a similar publication path. When does the next book in your Bookish Baker mystery series come out? Do you have any other books on the horizon?
LAURA: Deadly Delights is my second Bookish Baker mystery, releasing in June 2021. Before that, however, I’m launching a new series called Faith Chapel Mysteries. The first book, Hope, Faith & a Corpse, releases in January 2021. I’ve also recently submitted ideas for two more books in each series, so fingers crossed!
CONNIE: Laura, thank you so much for spending time with the Miss Demeanors! We wish you the very best of luck with Murder Most Sweet and with all your writing projects.