Midwesterner turned Californian Laura Jensen Walker arrived on the cozy mystery scene in the middle of a pandemic with not one but two new series. Murder Most Sweet, the first in her Bookish Baker Mystery Series, was released in September 2020 to stellar reviews. Now comes Hope, Faith, & A Corpse, the first in her Faith Chapel Series, starring Episcopal priest Pastor Hope (January 2021).
Laura and I met online when we discovered we were both born in the Danish community of Racine, Wisconsin, and share a passion for authentic Danish kringle. (If you don’t know what that is, you really need to find out!) We also share a love for the British Isles and for great mysteries, both reading and writing them. I recently caught up with Laura and asked her about her new series.
Laura, how did you come up with the idea to write a cozy mystery starring a woman Episcopal priest?
When I began writing my first cozy (A Grave Affair, featuring a recently divorced woman in her forties who moved to a small town to start over), there was a minor woman Episcopal priest character. As I continued writing, that woman priest made it quite clear to me that she was a main character deserving of her own story. And she was right! I wound up scratching A Grave Affair (although I did pull out a few things to use in my clerical mystery) and writing Pastor Hope’s story instead. My agent confirmed that a mystery featuring a woman priest as my accidental sleuth was much more interesting.
Characters do elbow their way into the spotlight on occasion. You’ve written several books, both fiction and non-fiction. How many have you written altogether, and what number is Hope, Faith, & a Corpse?
I’ve written twenty books—ten non-fiction humor books and ten novels. Hope is my nineteenth. Number twenty, Deadly Delights (A Bookish Baker Mystery), comes out in June. Wow. Looking at my answer, it’s hard to believe I’ve written twenty books already. Hopefully, that’s just the beginning.
I’m impressed! Quite an accomplishment. Let’s talk more about Hope, Faith, & A Corpse. In the first chapter, Pastor Hope stumbles over a dead body in the columbarium. I know I could Google it to find out, but what is a columbarium? It’s not exactly a word you hear every day.
A columbarium is a building or a room with niches where funeral urns are stored. They can be located within a mausoleum, chapel, stand-alone building, or wall, either indoors or outdoors. They’re basically a wall crypt, which gives the family of the dearly departed a respectful place to visit their loved ones’ remains. The first time I heard the word columbarium was about a decade ago when we began attending a neighborhood Episcopal church.
As in Murder Most Sweet, your main character in your second cozy is also a dog owner. I take it you’re a dog lover as I am. Have you always been one?
I’m very much a dog lover, but that wasn’t always the case. I didn’t grow up with dogs, and back in my younger, prissier days, I didn’t like the idea of dog hair and the messes a dog might leave in the house. That all changed when my husband and I got our first rescue dog, Gracie, about twenty-five years ago. I fell in love and became a dog mom. Gracie crossed the Rainbow Bridge more than a decade ago, but we now have our sweet rescue Mellie, a Tibetan spaniel mix, who is our beloved canine daughter. I can’t imagine my life without a dog now—they fill the house with so much joy and love.
Another of our shared interests is the British tradition of afternoon tea. In one of the key scenes in Hope, Faith, & A Corpse, Pastor Hope hosts an English tea at the church for the women of the community. I know you lived in England years ago. Have you hosted English teas, and what do you usually serve?
I love hosting English teas for my friends and family and look forward to doing so again when the pandemic is over. A mixture of sweet and savory food items is usually placed on a three-tiered stand. I have a simple metal one that holds pretty English china plates on each tier. The bottom tier is usually reserved for savories (dainty tea sandwiches of cucumber, chicken salad, salmon, egg salad, etc., although other savory items can also be used—mini quiche, puff pastry bites, and the like). The middle tier is the scone tier—I usually like to offer two kinds of scones—a plain, classic English scone and a fruit scone. Having lived in England, I confess to being a scone snob. The scones must be proper English scones, not those big dry things you find in coffee shops. English scones are then sliced in half and served with jam and Devonshire (or clotted) cream or lemon curd and cream. The final top tier holds bite-sized sweets—pretty petit fours, truffles, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and the like.
Okay, so I have to ask: how do you eat your scones—jam first with cream on top, or cream first topped by jam?
In my opinion, the proper way is jam on the bottom, cream on top. There’s a longtime rivalry between Devon and Cornwall on the way scones are eaten. In Devon, they place the cream on the scone and the jam on top of the cream; whereas the Cornish way has the jam as the first layer, topped by the cream. The Queen eats her scones the Cornish way also—jam first, cream second, so I’m in good company.
Pastor Hope is a tea lover, and I know you are too. What’s your favorite tea?
My favorite is PG Tips with milk and sugar, followed closely by Yorkshire Tea or a good Earl Grey. I like basic black English tea. I’m not a fan of fruit or herbal teas.
Hope is also a fan of old movies, and you include a list of some of her favorites at the back of the book. What’s your favorite old movie—if you can narrow it down to just one.
I can’t narrow it down to one, so I’ll give you my Top 5 instead (although they change, depending on my mood): The Best Years of Our Lives. Born Yesterday. Casablance. To Catch a Thief. The African Queen.
Apple Springs, California, the fictional town in Hope, Faith, & A Corpse, is full of quirky characters. Are they based on people you know? How do you come up with these fun characters?
My characters aren’t specifically based on people I know. Sometimes they’re an amalgamation of many different people all rolled into one; other times I’ll take an element or characteristic of someone I’ve met or known and add it to the character I’m creating. For instance, years ago when I was a reporter, I met someone who had an unusual collection hobby (at least it was unusual to me), so I took that quirky hobby and wove it into one of the characters in Hope. And no, I won’t say who it is or what that character collected because it will spoil the surprise.
When does your next book come out? Do you have any other books on the horizon?
My second Bookish Baker mystery, Deadly Delights, releases in June. I also recently started working on some historical fiction (a first for me). I’ve been wanting to write historical fiction for years but wasn’t sure how to begin. Over the holidays, the opening scene flashed into my head, and the words began to flow. It’s still early days, though, so I can’t say anything more about it yet. How’s that for rousing your curiosity?
I am curious, Laura. I love historicals and have thought about writing one myself. I can’t wait to hear more.
Thank you for stopping by Miss Demeanors today. We wish you the very best with both series.
Laura Jensen Walker has loved mysteries ever since she read Trixie Belden in the fourth grade in Racine, Wisconsin. A former journalist and the author of several books, including her first cozy, Murder Most Sweet, Laura lives in Northern California with her husband and canine-daughter Mellie, where she sings in the choir of her neighborhood Episcopal church. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Hope, Faith, & a Corpse is her second cozy.