Leslie Karst on ‘Dying for a Taste’
A lot goes on behind the scenes before a new book hits the shelves. Debut mystery author Leslie Karst talks about her path to publishing and the benefits of working with a developmental editor (who in case this happens to be Shelf Pleasure’s own Kristen Weber).
Kristen: I felt so lucky to work on the manuscript for Dying for a Taste. Leslie, can you share your process of writing before you came to me? And what made you take the leap to work with a development editor?
Leslie: It took over two years to write the first draft of the book, and then another three to rewrite it. I was fortunate enough to have some insightful beta readers who critiqued the early version and helped me see where it needed reworking, but even after these revisions the manuscript was still “not quite there,” according to passes I continued to receive from literary agents.
After more than 80 rejections I was starting to have serious doubts—about myself as a writer as well as the book—but decided I’d give it one last shot by hiring a developmental editor. I needed someone who could not only help improve the manuscript, but who could also be objective, and let me know if it was worth continuing to send out. Fortunately for me, I ended up with the fabulous Kristen Weber!
Kristen: I so vividly remember you calling me to discuss feedback you received from agents. Tell us about the process of securing an agent–and finally a book deal!
Leslie: After this rewrite, I started querying agents again. I too remember calling you—and being perhaps a little too whiny—because I still had yet to receive an offer of representation. And what you told me truly helped: “You can get hundreds of rejections,” you said, “and many writers do. But remember: It only takes one yes.”
Heartened by this encouragement, I forged on with my search, and within a month or so I finally got “that phone call,” from Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Management. She’s a former editor herself, and steered me through further revisions before pitching the book to publishers. It took about nine months of edits, pitches, and then some further edits, but I ultimately landed a deal with Crooked Lane Books, a terrific new crime imprint started by some folks from Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press.
Kristen: One of my favorite aspects of Dying for a Taste is how nicely you blend all of the restaurant and delicious food details with a mystery that keeps us guessing. What came first, the idea of a restaurant setting or writing a mystery, wherever it was set?
Leslie: I’d had a vague concept of writing a culinary mystery for many years, but it wasn’t until one day when I was out jogging that the idea for Dying for a Taste came to me all in a rush. My town had long been a sleepy beach community, home to Italian fishermen and retirees, but by the turn of the new century Santa Cruz was teeming with hipsters, hippies, and urban professionals. And along with them, the food revolution had descended full-force upon the surprised old-timers. What would happen, I wondered, if a local Santa Cruz gal suddenly found herself caught between the world of her family’s traditional, old-fashioned Italian restaurant, and that of the newly-arrived, politically-correct food activists?
Kristen: Your heroine, Sally Solari, quits her job to help her dad run his old-school, Italian style eatery. You’re an attorney who went to cooking school. What other similarities do you and Sally share?
Leslie: Sally and I are both recreational cyclists, and we share the love of dogs, the Beatles and Elvis Costello, the Giants baseball team, single-barrel bourbons, and of course food.
But one of the best things about being a writer is that you get to give your characters things you don’t possess, but might like to—hence Sally’s tall, lanky build; her cool car; and her Italian heritage.
Kristen: All I need to edit is my laptop, some kind of candy for substance (M&Ms preferred) and my co-editor, my pug Sampson, curled up and snoring nearby. What are your three essentials for writing?
Leslie: Coffee, quiet, and computer (couldn’t resist the alliteration; otherwise I would have also said my laptop).
Kristen: What can readers expect next from you?
Leslie: I just turned in the draft of my sequel, tentatively called Listen to the Murder. My plan is to write a Sally Solari Mystery concerning each of the senses, and in this second book she joins a local chorus that will be performing the Mozart Requiem (a work which is full of its own secrets and mysteries). But have no fear—the books will all continue to feature prominently the food, the restaurants, and the recipes!
Learn more and order your copy of Dying for a Taste here.
About Leslie Karst: The daughter of an academic and a potter, Leslie attended Stanford Law School and later worked as a research and appellate attorney. She also received a degree in culinary arts from a local community college. Now retired from the law, Leslie and her wife Robin split their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawaii. Dying for a Taste is her first novel. Visit Leslie at www.lesliekarstauthor.com.
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