How did you come to be interested in the Lei Crime Kindle World?
I was recommended to Toby by a friend, M. L. Doyle, who has written two books for the Lei Crime Kindle World. My current books, part of The Trudie Fine Mystery Series, are cozy culinary mysteries. Some of Toby’s characters lend themselves to the culinary genre, and I was quite flattered that Toby reached out to me to write this book. As in my other books, I have included recipes in the back of the book for dishes served in the story.
Tell us how your story links to the Lei Crime Series.
For my main character, I chose Anna Scatalina, mother of FBI Agent Marcella Scott, the protagonist featured in Toby’s book, Stolen in Paradise. In that book, Anna and her husband Egidio have followed their daughter to Hawaii to be near her. Anna has been taking culinary classes at the University of Hawaii.
In my novella, Pineapples and Pearls, Anna opens a café in Waikiki, where she takes on a protégé, a Hawaiian surfer named Makoa. But the story focuses on Anna’s niece, Paolina, who flees from her abusive boyfriend in New Jersey hoping for a safe haven with Anna and Egidio in Honolulu. Paolina, who’s been working in her family’s Italian restaurant for years, helps out at the café while trying to infuse some traditional Italian dishes onto Anna’s menu.
In the meantime, Paolina fears for her life, certain that her ex-boyfriend will follow her. No one really knows if, when or where Gino will show up, but everyone is on alert. With Marcella out of town at a conference in Maui, Anna enlists the help of her daughter’s fiancé, Detective Marcus Kamuela of the Honolulu PD.
The Lei Crime Series are police procedural mysteries with a twist of romance. What genres do you explore in your story?
As with my other books, I have continued the police procedural culinary genre, although this is not a culinary mystery per se, nor is it a cozy. This story has more of an edge to it because of the vicious abuse Paolina has suffered from Gino. She no longer trusts any man. However, as Paolina and Makoa become friends, she begins to feel more comfortable with him. He inspires her to spread her wings in life, as he is doing, and he teaches her to surf. Romantic sparks develop between the two.
The Lei Crime Series is set in Hawaii, but these novellas could be set anywhere. Tell us about where you set your story, and why?
With Anna Scatalina as my character choice, I set Pineapples and Pearls in Honolulu where she is. Anna is originally from Italy but raised Marcella in New Jersey. Paolina was born and raised in New Jersey as well, and there are some short scenes that depict her life there. But the bulk of this story takes place on the balmy shores of Waikiki, the location of Anna’s Café as well as Anna and Egidio’s condo where they live.
Tell us a little about your main characters. Why do you think readers will like them?
When I read Stolen in Paradise and a little about Anna Scatalina, I fell in love with her and her nurturing personality. I felt she was someone who wants to take care others, to feed their souls as well as their bodies, which is probably why Marcella felt so smothered by her. Anna is also endearing by the way she dresses; blessed with a great body, she knows how to maximize it. And with her husband Egidio in the shoe import business, Anna’s extensive shoe collection in every style and color under the sun made her a delightful character to describe.
Makoa has an old soul and seems wise beyond his years. He is also trustworthy and loyal both as a friend and as an employee. His quest for something beyond his family’s pineapple plantation is something Paolina never realized she was looking for herself.
Paolina is the victim in this story, and I think readers will feel as protective of her as do Anna, Egidio, and Makoa. She is a talented cook who likes staying close with family and friends. Her mistake was getting involved with the wrong person. The pearls she wears around her neck and clutches in times of stress become a character of their own.
What major theme comes across the clearest in your story? Is this a theme found consistently in your other works?
In this book, I explored the theme of abuse. The story focuses on the physical and psychological abuse that Paolina suffers from her boyfriend, Gino. However, it also looks at the abuse from the abuser, Gino’s perspective. That he was raised by abusive parents drove him to grow up an abuser himself. He had to learn to survive on the streets. Paolina represented someone from the other side of the tracks, a life he desperately wanted. To lose her was to lose that chance. But the thought of losing her only drove him to further abuse.
In my Trudie Fine Mystery Series, I push the envelope a little by touching on issues not usually written about in the Cozy genre. Although abuse was not one of the issues, in the first book, A Fine Fix, one of the characters chooses an abortion. The second book, Fine Dining, focuses on an interracial relationship, and in the third book, Fine Arts, two of the characters have a lesbian relationship. All of these are merely incidental to the stories in the books, never specifically planned. As I wrote the characters and clarified them in my mind, all of these issues became very natural to the story. They are part of the fabric of our society, so in my mind, why not write about them?
Share some of your story about becoming a writer.
From childhood, I’ve always loved reading and writing, whether in journals, short stories or poetry. Then as a wife and young mother, I started writing a contemporary novel and worked on it for several years without every bringing it to publication. During that time, I kept working on honing my skills by taking fiction classes, going to conferences, joining two critique groups, and attending a one-week writer’s workshop every summer in North Carolina. It was at the writer’s workshop that I came up with my character, Trudie Fine. As I developed her, my first cozy culinary mystery began to take shape. I’d never read a cozy culinary mystery and didn’t even know the genre existed until I began writing them.
I have had short fiction and poetry published in literary journals and anthologies and continue to enjoy reading and writing literary fiction.
Do you have a background related to your writing? What makes you interesting outside of your books? Authors are often some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met!
I will be retiring soon from my full-time job working as an executive assistant at a very large non-profit senior living facility comprised of a campus of two nursing homes, two independent living residences, an assisted living and a memory care facility, as well as a very impressive post-acute rehab center. Some of my short fiction focuses on older adults, who are often dismissed so easily by our society, but who have had full, rich, and interesting lives. We’ve had a famous archaeologist, a famed photographer, even a cattle auctioneer, as well as over twenty Holocaust survivors, among other impressive individuals living on our campus. What inspiration for my stories!
In my first career out of college, I taught first and second grade, then stayed home with my children before going back to work.
One of my passions is food, cooking, cookbooks, and watching cooking shows on TV. That is why the culinary genre is such a pleasure for me to write. It’s no accident that Trudie Fine, the main character in my mystery series, is a caterer in the DC area (where I am from).
What are you working on next, aside from the novella in the Lei Crime Series Kindle World?
I will be starting on the next book in my culinary mystery series as well as a follow-up book to my Lei Crime Kindle World novella, “Pineapples and Pearls” in which Paolina and Makoa’s story, as well as Anna’s, continues.
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