Someone speaking at a writer’s conference told Josi Kilpack, of Willard, to never write about housewives, because they are too boring.
“So I made a goal that I would write about a housewife, and it wouldn’t be boring,” said Kilpack, in a telephone interview.
She spun a spicy tale of murder and mayhem, liberally sprinkled with interesting characters and a pinch of humor. And, she served it up with recipes that were, well, to die for.
It became a tried-and-true formula for her 10-book Sadie Hoffmiller culinary mystery series, all of which have delectable titles such as “Key Lime Pie,” “Blackberry Crumble” and “Pumpkin Roll.” The latest, “Rocky Road” (Shadow Mountain), comes out this month.
Kilpack will speak about her writing process at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Davis County Library, south branch, 725 Main St., Bountiful. (Doors open at 10:30 a.m., with first-come, first-served seating for the free event.) After her presentation, there will be a short cooking demo based on one of her book’s recipes — with samples.
Copies of her books will be available for sale, and those who already own copies can bring them to be autographed.
Kilpack had written LDS-oriented novels for Utah publishers Cedar Fort Inc. and Deseret Book before she created Sadie, a 50-something retired schoolteacher and widow. She becomes an amateur sleuth when her neighbor is killed while a lemon tart is baking in the oven.
Although the book has no characters or angle associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret Book liked “Lemon Tart” well enough to publish it. And soon, Kilpack was on a roll — cinnamon, pumpkin or otherwise.
So far, her series has sold an estimated 100,000 copies, she said. Most of them are also available on Audible.com, where you pay a monthly fee for audiobooks that can be downloaded onto an iPod or other device.
Over the past 20 years, culinary mysteries have developed a huge following, with writers such as Diane Mott Davidson, Joanne Fluke and Leslie Meier. Most of the protagonists are chefs, caterers or bakers, which stirs up a lot of hazardous storylines with walk-in freezers, food poisoning, deep-fat fryers of sizzling oil, and all those kitchen knives.
In Kilpack’s case, Hoffmiller is not a professional cook, but a good home cook with an appreciation for food.
“I was basing her off the idea of a homemaker,” Kilpack said. “My recipes aren’t gourmet, they’re home-cooking recipes where you have all the ingredients you need in your cupboard. They’re the kind of recipes that anyone can make, and they would be really good.”
She has a “test kitchen” of eight home cooks around the country who test the recipes to make sure they work, and help get the instructions right.
“It was stressful developing the Lemon Tart recipes on my own, so I put out a request on my blog, asking if people wanted to be part of my test kitchen,” Kilpack said. “I had about 20 who responded. I went with the first eight, and I still have six of those original ones cooking with me.”
Kilpack, 39, originally wrote Sadie as closer to her own age, but then decided to age her to her mid-50s (she’s now around 60, as the novels have progressed).
“I wanted her to have life experiences and a sense of wisdom,” she said. “I wanted her to be a mother and very domestic, but if she was younger with young children at home, it would limit the things she could do.”
So Sadie is widowed and struggling with an empty nest, “Because if she had a husband, he’d be telling her what to do and what not to do. Also, I wanted her to have some difficulties in life that make it easy for her easy to relate to other people who are struggling. She’s confident, smart, invested in people, very nurturing, and truly trying to help someone when she gets involved. It works really well for her character.”
Kilpack said culinary mysteries fall into the subgenre of “cozies,” along the lines of “Murder She Wrote.” Most of the violence happens offstage, so they aren’t gory and gruesome, and they don’t revel in darker elements.
“Most readers of cozies are women and they enjoy a female protagonist,” she said. “A lot of us cook and enjoy domestic things, so culinary mysteries appeal to them.”
One of her favorites is “Devil’s Food Cake.” “It’s got some of my favorite recipes in it,” she said. “The story came together easily and it was a lot of fun to write.”
And the title dessert is the chocolate cake recipe she was raised on — one that has been passed down through her family.
Devil’s Food Cake
- 1 cup sour milk (1 cup milk plus 2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice) or 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
For sour milk, mix milk and vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside for five minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except the water and baking soda. Mix until batter is smooth. Add the soda to the boiling water (kids love this part because it bubbles). Add soda/water mixture to batter. Mix well; batter will be thin.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 9-by-13-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes or until middle is set.
If using round cake pans, grease pans well and cut a round of wax paper to fit inside the bottom of the pans to prevent cake from sticking when removed. Let cake cool 5 minutes in pans before turning out onto a wire rack.
Valerie Phillips blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.