This week, we’re excited to introduce Guest Chick Leslie Karst, author of the Sally Solari culinary mystery series. Leslie’s appeared on the blog before, but she very modestly talked about her recipe for martini chicken instead of herself, so we wanted to take the opportunity for you all to get to know her a little better!
Marla Cooper: In addition to writing mysteries and whipping up new recipes, I happen to know that you’re also an amazing singer. (No need to deny it; I heard it firsthand.) But until you handed me a copy of your CD at Malice, I had no idea you had a whole secret life as a rock star! Tell me about your band.
Leslie Karst: I’ve had two bands over the years: The first was a new wave rock band with my brother, called Enigma, in the early 1980s, and the second was a country rock band with my sister, called Electric Range, in the early 1990s. (Yes, I believe it’s obligatory to always have a sibling in your band). In both groups we performed songs I wrote, as well as a few cover tunes, and I sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar. We were big on harmonies, and a reviewer once referred to Electric Range as “a sort of Everly Sisters.” Pretty cool, that. (This is why there are so many sibling bands, by the way—because of how genetics allows the voices to blend.)
I did not know that! You mentioned once that you didn’t like memorizing lyrics. Was that ever a challenge?
I’ve been terrible at memorization all my life. In junior high school, I was the only one in the class who failed to successfully recite Poe’s “The Raven,” because I simply could not remember the lines. And I wasn’t much better at memorizing song lyrics—even when I was the one who wrote them. This would have been fine, except for the fact that when I invented new lyrics on the fly during concerts, my poor sister—who was singing harmony—would have to frantically figure out what the heck I was singing and follow along. Luckily, she proved amazingly talented at this little parlor trick.
Your book is set in the restaurant world, and you write about it convincingly. I’m guessing you worked at a restaurant, too?
Indeed I did—several. After college and before I decided to grow up and get a “real” job, I worked as a waitress during the day and played clubs with my band by night. This was not so great for the restaurant owners, who had to put up with a bleary-eyed rock and roller working their breakfast shift, but it did come in quite handy years later when I decided to have my sleuth, Sally Solari, run the front of the house at her father’s restaurant, Solari’s.
Then, years later, once I did have that “real” job—working as a lawyer—I pretty quickly realized I didn’t love it all that much. So I started taking night courses in the local culinary arts program to add some spice to my life. The advanced class involved working at the student restaurant, which is where I got my experience cooking on the hot line in a restaurant kitchen. And yes, it is exhausting but exhilarating, just as I describe it in the books.
What was the worst/weirdest job you ever had?
No competition there: It was without doubt the one I had working for a diaper service, in my early twenties. We’d load the dirty diapers into these enormous, industrial-strength washers, then dry and fold them. I only lasted a couple weeks, even though the pay was actually pretty good. But, well, c’mon: cleaning baby diapers?
You have the good fortune of living part time in Hawaii. What inspired you to move there?
My parents had been spending time on the Big Island of Hawai’i since the early 1980s, and when my wife Robin and I finally visited them there, we learned why they loved the place so: The opportunity to see hot flowing lava—standing so close that you feel the heat like a massive oven whose door has opened before you—is truly life-changing. You are witnessing the sort of geologic occurrence that created our planet: molten rock, like yellow-white fire, pouring forth from the depths of the earth. Robin and I immediately joined my parents as certified lava junkies, and eventually started living half time on the island.
You mentioned you were a lawyer. What kind of law did you practice?
For twenty years I worked as a research and appellate attorney, drafting motions, appeals, and research memos for a civil law firm in Santa Cruz County. It’s kind of like writing a term paper every day of your life—so now you know the reason I switched to writing mysteries.
Do you think studying law is part of what drew you to writing mysteries? They both have the common theme of “justice”…
Working as a research and appellate attorney did lead me to write mysteries, but not for that reason. When drafting a motion or appellate brief for a judge, you’re trying to convince the court to rule in your favor. And the best way to do that is to tell a good story. After years of writing dreary legal briefs, I finally realized I could be inventing my own stories instead—ever so much more fun!
You’re good at a lot of different things — Publishers Weekly described you as a “polymath” — but there’s gotta be something you can’t do. Just to make us feel a little bit better about ourselves, tell us something you’re just not that good at.
Ha! Well, I’m lousy at a good number of things. But the first one that comes to mind is that I’m a complete idiot (or, as they say so poetically in French, je suis nulle—I am zero) regarding most anything having to do with house maintenance. This drives Robin—an exceedingly competent ex-electrician/maintenance worker—nuts. (But then again, since I have her around, there’s not a whole lot of impetus to learn, ya know?)
Our collaboration on La Vie en Rose — you singing beautifully in French and me attempting to accompany you on the ukulele — was one of my favorite memories of Left Coast Crime in Hawaii. Do you speak any other languages?
Although I was officially an English literature student in college, I also studied Spanish, French, and Italian. And I think it’s that same love for language that drives my passion for words in general, and thus for writing. (The Italian has since proved useful in my writing career, since Sally Solari is a fourth generation Italian and some of the older characters in the books still speak the language. The French, not so much—except for that wonderful time with you at Left Coast Crime!)
Okay, bonus round: If you were writing a song about the Chicks, what would you rhyme with Eggatha Chickstie?
If I were to write a song about the Chicks? Okay, I accept that challenge. Here’s a little ditty (sung to the tune of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”) I came up with for the Chicks:
Ahhh, think of all of those red herrings.
Ahhh, think of all of those red herrings.
Pecks at the draft of a novel that’s due in a week,
Tries not to freak.
Ponders her premise,
Wondering how she can fix all the holes in the plot.
What a tight spot.
All of those red herrings,
So many pesky clues.
All of those red herrings,
Which suspect should she choose?
We’ve got to take this act on the road. Thank you so much for joining us today, Leslie! And for everyone else, here’s a taste of Leslie’s second book (pun intended):
A MEASURE OF MURDER, book two in the Sally Solari culinary mystery series (Feb., 2017, Crooked Lane Books).
Sally Solari is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, she joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition: the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident.
Now Sally’s back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin, set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?
“Engaging characters, terrific writing, and a savory blend of musical and culinary erudition…polymath Karst sauces her plot without masking its flavor. And she’s a dab hand with the red herrings.” Publishers Weekly starred review
The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. She now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i.