In real life, food and drink often set the mood and enhance the memories of any moment in time. When I think of my teen years, I remember eating french fries and drinking diet coke with my girlfriends at the lake when we were supposed to be in class. For my twenties, it’s greasy breakfast food at a dirty diner after bars. In my thirties, it’s me sweating over the menu for family gatherings that will please both adults and toddlers. (By my forties and fifties, I was too exhausted to care, but that’s another story!)
And just like in real life, authors incorporate food and drink to enhance a scene. Besides describing the physical setting, what the characters eat or drink can help the reader better connect with the characters and, thus, the story. In my cozy mystery, The Great Jewel Robbery, what my characters eat is a deliberate decision on my part and often shows a part of their personality.
Emma, the main character, and Grace, her sidekick, have been best friends since college despite being from different worlds. Emma grew up with her mom in a modest home, while Grace grew up with the super-wealthy of Chicago. Edging toward their late-twenties, they are both reporters for the Chicago Tribune, though Emma covers Sports and Grace writes for the Life & Style section of the paper. They are spending the weekend at a lakeside mansion so that Grace can cover a black-tie charity event hosted by a good friend of her parents. Everyone is having a great time until the last item to be auctioned off—a multimillion-dollar necklace—is stolen.
Grace’s boyfriend was initially supposed to be her date for the weekend, but Emma became her plus one due to the couple breaking up. Emma frets over going because, though she loves Grace like a sister, she isn’t comfortable at fancy parties. The reader first sees this when the women stop at a mini-mart to buy snacks for their hotel room. Emma plans to buy a glazed donut, but another customer buys it first. When she complains to Grace, her friend is confused:
“Emma,” she said in her best schoolmarm voice. “You realize that Chef Porter will be laying out a whole table of luscious desserts for us to gorge ourselves on tonight?”
I did, but I didn’t know how to tell Grace that sometimes the frou-frou desserts of her people turned me off. Sometimes a girl just wanted a glazed donut. It was safe and comforting, and right now, I needed all the comfort I could get.
I also use food in my cozy mystery to show the conflict between two siblings. Edward Braun, a frequent name in the Business section of the Trib, is the host for the charity event and owner of the newly restored 1901 Bedford limestone mansion. Unfortunately, his younger brother Walter has not found the financial success that Edward has. Walter owns over thirty hot dog stands in Chicago but has never been embraced by high society. He openly resents the snub, and the brothers rarely pass up an opportunity to insult one another.
During a scene before the gala is to begin, Walter criticizes Chef Porter’s cooking and predicts that the charity event will be a disaster. Edward can’t resist putting Walter in his place:
Edward tapped a finger on his lips and pretended to be in deep thought. “Chef Porter, do you have any yellow mustard? Maybe that will satisfy my little brother’s epicurean taste.”
Minor characters also interact with food to enforce their personalities. Edward’s son Jackson has brought Charlotte as his date. She’s beautiful with a perfect figure and also dismissive of everyone around her. Despite several buffet tables of gourmet food, Jackson brings her a small plate of raw vegetables. Charlotte is like the food she prefers—cold and hard.
If you like cozy mysteries, I hope you will give The Great Jewel Robbery a try. The series continues with Murder Up To Bat, where Emma and Grace need to prove their best friend didn’t kill a local softball coach. Book 2 will hopefully be available in 2022.
Please visit my website or Amazon Author page to see the other books that I’ve written. If you like romances or mysteries, you might find your next great read!
Thank you for having me on your blog, Shelley!
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your food for thought, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth McKenna’s love of books reaches back to her childhood, where her tastes ranged from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to Stephen King’s horror stories. She had never read a romance novel until one Christmas when her sister gave her the latest bestseller by Nora Roberts. She was hooked from page one (actually, she admits it was the first love scene).
Her novels reflect her mercurial temperament and include historical romances, contemporary romances, cozy mysteries, and dark mysteries. With some being “clean” and some being “naughty,” she has a book for your every mood.
Elizabeth lives in Wisconsin with her understanding husband and Sidney, the rescue dog from Tennessee. When she isn’t writing, reading, editing, or walking the dog that never tires, she’s sleeping.
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