Happy Monday, puffs! Or should I say…Hoppy Monday! See what I did there? Yeah, I know…I will stop now. Today I am SO excited to be sharing my first ever author interview. I feel like we are starting this series off strong because if you don’t know who Ellie Alexander is, where have you been!? Ellie is a cozy mystery author, baker, and all-around badass. I will be linking all of her socials below so you can give her a follow. Also, be sure to check out my Instagram for the very awesome giveaway I have going on where one lucky winner will receive the grand prize of a signed copy of Beyond a Reasonable Stout, the latest addition to The Sloan Krause Mystery Series, as well as some other bookish swag! You can also pick up a copy of Beyond a Reasonable Stout at your local book retailer. It is also available in e-book format as well!
Interview with Ellie Alexander
Ellie, can you tell us what inspired you to start writing culinary mysteries? And how you “brewed” up the idea for a beer inspired series?
I have loved mysteries since I was little. In fact, I wrote my first mystery in second grade. I still have it, and I have to say that my handwriting was much, much better back then. It’s interesting that food and mystery pair so well, but I think it has something to do with the formula or recipe for both. It’s about piecing together clues to figure out whodunit in a culinary mystery and that blends beautifully (in my opinion) with sifting through perfect ingredients when baking or cooking. In terms of the beer series, I live in the Pacific Northwest, which is known for its craft beer culture. You can literally walk a block and find a brewpub on every corner. I thought that would be an interesting and unique setting for a mystery. Plus, my husband has been homebrewing for many years and I find that the process of brewing has a lot in common with baking. There are so many flavor profiles and combinations to get right when brewing and then of course there are lots of ways that a beer can go wrong, which makes for great fiction!
When deciding on the setting of your latest series, did Leavenworth come to mind immediately?
I had been toying around with the idea of setting a mystery in brewpub for a while. I knew I wanted my protagonist to be a woman, because I love exploring the idea of a character doing something that’s traditionally been viewed as a “man’s job”. I was visiting Leavenworth for Oktoberfest and suddenly I knew that I HAD to set the series there. It hits all the right notes for this style of mystery. It’s a gorgeous small Bavarian village nestled in the Northern Cascade Mountains with year-round festivals themed around beer. My husband and I were having a pint outside at Icicle Brewing and I read that one of the owners was a woman! It was like the beer gods smiled upon me and said, “Here’s your perfect setting.” I went home and started sketching out ideas right away. Around the same time I read an article about the Pink Boots Society. It’s a group of women who work in every aspect of craft beer and have banded together to support one another. I love that concept of women supporting women, so Sloan, my brewer turned sometimes sleuth was born from there.
The characters in your novels seem so real, how do you keep them so true to life?
I try to pull upon all of my life experiences. The vast majority of my characters are based on people I know or have known. Before I started writing, I worked as a speech therapist in an early intervention program. My caseload included a lot of foster kids and foster parents. Their stories and resolve stayed with me. When I was first trying to figure out who Sloan was (other than an incredible brewer) I thought it would give her some interesting depth if she had been part of the foster system. I always try to have a bigger story and growth arc for my characters and for Sloan that means figuring out how she defines family. Since that’s her ultimate quest, I hope that helps lend some realism to the stories.
Do you ever come up with recipes for your books that don’t end up making the cut?
YES, YES, and YES! You should see my office whiteboard. It is literally packed with so many recipes that haven’t made the final cut. In both my series there’s a lot of food writing. When I’m working on a new manuscript, often whatever comes to mind in the moment is what makes it onto the page. Once I finish a first draft and a few rounds of edits, I’ll take one final pass for the food and beer and really try to figure out which recipes I’m going to focus on. Sadly, that means that there are a plethora of loney recipes waiting to make it into a future book. I think at some point I’m going to have to write a cookbook.
What started your interest in baking and the culinary world?
Like with reading, I started baking at a young age. Food was definitely a love language in our house. Many of my early memories are of being in the kitchen watching my mom kneading bread dough and my dad piping mocha buttercream onto a hazelnut apricot torte. There’s something so sensory and almost therapeutic about baking. I enjoy exploring that in my writing. You have to be present and in the moment when you’re in the kitchen. It’s a place of connection, and it can also be deadly!
Do you have a set writing schedule or process? How long does it typically take you to write your mysteries?
I have a very set schedule for my writing. I write 2,000 words every day. Most mornings, I drop my son off at school and then I’m at my desk until I hit my word count. That translates to writing really fast first drafts. It takes me about six weeks to write a first draft. Once I have a completed draft, I print it and store it away for a few months. I think you need space and distance from your writing in order to see what needs to be fixed and strengthened. I will come back to the first draft after I’ve given myself time away from it and work on edits. That process usually takes another month or two. So typically it takes about six or seven months in total.
When did you realize you had a taste for murder and mysteries?
LOL! For many, many years I wanted to write a book, but had no idea where to start. Let’s just say that I have STACKS of unfinished manuscripts that will never see the light of day. In hindsight, I think those early years of scribbling ideas that quickly died off were so helpful in my writing path. We have to experiment and fail to find our voice. I failed a lot! There’s one story that sticks in my head. My working title was One Dead Toe. That’s not a joke. The only scene that I could visualize is a hospital room with a patient who has frostbite and is losing their toe. Needless to say that story hasn’t ever developed into anything, but it did teach the importance of having a good initial hook (dead toe-dead body etc.) to get the reader excited about turning the page.
Are there any authors that inspire your writing?
How much time do we have? So many authors have inspired my writing. I read anything and everything I can get my hands on from mysteries to sci-fi and historical fiction. Some of my favorite authors include: Ursula Le Guin, Katherine Mansfield, Willa Cather, Jane Austen, P.D. James, and of course the great dame Agatha Christie.
In your opinion, what is the hardest part of being an author?
That’s a great question. I think maybe the biggest challenge for me is trying to extinguish the myth that writing is somehow magical. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when it feels magical and I’m deeply grateful that I get to share stories for a living. However, it’s also work. I sit at my desk every day and don’t leave until I hit my word count. When I first started writing friends and family would assume that because I was writing at home it wasn’t really work. They were sort of put out that I said no to meeting for coffee or going for a walk in the middle of my writing time. I had to develop really firm boundaries around my writing. That process taught me so much about making a commitment to writing, and it’s one piece of advice that I always try to share with new writers–treat it like a job. It’s a super fun job, but it’s a job!
Do you have anything for us to “nibble” on for the upcoming year of 2020? Will you be doing any traveling?
Yes! The 4th book in the Sloan Krause Series, WITHOUT A BREW, is coming out in October. And, the 11th book in the Bakeshop Mysteries, NOTHING BUNDT TROUBLE, releases in June. I will be traveling quite a bit for both books as well as sharing some exciting promotions on social media.
Okay, Ellie, just one more important question…what is your beer of choice?
IPA! Always. It’s the PNW girl in me. The more hops the better!
More about Ellie
Ellie Alexander (also known as Kate Dyer-Seeley) is a Pacific Northwest native. Her love for the Pacific Northwest runs deep. Hence why all of her books (whether she’s writing as Ellie or Kate) are set here. From the Shakespearean hamlet of Ashland, Oregon to the Bavarian village of Leavenworth, Washington to the hipster mecca of Portland, Oregon and a variety of other stunning outdoor locales, the Pacific Northwest is a backdrop for every book and almost becomes another character in each series.
When not writing, you can find her testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouse or brewpubs nearby. You’ll also find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of “research”.
Be sure to follow her for baking videos, giveaways, sneak peeks and more!
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Hoppy Citrus IPA Cupcake Recipe
For the cupcake batter you will need:
- 3/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2-1/2 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 2 tsps Mexican vanilla
- One orange—grate peel into batter and squeeze in a tablespoon of juice and reserve remaining juice for
- ½ cup citrus IPA (I used Tropi Cannon IPA by Heavy Seas Beer, it was perfect!)
- ¼ cup sour cream
For the citrus cream cheese frosting you will need:
- 12 oz cream cheese, cold
- 6 tbsp butter, at room temperature
- 1 tbsp each freshly squeezed orange/lime juice
- 1 tsp each orange/lime zest
- 4 cups powdered sugar
For the beer cupcakes:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line 24 muffin tins with cupcake liners.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3
- Add eggs, beating after each addition then add the vanilla and zest.
- Combine sour cream and beer and alternatively add this mixture and the flour mixture to the
butter/sugar mixture with the mixer on low speed, starting and ending with the flour.
- Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 18 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.
- When cupcakes are done, poke holes in the tops of the cupcakes with toothpicks and brush some beer
on each while still warm.
For the citrus cream cheese frosting:
- Cream together the cream cheese and butter in an electric mixer until smooth and creamy, about 2-3
- Add the citrus juice and zest and gradually add the powdered sugar until well-combined. Beat until
smooth for about 2 minutes.
- Load frosting in a piping bag fit with a large star tip and pipe cupcake tops once cooled.
Recipe yields 24 cupcakes.
And that is it, y’all! I hope you enjoyed this very special edition of A Book & A Bite. If you make these cupcakes please share a photo and tag both Ellie and me on social media! I can’t wait to see what you all come up with.