Behind the Scenes of “Arsenic and Old Cake”

It’s been a while since I’ve written a “Behind the Scenes” blog post, so I decided this morning it was time to log into the random number generator and pick a book. I was kind of excited to see that I landed on Arsenic and Old Cake because I had a lot of fun writing this book. It’s one of the Piece of Cake mystery series that I wrote under the pen name of Jacklyn Brady.

Arsenic and Old Cake TinyArsenic and Old Cake is the third book in the series in the series and takes Rita on an adventure into a part of New Orleans she hasn’t encountered when the story begins–the Westbank area. And so, without further ado, here are five things you might now know about the book:

#1: I wrote this book only a few years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. While at a spring or fall festival (can’t remember which now), I met a woman from New Orleans who was selling chicory coffee. I bought a cup and spent a pleasant half hour or so talking to her about the coffee and about her city. NOLA 05At the time, I was putting the finishing touches on Cake on a Hot Tin Roof, so I asked her a number of questions about Mardi Gras from the perspective of a local, and then I asked her what she wanted the world to know about her hometown. She told me that she wanted people to know about the unity in the city, about how they’d come together to help one another after the hurricane, and about the support they showed one another. Even though this book is a mystery and (naturally) had to include some people who weren’t exactly stellar citizens, I tried to honor my new friend’s request as I wrote the book.

#2: I was a bit concerned that some people would think I had a lot of nerve writing a cast of characters from an ethnic background that differed from mine, but I couldn’t let that discourage me into being untrue to the characters. I firmly believe that all human beings are driven by the NOLA 03 Unsplashsame wants, needs, dreams, and bottom-line goals, even if our experience of the world differs. It was extremely important to me throughout the series to be true to the diversity of the city, and anyway, the characters were who they were. If I’d tried to turn any of them into somebody else, they would have stopped talking to me–and rightly so. The folks at the Twisted Palms are still some of my favorite characters I’ve ever worked with. I grew really fond of them as I wrote this book.  Just thinking about Lula Belle still makes me smile.

#3: As I often do, I struggled a lot with the plot of this story. One of the hardest things for me aNOLA 02 Unsplashbout writing a mystery novel featuring an amateur sleuth is finding the character’s motivation for getting involved in what ought to be a police investigation. It’s not enough for me to rely on a robust amount of curiosity, my character must have something else driving him/her to investigate on his/her own and to keep going once things start getting a bit dangerous. I can’t remember now whether both daughters were involved in the brainstorming session that led to this story, but I distinctly remember giggling with at least one of them over the idea of this bunch of octogenarians and their shenanigans. I’d introduced Old Dog Leg in the first book in the series, but never intended him to become more than a bit player at the Dizzy Duke until I started plotting this book. Once we settled on the “gang,” I knew Dog Leg had to be part of it.

NOLA 04 Unsplash#4: I tried to keep certain elements from the movie that inspired the title in each of the books in this series. Obviously, this book title was inspired by Arsenic and Old Lace, the classic movie starring Cary Grant. Primrose and Hyacinth are a nod to Mortimer Brewster’s crazy aunts, and Grey Washington was inspired by my favorite character: “Teddy Roosevelt” Brewster.

#5: As always, one of my favorite parts of this book is the relationship between Rita and Miss Frankie, hNOLA 01 Unsplasher almost-ex-mother-i-law and business partner. Family dynamics are endlessly fascinating to me, and the relationship between these two women was always dynamic and interesting to me. I never went into any of the books–this one included–knowing what was going to happen between the two of them. Sometimes Miss Frankie made me laugh, and sometimes she shocked and surprised me, but she never bored me!

And there you have them: 5 things you probably didn’t know about Arsenic and Old Cake before today. The book is available in most book stores and online booksellers. I hope you enjoy it!

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