Spotlight on G.P. Gottlieb
We were thrilled to have the chance to interview G.P. Gottlieb, a true renaissance woman, for our October Spotlight feature. G.P. is a highly accomplished teaching/performing musician, a fabulous cook, the host of New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network, and the author of two (soon to be three) cozy mysteries with a delicious culinary edge. We spoke to G.P. about all of this and more.
Your books sound delicious. How did you come to develop Alene, the protagonist in both novels?
Alene is the single mother of three children and owner of the Whipped and Sipped Café, but I first started with the character of her best friend/pastry chef, Ruthie. While Alene is filled with self-doubt, has made mistakes in her life, and is suspicious of everyone around her, Ruthie is morally certain, sure of herself, and the kind of person I wish I was more like. She’s a combination of all the friends I’ve had whose decisions I’ve admired, the ones who know what to say and how to respond to even the worse circumstances. Alene adores her but sometimes wishes Ruthie weren’t quite so perfect.
Please tell us a bit about the plot in both books.
The plots of both books are typical of traditional cozy mystery—someone is murdered, but if it’s on a dining room rug, you find out immediately that nobody ever liked that rug. And although solving the murder is important for many reasons (including the invariable other crimes that pop up), characters interact, Alene continues to deal with raising children and taking care of her father, the café kitchen continues to serve delicious-sounding, healthy food, and Ruthie’s recipes appear in the back.
Both novels have a lot of characters. Do you build out an outline with information about each character before you get going, or do you build the characters organically as they come on stage, so to speak?
Now working on my third book in the series, I realize that although I like to start with an idea of how the book ends, the telling of the story and building of characters is a long, slow process that involves a lot of detours. When readers comment about my many characters, I like to point out that Agatha Christie regularly included over fourteen names in a first chapter. Also, my books are set in Chicago, in a neighborhood like the one where I live, in which I pass by or interact with dozens of people every single day (except during the pandemic!).
In writing Battered and Smothered, you have married your love for writing with your love for cooking/baking. But you are also an accomplished musician. Do you envision another series in the future with a musician as protagonist?
I’ve sooo missed attending concerts and opera during the pandemic and have thought about incorporating some of my love of music in future stories, but if I hint at a murder by alluding to the horrible choice Scarpia gives Tosca, for example, how many readers are going to get the reference?
Both cooking/baking and composing/performing allow for interaction with fans. Now that you are writing, do you miss that kind of interaction?
Cooking, baking, practicing an instrument, composing music, reading, and writing are all solitary pursuits, but I love cooking or baking with friends, jamming with other musicians just for the sake of making music, and discussing the writing process or sharing tips with fellow authors (I’m on the Sisters in Crime Chicagoland board—helping with communications). But my favorite interactions are the almost weekly podcasts I do as host for New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network. It’s like having my own personal book group with the author, and I try to focus on literary authors of independently published books. It’s an honor to see one of my interviews highlighted on the Literary Hub each month and great publicity for authors. I think authors should help other authors!
Some of the world’s most beloved movies have been about food: Like Water for Chocolate, Big Night, Diner, and (personal favorite) Babette’s Feast. Which of your books would make a better movie? And if that book were to find its way into the film world, would you have an interest in overseeing the sound track? And if yes, would you include any existing songs and what would they be?
Warning: I spend lots of time imagining tracks to the movies of my stories! For Smothered: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery, my second book, I used Vivaldi. For Battered: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery, my first book, I chose the third movement of Brahm’s Symphony in F Major as the trailer music—it’s been one of my favorite pieces of music for half a century. Imagine my surprise when Carlos Santana and Dave Mathews came up with “Love of My Life” in 1999, based on that very movement. Now imagine a murder, and one of these versions is playing, and somebody makes a connection.
Tell us about your next book.
It’s May 2020, and the pandemic is raging across the world. Chicago is, like everywhere else, on lockdown. People are protesting across the country—mostly peaceful, some violent—and everyone is on edge. Alene’s children are stuck at home, taking turns signing into school and growing increasingly stressed. Her father’s caregiver is in the hospital, struggling with the virus. The Whipped and Sipped Café is open only for delivery and carry out, sales are down, and Alene has had to let employees go. One morning, across-the-hall neighbors Kacey and her boyfriend, Kofi, ask Alene for a ride to the site of a burned building so that Kofi can scavenge for the materials he uses to create his sculptures. He stumbles across a dead body in the rubble. Why is he afraid for anyone to find out about it? Charred, Burned, or Roasted (haven’t yet decided—please weigh in on my website https://gpgottlieb.com): A Whipped and Sipped Mystery Book 3 has an ETA of May 2022.
G.P. Gottlieb earned a B.S. in Piano and an M.M. in Voice sometime in the past century (Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and New England Conservatory of Music). Over the years, she performed, taught, composed, and administered while writing stories, songs, and several unwieldy manuscripts. She also fed her family, took classes at the French Pastry School, and developed lots of healthful recipes. Later she turned to writing in earnest, melding two passions, nourishment for mind and body and recipe-laced murder mysteries. She is working on the third novel in the Whipped and Sipped Mystery series, serves on the board of Sisters in Crime Chicagoland, and hosts New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network.