Where would you find an interior decorator, her tea-leaf reading best friend, and a hot fudge sauce recipe to die for?

Episode 40 Cassie PageIn Darling Valley, of course!

Today my guest, Cassie Page, shares with us her motivation and inspiration for writing the Darling Valley cozy mysteries, featuring amateur sleuth and interior designer, Olivia M. Granville (OMG).

We talk about her love of cooking (and her over 500 cookbooks!) and why she chose not to write culinary cozy mysteries, but instead created the fictional Darling Valley just outside her home of San Francisco.

I also want to mention that Vered Ehsani, who was my guest on It’s a Mystery Podcast episode 21, has a fun giveaway she wanted my listeners to know about. To celebrate the launch of her new Cozy Tea Shoppe Mysteries, she’s giving away three handmade African tea cozies. Click here to learn more and enter the giveaway.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Cassie Page, and all her books on her website CassiePage.com. Follow her on Facebook at CassiePageBooks.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Cassie’s books on Amazon
  • For the recipe for The Salted Caramel’s delicious hot fudge sauce, go to CassiePage.com and sign up for Cassie’s newsletter
  • Wikipedia page about the town of Darling and Sir Charles Henry Darling, who it was named after

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.

Transcription of Interview with Cassie Page

Alexandra: Hi, Mystery Readers. I am Alexandra Amor. This is It’s a Mystery Podcast and I am here today with Cassie Page. Hi, Cassie.

Cassie: Hi. How are you, Alexandra?

Alexandra: Very well, thank you. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Cassie: It’s my pleasure.

Alexandra: Let me just give our listeners a bit of an introduction to you.

Cassie Page is a writer living in San Francisco. She has published more than 50 books including hard backs and paperbacks, but most of her work is available as e-books. She’s written in several genres, but focuses on her favorite–Cozy Mysteries–and that’s why she’s here with us today.

She has two series, the “Darling Valley Cozy Mysteries” set in the fictional upscale town of Darling Valley in Marin County and the “Tuesday Tea Leaves Cozy Mysteries.” The second of which is due later this year, 2017, and is set in Hollywood.

Apart from writing, Cassie love the food scene in San Francisco, especially the one taking place in her kitchen where she loves cooking and researching recipes. This blows me away, her cookbook collection numbers over 500. So I might have to ask you a little bit about that.

Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about Olivia Granville and her world in Darling Valley?

Cassie: Well, Olivia M. Granville, OMG for short.

f my alter ego. When I decided to write Cozy Mysteries and I was looking at the various characters that were populating that world, there were so many food cozies and food cozies would seem like a natural for me because my background is in food. I have written many cookbooks, I’ve had a cooking school, caterer. I had my very first cookbook many many years ago. My very first book was a cookbook and I have a great love of cooking and food.

As you said, I have collected in my life well over 500 cookbooks. But it just seems like there were so many food culinary cozy mysteries and I wanted to do something different. And another love of mine is decorating and antiques, and the decorative arts which if you can get a little bit of a glimpse of my living room here, it shows.

So I thought I would create a character who liked the decorative arts. Olivia became an interior decorator and architect, with a love of antiques. I picked a town in Marin County which is outside of San Francisco, in the Bay Area, San Anselmo which is considered the antique capital of Northern California, has something like, 65 antique shops. And I have put down a good bit of cash there. So that was the idea for the town of Darling Valley.

And Darling came from…I know it seems very cutesy, but I had been on a trip to South Africa to visit a very dear friend of mine and she was living at the time outside of Cape Town in a town called Darling which I thought, “Oh, that’s a little cutesy.” Well, it turned out the Darling was named after Captain Darling who was a sea captain who traveled up and down the west coast of South Africa. And he founded the town of Darling which is in the Wine Country. And I had such a wonderful time visiting my friend and visiting South Africa that I made my fictional town Darling Valley.

In the actual history of San Francisco Bay Area, we had during the gold rush an egg war because there was an influx of gold miners coming and there was no food. Because before the gold rush San Francisco had like a thousand people and there was no food to feed all of these gold miners. You know, all of a sudden we had like, 40,000 people and the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, about 20 miles, and they had millions of birds. So these sea captains would go out and steal the eggs, and they had egg wars. I mean, they actually had a canon out there.

I made my Captain Darling one of the fictional egg captains who stole the eggs and that history, I like to put a little bit of history. So that’s where my Darling Valley came from, it was inspired by the Captain Darling and the egg wars.

Olivia has escaped from Los Angeles after a failed love affair and she found this very picturesque Darling Valley and she set up shop. And Darling Valley is the retreat of the billionaires from Silicon Valley, which is the techpreneurs in San Francisco. And I decided that the Wall Street Journal would call Darling Valley, “the billionaires’ hollow” because it was filled with billionaires who were building these enormous mansions and Olivia decided she would renovate them and she would make a killing.

But then she decided all of these dead bodies were showing up and people were blaming her for these dead bodies. And in the course of having to exonerate herself and save her business she met this very hunky detective in town. So there is a little bit of a romance in each of the mysteries and this relationship develops with each of the mysteries.

And when she was in Los Angeles she developed a best friend whose name is Tuesday. And Olivia is a little bit buttoned up, she is very well dressed and she’s a little bit corporate. And so she fits in with all of the billionaires and the society people in Darling Valley.

I decided she needed a friend who is the exact opposite. So Tuesday is a breath of fresh air in these stories. She is a bit of a wild character, she reads tea leaves, she likes the occult, she always comes with a different color hair, and she has very bizarre clothes. And she’s a little bit of embarrassment to Olivia except that they are sisters under the skin and they absolutely adore one another.

Tuesday always happens to visit just on the eve of one of these murders and they solve these murders themselves together. And Tuesday became so popular with the readers that I developed a series as a spin-off.

Alexandra: Yes, yeah. And we’ll talk about that in just a minute.

Tell us a bit more about Olivia’s love interests, this detective.

Cassie: Well, the detective, I like to go off beaten track a little bit. So the detective’s name is Matt and that’s short for Gurmeet Richards, and Gurmeet is a Punjabi Indian. And Gurmeet came to me because in the course of my publishing books, I became acquainted with a Scotsman whose name was Gurmeet and he is a Punjabi-Scotsman who writes books and we sort of have a little exchange about books.

I thought it was interesting. And he was a Scotsman, but his heritage was Punjabi-Indian. And we talked about food and so that was intriguing. I decided that my hunky detective was going to have a beautiful Punjabi mother and a very are straight-laced English father. And that he was going to be Harvard educated and his father was very wealthy, but Matt didn’t want to go down that road.

He wanted to be in law enforcement and he ended up in Darling Valley. He’s a bit of an oddball and he has this mother who’s was not at all happy that Olivia is on the scene and is just looking serious and she’s not gonna have Punjabi grandchildren. She’s has to get used to the fact that she’s going to have Olivia probably giving her American grandbabies. So that’s one of the things that develops.

And I’ve really enjoyed looking into Matt’s background as having an English father who went to India and met his wife. And he went to the London School of Economics and they ended up in America and raised their family. And Matt has a sister, Tasmania, who is very beautiful and she traveled to Darling Valley with him.

Tasmania and Olivia become friends, so they have their little family group there. And in the most recent mystery, “A Second Coat of Murder”, Olivia is about to meet Matt’s family for the first time and she has everything set so that she’ll make a good impression on Matt’s mother. And of course everything fells apart when another mother and another murder and you know, all of the plans fall apart. And Olivia is thrown into a tizzy again and Tuesday shows up in another outlandish costume.

Alexandra: They sound like such a colorful collection of characters and you obviously are very fond of them. They seem to be very real to you and they’ve all got backgrounds.

Is that kind of character development one of the things you enjoy about writing?

Cassie: Well, yes. As I said earlier, I don’t just write cozy mysteries, although I’ve become very attached to them. I started out writing literary novels. I have a collection of Irish history and some short stories, and I always get very attached to my characters.

When I first started writing cozy mysteries it was a surprise to me because I hadn’t thought of myself as a mystery writer and I did it sort of as a lark, someone suggested it to me. And then I found that I was taking these people very seriously and there’s an element of humor and lightheartedness in many cozy mysteries not all.

But a cozy mystery differs from a serious mystery or dark mystery and that there is no blood and gore, you know, all murders and crimes take place off scene. And it’s really solving a puzzle who did it.

Alexandra: Yes, right.

Cassie: And so that became intriguing to me, how I could setup a murder and then kind of fool the reader until the very end. And sometimes fooling myself. I would setup this murder and then I had to figure out who did it.

Sometimes I come to the end of the book having to figure out who did it. I would have all of these red herrings and that became interesting to me. But I found myself getting really interested in these characters. And the writing of the book has become much more serious to me than I expected.

Alexandra: Wow. So they’re kind of close to your heart now.

Cassie: They really are, they really are. And I like to put, like, sometimes I’m very cozy mysteries and they are just very light hearted, and there isn’t very much. And there are various capers that, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, but you know, they sort of take you out of your everyday life.

I have kind of serious streak to me although I very much like to laugh and have a good time. But I like to put something just a little bit meaty in between the lines and so there’s a little bit of history in each of my books. And so, I enjoy that as well.

Northern California has a lot of Native American history, a lot of archaeological history. I mean, the history of Northern California goes back 30,000 years. There have been artifacts. And in one of my mysteries a body is dug up and it turns it’s connected to native lands. So I put a little bit of that, they have bodies discovered in a jewelry store. And so, I started researching jewels which was fascinating to me and finding things on the dark web. Without being too dark or too heavy, but put a little bit of something interesting, something a little bit of information to chew on for the readers and people seem to like that too.

Alexandra: Yes. One of the things I noticed in your reviews…well, there are a couple things, but one was specifically about the characters and how much people appreciated them. And we’ll get on to the Tuesday Mysteries in a second. But they mentioned how much they appreciated the detective in that series who is a woman. And then the other thing that people mentioned was I guess just the… yeah, like you mentioned that there was, you know, a little bit of substance, it’s not just fluff. And I’m sure that your readers really appreciate you weaving those kinds of things through there.

I’m trying to picture 500 cookbooks that you have.

Does she have any interest at all in cooking?

Cassie: I can’t help but put food in my book.

Alexandra: Yes, I thought so.

Cassie: She doesn’t do any cooking herself, but there is a restaurant in town, Hugo’s. And they always end up at Hugo’s with some wonderful meal. So there’s always food even though so far I haven’t had any of the characters do any…or she does do a little bit of cooking because she likes to cook. But I haven’t had that as a focus.

Alexandra: No.

Cassie: There are a couple places because Darling Valley is modeled on an actual town in Marin that has some wonderful restaurants and shops. Another fictional place is The Salted Caramel which is a pastry and coffee shop.

When Olivia and Tuesday are together they love to eat. And so, this pastry shop has fabulous hot fudge sundae and they have this hot fudge sauce. And that’s actually a little inducement to my readers that I offer that recipe to them if they would like to and ask for it. And that’s actually one of my recipes. And so, they do cook something in the most recent book. I have her doing an omelet and it’s really a fantastic omelet, so it’s all about food.

Alexandra: Yes, yeah. I saw that offer for their Salted Caramel Cafe hot fudge sauce. We can tell readers they can get that if they sign up for your newsletter list at cassiepage.com.

Cassie: Yeah.

Alexandra: Let’s talk then a little bit about the “Tuesday Tea Leaves Mysteries.” So Tuesday, I gather, lives in LA.

Cassie: She lives in LA and she’s got her foot in the movie business. And she does not want to be an actress, but she’s very interested in the world of the occult. So she’s interested and she reads tea leaves. And she’s interested in things like psychics and doing pendulums.

In the book that I’m working on now she’s just decided she’s going to try and interpret dreams and that sort of thing. The things that I say about reading tea leaves and doing a pendulum or any of that, I don’t write it as though it’s absolute fact because I don’t know that any of these things are fact. But I do research it and I, you know, I just offer it to readers if they’re interested.

But I always put a little clue in whatever, I try to figure out what’s a clue and then I try to find the basis for it. For example, the first book is called, “A Corpse In A Teacup.” So I kept looking for symbols in the literature on tea leaf reading and then I plunk that into the reading that she gave for the character.

She’s a very quirky character, she has a real heart of gold, she sort of stumbles through life, and she comes out on the good end. And she and Olivia absolutely have one another’s back. You know, they’ve been through a lot together and they are very very different, but under the skin they just absolutely understand one another, that they’re like, true best friends are and should be, totally loyal to one another.

Alexandra: Oh, that’s lovely.

Cassie: Yup. I really enjoyed about that friendship.

Alexandra: Oh, that’s so nice. And I wanted to go back, actually, to something you mentioned earlier which was that sometimes you get to the end of the book and you don’t know who has done it.

Cassie: Yeah.

Alexandra: I gather then that you’re not a plotter in the sense that you don’t plan it all out beforehand.

Cassie: I do a little bit of each. I’ve often said I’m not an outliner, I’m not a plotter, but I’m not sure that’s completely true. I don’t work out a complete outline before I start writing, which many writers do and particularly writers of mysteries. I think it’s probably a good idea, but the way my brain works, and I’ve been writing so many years and I can’t seem to change this.

I get an idea and it comes from…For “A Second Coat of Murder,” I saw a cover and I just saw cans of paint with blood dripping down and I thought, “Oh, that’s great idea for a story, ‘A Second Coat of Murder.'” And then I had to make up a book to go along with the cover. And I literally had the cover before I had the story.

Alexandra: Wow.

Cassie: So, I had to work from that and I liked the story that came up with it. I get the idea and then I do have to do some plotting. It has to make sense, I don’t like books that go off on a tangent and you don’t know where it’s going.

Sometimes I will write and then I have to stop and start organizing my thoughts. And I have to look at it and figure out, “Okay. What’s going on here?” So I do a little bit of both. I start at the beginning and I work to the end. I don’t jump around, I don’t write scenes and then go back and figure out where they should go. And I think in that way I’m a very organized writer, but I’m not strictly a plotter. I’m a little bit of both.

Alexandra: Right. Yes.

Cassie: I find that as I write, I know it sounds silly, but as I write, material comes out of my fingers. It just does. I write and I see it coming on the page, and I think, “Where did that come from?” And so, when I try to really be a strict outliner, I don’t have the ideas, I can’t, you know, I think writers have to work with their own process. I always, that’s what I’ve come to in all the years I’ve been writing.

Alexandra: Yes, yeah.

Cassie: And that’s the way I do it.

Alexandra: Well, and if you if it works for you, then why change it?

Cassie: I teach writing and I love writing and I love the process of writing. So I could go off for a very long time on this. But there are people who are so adamant that you must outline or you must fly by the seat of your pants.

When I was a young writer and a new writer, I read a lot about you have to outline. And I think I wasted a lot of time trying to outline. I would put things down on the page and nothing would come, but if I would sit back in the days of typewriters, things would fly. And so, after a while I saw that’s the way I have to do it.

Alexandra: Yeah. I think that’s the most important thing for any writer is just to know their own process, to know what works for them. That’s what matters.

Cassie: You learn that, you know. You have to do it everyday. I am an absolute believer in the one thing I do believe in. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, you must do it everyday. And I’m a writer, after 25, 30 years, I write everyday.

Alexandra: Yes. And so is there a routine to that.

Do you write first thing in the morning or just it doesn’t matter?

Cassie: Well, when I was working, I mean, it took a long time before writing was my work. I would write before work, so I would get up early in the morning and write before I went to work. So that became my habit.

I’m fortunate that I can pretty much sit down any time of the day. I think it’s because I’ve trained myself, I’ve trained my brain, my neurons, my subconscious, I’m not sure. And I think that comes from the daily practice. I think if you train yourself to write everyday, when you sit down, your brain knows it’s time to write and it’s there. It doesn’t mean it’s always good, it doesn’t mean it’s your best work, but the words come. And that’s what, I mean, it’s just an absolute habit I’ve been doing, I must write everyday. Some comes from that, more than just words comes from that.

Alexandra: Right, yes.

Cassie: It’s almost like a spiritual practice for me, learning about myself, learning so much from writing everyday.

Alexandra: Yeah. Oh, that’s lovely, well said. And I heard an interesting quote today from Matthew Weiner who wrote and created “Mad Men,” the TV show.

Cassie: Yup. I know who he is.

Alexandra: Yeah. And it was someone else actually, who had worked with him, a producer. And he was saying that he now looks back at the show and says, “Who wrote that?” because he doesn’t remember large pieces of it. It just came from that kind of magical place that you’re talking about.

Cassie: Yes, we you do…writers say this, I mean, you go someplace else and it comes forward.

Alexandra: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

I think a little bit ago you mentioned that you’re working on one of the “Tuesday Tea Leaves Mysteries” now, is that right? Yes.

Cassie: Yup.

Alexandra: And that will be out later this year, 2017.

Cassie: Yes, I think for the summer. Yes, yes. And I had a bit of trouble writing the last Olivia book. I kept getting interrupted for various reasons and losing the thread of it. But the “Tuesday” book is very clear to me and so, I’m hoping I’ll have an easier time with it. So far I’m having a lot of fun with it and it’s coming a lot faster.

Alexandra: Good, good. And that will be the second in the series and you plan for more as well?

Cassie: Oh, yeah, as long as people like them. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alexandra: Oh, very good. That’s great. Well, this has been amazing, Cassie. Thank you so much for speaking to me today.

Why don’t we let our listeners know where they can find more about you and your books?

Cassie: Well, I have a website, cassiepage.com. My books are available on Amazon and I have other books. If you go to helencassidypagebooks.com, you can see cookbooks and children’s books, and other things.

Alexandra: Great. And we mentioned earlier that people can get the the hot fudge sauce recipe if they go to cassiepage.com.

Cassie: Yes, yes. And also there’s a link in all of the books if you click that on.

Alexandra: Okay.

Cassie: I really encourage people, it’s a wonderful recipe. When I make it, it’s very hard to keep it in the refrigerator.

Alexandra: Yes, it doesn’t last long.

Cassie: It doesn’t.

Alexandra: Well, I will put links in the show notes to your website so people can see where to find you. And we should we say Cassie is with an I-E, cassiepage.com.

Cassie: I-E.

Alexandra: So, yeah. I’ll put some links in there. Well, thank you again so much for being here with me today.

Cassie: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

Alexandra: Bye, bye.

Cassie: Bye, bye.