Debra Goldstein is a judge AND she’s been on the TV show Jeopardy!

Debra Goldstein

How’s that for a line item on a CV?

My guest today reads from her brand new book, Three Treats Too Many, and we talk about her long-held desire to write, how publishing proved easy in the beginning and then got a little harder, and what it’s like to blank out when trying to answer the final question on Jeopardy.

In the introduction I mention staying up far too late watching the Disney Plus behind-the-scenes documentary about making the animated film Frozen 2 and how I am a sucker for any kind of show or book about what goes on during the making of a creative project.

This week’s mystery author

Debra Goldstein

Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington Books’ Sarah Blair mystery series, including recently published Three Treats Too Many, 2020’s Silver Falchion finalist Two Bites Too Many and January 2019’s Woman’s World book of the week, One Taste Too Many.

Debra’s short stories have been named as Agatha, Anthony and Derringer finalists. Debra serves on the national board of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and is the President of SEMWA and is past president of SinC’s Guppy chapter.

To learn more about Debra and all her books visit

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 StitcherAndroidGoogle PodcastsTuneIn, and Spotify.

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Excerpt from Three Treats Too Many

Three Treats Too Many

Sarah Blair took a deep breath before entering the main dining room of Jane’s Place. Attending the grand opening of her greatest nemesis’s restaurant was the last thing she wanted to do, but she had no choice. Sarah was there to check out the competition. Her misery was only made worse because the opening of Southwind, the white tablecloth restaurant across the street that she partially owned, was mired in a red-tape delay by Wheaton’s building inspector. 

Looking around Jane’s Place, Sarah didn’t see either of her Southwind partners, but she immediately spotted the bottle-tinted flaming red hair of Jane’s Place’s namesake.

Sarah turned in the opposite direction. 

Peering at the buffet tasting table, Sarah was pleased there were enough other people crammed into the dining room that Sarah could avoid Jane, her late ex-husband’s bimbo, for most, if not all, of the time needed to survey the restaurant. … Skipping an offered glass of pinot grigio that might have helped make the next hour bearable, Sarah got into the long line of people waiting for a chance to sample Jane’s Alabama farm-to-table food and her specially advertised vegan dishes…..

“Hate to interrupt your checked-out moment, but you need to move up,” a voice behind Sarah said. 

Flustered at being caught daydreaming, Sarah muttered, “Sorry.” She glanced over her shoulder while she closed the gap in the line. 

Her friend, Jacob Hightower, grinned at her with a smile that not only sat on his lips but reached his blue eyes…. [c}onsidering your history with Jane, this is the last place I expected to see you.”

Shoving her hands into her pockets, Sarah whispered a sheepish confession. “Call it self-protection. Emily, Marcus, and I came to try out our competitor’s food. We’ve heard some of Jane’s menu items are out of this world.”

“Jane’s food is no different than ever. Fine, but nothing special. It’s Riley’s dishes which are delicious.”

“That’s what I heard, but vegan dishes?” … She took a clear plastic plate from the pile at the end of the table and handed one to Jacob. As she served herself, she realized another reason the line was moving so slowly. Riley Miller stood at the midpoint of the long buffet table explaining to each group of guests what they were about to taste. Sarah couldn’t help but stare at her. Riley’s ease and sense of assurance reminded her of how Emily worked crowds when she did food demonstrations.

Watching the way Riley’s blonde ponytail bobbed and how she accentuated her words with her ever-moving hands, there was something about her that made Sarah think Riley might fly away at any moment. It wasn’t that Riley resembled a butterfly, but she radiated more of a sprite feeling. That was it. She reminded Sarah of Tinker Bell, the fairy in Peter Pan. Clad in a green chiffon short dress, Riley was small and athletic and had an engaging smile. 

…it …was obvious Riley was a natural salesperson. As she reached Riley’s part of the buffet table, Sarah, having heard and observed Emily in action, wondered how similar Riley’s patter was. 

“Hi. I’m Riley Miller.”

“Sarah Blair.”

“Oh, I know who you are.”

Sarah cringed. She knew something like “you’re the one who helped solve that murder recently,” was probably coming.

“You’re Chef Emily’s sister. You know my friend, Grace, Chef Emily’s sous chef? She raves about Emily.”

So much for letting her little bit of success unraveling a few murders go to her head. At least Sarah agreed with Grace. As much as Emily and she were polar opposites in everything from height to temperament, each was the other’s strongest supporter. “Grace is right. Emily’s not only great in the kitchen, but, if I say so myself, my sister’s a pretty good egg. I’ll have to tell her what Grace said.”

“Oh, no. Please don’t. I mean it’s what Grace said, but Grace would be so embarrassed for Chef Emily to know she gushes about her.”

Sarah held up her hands to slow the torrent of words. “Whoa! Don’t worry, Riley. It will be our secret.” Sarah began spooning more food on her plate. “Why don’t you tell me about your food? Did you make all of these dishes?”

“Yes. My recipes, which are all vegan, are inspired by my love of nature.


……. Sarah brace yourself. Here comes Jane.”

Sarah peered behind her. Not only was Jane zeroing in on them, but they were about the last guests left in the dining room. With her back to the main part of the room, Sarah hadn’t realized everyone, except the city council members talking near the bar and a few people taking a last pass at the food table, were gone. Maybe the reason they’d been lucky Jane hadn’t come over during the earlier altercations was because she’d been busy with departing guests.

For a moment, Sarah considered fleeing through tonight’s revolving back door, but gauging Jane’s velocity, there was no escaping the redheaded dynamo about to attack them.

“I’m so glad the three of you came to my little ole opening tonight. Wasn’t it divine? Sarah, such a shame Emily and Marcus disappeared before I could talk to them. I wanted to tell them I certainly hope when you get Southwind open you can have as nice a night as this. Maybe you should suggest they hold your grand opening on a Monday night, when we’re closed. That way, we won’t be siphoning off any of the crowd who might come to your opening. I’m sure that would help you get some extra folks glad for the free food.”

“Like you did?” 

Jane gave her a floppy wave. “Bless your heart, dear. Haven’t you heard how busy we’ve been the past two weeks?”

“It was a lovely evening, Jane.” Harlan effectively cut Sarah off while drawing Jane’s attention to him. “You must be very proud of how well your staff performed and how well-received Riley’s dishes were.” 

“Oh, I am. …

. “Vegan dishes were the last thing I expected to see on your menu,” Sarah said. 

Like a lit Christmas candle, Jane flashed them all a giant smile. “The decision was easy. When I judged one of Carleton College’s student culinary competition evenings, I tasted Riley’s entries. I was hooked after the first bite. I knew Wheaton would be, too. The timing of opening my restaurant and her graduation couldn’t have been better. I think hiring Riley as my sous chef, instead of trying again to lure Emily’s Grace Winston from the Southwind group, was one of the smartest decisions I made. Don’t you agree, Sarah?”

Mercifully, Sarah’s need to answer was blocked out by the sound of barking and shrieking dogs. A motorcycle roar only revved the animals into a louder frenzy. 

“Chief,” Jane said. When he didn’t answer, she yelled his name until he heard her above the din. “You’ve got to do something! Between the dogs and Harleys, my customers can’t eat in peace. Aren’t those veterinarians and their friends in violation of some city noise ordinance?”

“Not that I know of. Besides, they aren’t all Harleys out there. Last time I looked, some of the bikes are Hondas, Yamahas, or Suzukis. There’s even one or two BMWs.”

Jane rolled her eyes and turned away from Chief Gerard. “Harlan, can I sue them?”

“For what?”

“Trying to ruin my business. The noise is terrible when they let the animals out in the runs, but it’s especially bad during my dinner rush. I bought this house thinking I was buying a quiet Main Street property. I was excited when the veterinarians suggested making our adjacent driveways into one larger one to create more available parking between their place and my restaurant. I thought it would be perfect for evening overflow parking. They never mentioned they planned to put their animal runs practically on top of my main dining room or to let that community motorcycle gang hold meetings and park at their place. I swear, if it isn’t the dogs yowling, it’s one of those doctors or their motorcyclist friends zooming in or out at all hours. So, can I sue them?”

“The zoning for these houses lets every owner use their own property as desired.”

“But, isn’t the noise a nuisance or something? Their privacy fence is meaningless. Whenever anyone parks on the motorcycle parking pad, the animals staying with them go crazy. It’s even worse when someone leaves.”

“Wheaton doesn’t have a noise ordinance. If they use their property as it’s zoned, their guests are allowed to make noise consistent with their mission.”

Jane’s cheeks now matched her hair. “By that logic, my diners are entitled to a pleasant dining experience because feeding them in peace and quiet is my mission.”

“And I thought your mission was making money or undercutting Emily and Marcus,” Sarah muttered.

“What did you say?” 

“Now, now.” Chief Gerard raised his hands so a palm of each aimed in Sarah and Jane’s respective directions seemingly signaling “enough.” Once he had their attention, he continued to use his hands almost in a tomahawk chopping manner to emphasize his words. “Jane, tomorrow I’ll talk to the doctors and see if we can work out a better schedule for their animals to be outside so your guests can enjoy a quiet experience during your core dining hours. Okay?”

Apparently not fully satisfied, Jane pouted. “What about the riders and the noise they make?”

“That I may not be able to help you with, but I’ll look into it.”

“Thank you, Dwayne.” Jane flashed a big smile at him. “You’re a peach.”

Not exactly the words Sarah would use to describe him. Her pondering of what might be more descriptive of Chief Gerard was interrupted by Jane. 

Flashing a toothy grin at them, Jane piled on the southern charm by using an exaggerated magnolia lady drawl. “Gotta run, but I can’t thank y’all enough for attending the opening of Jane’s Place. The three of you are so special.” 

Once Jane was out of earshot, Harlan turned toward Dwayne. “I don’t think this is the last you’re going to hear from her about the noise and her neighbors.” 

“Not by a long shot, but I am going to have to figure out something to keep the peace. The vets next door aren’t going to put up with Jane’s shenanigans.”

“I know at least two of the doctors ride hogs. Are you going to tell them they can’t park in their own parking spots because they make too much noise crossing the open lot? Or, for that matter, their club can’t congregate at their place?”

“Of course not. Baby steps, Harlan. Baby steps. If I can get them to keep the boarding animals in during Jane’s core dining hours, that will give her something to be happy about. The last thing we need on Main Street is owners yipping, if you’ll forgive the pun, at each other.”

While the chief laughed at his own wit, Harlan and Sarah exchanged a look between themselves. Jane had given in too easily. Knowing her like they did, Jane’s polite capitulation probably meant she wasn’t going to wait for Chief Gerard to do something tomorrow. 

Sarah glanced around the room. There was no sign of Jane’s red mane. If Sarah were a betting person, she would lay odds Jane already was taking matters into her own hands. Remembering how vindictive Jane was in the past, Sarah hated to think what might be said between the neighbors in the next few minutes.

A lone howl punctuated the night. When it didn’t stop but merely seemed to pause before escalating, Sarah realized the sound wasn’t coming from the mouth of a dog. It was the cry of a person.

Followed by Harlan and Chief Gerard, Sarah ran out the restaurant’s back door toward the singular human cry. She stopped mid-step. The two men barely avoided running into her. A few parking spaces to the left of the door, Jane stood frozen, screaming. Jane’s gaze seemed fixed on the garbage bin area. The hairs on the back of Sarah’s neck prickled as she turned in that direction. 

Jacob, his knees resting on the ground, was bent over Riley. Her long, light hair, tinged coppery dark in spots, spread in all directions. As Chief Gerard struggled to get around Sarah to check for a pulse, the pallor of Riley’s face and the angle of her neck belied the fact that Riley’s vibrancy was extinguished without the need for Jacob’s hoarse whisper, “She’s dead.”

Interview with Debra H. Goldstein

Alexandra: Give us a little background about Wheaton and Sarah. Sarah and Emily are twins. Yes?

Debra: Yes. Sarah was married at 18 divorced by 28. She ended up, obviously Jane was the bimbo who took him away. She was left with only one thing and that is Rah-Rah the Siamese cat. She got nothing else out of the marriage.

He’s in the first book, One Taste Too Many. She’s really trying to find herself. Unlike Emily, her twin sister, who always had a goal in mind; she knew she wanted to be a chef. She had followed their mother around the kitchen and she really knew what she wanted. So she went to the culinary Institute of America.

She did everything and went and worked in all these different restaurants. She’s now come back to Wheaton to work in a restaurant that chef Marcus has. And we learned some different things in book one about them, but Sarah is trying to find herself.

The town is just about five miles square. Everybody knows everybody. The center of the town, that’ll be the city square. And in Alabama, there’s marble white buildings around that square. There’s a main street that today there’s a fight over economic development. Should it become a place with restaurants and an entertainment district?

What should they do with zoning? And more of that comes out in the second book because they’re trying to figure out what should be, where, and in Sarah’s case, in the first book, choosing an efficiency apartment by the second book, Two Bites Too Many, she is actually living in the carriage house behind the big house.

That will become the white cloth, Sarah, a South wind restaurant. There’s also another South Wind pub. So then we get to Three Treats Too Many. And here’s the one who didn’t think she’d ever have anything. And she probably still doesn’t because her cat owns the carriage house, not her. She is now going to be part owner because her contribution is the use of the building.

And the other two chefs really are the owners of the restaurant, but in Three Treats Too Many, Sarah has now gained some more confidence, but she’s still working as Harlan’s receptionist secretary, and she’s still very active with animals. There’s also some animal involvement with the shelter.

And she’s still very much into that in the second book. She’s also picked up Fluffy the dog. I didn’t know as much about cats. I had to interview people and I wanted to make sure that they stayed realistic. I wasn’t going to have a cat that had an imagination.

It was going to tell you things, but not. It’s something that a real cat wouldn’t tell you, we know from real cats, whether they like people or not, things like that. And so I did that in the books, but I always had dogs, so I thought I’d better get one into the picture because I could at least write to pages that I know.

He’s in the book coming out August 25th. And it’s a fun one because I’ve incorporated a lot of different things because when you live in a small town, there are lots of things that you never realize they’re going to happen or are happening.

Alexandra: I agree. I live in a small town as well. And they’re rich, rich locations, even though they’re tiny. that’s for sure.

I was reading your longer bio on your website and you had quite a storied career being a lawyer and then a judge, but it sounds like writing was a passion for you the whole time. Is that true?

Debra: It was when I wanted to begin to write. I thought I was going to be a journalist. And when I came out into high school, I was trying to decide where to go to college.

I was looking at Syracuse, Northwestern, Michigan state, all of which had very strict journalistic programs. My journalism teacher said, you’re not going to be that kind of journalist. You’re going to be all over the place. You need to go to the university of Michigan, which had also accepted me.

And at the very last minute I followed her advice. So sometimes people have influence on you. I do what she said and I always wanted to write and I talked about it. But I never really did it. I took the classes, but I didn’t do it. I talked about it, but I was the one who wrote all the skits.

You know how there’s always somebody who writes the skits and who’s the social person who writes the submission for some grant or something. I wrote those, but on the side. Obviously for my job, I was writing very boring things. So when I left college, I graduated early and I went to New York and I had two goals in mind.

I wanted a job in publishing and I wanted to get on Jeopardy. At my age, at that point, I thought I could do anything, but just in case it didn’t work out. What I did was I did my law school applications at night for the following August. I got lucky everything worked out, but then I decided I didn’t want to be at the bottom of the publishing heap.

So I went on to law school. And so having met my goals, I went to law school. And I still, but then I really became a writer of very boring things. You can find lots of articles that I’ve written on sexual harassment and you name it because I had equal pay because I had done a case as you saw in the bio, one thing led them to me being put on the bench at 36 when the average age was 58 and that was what happened.

I wrote a skit for leadership, Birmingham, and there were a group of us. All of the women in the group wanted to come up with a project, the men in the group said we’ll do whatever you want. We’ll pay for it. I’m from the power company and all, and two of them said, we don’t want to do anything.

We just want to get our certificate. So at the end you had to write a skit. And I ended up writing a skit. This was before Seinfeld, I wrote a story skit about nothing. Everybody else had wonderful projects they’d put in. The only thing that was funny about ours was the words of these guys were coming out of their mouth and they didn’t even realize it.

So when we rehearsed it the night before another person was sitting in the next room, the husband of one of the women and he was laughing his head off, and this is a very serious. And he comes out and says, you should write. I said no, but he said you really should think about it some more. And I talked about it and then a friend of mine offered me her condo.

She said, I’m tired of hearing you talk. You leave Joe and the four kids home, you can come to the beach with me and you. We won’t bother you except for dinner. But you are going to write, or you never going to talk about it again.

Well, I wrote Alexandra. I wrote 85 pages in long hand that weekend.

And that was the beginning of Maize and Blue, my first book. And I knew I could write, I could see a beginning, a middle and an end. And I want you to know there are at least five of those 85 pages in the final. I knew I could do it. And so I played with it. If you want me to go further into what happened, then the book sold by accident.

I really thought getting published was essential because this is what happened to me. You see the wall behind me that it’s just a plain wall. I think a moderator in a panel should be like that. So I was moderating a panel. I was the president of the women’s network and I wanted to showcase for women authors and about a hundred and some people in the audience.

And as I talk, the four women made their presentations. We did a panel. It went very well, but I opened it up for discussion and I had just submitted an essay. It was a piece about when we turned 50, we suddenly have flabby arms and we become our mothers and people in our life circles start changing, getting sick, whatever.

So it was very short, but it had won an award and more magazine had picked it up and run it online. Anyway, first question. Tell us what you’re writing. And I knew they were asking about that. So I went into, I said, let’s talk about these other women next hand, tell us what else you’re writing.

And I have a mystery that I think is ready for the world, but let’s get back to these women that three hours later, my Blackberry went off and I looked at it and it said my dear friend. And it was a PR person who had been in the audience. Says, there’s a judge with a mystery and she’s seen other things you’ve written and she thought I might like to read it.

And this was a co owner publisher of a small house. And I said, okay, how would you like to see it? I can mail it to you. I can put a red ribbon. She said, no, no, no, send it. This was all going by email. She says, send it to me in an email. Here’s what I want the heading to say. And you and I know when she opened it, if she didn’t like it, what was she going to do?

She was going to hit delete. But in this particular case, what happened is a few weeks later, I was running up with some children and my daughter to Vulcan, which is a statue that Anne George used to write about all the time in her books. And we were going in the worst part of getting to that statue is going through the parking lot.

It’s very steep and the kids are a mile ahead of us. And then my Blackberry again, went off and I looked at it and I said, Oh shit. My daughter turned around. We don’t talk like that. When there’s children, I go, the children are a mile away. So I repeated my statement to her and statement to my Blackberry.

And she came back because she was sure I’d now had a heart attack. And that was the problem. And she looked at the. Blackberry. And she read the one sentence and she said the same thing. There you go. And what it said was my partner enjoyed Maze and Bloom and would like to offer you a contract.

So I thought publication was easy. I then tried to keep my two careers separate. As you read on the bio, I’ve tried to keep my judicial career on one side and I tried to keep my other career as a writer, separate completely though, there were headlines that said book PR five months after I wrote that book and it was published, the publisher decided to no longer exist.

So they gave me back the files. I put them back up. So the book still exists in trade paperback and ebook, but I was told by everybody writes something different. And I did. I wrote Should Have Played Poker, a Carrie Martin and the Man Jongg Players mystery. And again, I sold it by accident at Killer Nashville.

I pitched it. It was read in a week later was purchased. Well, that was great. Except it wasn’t going to come out until 2016 and this was August of ’14. The calendar was full. So I knew I had a book coming out. And I’m still sitting on the bench, but our last kid is getting out of law school and things and this is what made me finally decide to follow my passion.

I’m sitting there in the bench. Imagine me a little higher than you in a black robe. Looking over my reading glasses and after 23 years on the bench, I had every lawyer trained. If I said, is there anything further? They would say, no, your honor. And I would do a standard closing on this day. I did it. The lawyer said the right thing, but his client interrupted and said, wait, there’s one more thing.

I looked at the lawyer who was a very good lawyer and I’m waiting for him to get his client under control. And the lawyer takes his hands, puts them above his head as if he can’t do anything. And I know we’re in trouble. He can’t control this guy. So I look very seriously at the client. And I said, yes, sir, what is it?

And the client said, your honor, I just want you to know no matter what I’m going to buy your book.

Alexandra: That’s awesome.

Debra: I had to keep a straight face. I went home that night and I said to my husband, Joe, if we can make the numbers work, I would love to follow my passion.

Because if I can stay healthy for 20 years, I can have another career. Of something I love doing, and that’s where I am now.

Alexandra: Wow. Oh, that’s lovely.

Do you have more plans for more Sarah books?

Debra: Well, yes, because what happened is I got orphaned again. After Should Have Played Poker I was told, write something new and I really ran into a problem.

The problem is I like to write cozy. I like traditional with cozy elements or the small town amateur sleuth, but a lot of cozies either have cooking or they have things like crafts. I hate to cook. I’m lousy at crafts. I’m the kind that if I sew something in one place I sew it to myself and I cut a hole in the two of them, which I did do as a child.

Anyway. And then I said there has to be other people out there like me, people who find the kitchen more frightening than murder. And that’s Sarah Blair. So in every one of these, there’s a challenge of the kitchen in the first one.

If she doesn’t get her sister off the hook, then she’s going to end up in the kitchen. And when you’re a woman who your best China’s floral paper plates, this can be a problem. I do provide recipes, things like jello in a can. Spinach pie made with Stauffers. In Three Treats Too Many I only let the characters who can cook, give you some real recipes.

There’s some vegan recipes. There’s some real soup recipes, but I had to be true to Sarah. Hers is a squash soup that’s made in a crock pot.

Alexandra: You mentioned when you went to New York, you had two goals. One was to work in the publishing industry and one was to be a Jeopardy contestant. And you met both of those goals.

Can you tell us a little bit about being on jeopardy just for fun?

Debra: Oh, it was fun. The only thing that wasn’t fun was losing on the final question, there were two of us who kept crossing each other when you push the button.

So you keep knocking each other out. And we were very neck and neck up to the very final question. And they asked the question in a history way, and I’m not going to go through the question, but I will tell you this. Had they asked it in theater, the answer in an English way or theater would have been a man for all seasons.

It would have been Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. I could see the entire movie in my head. But I couldn’t remember the name of what the character was that was being played. And that was the answer. So I blew it all except for a hundred dollars. I’m an encyclopedia at the time. The other woman was completely out of it, but at least the guy who beat me went on to be a five day champ.

But it was a great experience.

I’ve heard recently that if you go on Jeopardy, you do a bunch of studying in advance. Did you do that or did you just wing it?

Debra: Partially winging it. Because at that point, all this trivia is in your mind. I couldn’t do it as well now, as I could then, because I was up on all the movie stars, I was up on all the things like that. My weak areas were going to be geography. So I did read a little on that, looking at the map.

And then I did one that I thought was funny. I had a little cousin who was six. And she said, let me help you. I didn’t know what she was doing. She handed me a deck of cards on the presidents, so it was each president and facts about them. Well, I had to laugh because I got a pet category and I started running it. And then we got down to the fight we got to a single Jeopardy thing.

And it was this most bizarre question, but it had the word ‘van’ in it and I had nothing. It wasn’t even a good clue. And I realized it had to be more than van Buren. I got to right.

Alexandra: Oh, wow. That’s amazing. Thanks to your little cousin. That’s great. Amazing. Well, this has been lovely, Deborah.

I wish we could chat for longer. I wanted to ask you about your short fiction as well, but maybe you could come back on the show another day and we could talk about that.

Debra: I would love to thank you.

Alexandra: So why don’t you let our listeners know where they can find out more about you and your books?

Debra: Well, they can find me on my website, which is www dot Debra H Goldstein.

They can follow me on BookBub. They can follow me on Facebook, on Twitter. My Facebook handle is Debra H Goldstein slash author I’ll run together. The Debra H Goldstein and it Twitter it’s H Goldstein. And I will tell you, there’s a reason for the middle initial, there is another Deborah Goldstein.

And if you see one that looks blonder younger and is writing about sex and texting, that’s not me.

Alexandr: Okay. Just so people don’t get mixed up. Exactly. All right. Well, I will put a link to your website and not hers in the show notes.

Debra: Thank you very much again for having me.

Debra: Oh, it’s been my pleasure. Take care.

Alexandra: Bye bye.