Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Joy of Small Town Diners and #Giveaway

Mystery Lover’s Kitchen is happy to welcome guest Julia Buckley, who gives us a peek into the diner food universe.

The Joy of Small Town Diners
by Julia Buckley

     Hi, Everyone! I’m Julia Buckley. I am the author of the Writer’s Apprentice cozy-Gothic mystery series (which began with A DARK AND STORMY MURDER), and I’m thrilled to have been invited to visit Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen today. Since all of my books are set in the fictional small town of Blue Lake, Indiana, I thought it would be fun to take you down its main drag, Wentworth Street, to a staple of every small town: the diner. I’m sure we can all remember some unique and delicious food we ate in some of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that ended up being little glimpses of paradise. In my newest book, A DARK AND TWISTING PATH, Lena London returns to this diner on a warm spring day and learns some new details about this little restaurant, called Willoughby’s. It’s one of those places you love to discover while traveling—tiny but clean establishments with interesting décor and delicious food. A sign on Willoughby’s front door politely but firmly informs visitors that “We are NOT open for dinner!” For this reason, the chef at Willoughby’s makes breakfast and lunch something to remember.

Willoughby’s has all the standard fare: burgers and dogs, grilled cheese and chicken-fried steak.

 At Willoughby’s, people know the servers by name, and the owner, when on the premises, will come out to greet visitors and shake their hands. In A DARK AND STORMY MURDER (2016), Lena went to Willoughby’s for the first time to order what we all probably want to order at diners: a giant breakfast waffle. This ended up being an important plot point (perhaps because the author who envisioned this town and this diner was revealing her own particular predilections).

In the most recent book, Carly,the woman who served Lena on her first visit to the diner, is now expecting, and wears and apron that says “Bun on the oven.” She has not lost a beat, though, because she has that remarkable blend of dexterity, kindness and courage that marks the truly good member of a diner wait staff.

Since book three takes place in the warm spring months, Lena is treated to a special surprise on the back patio of the diner: their summer garden has opened early, and better than that, she and her friend Belinda are able to snag seating near the fountain:

“The fountain was an antique shop find that the owner, Frank Attenborough, had placed in one corner of his brick-lined patio and refurbished to its original splendor. It was . . . circular stone . . . with a playful cherub frolicking in its center. Frank, who had a green thumb, had trailed ivy over the stone and tucked pots of bright geraniums and hydrangeas around the base. The sound of the sprinkling water was a restful accompaniment to the muted chatter of the people dining outdoors.

Belinda and I made our way outside, where the garden paradise was indeed filled with people, although we barely noticed our human companions on the patio. Frank and his wife, Deana, had outdone themselves this year, and for a moment we just stood in the doorway, breathing and letting the beauty invade us. Deana had done her usual job of scouring antique malls for gorgeous or unusual planters, and this year she had gone for earthenware pots in distinctive colors like red and deep gray and forest green. Into these Frank had planted a bright, sunny mixture of yellow blooms—yellow capsicums, orange marigolds, calendula, nasturtiums, orange chard, and cosmos. Mixed with these were purple-toned plants and bright green herbs with their variegated leaves. The color came from sages, purple basil, thyme, eggplant, beetroot, lavender, violet, geranium, viola, and petunia. As always, Frank had dedicated himself to the arrangement, probably for days, before he opened the patio. Rumor had it that he hired a high schooler each summer just to weed and keep the garden perfect.”

For the summer garden, the food, the friendly staff,  and many other less-definable reasons, Willoughby’s is a special place, a wonderful fictional escape with delicious food and warm hospitality—the sort of place I love to discover when traveling.

Guest Julia is happy to offer a copy of A Dark and Twisting Path to someone who leaves a response to the question below (please include your email so she can contact you if you win).

Have you been to diners like this, full of good food and local whimsy?

About the book: Writer's apprentice Lena London is happily working on a new collaboration with her idol and bestselling suspense novelist and friend Camilla Graham, but her joy is short-lived when a dark cloud descends upon the quaint town of Blue Lake, Indiana...

Lena's best friend, Allison, is in a panic. On a walk in the woods by her home, Allison discovers the body of her mail carrier, an argumentative man who recently had a falling out with Allison's husband. Lena quickly realizes that Allison has nothing to worry about as the murder weapon points to a different suspect altogether: Lena's embattled boyfriend, Sam West. 

Sam was cleared of his wife's murder when she was found alive, and now someone is trying to make him look guilty again. Surveillance video of a break-in at his house shows a shadowy figure trying to incriminate him by stealing the weapon from his desk. Lena and Camilla work on a suspect list, but a threatening note and a violent intrusion at Graham House prove that the devious killer has decided to write them into the plot.

Julia Buckley lives in the Chicago area. She writes two mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime—The Writer’s Apprentice series (seen above), and the Undercover Dish series. She teaches high school English and journalism and spends her spare time writing, painting landscapes, hanging out with her husband and two sons, and watching things on Netflix (or wrangling her menagerie of four cats and one giant dog). A DARK AND TWISTING PATH can be found on shelves now, or on Amazon:

For more details, visit her website here

(All photos from Pixabay, a free image site).