Sunday, June 30, 2019

Death by Dissertation - An Interview & Giveaway

I'm pleased to welcome Kelly Brakenhoff to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Kelly writes the  Cassandra Sato Mystery series. Death by Dissertation is the first book in the series and was released earlier this year.

Kathy: In Death by Dissertation Cassandra Sato makes a major move to accept her dream job, which turns into a nightmare. Have you ever made an important change which led to some horrors?

KB: Two months after the birth of our second son, my husband’s company relocated us from Oahu, Hawai’i to Seattle, Washington. Yes, you read that correctly. We moved over two thousand miles away with a two-month old baby and a 19-month old toddler. Living in a long-term hotel for a month, we managed with two suitcases of clothes and one bag of toddler toys until our car and possessions arrived by cargo ship. Then we moved into a rental house for three months. Once we were completely settled, my husband was offered a new job in Nebraska where both of our families lived. He accepted the job, and we moved again.

If you’ve lost count, we lived in 5 different homes the first six months of #2 son’s life! I was sleep-deprived, exhausted, and numb by the end of the process! We’ve been happy to be back near the grandparents and our families ever since. But honestly, I barely remember any details about him when he was a tiny baby. The photos from that time are proof that he was fed, changed and taken care of. Must have been his guardian angel looking out for him, because I was seriously overwhelmed.

Kathy: Having worked on a college campus for many years, I know the intrigue and drama that can be found there. Have you had similar experiences and did they influence Death by Dissertation?

KB: As an American Sign Language Interpreter with more than twenty years of experience, I've worked in college classrooms for fifteen different majors. I actually attend classes with the deaf students and overhear both the most inspiring and the most inane professors you could imagine. At faculty meetings, I’ve seen the jockeying for position that happens on a daily basis. The jaw-dropping dialogue in my books are often exact quotes I’ve overheard people say in real life.

I think we all struggle to fit in somewhere, whether it’s a new job, with classmates, or who we want to be when we grow up. This story touches on all of those emotions, while also making you laugh. Because when I’m overwhelmed by life, laughter is the best way for me to deal with difficulties and move on.

Kathy: Cassandra expected the Midwestern church casseroles when she moved to Nebraska. Does she have a favorite? Do you?

KB: The most foreign meal Cassandra has been introduced to is bierocks, which are German hand pies with a yeast bread dough stuffed with cooked hamburger and cabbage then baked. They’re so popular in this region, that at church potlucks you often see an adapted sheet pan version using layers of crescent rolls, meat, cabbage and cheese topped by another layer of crescent rolls. Cassandra is still a bit iffy about bierocks, but trust me they taste delicious.

My in-laws were all raised on Nebraska farms. They grew up cooking with a stick of butter and cream of mushroom soup as the basis for a multitude of casseroles. I’m more of a salad girl, so I love the one where you throw in a couple bags of coleslaw mix, broken raw ramen noodles, slivered almonds and green onions mixed with a sesame oil flavored vinaigrette. Yum! I don’t make it at home because I would eat the whole bowl myself.

Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?

KB: I write what I love to read, and I’m a huge fan of Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, and of course, Nancy Drew. I like complex books that challenge me to figure out the ending, teach me about a topic I might not know about already, and let me escape from everyday life. I also love the cozies that include recipes like Diane Mott Davidson’s catering series.

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?

KB: Coming this fall, I’ll publish a new children’s picture book series featuring Duke the deaf dog. The first is called Never Mind and it’s about the experience that many hard of hearing and deaf people have of being told, “Oh. . . never mind,” when they ask someone to repeat something they missed in conversation. Spoiler alert: that’s a big pet peeve!

Kathy: Tell us about your series.

KB: Like you mentioned earlier, the academic world involves drama and intrigue that even a talented fiction writer could not make up. It’s the perfect setting for a mystery series. I want readers to fall in love with Cassandra and root for her personal growth, as well as laugh along with the hilarious students and their escapades.

Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

KB: Of course, I love Cassandra’s boldness in striking out on a new career far from home and chasing her dreams. Cassandra’s interpreter friend, Meg, gives me a way to write about things I can’t usually say out loud at work without being fired. I also love the student office workers because they say and do things that real-life students say if you take the time to pay attention.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?

KB: Cassandra Sato is a fish out of water. I used my memories of feeling like an outsider when I lived in Hawai’i for five years. The culture and everyday life is so drastically different than living in the Midwest, it was a huge adjustment. Those things are all reversed in Cassandra’s story, but the feelings are the same.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

KB: From the time in elementary school when my younger sister and I wrote and illustrated homemade comic books about a dog and a cat, I’ve always wanted to be an author. Once my children grew up enough to be independent, I got serious about pursuing my own bucket list. I’m thrilled that after more than four years of hard work, Death by Dissertation is a real thing!

Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?

KB: What a great question! I have so many favorites. Mark Twain, Janet Evanovich, Erma Bombeck, and Robert Parker all come to mind. I imagine I’d spend the entire night drinking vast amounts of wine and laughing until I cried.

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

KB: I read several books at the same time. For non-fiction, I’m reading The Second Greatest Story Ever Told about St John Paul II. In fiction, I’m on John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, The Reckoning, and on audio book, I just finished Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall. I’d recommend all three to readers!

Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?

KB: I began running about seven years ago when a work Wellness Program challenged me to register for a Couch-to-5K event. I’ve participated in many sports but hated running because it made my side ache and I’m short, therefore I’m slow. To my surprise, I found I could run long distances without dying. Now I run 10K races and half-marathons. The training runs give me plenty of time to think about my books and how to plot the next murder. Plus, I can eat chocolate cake without the guilt.

Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

KB: Pre-packaged salad kits. Eggs. Irish Breakfast Tea. Nutella.

Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?

KB: The next Cassandra Sato mystery, Dead Week, is due out later this summer. After that, I have at least three more planned. At some point, Cassandra needs to lead a group of Nebraska students on a study abroad trip to Hawai’i so we can see the reverse culture shock that Cassandra has experienced in Death by Dissertation.

Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?

KB: While many authors are introverts who hide in their writing lairs, I’m very extroverted. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by receiving photos of readers enjoying my book while lounging at the beach or watching their child’s softball games. This is all so new to me! I love getting messages about what readers’ favorite scenes were, or how they couldn’t put the book down. Please feel free to comment or contact me if you want to chat. I’m really enjoying getting to know my readers.


About the Book

Death by Dissertation (Cassandra Sato)
Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
Setting – Nebraska
Emerald Prairie Press (April 17, 2019)
Paperback: 355 pages
Ambitious Cassandra Sato traded her life in Hawai’i for a dream position as Student Affairs VP at Morton College in tiny Carson, Nebraska. She expected the Midwestern church casseroles, land-locked cornfields, and face-freezing winters would be her biggest challenges, but it’s her job that’s rapidly becoming a nightmare.
A deaf student is dead and the investigation reveals a complicated trail of connections between campus food service, a local farmer’s beef, and the science lab’s cancer research. Together with her few allies, Cassandra must protect the students caught up in the entanglement.
Dealing with homesickness, vandalism, and a stalker, Cassandra is trapped in a public relations disaster that could cost her job, or more. No one said college was easy.

About the Author

Kelly Brakenhoff is an American Sign Language Interpreter whose motivation for learning ASL began in high school when she wanted to converse with her deaf friends. As an American Sign Language Interpreter with more than twenty years of experience, Kelly’s worked in college classrooms for fifteen different majors. From traipsing across muddy farm fields to stomach-churning medical procedures, and stage interpreting for famous figures, Kelly’s community interpreting interactions number in the thousands. Unfortunately, once she’s stepped away from the job, she usually forgets 90% of what happened. Which helps her keep confidential information safe, but also makes it really hard to grocery shop for more than 5 items without a written list.

Kelly wants to live in a world filled with peace, love, and joy, where people who can hear learn enough sign language to include deaf people in everyday conversations and work. Where every deaf child has early access to language and books with characters like them, and dark chocolate is cheap and plentiful.

When she’s not interpreting or writing, you can find Kelly cheering for her favorite Husker teams or training for half-marathons because she really likes dessert.

Her first mystery, Death by Dissertation, released April 22, 2019.

Author Links:
Website –
Amazon – Https://
Instagram –  @kellybrak

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  1. I really enjoy reading cozies. Thanks for this opportunity.

    1. Nancy, I'm glad you enjoy reading cozies. There's so many great series out there. What are your favorites?

  2. Great interview, I feel like I have learned a lot. Look forward to checking out this new series.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the interview. Kathy asks great questions! Thanks for trying the series.

  3. Hi Kathy! Thank you for interviewing me for my book Death by Dissertation for the Great Escapes book tour on June 30th. I really appreciate your time and support. Have a great weekend! Kelly