I'm pleased to welcome Amber Royer to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Amber writes the Bean to Bar Mystery series. 70% Dark Intentions is the second book in the series and will be released this Tuesday.
Kathy: 70% DARK INTENTIONS is a great title, instantly making me think of dark chocolate. What type of chocolate is your favorite, dark, milk, or dare I say, white (I know, it's not really chocolate-but it is, lol)?
AR: Thank you!
Right now I am on a dark chocolate kick. I love the way dark chocolate lets a chocolate maker working with beans from a single region -- or sometimes even a single farm or collective – to really highlight the different flavor notes of the beans without too many other ingredients muting those notes.
I like milk and white chocolate too (especially caramelized white chocolate, which takes a product that can be overly sweet to a whole different place). For me, it depends more on the quality of the ingredients than the percentage of cacao.
Kathy: I'm a fan of quality chocolates and think the concept of Felicity Koerber’s bean to bar chocolate shop is fantastic. Is this shop based on a real one?
AR: That’s awesome! Felicity’s shop is actually a combination of the things I’ve liked best at different bean to bar companies. I’ve met numerous chocolate makers through dallaschocolate.org, which partnered with me on launching my chocolate-related sci-fi books. I learned more from these professionals than I ever could have expected. Jael from French Broad Chocolates (North Carolina) helped me put together the layout of Felicity’ shop, and I borrowed her shop’s aesthetic for Greetings and Felicitations. The fact that my fictional shop also has a coffee bar with dirty horchata is a nod to CocoAndre Chocolatier and Horchateria, here in Dallas. (They are known for fanciful chocolate sculptures, but they make their own chocolate, with beans sourced from Chiapas, Mexico.) And the bean-to-baked goods aspect of the shop was inspired by Dandelion Chocolate, in San Francisco. Dandelion has a beautifully designed book on chocolate making, with a recipe section in the back, which discusses how their café works with single origin chocolate, which is a very different thing than working with chocolate that has been carefully blended for a uniform “chocolaty” flavor. I also used Dandelion’s book as a resource for the way Felicity approaches her trips to origin to visit the people who grow the beans she makes into chocolate.
Kathy: I love seeing pets in mysteries and enjoy when authors add more unique companions rather than the ubiquitous cat or dog. I was pleasantly shocked to discover that your book has a pet octopus! However did you decide to add an octopus to your story?
AR: I love octopuses, and I would love to have one as a pet in real life, but they aren’t the kind of aquarium animal one should keep if you only have limited time to spend with it. Octopuses are amazingly intelligent and easily bored. They are also the Houdinis of the aquarium world, known for escaping their tanks to explore the environment they can see through the glass (which can be dangerous, as they can only survive for a limited time out of water). In 70% Dark Intentions, I wanted to highlight that Mateo – Felicity’s employee who goes missing at the same time the book’s murder takes place – is the kind of person who has the patience and knowledge to properly take care of an octopus, and the empathy to bond with it. Felicity winds up taking care of Clive (the octopus) after Mateo’s disappearance, and gets to see more about Mateo by the way the octopus obviously misses him.
I was putting together the plot outline for this book shortly after listening to a talk by Amy Shojai where she was discussing how important it is for animals introduced into books to have a plot purpose, and that helped solidify how I wanted to use Clive in the book. He’s essential to Felicity uncovering a big clue.
Also, Felicity’s pet bunny Knightley was featured in the first book – he’s the inspiration for her shop logo and appears on the labels of her chocolate bars -- and still makes appearances here.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
AR: I love the way cozies allow you to fully develop a protagonist and explore her life, along with the puzzle/intrigue factor of the mystery. They are fun to read, and there’s always something quirky to learn about.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
AR: I also write science fiction. I have a space opera trilogy (starting with Free Chocolate) where chocolate becomes Earth’s only unique commodity in a galaxy that is hungry for it.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
AR: The Bean to Bar Mysteries is at its heart about reinvention. Before the series starts, Felicity becomes a widow and quits her job to move home and start a craft chocolate business, and at her grand opening party becomes embroiled with the first murder she has to solve. Her two potential love interests are an ex-bodyguard re-inventing his own life as a puddle jump pilot and her ex-boyfriend from high school, who in the time Felicity was away from the Island has gone from bad boy to cop.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
AR: This series has a fun cast, but my favorite has to be Felicity’s aunt, Naomi. Naomi is a house flipper whose husband works offshore, so Felicity moved in with her upon returning to Texas. Naomi just has such a good heart. She’s a matchmaker and a bit of a busybody – but only because she genuinely has Felicity’s best interest in mind. Felicity admires the way Naomi and Greg keep their relationship strong despite the distance imposed by off-shore work, and she looks at them as a model for what she wants in her own life if she ever does find true love again. Naomi is so much fun to write because she brings energy and enthusiasm any time she enters the room.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
AR: Yes! I was doing a presentation for Writer’s Organizations ‘Round Dallas on how to write about food in fiction. I partnered with a local chocolatier who had brought samples for us to discuss flavor notes, and in the course of the discussion I started talking about how there are a number of fun mysteries featuring chocolatiers, and a few with different takes on chocolate making, but that someone should write one about a modern craft chocolate maker, with insight on the challenges and how the business really works. I went home thinking about this – and I decided to write it.
NOTE: The chocolatier was Yeli from Yelibelly Chocolates. She also did a roll-your-own-truffles demo for the launch of one of my choco-sci fi books. At a local brewery. With ganache incorporating craft beer.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
AR: This one was a bit of a passion project. I wanted to highlight all of the chocolate makers who had helped me research and promote my traditionally published sci-fi. I’d done other indie projects before – including my chocolate cookbook, which had started as a thing for a presentation my husband and I did for our local herb society – so I knew what I was getting into, and I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do for cover design, etc.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
AR: That’s a tough question. I love humor, especially when it is subtle or makes a point. So based mainly on how funny they are on the page, maybe I’d just invite Jane Austen, Connie Willis, Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and sit back and try and stay out of the way of the barbs of wit.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
AR: Honestly? Several unpublished manuscripts I took on as editing projects.
But when I’m done with that, I’m looking forward to The Plot is Murder, by V.M. Burns. I’ve heard good things!
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
AR: I love cooking and gardening. My husband and I are actually growing cacao trees indoors, with the hope of someday being able to make chocolate from pods we have grown ourselves.
I am also fascinated with languages and linguistics, and am an active language learner in both Japanese and Spanish. I love puzzles (of both the word and jigsaw varieties) and board games.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
AR: Gochujang, Japanese mayonnaise, Mexican crema – and chocolate, of course!
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
AR: I am currently drafting the third books in the Bean to Bar Mysteries. Grand Openings Can Be Murder (Book 1) dealt with Galveston’s tempestuous weather, and 70% Dark Intentions (Book 2) introduces some of the island’s more interesting wildlife. Out of Temper (Book 3) will highlight Galveston’s boats, as I introduce a brand-new fictional cruise line and invite Felicity and her friends on board to do chocolate demos and subject lectures. Only, when one of the passengers gets murdered, a character from the previous two books gets blamed and it is up to Felicity to look beneath the surface to find the real culprit.
I actually did a series of lectures for a cruise line once, and got to travel on several different ships. So writing Out of Temper is making me nostalgic. I also have rough outlines for Bean to Bar 4 and 5.
My agent and I are working on building a new non-chocolate-related series. It will probably still involve food. Or coffee. Because if you meet me for five minutes, you’ll realize I’m all about that coffee.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
AR: Having a reason to keep asking questions and always keep learning. Each book presents new challenges when it comes to craft, and overcoming them teaches me more about writing. And each book requires new research. I really am a believer in writing what you want to understand, and I think that comes through in my work.
70% Dark Intentions (Bean to Bar Mysteries) by Amber Royer
About 70% Dark Intentions
Cozy Mystery 2nd in Series
Publisher - Golden Tip Press (July 20, 2021)
Paperback: 266 pages
Felicity Koerber’s bean to bar chocolate shop on Galveston’s historic Strand is bringing in plenty of customers – in part due to the notoriety of the recent murder of one of her assistants, which she managed to solve. Things seem to be taking a turn for the better. Her new assistant, Mateo, even gets along with Carmen, the shop’s barista turned pastry chef. Felicity thinks she’s learning to cope with change – right up until one of her friends gets engaged. Everyone’s expecting her to ask Logan, her former bodyguard, to be her plus one. But even the thought of asking out someone else still makes her feel disloyal to her late husband’s memory -- so maybe she hasn’t moved on from her husband’s death as much as she thought.
Felicity isn’t planning to contact Logan any time soon. Only, Felicity finds ANOTHER body right outside her shop – making it two murders at Greetings and Felicitations in as many months. That night, Mateo disappears, leaving Felicity to take care of his pet octopus. The police believe that Mateo committed the murder, but Felicity is convinced that, despite the mounting evidence, something more is going on, and Mateo may actually be in trouble.
When Logan assumes that he’s going to help Felicity investigate, she realizes she’s going to have to spend time with him – whether she’s ready to really talk to him or not. Can Felicity find out what happened to Mateo, unmask a killer, and throw an engagement party all at the same time?
About Amber Royer
Amber Royer writes the CHOCOVERSE comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series, and the BEAN TO BAR MYSTERIES. She is also the author of STORY LIKE A JOURNALIST: A WORKBOOK FOR NOVELISTS, which boils down her writing knowledge into an actionable plan involving over 100 worksheets to build a comprehensive story plan for your novel. She blogs about creative writing techniques and all things chocolate at www.amberroyer.com. She also teaches creative writing for both UT Arlington Continuing Education and Writing Workshops Dallas. If you are very nice to her, she might make you cupcakes.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Amber-Royer/e/B00PFV4CGM