Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, happy to host my friend Leslie Karst again. And she’s giving away a copy of a-measure-of-murder-coverher brand-new book to one commenter here today. I loved the first book in the series and am delighted my copy popped up on my Kindle this morning. Check out this starred review from Publishers Weekly (it’s no mean feat to score stars from them):

“Engaging characters, terrific writing, and a savory blend of musical and culinary erudition…polymath Karst sauces her plot without masking its flavor. And she’s a dab hand with the red herrings.”

Take it away, Leslie.

I am especially thrilled to be a guest of the Wicked Cozies today, as this is the release day of A Measure of Murder, the second in my Sally Solari culinary mystery series. And in celebration of all things wicked, I present a post about telling lies.

When Is a Lie Really the Truth?

Not long ago during a morning bike ride, I stopped to chat with another cyclist as we lifted our skinny-tire road bikes over a section of railroad tracks. “Lovely morning!” she commented, and I responded in kind. “I’m not often out this early,” the woman added, “but it’s great.”

Self portrait

“Oh, this is when I usually go riding,” I answered, “because I have a dog who always wakes me up early.”

The woman chuckled and gave me a knowing smile before riding off. Now, this may not seem like an out-of-the-ordinary exchange, and you may in fact be wondering what point it could possibly have. But here’s the thing: My dog, Ziggy, almost never wakes me up in the morning. She pretty much always sleeps in—well past the time I ever get up.

So the point is, I lied to the cyclist. And for no apparent reason. The fib just flew out of my mouth, unwarranted and unplanned. Now, why the heck did I do that? I wondered as I pedaled off in the opposite direction.

Weeks later, I was contemplating a suitable subject for this Wicked Cozies blog post and decided it would be fun to write about something “wicked.” And then, remembering my interaction with the woman at the railroad tracks, it occurred to me that telling lies is certainly considered wicked—at least in most circles.

Okay, then: Why did I make up that story about my dog?

What my dog really looks like in the morning

Perhaps the first thing to do is recognize the difference between outright lying and embellishing. Or exaggerating. Or telling tall tales. Every story-teller wants to spin a good yarn, so the tendency is to embellish. And if your audience is enjoying what you’re doing, you kick it up a notch. Just look at the tales of Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox. Or the “news” stories reported by Mark Twain when he worked as a journalist, which often failed completely to distinguish between fiction and fact.

So maybe when I told my fellow cyclist about my dog waking me up, it was simply because the real story—that I just seem to wake up early these days—was boring. And even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, my unconscious self wanted something better. (My previous dog, by the way, did wake me up early every single morning, so wasn’t an out-and-out lie.)

The urge to tell a good story never ends

But tall tales don’t exist solely for their entertainment value. They serve a far greater purpose, and are often “truer” than the literal truth. When used as metaphor, exaggeration can make a point far better than any real account ever could. This is what archetypes and mythology are all about. Through embellishment, they cut straight to the essence, to those attributes which make us human, make us “everyman.”

Okay, so my little fib about Ziggy doesn’t rise to the level of the adventures of Odysseus, or of his modern incarnation, Leopold Bloom . But the urge to tell a compelling story comes from the same place.

And maybe that need to embellish, to tell that tall tale, to create that metaphor, is what makes us writers. Because when done well, stretching the facts—or even making them up whole cloth—isn’t lying about what happened. It’s actually telling the truth.

Child’s rendering of a Greek hero

Readers: Have you ever caught yourself telling a fib for no reason other than to make your story more interesting? At what point do you think this moves from mere “embellishment” to actual “lying”? (Remember, one commenter wins a copy of the book!)


In A Measure of Murder, chef Sally Solari joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, but at the first rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident. Now Sally’s back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at her restaurant Gauguin, set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?

karst-headshotThe daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. She now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i. Visit her online at and at


72 Thoughts

  1. Sounds like a great second book! Congratulations! On the embellishing/lying/alternative facts front, a good raconteur knows what facts to snip from the narrative and which ones to emphasize.

    1. I agree. Good “bar stories” are honed, the highlights emphasized, the boring bits minimized to only the context needed for the rest of the story to shine. I often tell new writers this is the way to write a synopsis.

      1. I heard Dennis Lehane say that his Irish family were great storytellers, particularly at family gatherings–but they never told a story the same way twice.

  2. Interesting points, Sally. Maybe that’s why we don’t feel guilty when we give a favorable opinion about someone’s outfit when we secretly think it is hideous.

  3. Welcome, Leslie! You’re just “improving” the story a bit. You’re not doing it to make yourself sound important, but to connect with the other person. That’s what writers do.

  4. Congrats on the new book, Leslie! And fun story here. Though I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, I’ve done this kind of thing myself–overdramatizing a little, not just to make the story more interesting but to connect with someone in a conversation, usually a conversation and an interaction with no stakes (which I think may be part of the ingredients necessary here). Anyway, enjoyed the post!

    1. Yeah, I think that may indeed be what was going on with the dog story. It’s so weird, though, how automatically stuff like that just pops out of your mouth!

  5. As a child I often told fibs of omission, usually down-playing my adventures, to avoid trouble or worrying an adult. Or both. I was a reckless child and I believed there was no challenge too large or scary. The grownups didn’t need to know the gory details and many times they were gory, resulting in bloody knees or broken bones.

    In my more recent past my fibs have involved Santa or the Tooth Fairy and I scrutinize my child’s tales for the signs only I know to look for. She learned a lot earlier than I did though that fibs will out and that you can’t ask about sticking a crayon up your nose without mama finding out you did stick crayon up your nose.

    My most recent fib was one of omission again – I smiled as my suddenly preparing for her junior year of high school child filled out her course selection form for next year and said, “Exciting times, ahead. I can’t wait.”

      1. It was red, Leslie. The nurse who did out intake said it’s usually red. As a former statistician that detail has always struck me as fascinating – boy, girl, out of the kids who stuck crayons up their noses (and crayons are a favorite) it’s usually red. 🙂

        In case anyone was worried, Sherry can attest that my daughter is none the worse for the wear, is of normal intelligence, and very tall.

    1. Reminds me of that thing we used to say to each other as kids to wig ourselves out: “Everything I say is a lie. I am lying.” Wooooooo…

  6. Lies by omission during my youth were common- I was a rebel! As I got older… not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings I would try and find something positive in the outfit/hairstyle/makeup choice my friend was asking me about even if I didn’t like it. So it was a lie but trying to lift that person up with whatever I found positive. CoNgRaTs on the book- it sounds rockin’!
    Kelly Braun

    1. But if you do truly find something positive to say about their hair, is it really a lie? If so, I’m the biggest liar that ever lived, LOL. Thanks, Kelly!

  7. Welcome back to the Wicked Cozies.

    In my past life, one of my roles was to run our technical support organization. The were “Canadian nice,” and had a habit of telling people more than they needed to know. For example. “Yes, we’ve heard about that bug and we are fixing it. You’re lucky though, it used to be much worse.”

    I used to be constantly telling them to leave off that last sentence. Tell customers the truth, and tell them what you know, but you don’t have to tell them EVERYTHING you know.

  8. It’s one thing to embellish a story in a bar, but I run across so many people who lie to save face, and it drives me absolutely crazy. Especially when they are doing it in front of me, and they know I know the truth.

    Congrats on the new book. I will have my review up on Thursday (so don’t enter me in the contest), and I can tell you it is fabulous!

    1. When I meet new people, I always assume they are telling me the truth. I think this is true of most Americans, culturally. That means they have to lie to me, or in front of me, usually three times or so before I figure it out. Usually the first time, I’m like, “That sounds weird, but okay.” By the second time, I’m more like, “That isn’t what you told me last time.” And by the third time, I’m thinking, “I can never take anything this person tells me at face value.”

    2. Yes, lying to save face can be truly annoying, especially when the person is lousy at it, so you’re put in the position of calling them out our pretending you don’t know. Ugh. Thanks in advance for the review, Mark! You da bomb!

  9. I was both shocked and elated when I put your new book title into my local library’s search engine. I found that someone in purchasing had grown a brain! I immediately put a hold on a copy of “A Measure of Murder” and will probably wait two to three weeks for it to appear at my pickup branch. Of course I’d much rather own my own copy to share with the grown children who think my personal library is a lending library. LOL

  10. Congrats on your new release and thanks for visiting today, Leslie!

    I think being flexibile with the truth is one of the prerequisites of being a writer, especially one who writes crime. After all, how could you make up all those suspects who lie if you have no experience with it yourself? That being said, I think most lies spring from a desire to avoid pain, be it our own or that of someone else.

  11. Story telling is an art. Little white lies never hurt anyone! In fact, I think they make for better stories. And then there are times when writers use anecdotes from their friends’ lives and claim them as their own…Perhaps the line is only crossed once the lie affects someone else.

  12. When I tell stories in schools, I always make sure the children understand the difference between telling stories for fun and lying . . . and they do! I also point out that there are true lessons in the made-up stories if one looks. My interpretation of your “the dog wakes me lie” was that you were sparing the feelings of those of us who lazily do not wake ourselves up bright and early. 😉

  13. Such a sweet pic of your sleepy pup. As a youngster we had a short haired fox terrier/Chihuahua mix, “Muffin” that would scoot under the covers and go all the way to the bottom to sleep.

    1. Ziggy is (we think) half Jack Russell, a quarter Chihuahua, and a quarter Corgi. And she LOVES to sleep all the way under the covers, even when it’s super hot.

  14. I try to find something good to say even when I dislike someone’s clothes/hairstyle, etc. Maybe, just “interesting” or “different”. I have always been good at not telling outright lies, but I sure can be devious at times! I agree with storytellermary that we tend to try to make ourselves not look too good by excusing our good behavior with self-denigrating comments. That was my immediate thought on reading about your “non-awakening” pup. On the other hand, I find myself frequently slightly exaggerating numbers – “I was on hold for 20 minutes” when it was really 15. Who cares how long it really was? I”m trying to catch myself and get over this habit.

      1. Oh, I only wish I could be as talented as so many of you are! I created a ghost story to go with a small hostel in Peru that went over very well. But that is about my limit!

  15. Congratulations on your book! I can’t think of any examples right off, but with grandchildren, I sometimes have to “create” answers to their questions. 😊

  16. Congratulations on your new book! Your last one saved me from a very dreary wintery spring week last year, and I’m forever grateful. Now as I say that, I’m not sure if it was actually winter or spring. I know I read it during one kid’s basketball practices, which could have been winter or spring, but I also have a clear memory of wishing with all my heart that I was in Santa Cruz instead of hanging out for lacrosse game, which would have been spring. It occurs to me that I lie quite a bit, by splitting the difference and saying phrases like wintery spring week (which was really more like two weeks.

    1. “Wintery spring week” sounds like the beginning of a poem–I like it! Thanks for reading my first book, Sarah, and I hope you someday get to come visit Santa Cruz!

  17. Congratulations on the new book! I really enjoyed your thoughts as I have always thought the line between truth & lies was very blurred. We lie to be polite so feelings aren’t hurt, we lie to save face & we stretch the truth to entertain.

    1. Indeed. And sometimes we lie (okay, not me, but my characters) to get out of a murder rap. If not, it would be hard to write our mystery novels!

  18. My career is pouring wine and telling ghost stories – The more embellished the better! Although, when asked I can tell the reality of the paranormal experiences here.

  19. I can’t think of a time that I’ve exaggerated. I have told little white lies though! Thanks for the chance to win this book!!

  20. When my kids were younger and wanted to do something that I know we couldn’t do instead or afford instead of telling them no I would tell them we’ll see. They would almost always forget what they had asked for and weren’t upset with me.

  21. A most interesting post. Occasionally I will tell of an event in my past and make it seem like it was recent. Often use similes, metaphors, illustrations, hyperbole, in my work. I teach and often you can get the point across more clearly with their use. But. When I was 10, my sister 9 we did something we weren’t supposed to. My Dad said, “You want to tell me about this?” And my sister told him, “I didn’t want to, she made me.” He he asked if i pulled her along, twisted her arm, anything like that? She admitted that was a no, but. He said enough. Told us that our lives are based on our attitude, our choices. Nothing, and no-one is responsible for our choices but us. No one can live our lives for us. Not our parents, past friends, past bullies, the school, the job, the environment. We have the right to say what goes on in our life. She could have said no if she wanted too. So blaming your sister does not wash with me. I am ashamed of you for trying to take the cowards way out instead of taking responsibility for your own actions.” That was in 1957. Never forgot that. I have used that experience often with those I teach Congratulations on your new book. Looks like a fun read. Looking forward to it. I have yet to read this series do hope I will be reading it sooner. Rather than later.

  22. Congrats on your new book release. I don’t think you lying, you really do have a dog and you really did have a dog that got you up early, so seems like you were just combining the facts. (Sounds good, huh?). I suppose I do embillish a story once in a while to make things fun. Looking forward to reading “A Measure of Murder”.

  23. I just recently found out about Leslie’s series on a blog that I follow and I would very much like to read book 1 as well as the new release. Congratulations, Leslie, on this second book and wishing you much success.
    As to lies, I am sure that everyone does even if it is done to avoid hurting someone’s feelings and not an outright lie for no reason. I would say that under that heading, is where I would admit to avoid making someone upset or to compliment someone who you know needs a little boost with words. Sometimes I think, too, that people see things differently than the next person and so in that vein, telling about something both had done or seen could be different but not necessarily a lie, but their interpretation.
    Thank you for this opportunity to win your book Leslie. That would be wonderful.

    Cynthia B.

    1. Yes, I too will say a little white lie (though that makes you wonder what exactly is a black lie; not good, no doubt!) to make someone feel better. Thanks for your comment, Cynthia!

  24. congratulations on new book- just found out about this series look forward to reading

  25. I think fibbing or embellishing is ok in certain situations. We all do it. turtle6422(at)gmail(dot)com

  26. I think we all fib from time to time to keep from hurting the feelings of others. But, I do try not to embellish stories, but my husband does. Either that, or I don’t remember the story the same way he does..

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