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Guest Leslie Karst, plus #giveaway

Edith/Maddie here, writing north of Boston and gearing up for a fun month! (Can you spell vacation?)

Leslie Karst is my third Leslie guest in a month, and certainly not least (none of them is). I’m so excited to have her back with the Wickeds, because that means she has a new Sally Solari mystery for me to inhale…I mean, read. If you haven’t read this wonderful foodie series set in Santa Cruz, California, you need to catch up, stat. Let’s see what The Fragrance of Death is like.

Ooh, artichokes, one of my favorite foods! Here’s the blurb:

Restaurateur Sally Solari is a champion, both in the kitchen and on the case, but after getting mixed up in one too many murders, she’s noticed her nonna’s friends have now taken to crossing themselves when they see her in the street. Adding to her woes, a sinus infection has knocked out her sense of smell, making cooking on the hot line difficult, indeed. Nevertheless, Sally is determined to stay out of trouble and focus on her work.

But then her old acquaintance Neil Lerici is murdered at the annual Santa Cruz Artichoke Cook-Off, and her powers of investigation are called into action once more. Sally plunges headfirst into the case, risking alienating everyone she knows—including the dapper Detective Vargas, who finds her sleuthing both infuriating and endearing. And soon it’s not only her restaurant and tentative new relationship that are on the line—it’s her life . . .

A Rose by Any Other Name…Would be Sally!

Coming up with names is hard, be it baby names, pen names, or character names.

For babies, new parents often simply use those of family members or people in their close circle, naming their daughter after a favorite aunt or grandmother or a good friend. (I, for example, was given my father’s middle name, who had been named after my grandmother’s best friend’s husband, Les.)

Grammy and Belle, 1920s

(Edith butting in here – Leslie looks just like her Grammy!)

And for pen names, it’s often a whimsical choice, the chance to use a moniker you always thought would be fun to have, but never wanted to actually change your name to. When I worked briefly as a disc jockey at a local country radio station, for example, I did so under a name I’d come up with years earlier as an amusing alter-ego: Iris Haven. (It came to me one night after having imbibed several cocktails, when I was trying to articulate the phrase “artists’ haven.” I was in my twenties at the time, and thought it would be marvelous to go live in such a place.)

Or again, one’s pseudonym might derive from a family member. Ellen Byron’s pen name, Maria DiRico, for example, comes from that of her Italian nonna. Similarly, I always thought that if I had to come up with another author name, I’d use Olivia Cook, the maiden name of my maternal grandmother (and a highly appropriate one, at that, given the culinary mysteries I write).

But what about our characters’ names? Where did Sally Solari get her name? Well, it’s actually a fun story:

Back in the early 1980s, I sang and played guitar in a new wave rock n’ roll band called Enigma, during which period I had my hair spiked and wore red hightop Chuck Taylors and pegged black slacks. One of the songs I wrote for the band was called “Jet Black,” about a gal named Sally (inspired by Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”) and her shiny black guitar. Many years later, when casting about for what to call my fourth-generation Italian amateur sleuth, I decided it would be fun to use the same name—partly because it meant I could have her named after her grandfather, Salvatore.

A young Leslie rockin’ out

But next I needed to find a last name for the restaurant-owning family, whose fishermen ancestors arrived from Liguria in the late nineteenth century. Researching surnames from that area of northern coastal Italy, I spotted “Solari” amongst the list. I loved how it evoked the word “solo,” as in someone working on her own against the odds. (There’s a reason other fictional characters have been called Napoleon Solo and Han Solo.) And I was also pleased that the name would be a nod to a local treasure, Mary Solari, who’s been a generous patron of the arts in Santa Cruz over many years.

These Italian fishermen in San Francisco in the late 1890s could be Sally’s great-grandfathers. [Photo public domain from Wikimedia Commons]

As for side characters, the trick is to have the names start with the different letters and not sound too much alike. But it’s great fun coming up with monikers for secondary characters, and the ones in my books derive their names from a host of different places: authors and musicians I admire (e.g., [David] Byrne, [Ray] Davies, [Declan] McManus); friends of mine; opera characters (Violetta/Letta; Mario); and once I even named someone after a stack of soda water cases I spied in the grocery store (Lacroix).

Readers: For a chance to win a copy of the first book in my Sally Solari series, Dying for a Taste, answer this question in the comments (US only; don’t forget to leave your email): How much attention do you pay to characters’ names? Do you have any favorites?

Leslie Karst is the author of the Lefty Award-nominated Sally Solari culinary mystery series. The daughter of a law professor and a potter, she waited tables and sang in a new wave rock band before deciding she was ready for “real” job and ending up at Stanford Law School. It was during her career as a research and appellate attorney in Santa Cruz, California, that she rediscovered her youthful passion for food and cooking, and she once more returned to school—this time to earn a degree in culinary arts.

Now retired from the law, Leslie spends her time cooking, cycling, gardening, singing alto in her local community chorus, and of course writing. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i.

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