Born and raised in the Chicago area, Frederick Lee Brooke graduated from Amherst College and studied writing at the University of Montana. He has worked as an English teacher, language school manager and small business owner. Having lived in Germany, France and Switzerland, he has also travelled extensively in Italy, where much of the action of the second book in the Annie Ogden Mystery series, Zombie Candy, takes place. The first book in the Annie Ogden series, Doing Max Vinyl, appeared in 2011 to wide acclaim. Currently Frederick Lee Brooke is working on the last book in the series of Annie Ogden Mysteries, due at the end of 2012 or early 2013.
IAN. Please tell us about your latest book.
FLB. Zombie Candy (Annie Ogden Mystery #2)
Frederick Lee Brooke serves up another literary treat with this bizarre and comical tale of love and betrayal. Candace Roach enlists her best friend Annie Ogden (our favorite sleuth from Doing Max Vinyl) to find out what her husband is really up to on his weekly business trips – but their home-cooked aversion therapy gets out of hand and hurtles along an astonishing highway of the undead.
Weaving elements of mystery, horror and romance in a story that starts in Chicago and ends in a quaint medieval town in sun-drenched Tuscany, Zombie Candy transcends any single genre.
Home for good from Iraq but unsure about her future, Annie Ogden isn't your typical woman sleuth. Her best friend, Candace Roach – gourmet cooking instructor, owner of a house in Tuscany – isn't your typical wronged woman either. Candace teaches gourmet cooking, and loves nothing more than orchestrating a four-course meal full of flavorful surprises and artistic touches. A selection of her recipes is found in an appendix to the book.
But with each shocking discovery in the investigation of her husband, the friendship between Candace and Annie is further put to the test. Candace ultimately takes matters into her own hands and, in an elaborate ruse, stages a nightmarish zombie drama in which her husband plays the starring role.
In the words of Emma Calin, author of Knockout, A Passionate Police Romance: "This book has all the ingredients of a perfect noir comedy – well formed characters, international locations, a fast moving plot with no brakes, and of course zombies. Revenge is a dish best served cold – and as a betrayed wife, master chef and cookery instructor, Candace cooks up the perfect recipe for the ultimate gazpacho."
IAN. How long did it take to write Zombie Candy?
FLB. This book took almost a year to write. But only because I had to try all the recipes myself and make sure they worked.
IAN. What inspired you to write Zombie Candy?
FLB. A famous golfer was chased out of the house by his golf club wielding wife in the middle of the night. She smashed in a couple of windows in his car with the sex-iron, and he smashed into a fire hydrant near their house. This made the news. I got to thinking, how many men have been chased out of the house by an irate wife? How many of them nearly get killed in the process?
But the part that interested me the most was imagining what must go through the mind of the wronged woman. After all, the news comes as a total shock, and she's still in love with him. Yet she wants to kill him. I thought it would be interesting to explore the evolution of the thought processes of an intelligent woman in that situation. I thought this also had comic potential.
IAN. Talk about the writing process.
FLB. I write best in the morning, but with the full schedule I have I can't be choosy. There are days when I write all day and then some more in the evening.
For me, the first draft takes up maximum 10% of the writing time, including the planning. The other 90% is revision. I find that with planning and first draft, I need total quiet. This is a critical stage. Once the first draft is done and I go into the long, repetitive revision stage, it doesn't bother me to have to get up and cook dinner for the family, or help someone with his homework, or just have some noise in the background.
IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?
FLB. I don't like outlines, but I make a plan with all the main characters and some notions about plot. I revise the plan quite a few times before I actually start writing the first draft. I want to have a fairly robust plan before I commit to actually writing dialogue and letting the characters interact with each other. That being said, once I get to that point, strange things can happen. And then I find it's really important not to stick to the plan slavishly.
Then again, what do I know? Zombie Candy is only my second book!
IAN. How is your book different from others in your genre?
FLB. Annie Ogden isn't a real sleuth, and my books only fit loosely in the Mystery genre. I like reading traditional mysteries; I'm just not sure I'll ever write one. So Zombie Candy, just like Doing Max Vinyl before it, transcends different genres. There are elements of mystery in it, but also of course horror, and romance as well. I think fans of all three of those genres will love Zombie Candy.
IAN. Is your Zombie Candy published in print, e-book or both?
FLB. It's coming out as an e-book now, in early May, and by early June will also be available in print.
IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
FLB. A good laugh. A strong attraction to Annie Ogden and Candace Roach as well as several other characters. Ideas about how friends can best show their love and support when someone has a desperate need.
IAN. Where can we go to buy Zombie Candy?
FLB. Only Amazon in the early stages.
IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
FLB. My next book will be the third Annie Ogden Mystery, and will wrap up the series. I can tell you right now, I will truly miss Annie.
IAN. Do you think Zombie Candy will appeal to true zombie fans?
FLB. What's a true zombie fan? I don't want to give anything away, but any active zombie fan who participates in zombie walks, goes to festivals, etc. will love Zombie Candy. That being said, this is a book that has elements of mystery, horror and romance all in one. It had quite a few early readers, fans of all different genres, and the consensus is that it really works.
IAN. The book contains some of Candace's favorite recipes. Why?
FLB. I confess, I love to cook, and it's such an important part of my life, it just felt natural to have Candace want to share her recipes. We are all vulnerable to being attacked through our taste buds. I like reading about cooking, and I love watching cooking shows on TV. I feel like I'm learning something and tasting it at the same time. It felt right for this to be really important for Candace. At the same time, her husband Larry is so incredibly lacking in appreciation of her talents, not just the cooking itself, but organizing complex meals and directing the preparation of them by her class of twelve people. These are amazing skills, and Larry is blind to them. I thought marriages are sometimes like that, where people get to a point where they are totally ignorant of what their partner is great at.
IAN. Zombie Candy is about cheating husbands, but it's also about something else, isn't it?
FLB. Yes, it's really about friendship. Candace's best friend going back to college days is Annie Ogden, and Annie now has her PI license, so Candace asks her best friend to look into Larry's activities. This unexpectedly causes a big strain in their friendship, for different reasons. It awakens old demons and both Annie and Candace have to deal with these. Will their friendship survive the test? What is friendship really about? Annie and Candace are the perfect pair to explore those questions.
IAN. After starting out in Chicago, why did you decide to set the story in Tuscany?
FLB. I've been fortunate enough to travel to Italy forty or fifty times in my life, sometimes for a two-week vacation, sometimes just for a very short trip. I absolutely love it there, from the food to the language to the beauty of the countryside and the architecture. In Zombie Candy, Candace realizes at a certain point that she has to get Larry out of his comfort zone. This is a guy who travelled all over the country every week for his work, and cheated on Candace with waitresses, flight attendants, whoever. He can adapt just about anywhere. But in Tuscany Larry discovers two things: 1) it's not so easy to find a willing waitress or flight attendant to spend the night with him; and 2) there are zombies here.
IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?
FLB. I am very happy to connect with readers wherever they like:
Zombie Candy (Annie Ogden Mystery #2) by Frederick Lee Brooke
Mystery / Horror / Romance
They leave the crowd and head into the vineyard, walking under an arbor as if down an aisle. The ground is dry and her heels don’t even sink into the hard grass. She has her little black party purse with its long strap over the opposite shoulder. Giancarlo's hand warms a spot on the small of her back.
“I know that you are from Chicago, and you are studying the history of art at the University in Siena for one semester, and you are spending the weekends in Monte Chianti in your uncle’s house.”
“Right on three counts.”
“I am sorry he died,” Giancarlo says. “I did not know him. But my Uncle Massimo says he was a wonderful person. Very cultured and kind.”
“Is that so unusual for an American?”
“It is unusual for any person to be cultured and kind, regardless of their nationality. I am sure my uncle would say so. Besides, I have not known many Americans. And I have never met one who could speak Italian like you.”
“I spent a few summers here when I was a young girl.”
“How come we never met before this?”
He sounds like he’s just thinking aloud. In any case, she has no answer for a question like that. Anyone can see where this conversation is headed. Does Giancarlo have a girlfriend? Is he going to ask about her status?
They come out from under the arbor and the night sky opens above them like a canvas, filled with stars and the Milky Way, and the bright moon. With the moon and all those millions of stars reflecting off Giancarlo’s white shirt, the vineyard is light as day.
“I always knew I wanted to study here. It’s like a second home, even if my parents don’t like it.”
“Why don’t they like it?”
“Well, my mom likes it. My uncle and my dad didn’t get along. So it’s like my uncle lives here in exile. But whatever happened between them means nothing to me.”
“It's a pity when things like that happen in families. So when the semester is over you’re probably going to go straight home again, and we’ll never see you again, right?”
He obviously means to say, “I’ll never see you again.” She’s getting all these signals. How Giancarlo can be interested in her she cannot imagine, but it’s unmistakable. It feels wonderful.
“I’m not sure,” she says. You don’t want to lead a man on, tell him lies, get his hopes up. On the other hand, anything can happen. She doesn’t want to kill his hopes either.
As long as he doesn’t ask, she decides to say nothing. Why should she? Larry is far away. Although they’re committed to each other, they aren’t married. She’s only nineteen. She’s a junior in college, and she still has time to live a little, thank you.
As if he can read her mind, Giancarlo doesn’t ask. Maybe he assumes the worst and doesn’t want to know. Maybe he just wants to take a chance.
They walk to the end of the vineyard, where there’s a low stone wall, beyond which she can see rows of fruit trees on the next property. The music has started again but it’s so far away she can barely hear it. A dog barks. Giancarlo holds her hand. When she looks up, he’s looking into her eyes. He has beautiful gray-blue eyes like none she’s ever seen before. His broad shoulders fill the navy jacket as his other hand comes up to her shoulder, then slips to the back of her neck, pulling her in ever so gently. His lips come closer as she reaches up.
Their lips meet, and her insides flood with a warm gushing feeling, like golden waterfalls. Like waterfalls of golden sunshine, the Tuscan sunshine over the fields, with the mice hiding in the grass and the lines of cypress trees in the distance, and shadows lengthening beside the farmhouses. This young Italian man is kissing her. In his uncle’s vineyard, at his cousin’s wedding. They’ve just met. Out of all his dancing partners, she is the one. Then their tongues touch, and a jolt of electricity shoots through her, sending a warm, steady current straight to her womanly center. She feels his breathing. She presses one hand to his heart, just to feel the pounding, to make sure this isn’t a dream. He’s real, all right.
She hasn’t kissed another boy besides Larry in almost two years. She never wants it to stop.