Thursday, March 4, 2010


Thank you to the amazing and talented Cozy Chicks for allowing me to borrow space here for a day.
The third book in my Orchard Mystery series, Red Delicious Death, came out this week. I'm still boggled to find myself writing a series about an apple orchard, since I've never been a farmer and I have a brown thumb.
The series came about during a conversation with my then-agent (Jacky Sach, now retired). We were talking about one of my manuscripts that I had sent her, which included the characters and the setting I'm still using. She liked it, but she said that in order to pitch it to Berkley I needed a hook. We were kicking ideas around, and I was thinking about what would be appropriate for the setting (which is based on a real house in a real town). First I thought, organic foods, and then a light-bulb went on in my head, and I said, "apples." Jacky agreed immediately, so I planted an orchard on the property (I can prove there was once one there, but alas, it's gone–save
for one graft that I managed to salvage last year). And thus was a series born.
Apples are at the heart (I thought about saying "core," but...) of our national history. The first orchard was planted in this country only a couple of years after the Pilgrims landed. In the 18th century every household had to have apple trees–for cider (hard or otherwise) in those days, because it was considered healthier than the water–and for pies and for eating over the long winter.
My first real exposure to apples happened when my family moved into a house that had been built in the 1920s, in what had been farm country until then. The front yard was filled with towering apple trees that hadn't been pruned for decades–they were taller than the house. That first year they produced an amazing crop: we were hauling apples out to the back of the property in wheelbarrows, and the discard pile was three feet high. The trees never produced as well again, at least in the few years we lived there.

I remember vividly the first apple I picked directly from a tree and ate–it's still the standard I use for every apple I eat. Of course I'd eaten plenty of apples before, but this was the perfect apple, crisp and sweet and full of flavor. I have no idea what kind it was, but I'll never forget it.
So now I scout out abandoned orchards and heirloom varieties. I make apple pie, apple cake, apple slaw; applesauce and apple butter; pork roast with apples, duck with apples. You name it, I've probably tried it. I can tell you where to find apple wine and apple brandy, even apple vodka (that's something you can make with the ones that are too damaged to sell for eating). I've learned how hard it is to grow perfect shiny apples–and to do that you usually have to blast them with chemicals. I've learned about the scientists at Cornell University who are saving the apple genome, so we don't lose the wonderful diversity of varieties that have survived this long. I've planted two apple trees in my front yard, and I've just ordered two more–all heirloom varieties. And I write about apples (with the occasional murder now and then).
I love apples.


Jill said...

I've only just now learned of your Apple series, but I love the idea and will certainly check it out.

It's so true that a series needs a hook - be it orchards r what have you. The hook cements it in readers' minds.

Good luck with this latest publication! Hope it sells well!


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I just saw this on display at my local bookstore last night. Looks great.

Kaye said...

Looks like such a wonderful book. Very tempting!

You just can't beat an apple right off the tree. Apple squares still warm from the oven is one of my favorite recipes. Yum, yum yum.

Natalie W said...

I love that you are learning while you write. Two adventures in one.

Can't wait to read the new book.


Mason Canyon said...

The new book sounds very interesting. Love the series and can't wait to read this one.

Sherri Browning Erwin said...

Wow, you do love apples. Congratulations on the release of Red Delicious Death! I can't wait to read it. And now, okay, I'm also craving fresh apple crisp.

Anonymous said...

I love this series... can't wait to read the new one. These are on my "keep" shelf. :)

Sheila Connolly said...

Thank you all. And I'm still learning--I'm taking a short course on starting your own farm (as my heroine Meg rather than me, which gets confusing). I can see that it's going to be fun: most of the people in the class have some farm experience, which I don't, but I (and Meg) have all the financial skills that they don't.

Maybe I could lease an orchard somewhere... See? I've already learned something--you don't necessarily have to own the land to farm it, and there are websites that will show you where land for lease is available locally. Of course, it's still hard work, but a surprising number of people want to do it.

Melissa said...

Red Delicious Death is in my TBR pile...can't wait to read it!

Lover of Books said...

This sounds like a great series. Going to add it to my wish list on amazon. It's where I keep my current book lists. lol

I have to make apple crisp today. But then I have a can of apple pie filling and I might make an apple braid desert using my crescent roll recipe. We'll see. I love to bake!


Anonymous said...

I love this series. I love apples. Although I've only read the first book, I'm looking forward to the subsequent ones. Thanks so much for writing it!!

jbstanley said...


I find all horticulture fascinating and I know you've done an amazing job weaving this theme into your mystery.

One word: McIntosh. My favorite apple - I could really eat one every day, but they're better picked fresh and I no longer live where they grow close by.

Wanna come to VA and show me how to plant a tree?

I love the book's cover! Good luck with your new baby/release!

Dru said...

Congrats on your new release and I have my copy sitting on my shelf waiting for its turn to be read.

My favorite apples are golden delicious and gala.

Blacksheep Bliss said...

Your series sounds very interesting and I'm going to have to get them.

I buy all my apples from our local farmers. The ones that come in major grocery store chains don't taste as good and are waxy. We also have an orchrid here that you can pay for a bucket and walk out and pick your own and that's great for the kids.

signlady217 said...

Golden Delicious are my favorites to just eat. And I do like applesauce, apple butter, and apple crisp. I'm not too crazy about much of the rest.

Sheila Connolly said...

See? Everybody loves apples (except my daughter who loves them fresh but has no use for any of the cooked forms).

Someone off list raised a question about writing with a hook. My former agent had worked at Berkley before starting her agency, and most of her contacts were there. She nudged quite a few people toward Berkley Prime Crime, including some of the members of the list, and we all thank her for it. Berkley is great about giving untried writers a chance.

But BPC has specific preferences, and those include craft and food hooks. Is that a bad thing? I take it as a tribute to our readers--they're multi-tasking. Not only do they want appealing characters and a solid plot, but they want to learn something new along the way.

And face it, our protagonists are working women these days (as are most readers). They need to earn a living, even though they keep tripping over corpses (was Miss Marple independently wealthy, or did she just depend on the kindness of friends and relatives?). We might was well give them an interesting profession.

And now there are lots of themed mysteries out there, in all fields. Fun reading! My main hope is that they're not just gimmicks, but the writer has explored the details of the profession, and maybe even tried her hand at it. Which is why I planted apple trees, and talk to orchardists, and wander through orchards a lot, even in winter. And today I'm using up the last of what I harvested from last year's apple crop (not from my baby trees) to make my favorite apple cake, only maybe this time it'll be cupcakes.

Linda said...

I'm glad you stopped by on the blog. This sounds like a fun series. And the book cover is beautiful. Love it!

Andrea C. said...

No apple has ever been as good as the ones I remember picking and eating of my grandmother's trees in California. I have tried and tried, but nothing measures up!

Sheila - I am excited for the new book this week. I have really been enjoying the Apple Orchard Series!

Leslie Wheeler said...

Great post, Sheila. I loved your first book and am looking forward to number 3. Like you, I didn't know much about apples until my then husband and I built a house on what had once been farm land in the Berkshires, and discovered that the property contained a number of heirloom trees, some obvious, others hidden among other trees. I'm always thrilled when I get a good crop of these "heirlooms." Found a lot of golden apples on the ground by the side of the driveway around Thanksgiving, and of course they went into the stuffing. In fact, I still have some in my refrigerator. They are tough apples to have lasted this long!
Thanks again!

Vicki said...

I love the book cover...looks very cozy! I enjoy reading these types of books with a hook as well, so I'm sure I will enjoy it. Thanks!

Heather Webber said...

Mmmm, apple cake sounds yummy. Do you share the recipe in the book?

Congrats on your new release, Sheila!

Helen Kiker said...

All this talk about apples is making me hungry, hungry, hungry!! Braeburn are my favorites but when I lived in Ithaca NY I tried all the varities that Cornell was developing. Apple cider is great too. And, of course, a mystery with apples will be a great read.

Melissa_1959 said...

I am totally in your debt for posting information about hooks.

I am making changes in my WIP to give it a hook (and a new title) that I hope will be interesting to editors, publishers and readers.

Deborah M said...

I've just begun to follow the Cozy Chicks site. I'm excited to read about new books coming out and to see some of the authors I've known for a long time. Congrats on your new book!
Deborah M.

Sarah said...

I read the first of your Apple series and loved it so much I bought the next 2 in the series new so I'm looking forward to reading them too :-)


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Sheila! Late to the party---but congratulations! The book is gorgeous..and you are simply amazing (to the core!).

love love love

Kris said...

Apple Pie - yummo!
I actually put the first in this series on my amazon wish list earlier this week, can't wait to get a copy.