Guest Post: Character Stew by Author Rae Katherine Eighmey

Character Stew by Rae Katherine Eighmey
Author of The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery

1-Guest redSimmer, marinate, poach, stew.

Susan, Lily, June, and Hazel the characters in my first cozy novel The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery have been cooking in my brain for four years. I know them well. And, frankly, they’ve gotten bossier over the years.

I live in Iowa and first considered writing a novel set during the presidential caucus campaign back in 2015 in time for the 2016 election. It just didn’t come together. So I set the early manuscript pages aside and moved on to other writing.

Fast forward to 2019. As the presidential candidates began touring the state I figured it was “now or never” to complete this project. So, it seemed, did Susan, Lily, June, and Hazel. When I opened up the old manuscript, they practically leapt off the pages. They certainly began to fill my brain. Turns out I’d been thinking about them, and with them, more than I thought.

I write more non-fiction than fiction. For me, non-fiction is an orderly process. Loads of research involving books littered with post-it notes. Stacks of papers and documents printed from Internet sources ready to be quoted and footnoted. Cooking experiments undertaken, translating century-old incomplete recipes so they can be made in modern kitchens. I weave these facts and foods together, telling the stories of famous people, relating exciting events, exploring social change, and celebrating ordinary lives.

Fiction, on the other hand, is a deep dive into the world of my characters. When I was a child I could lose myself in a book so completely that I never heard my mother call me to do errands—or even come to the table for ice cream. It was that serious. Well, I have to tell you, when fiction writing is going well, it is even more involving. I’m deep in the stew with my characters. I see what they see, smell what they smell, taste what they taste, and eavesdrop on their conversations. As I reflexively key, I have to try to remember to push “save.”

Most of the time I have a good sense of where the story is going and how the characters behave within it. Sometimes they surprise me. It is really strange. I’m keying away on the laptop ready to move to a new scene and all of a sudden one of the characters—in this book Hazel was the most insistent—will stop me in my tracks with an alternative. My planned events were not true to their story they insist. We tussle during the editing, but most of the time they’re right. I had not listened to them well enough.

There are times when the writing does not go well. I have to step away and let the characters simmer a bit more. Or stew. I’ve tried parking them in an imaginary instant pot pressure cooker but that seldom works. Walking away and turning attention to something else is the metaphorical slow cooking that produces, for me, the tastiest results.

So what did the four years of my metaphorical back-of-the-stove simmering bring to the story of The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole? For certain, the four women characters are more complex than they were. They were there in the back of my mind as I cooked, gardened, cleaned, and wrote other works. And, over time, I filled in, unconsciously, more of their backstories and personalities. The events of the story are more defined than my initial ramblings. We have additional characters who were nowhere to be seen. All in all, the first book would have been half-baked. But now, with these chapters completed, Susan, Lily, June, and especially bossy Hazel and I are ready to set out into stories that will carry us through a year of events in Lake Livonia. Do I know all the ingredients and how they will come together? No. But I’m thinking—hoping—these four women will once again sweep me up into their world and we’ll see how it all turns out in the end. I’m betting deliciously.


About The Book:

The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole Mystery:
A Cozy Potluck Paradise Cafe Mystery by Rae Katherine Eighmey

The Great Iowa Caucus Casserole MysteryThe Iowa Presidential Caucus is a casserole of finest ingredients—policy ideas, active candidates, determined local politicians dedicated political activists, and hard-working Iowans. Every four years citizens across the state meet to hash out their differences and make a selection. Seldom is one candidate an overwhelming caucus choice. Instead, several winning candidates combine into a single dish of patriotic participation, ready to share with the rest of the nation.

In Lake Livonia, with the holiday season fast approaching and the Iowa Presidential Caucus soon to follow, Susan Stewart’s fledgling Potluck Paradise Cafe is humming with the creation of new and delicious dishes to please the appetites of her community.

But then, a mysterious note included in a Christmas card from her friend and mentor, Hazel Romer, who skipped town in the middle of a July night, raises important questions. What was the skeleton in Hazel’s closet that caused her to run away from the town she loved? And why had she left the restaurant to Susan?

When a blizzard traps strangers in town overnight, the stage is set for a series of life-changing events for Susan, her teenaged children, and her friends, as the Presidential Caucus brings Iowa and Lake Livonia into national prominence.

With 30 Family and Potluck Pleasing recipes for main dishes, vegetables, and desserts.

Book Links:  Amazon


Leo Review sm

Susan Stewart and her closest friends are working to make her newly inherited restaurant profitable. Having successfully rebranded the hamburger diner into a deli that sells and serves casseroles du jour, she happens upon a great marketing tie in when her son and his class are assigned presentations about the presidential candidates and issues being faced in the upcoming Iowa Caucus. Meanwhile, an odd letter from her former boss and benefactor, Hazel, has Susan worried. What is the secret that Hazel is hiding from and how it will it affect Susan and her family?

This is a mystery-light short story that I could read more of for days. The three main characters, Susan, Lily, and June are wonderfully well written. I wanted to know more about them and the small town they live near the Iowa/Minnesota border. If the character driven story wasn’t enough to keep attention, the delectable descriptions of the food coming out of the Potluck Paradise Cafe would do the trick. I was super excited to find so many of the recipes in the back of the book. 

What this story did more than anything else was make clear for the first time in my life how the famous Iowa Caucaus works and I am kind of sad to not have something like that in my state.

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I received a complimentary evaluation copy of the book. All opinions and insights are my own.


About The Author:

Rae-Eighmey-headshot-scaledRae Katherine Eighmey is an award-winning author and cook with blue ribbons from both the Iowa and Minnesota State Fair cooking contests. She is the author of a dozen books about food and history including Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen and Stirring the Pot with Benjamin Franklin.

She has written two other novels. Current events inspired this cozy mystery. A north Iowa resident, she is familiar with the Iowa presidential caucus and wanted to tell the tale of the caucus through the friendly story of three strong women who meet challenges in their lives and cook great food.

Author Links: AmazonTwitter


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