Linda Gordon Hengerer and Raquel V. Reyes talk about Raquel's first novel in her Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series, Mango, Mambo, and Murder; discuss writing process; SleuthFest; and how Raquel's miniatures help her writing.
Linda Hengerer talks with Raquel V. Reyes, who writes stories with Latina characters. Her Cuban-American heritage, Miami, and the Caribbean feature prominently in her work. Raquel is a co-chair for SleuthFest. Her short stories can be found in the Malice Domestic anthology, Murder Most Theatrical and in the 2021 crime fiction anthology, Midnight Hour.
Find out more about Raquel and her writing, and sign up for her newsletter, at rvreyes.com.
Links to her social media are here: linktr.ee/LatinaSleuths
Get to know Raquel - The Tart Words Baker's Dozen:
1. Plotter or Pantser? Combo? Plantser
2. Tea or Coffee? Coffee
3. Beer, Wine, or Cocktails? Wine and/or Cocktails
4. Snacks: Sweet or Savory? Savory
5. Indie Published, Traditionally Published, or Hybrid? Traditionally Published
6. Strict Writing Schedule: Yes or No? Yes, Daily
7. Strictly Computer or Mix It Up? Strictly Computer
8. Daily Goal: Yes or No? Flexible goal
9. Formal Track Progress: Yes or no? Yes (Word Count in an excel spreadsheet)
10. Special Writing Spot? Desk
11. Writer’s Block? More like Writer's Mud I get stuck in the mud and progress is slow but I'm still writing.
12. File of Ideas: Yes or No? No
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Transcribed by Otter.ai; Lightly edited by Linda. Please forgive typos or grammatical errors.
Episode 331 - Raquel V. Reyes
Sun, 7/11/2021 • 27:10
Welcome to Tart Words. I'm your host, Linda Hengerer. And I'm a writer, a reader and a baker. I talk to writers about their latest book and what inspires them, chat with fellow author Suzanne Fox about what writers can learn from reading their favorite authors, and share fast and easy recipes for anyone looking for a sweet treat. Join me as I share Tart Bites, Tart Thoughts, and Tart Words.
Today I'm speaking with Raquel V. Reyes, who writes stories with Latina characters. Her Cuban-American heritage, Miami, and the Caribbean feature prominently in her work. Raquel is a co-chair for SleuthFest. Her short stories can be found in the Malice Domestic anthology, Murder Most Theatrical and in the 2021 crime fiction anthology, Midnight Hour. Mango, Mambo, and Murder, the first novel in her Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series, will be released October 2021.
Hi, Raquel. I'm looking forward to hearing about your latest book today.
Thank you for inviting me. I'm excited.
I am to tell me about your latest book or the book that is coming out in October of 2021.
Yes, October 12, which is honestly, almost here, is called Mango, Mambo, and Murder: A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery. And it is set in Miami. My main character is a Cuban-American. She's a food anthropologist. I'm not a food anthropologist but I am Cuban-American. And I'm very happy to be introducing culinary cozy fans to a new flavor of cozy, you're going to get so many Caribbean treats in this series. So I'm excited for that.
I am too. My brother-in-law is Cuban and my sister learned to make some Cuban dishes. And certainly when we were at family gatherings when the kids were smaller, we don't live in the same state anymore so I haven't seen them in a number of years, but certainly when we would get together for the holidays and whatnot, there would be a lot of Cuban foods that we were eating and I enjoyed many of them. Well, good.
I've got recipes in the back of the book. It won't be just Cuban-American, it's going to be all Caribbean you know there's going to be some Puerto Rican and Dominican and Jamaican and Haitian and hopefully in books to come there'll be some other you know, Trinidadian and good flavors, because the Caribbean has some delicious foods that I'm happy to introduce our readers to.
Absolutely. Is this book part of a series?
It is, it's the first in the series. Like I said, it's a Caribbean Kitchen Mystery. Miriam Quiñones is a food anthropologist. She's just finished up her PhD in New York when her husband says, Hey, honey, let's move back to Miami. My parents are going to help us get a house, I'll have a better job opportunity. It'd be great for the family. And so she moves back, but she's moved into the tony enclave of Coral Shores, she actually grew up in Hialeah, which is part of Miami, which is much more Spanish language oriented. So she's now moved into her in-laws neck of the woods, so to speak. And there's a little tension there. Her mother-in-law is…I don't want to say manipulative, but she is old school, maybe not. Maybe she's not happy with the fact that her son married Miriam, I will say that
Would she have preferred a more traditional wife for her son?
Oh, she definitely would have preferred Juliet, who's one of the characters in the first story, to have been her daughter-in-law. Yes, there's some tension there for sure.
You cannot have a good story without tension somewhere and preferably from multiple directions. Yes. Where did the idea for your main character come from? You're not a food anthropologist. But Miriam is.
Right. Well, you know, I love documentaries. And I watch a lot of food shows. And you know what Anthony Bourdain does when he had his shows, and he would go visit stuff, and he would talk about the food. But he would also talk so much about the culture that it came from, especially in the Caribbean. There is a shared history, even though you had Spanish colonies and French colonies and British colonies, right? There's a shared history of colonization. There's also a shared history of enslaved Africans coming to the Caribbean. And they brought with them a lot of foods from Africa that have become staples in the cuisine, the Caribbean cuisine. And so I really liked that idea of bringing in that history and being able to share that history and being able to talk about food cultures and food ways. I also want to tell… Have a Latina, who had a higher degree, she's got a PhD. And so some of it, it was a combination of all of those things, you know, it was a combination of my interest in the Caribbean culture, and all the ties that that has, and then also wanting to have representation because we don't have a lot of Latinas in the mystery genre. And I don't really know if that many, even if there is one in the sub-genre of cozies.
And I think it's interesting when you're looking at the history because you're looking at island nations, so they were initially limited to the food that could be grown or found on their island. And then with colonization came the influence of the colonizers, whether it be French or English or Dutch. So you get the overlay of their cuisine with the local ingredients. And then as trading becomes more prevalent, and they can get other ingredients that expands their food culture too.
Sure, you know, there's a lot of different things. And when you look at the Haitian cuisine, their techniques are all French. Yes, you know, and so that plays a lot into it. Yeah. So it's kind of, I don't want to say limitless, but you know, there's a depth there. Yes, that is fun to explore.
Is it based on a real story?
Mango, Mambo, and Murder is not based on a real story. But there are some little currents in there. You know, Miami is a South Florida… really has a long history of Ponzi schemes, scams, all of these other things, Medicaid fraud, and so forth. So one of the main characters or one of the, you know, protagonists in this in the first story is Dr. Fuentes. He is a Cuban herbalist. We learn he is not a doctor, he claims that he's a medical doctor, an MD, he's actually a dentist, he was a dentist in Cuba. But when he came over to Miami, he couldn't practice as a dentist, he made up all of this herbal business, and teas and this that the other and he's shady. Let's just say there's a part of him. That's true. And then there's a part of him that's really shady for get rich, quick scheme.
There's a lot of that in Florida. I think the nature of the state lends itself to those sketchy characters coming down here.
I think that's really where it was based on I mean, come on, they sold a bunch of Northerners swamp land, you know. And this, they finally they come down all the way to the end of the state. And they realize that what they bought really isn't what they were what they were told it was.
Not quite. Not quite. And then you get someone like Henry Flagler, who put the railroad in and was able to do something with it. But yeah, I'm sure there was a lot of I've got some prime land available for you. And if you're stuck with the land, I guess you try to make the best of the situation. And I also think that with some people, the idea of coming down so far from home, when transportation was difficult, they had an opportunity to reinvent themselves.
Sure, you could be anything out here. I mean, look at Key West, which is further down, you know, the end [of Florida], so many great stories down there, people reinventing themselves and not being who they actually say they are, you know, when you dig a little deeper, right, but I mean, that's not the main theme of the book, but it was certainly one of the things that I wanted to explore was just kind of like this culture of Miami, being right for scams and reinventing yourself as someone else. And, and people really not looking too deeply into it and just taking it as face value. You know, there's a lot of get rich stuff down.
They also people who have come down here to reinvent themselves don't want to ask too many probing questions that they themselves don't want to answer in turn. Sure. Do you have a writing routine or schedule?
I do, I write every morning. I am a slow writer. I wish I was one of those people who says, oh, I've done 5000 words today, or 1000 words. You know, I write for one to two hours. I write straight through. I write from the beginning until the end. Some writers do a scene or do a chapter here and then they move everything around and shift everything around. I'm not like that. I'm very linear.
I think whatever your routine is that works for you is fine. You know, I read a lot of different things. And I talked to a lot of different writers about what their processes and I'm always happy to maybe explore something that I haven't tried before, but if it doesn't work for me, I let it go.
Exactly. Well, recently, I switched my writing desk. And I've noticed there's a little bit of a change and some stumbling blocks and I'm actually might even consider going back to my old writing desk, because there is something about that routine that allows you to be creative, because there's certain things that you have that structure. Yes, you know what I mean? It's like a security blanket. You know, it's like, and your body almost knows, I like to keep the lights low. I write early in the morning, have a desk lamp, but I have the lights in the room off. So it's kind of like a little cave, almost, you know, I'm very focused on the screen. And in my new desk setup, it's not… it's like actually in front of a window that faces the sunrise. So I'm getting morning light. And I have noticed it's a little harder for me to get into that creative rhythm of that cave. You know what I'm saying? Kind of like that security of that cave. Yeah. So yeah, I've noticed that in it. It's very interesting. I'm not saying that my new desk isn't going to work. But there is a difference to it.
The story cave has gone away. And now you have a new kind of like bright light.
Yeah. Maybe I need to go to the light. I don't know.
How long have you been working with the new setup?
Oh, about a month.
Long enough to tell.
Long enough to tell. Well, I like it because it's a desktop. So the screen is larger. And my old setup is a laptop with a much smaller screen. And so in my head, I was like, oh, bigger, better, but maybe not.
Maybe in your writing cave, you need smaller, and then the desktop would be better for editing when you could use a little more real estate.
And exactly. And that's kind of what the reason why I did the trade was because I was doing a lot of editing and a lot of other stuff. And I was like, Oh, it's so nice to be able to see everything. And you know, flip between pages more easily.
Do you outline?
I do a skeleton outline, I use plottr. I really like it. It's a software. And I like it because it's simple. I like a simple structure, you know, and easy to see. I'm actually right now deep into Book Two, and just have been working on some things because my skeleton was a little too lean, you know, and I needed to plug into some other things. It's helpful. And I like that. You know, I know the beginning. And I know the end. And what's great about writing is the journey between those two things. And I think during that is when you discover subconsciously, you have planted a few things into the story. And then while you're writing, you're like, Oh, this is where the twist comes. Yes. And it's almost like your subconscious knew these things, but just did it you know, give you the memo on them. Yeah,
yeah. Never from subconscious: You want to be thinking about this. Write this down. Exactly. If only it were as easy as taking dictation from your subconscious. I know you initially from Mystery Writers of America, the Florida chapter because we both do live in Florida, and I know that you have co-chaired SleuthFest in the pandemic years which was probably not very fun at all. And you're going to be chairing it, co-chairing it again for next year, 2022, when we are back in person.
Yes. I'm a longtime volunteer. I had run the registration and I had done a lot of other volunteer jobs in SleuthFest so a lot of people probably know my face well, SleuthFesters know my face from that because I've been a longtime volunteer in the organization. But then I co-hosted I'm going to, co-chaired our 2019 conference, which was wonderful and then we were so disappointed that we had canceled 2020 but everybody went through the same disappointment.
You know, everything was such chaos and SleuthFest is typically February/March. So it was right at the beginning of the pandemic
Right at the beginning and our guests of honor had their plane tickets already booked. You know, I mean, it was we were that close to going. I mean, everything was the program was even printed and the bags were printed. But anyway, collector's items. So 2020 was, was cancelled. And then 2021 we went online. Yes,
I was, which was Yeah, I Yeah, I did. I thought you and Michael did a terrific job, both with the program and working with an unfamiliar process. SleuthFest has been a certain way for so long. And now to pivot to online where you can't have multiple panels going on at the same time, you just have to rethink the whole thing. But I thought you guys did a terrific job with it.
Oh, thank you for the compliment. Yeah, I mean, so this, this is normally four days. You have three or four different tracks. You have a dedicated forensic track, you know, I mean, there, there's a lot going on, because it's a writing craft conference. And so when we switched over to having to do it virtually, the thought was one, we don't want to overload people. And it seemed that at that point, people were kind of getting that Zoom fatigue. And so we wanted to give everyone a taste and show some of our highlights and show what we do and show that we are an amazing craft conference. But it was like we wanted to give you a highlight. Well, let's go some culinary here. It was a tasting, a tasting menu, as well. We gave you…
Highlights on years past and a little teaser for what's to come next year.
Exactly, exactly. And so we're actually deep in planning right now for 2022. We have our guest of honor, Jeffrey Deaver, we're very excited to have him as guest of honor and the faculty and agents and editors will be revealed soon, we're going to be back in our Deerfield Beach Hotel, we're very excited, and all good things. And it's going to it'll be so nice to be able to be in person with people again.
And I can go for quite a while without seeing people and be perfectly comfortable with that. But I missed the in-person. You know, like the first time I hadn't seen my mother and my sister for a year. And when I saw them again, it was like such a relief to be able to see in person. But also with writing friends like just to be able to meet for lunch and feel comfortable meeting together and talking about writing because the virtual space is fine for just gathering but you lose the in-person communication.
You know, the in-person connection, the networking that you… and I say networking, because that is very much what people talk about SleuthFest, and the people have met their agent, they ask people have met their critique partners there. And I will tell you that that sometimes meeting your agent, like you've met them, and they don't become your agent to a year or two later. But the reason why you have that introduction is because of SleuthFest.
And you've met in person, like there's a face to go with the name. It's not just a submission through the email or a letter, if people even still submit through the regular mail where they don't have a person behind the name, they just have the name on the on the page.
Right. Because at SleuthFest we have a two days, two afternoons of pitching that you get to pitch directly to agents, editors. So you know, you might have pitched them a manuscript, it might not be the manuscript that you finally are signing with them. But that's your introduction. That's Oh, yes, I met you at such and such. And also, the network of people of writers that you cultivate and grow is so important, because like you said, writers we’re in our cave, we're perfectly happy being alone and isolated. But as soon as we finish writing, we really need to be out there talking to other writers, because it's what keeps you developing. As a writer, I don't think that you grow in solitude.
I don't think so. They're not for something like this, and the collaboration, and not in we're writing this together on both our names are going to be on the book, but just you're stuck, you're having a problem with… not who the killer is, because you know that, but you need a good way to kill someone or hide the body or hide evidence or present evidence or whatever. And so you're sitting at lunch with a table full of other people who know what you're going through. And you say, I'm having trouble with this. And you just toss around a few ideas. And even if you don't use any of the ideas that are tossed around, just getting it out in the open sometimes releases something within yourself. And then it's like a-ha, put it this way.
I have several different Caribbean cultures in my stories. Right. Now I can speak for the Cuban-American because that's mine. I'm married to a Puerto Rican, I lived in Puerto Rico for a year on the island. I can, I can speak to that those things I feel comfortable with. We have some Dominican friends we have, you know, all of this other stuff. But in Book Two that I'm working on right now, I introduced a Jamaican character and I wanted her to be authentic. And I needed a sensitivity reader for a couple of passages because one, I wanted to get it right. And I wanted to be respectful. I didn't want to you know, you know, patois is out. There's not going to be any of that. But there's also certain words and certain slang that you use, right? So anyway, through my various networking, I know a writer who has Jamaican heritage, and she was like, Oh, yeah, send it to me and I'll have a look over and that is what is so important about developing your tribe of writers is that you rely on one another, to help you see things that you might be missing, right? Or like even having somebody read over something and go, Oh, this part was confusing, which of course to you was perfectly straightforward, because all that backstory is in your head.
But to the reader, they don't have access to information, access to your thought process. Exactly. And it's key to get things right. You know, it's easy to say, Oh, it's Caribbean, or it's all Latin. But that's like saying that every state in the United States is the same. And we all know that Texas is wildly different from New York, which is wildly different from Alaska, Florida, you know, you you want someone who can give you some of that local knowledge so that your background rings true. I agree. And is there a creative outlet that you put into your writing, or that gives you some creative respite from the writing?
I do miniatures. Actually, I don't really have time for them or space for them. I love a good miniature product. I have what I call a meeting house, which is a little coffee shop and library kind of lending booklet library that I have. And then I have another one which is a… I call it Eve to Eve which is Halloween Eve to New Year's Eve. So it's a Halloween and Christmas store, which was a lot of fun to do. I bet. I did another little room, which is a cat cafe, which I did out of, you know those little, like terrarium planters. Yes, IKEA had them for a while, I got one of those and I made it into the cat cafe. That's, that's, that's one of my little creative outlets, which somewhat transferred over to my book. When I was having trouble kind of visualizing my characters I went and bought some Barbie dolls. Now Barbies are not miniatures, they're much larger size, but still that kind of idea of playing with environment. Yes. So my character Miriam Quiñones is she gets a job thanks to her best friend, as a cooking show host on the Spanish-language morning show, they have a little cooking spot. And that person has left on maternity leave, and they need a short-timer. So Miriam's best friend says, Hey, hey, you could do this. And she's like, I'm not a cook. She's like, but you are a cook, you're great. She's like, but I'm not a chef. But anyway, so she gets in there, when I was working on that character, I was, for whatever reasons, you're, you're stumbling, and you're trying to build this character and worldbuild, and so forth. So I found a kitchen set. And I have my character, Miriam. And then she has a young son, he's four years old, I bought a little doll for him, and he is over there. And then I bought the best adult for the best friend Alma. And it just kind of allowed me to see them in an environment. And that kind of made the little neurons Spark, and so forth and so on, and just really helped me. And so maybe that is one of my processes. You know, it's like I, I kind of, it's not like I'm going over there and having them talk and converse with one another. But it kind of helped me build out interiors, and like see them in spaces, so that they became 3D instead of just names on paper.
And I think that physical movement uses a different part of your brain. So it frees up I think, the subconscious to work on the problem that you're having. So that when you come back to it, you're a little bit fresher and have a different perspective.
Right. Right. And you know, the character of writing, she's 32, I am no longer 32 but I was 32. But you know, so there was some of that just getting to know your character by now. I feel like I really, really know who we are impinging on us.
That's an interesting point, because I'm older than you. So I was 32 longer ago than you were in fact, I just turned 62. So that was 30 years ago. And 32 now is vastly different from 32 30 years ago because of social media.
And there's a lot of little social media stuff in here. And I had to be really thoughtful about that. Because that has to be real because it's contemporary, you know, I'm not writing historical. I invented an app that I talked about in there because that makes sense because that's really how we all live now. You know, it's like, oh, let me check what happened. Let me go to that.
You want it to be authentic without going down the rabbit hole of it's all about social media. It's a part of you know, it's a seasoning for the story. It's not the main dish. Exactly. Well, this was terrific. Where can readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
I'm LatinaSleuths L A T I N A S L E U T H S all across social media so Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, you can also type it in and put .com behind it and it'll direct you to my website. I run a blog called Cozy Florida, so CozyFlorida.com with two other Florida cozy writers Tara Lush and Cheryl Hollen, take a look over there. Oh, actually that really has got fun stuff going on over there. And I am also on Facebook in a fan group called Cozy Mystery crew. And you can become a member of that, there's 12 authors on that. And we all rotate, and host different days and have a lot of fun over there. I've just recently joined that group as one of their authors, and I'm having so much fun interacting with readers.
And I'll have links to all of those in the show notes list. It's been really fun talking to you and catching up with you a little bit, Raquel, it's been quite some time since I've seen you in person. And I look forward to SleuthFest next year when I see you again.
Excellent. I look forward to seeing you too.
Thank you for joining me this week. To view the complete show notes and the links mentioned in today's episode, visit tartwords.com/tart331. Before you go, Follow or Subscribe for free to the podcast to receive new episodes when they're released. Follow now in the app you're using to listen to this podcast or sign up for email alerts through an easy signup form for Bakers, Readers, and/or Writers at tartwords.com/about. Thank you again for joining me, Linda Hengerer, for this episode of Tart Words.
Raquel V. Reyes writes stories with Latina characters. Her Cuban-American heritage, Miami, and the Caribbean feature prominently in her work. Raquel is a co-chair for SleuthFest. Her short stories can be found in the Malice Domestic anthology, Murder Most Theatrical and in the 2021 crime fiction anthology, Midnight Hour. Mango, Mambo, and Murder is the first novel in the Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series.