Former Judge Debra Goldstein Pens Award-Winning Mysteries
At Killer Nashville’s 2019 conference, I attended a mock court session in which Debra Goldstein played the part of the judge. It wasn’t much of an acting stretch for her! She served on the bench for many years before she turned to writing fulltime.
I’m delighted to welcome Debra today as my featured guest author. Below are Debra’s responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio and buy links.
First off, congratulations on the June 28 release of Five Belles Too Many, the fifth book in your Sarah Blair mystery series. Can you tell our readers about the novel?
When Sarah Blair’s mother participates in a reality show competition for brides-to-be, things get a little too real as a murderer crashes the wedding party …
Whoever thought a sixty plus year old bride-to-be competing for the perfect Southern wedding would need a chaperone? But no, the television show’s rules require all five of the Southern Belle finalists to be chaperoned at night and during certain events. Because her twin, Emily, works nights at her restaurant and Mother Maybelle didn’t want to inconvenience any of her friends, it’s her other daughter, Sarah Blair, who’s “stuck” with the task.
It’s bad enough having to juggle her day job and taking care of her own furry pets, RahRah and Fluffy, while Sarah is on duty, but the show contracted for rooms for the Belles and their chaperones at her all-time nemesis, Jane Clark’s, bed and breakfast. Mother Maybelle assured Sarah that she could survive the few hours a night she’d have to be at Jane’s Place, especially since she’d be sleeping most of it, but Maybelle didn’t take into account that on the first night they would find the show’s producer lying dead in the front hall with Jane, blood on her hands, bending over his body.
In the last year, Sarah unraveled several murders in Wheaton, Alabama, but tonight she has a dilemma. Sarah hates Jane. Jane is the bimbo that broke up Sarah’s marriage, forced her to go from a life of luxury to an efficiency apartment, tried to steal RahRah, the Siamese cat that was the only thing she got out of her marriage, and has been a consistent thorn in her side, but Sarah doesn’t think Jane is a murderer. One part of Sarah wants to ignore Jane’s plea for help, but her loyalty and fears for her mother’s well-being prompt her to get involved before Mother Maybelle or any of the other contestants are permanently eliminated from the competition.
What is Sarah Blair like? What inspired this character? And how has she changed over the course of your series?
Sarah Blair was married at eighteen and divorced at twenty-eight. Unlike her twin sister who always knew she wanted to be a chef, Sarah started over in the first book in the series, One Taste Too Many, with no job skills, no ultimate goals, and the only thing she got out of the marriage, RahRah, her Siamese cat. As the series evolves, Sarah gains confidence in herself, but she still finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder.
The character of Sarah and the Sarah Blair series was inspired by having my first books (Maze in Blue and Should Have Played Poker) orphaned by two other publishers, but knowing I still wanted to write a cozy mystery. Most cozy mysteries have a small town or confined space setting, an amateur sleuth, a skill such as cooking, baking, or needlepoint, and a cat. I knew I could nail a small Southern town (Wheaton, Alabama), create an amateur sleuth (Sarah), and incorporate a cat, but I hate cooking, baking, or needlework. When I realized other people felt the same way about those things, Sarah was born.
There’s a big difference between “I’d love to write a novel” and writing one. Looking back, what do you think pushed you over the edge into actually writing one?
Passion. I always had a passion for writing but was afraid I couldn’t or wouldn’t succeed. When I realized I would never know unless I made the effort to write the book I kept talking about, I started writing on weekends and between midnight and four a.m. It took several years of starts and stops, but eventually, I had the manuscript for Maze in Blue.
I’ve met many attorneys-turned-writers but no former judges, other than you! You left a highly successful legal career culminating in a lifetime appointment as a US Administrative Law Judge to pursue your writing. Was that a difficult decision for you?
Leaving my safe lifetime appointment was an easy decision. Having been one of the youngest people appointed as an Administrative Law Judge, I had already been on the bench almost twenty years when my first book was published. A few years later, I sold my second book, but it wasn’t going to be released for a year.
Because of my longevity on the bench, I had the attorneys trained. At the end of the hearing, I would say, “Is there anything more?” and they would reply “No, your honor.” At that point, I would do a standard closing. During one hearing, things went off kilter. The attorney answered correctly, but his client said, “Yes, there’s one more thing. I looked to the attorney who put his hands up in a fashion that I knew he couldn’t control his client. I asked the client, “What is it,” and he replied, “Your honor, I just want you to know, no matter how you rule, I’m going to buy your book.”
I’m sure he didn’t buy it because I ruled against him, but that was when I knew I had to choose between staying on the bench or following my passion.
What is your writing process like? Are you more of a pantser, planner, or somewhere in-between?
I’m a pantser with a little bit of an idea where the book or story will begin and where it might end.
In addition to writing, you have a busy family life and are an active volunteer. In fact, the first time I met you, you were serving as president of Sisters in Crime’s largest chapter, the Guppies, and were busily welcoming us new Guppies at a Malice Domestic conference. How do you manage your time to get everything done? Do you set aside certain times for writing?
I’m task oriented, which means I put whatever needs to be done for my family, volunteer work, or friendships first. Although I’ve always wished I wrote to the tune of so many words or so many hours a day, I write when the spirit moves me or when I’m under a deadline.
What’s next for you writing-wise?
I have at least three short stories scheduled to be published in 2022, and I hope to write and submit additional ones. I’m also finishing a stand alone that is a mystery, but not a cozy mystery. Finally, I’m one of the coordinators of the seventh Guppy anthology so I’m involved behind the scenes for the book which will be published in 2023.
What advice would you give aspiring mystery writers?
Don’t wait! No matter how frightened you are about how your work will be received, if you don’t try and write, you’ll never get the time back and no one will ever have an opportunity to see your work/dreams.
Anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked, but I didn’t?
You’ve done a great job with your questions. Nothing more to add.
Thanks for visiting with us today, Debra!
Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (Four Cuts Too Many, Three Treats Too Many, Two Bites Too Many, and One Taste Too Many). Her short stories, which have been named Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer finalists, have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Malice Domestic Murder Most Edible, Masthead, and Jukes & Tonks. Debra served on the national boards of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and was president of the Guppy and SEMWA chapters. Find out more about Debra at https://www.DebraHGoldstein.com .
Thanks for having me today. Although I enjoyed being the “judge” at Killer Nashville (in the presentation written by Carol Wright), I think the show was stolen by Paula Benson and the mini-dog in her purse (and all of you can tell me what character she represented).
You were both terrific!
Is there a 6th book coming out next year? I get books from the bookmobile that comes out to the Hi-rises every two weeks. Started with the 2nd book and found out it was a series and they were able to find them all
Can’t wait for more. Kinda hoping Harland and Sarah get together vs anyone else
At the moment, a sixth book is not being planned by Kensington. If there is a clamor (Five Belles Too Many is the first to have live events since the first book because of the pandemic so the numbers, which are key to book continuations, are up in the air).
Love reading about your move from being a judge to starting a writing career. Good luck with your new book.
It was a fun move. Good luck with your new book, Death in a Pale Hue, too.
Great interview! Hopefully he’ll get over the ruling and buys your book! 😉
I doubt it. He didn’t impress me as being sincere in more ways than one.