Theft by Chocolate is a sassy museum mystery about a woman of a certain age looking for chocolate, love and an international art thief in all the wrong places.
The book is inspired by experiences of my more than twenty years working at Canada’s largest museum, and by a real-life and never solved heist that took place at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in the late 1980s. The ingenious and unique nature of the theft rocked the security industry around the world and led to changes globally in security technology.
Tell us something about yourself.
I grew up in small-town Ontario, Canada, and I mean small-town (i.e., a town where the number of cows outnumbered the human inhabitants). However, I was always a city girl at heart and soon found myself living in Toronto. I was fortunate beyond imagination to get a job in a museum following my graduate studies in history.
Oddly enough, however, my interest in writing developed as a result of my love for movies. As a cinemaniac, I’ve been blogging about film (and BTW, film is a theme in Theft By Chocolate) long before the term “blogging” existed. I then started taking writing courses beginning with screen writing and completed a screenplay, but I had a germ of an idea for a novel rummaging in my head, so I enrolled in and completed a creative writing program in one of Canada’s most reputable writing programs.
What inspired you to write this book?
Years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic. Being a shopaholic myself, I laughed my way through the book. Then I thought to myself, “I’m probably not the only chocoholic on the planet.” Maybe I could spin a funny yarn about all the ridiculous things I’ve done to get my hands on chocolate and, at the same time, share the amazing world in which I had worked for so long, namely a museum. It was a long haul from there, including honing my writing skills for many years, but I am so proud of the final product, and I am certain it will make readers laugh.
How did you choose the title?
Now that’s almost a novel in itself. I can’t tell you how many different titles I went through (most of which I have forgotten, if truth be told). It was tough to find a title that relayed the idea of a heist and chocolate that wasn’t a paragraph long. I’d seen the term “Death By Chocolate” used to describe many a decadent chocolate dessert, and came up with the notion of playing with this term by using “Theft” instead of “Death” to reflect the heist plot in the novel.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
Now that’s still another novel. After finishing the book, I tried shopping it around to every publisher and agent in Canada. Geographically, the country is huge, but the publishing industry here is small and the emphasis is on literary publication in Canada. Frankly, I gave up for awhile, and the book sat on the shelf collecting dust. But while hunting for an exotic vacation experience (true story), I came across a web site for the annual Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy (an unimaginably beautiful spot in southern Italy). It inspired me to do one last rewrite on the book and to travel to Italy to shop it one last time.
In the meantime, the publishing world had changed dramatically with the rise of eBooks, electronic readers, and digital publishing and I had made up my mind even before travelling to Italy that if I was not successful in Matera, I would self-publish. But the gods were with me. I pitched my book to Attica Books and within a month I had a contract with them.
Through this entire journey, I never forgot the words of my writing mentor. She said that persistence for a writer was everything and that it was often more important than talent. Those words settled in my psyche and it is great wisdom for any writer.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
Believe it or not, I wrote a short story in grade four about items in a kitchen coming to life and wreaking havoc. My teacher read the story out loud to the class and, to my surprise, my classmates were rolling on the floor laughing. I’ll never forget how satisfying that felt.
I kept dabbling in writing, on and off for years in so many different forms (including completing a program in magazine journalism). But I workshopped Theft By Chocolate in a summer writing workshop some years back and, taking a huge risk, I volunteered to do a reading to the 200 some odd students in the program.
The piece I chose to read got such a laugh that my mentor came up to me after the reading and advised me “to pause next time and to wait after the laughter dies down before continuing.”“Oh, yeah,” I thought. “Good advice.” But with that reaction from my fellow writing students, I déjà-vued back to that moment in my grade four class and I knew I was back on track and that I could still write humor that could spark belly laughs.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I know a lot of people do their best writing in the morning, but I am not one of them. However, I definitely do my best imagining in the morning. After I wake up, I meditate and after that take some time to think about whatever story I am working on. I let the results sit with me over the day and then put fingers to keypad later in the day or evening. That may not work for everyone because one might forget the inspirations. But, I trust in the universe that the best ideas will stay with me and come out when needed.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
The names come from so many different places. As Theft By Chocolate is my first novel, but I tend to use “name” sites on the Internet quite a bit. Another great place to glean interesting names is from film credits. People with the most unusual names seem to work in film.
The name of my main character, Kalena, is quite dear to me. It is derived from the word “kalyna” which is the name of a beautiful plant in Ukraine in Eastern Europe and it is also a symbol of Ukrainian culture (can you tell my ethnic background is Ukrainian?). I always thought I might name a daughter “Kalyna.” But no daughter for me in this life, so I christened my protagonist with a version of the name.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
Most importantly, I learned that my mentor, author Kim Moritsugu, was always right. I battled with her on so many different issues while we worked together on the first draft. But crikey, all the edits she suggested were spot on. It was maddening. J In other words, budding writers should listen to the experienced sages. They know what they speak of – or write of!
Also, the notion that writing is a sprint and publishing is a marathon kept me from giving up. Expectations that everything will come easily, even if you are the most brilliant and talented writer, may leave you disappointed.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Not a thing. I am a great believer in the notion that life unfolds as it does because that is how it was meant to unfold. My journey has been a roller coaster at times, but it has made me so much more grateful for the outcome. I still pinch myself regularly to check that I’m not dreaming.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
I like to have two kinds of books going at any one time – a non-fiction and fiction work each.
I love to read books that rock my world from a personal journey kind of standpoint. So authors like Eckhart Tolle and Louise Hay are must-reads for me as I am dedicated to becoming a conscious human being.
As for the fiction, I am open to just about any genre if the writing humbles me.
And occasionally, the planets align in a unique way. A book club I belonged to once chose Sandra Steingraber’s Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood. Really? I thought. Well, no one was more surprised than I when this non-fiction work inspired such wonder in me about the human body and the universe, but also almost made me weep at times with the beauty of its writing. Gems of this particular type are far and few between.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
Theft By Chocolate was always written with the intention of being followed by at least one more installment. I’ve started mapping out the next work and I can’t wait to get back to that world and its sometimes nutty characters. This time, however, Kalena will be doing some serious globetrotting with her adventures taking her to London, Paris (to the Salon du Chocolat, of course), Geneva (an important chocolate capital), Hong Kong (for a most interesting twist to the tale) and back to her beloved Toronto. I plan to take the readers on an unforgettable journey around the planet.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Always keep honing your craft because you can only improve as a writer.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
I think the bulk of my audience will be women over thirty who like a page-turning museum mystery that includes snappy dialogue, who want a hearty laugh, have a love of culture or a desire to learn about it, and who appreciate a lead character who is both smart, yet humorously flawed.
Chocolate lovers of any gender and age will also enjoy this book tremendously. But be forewarned, this book does trigger chocolate cravings. It’s a scientific fact. And finally, I have been surprised that some of my biggest fans to date include men who just enjoy a well-crafted and funny story. So, it’s not quite everyone, but close!
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
I reveal far too much of myself on my web site, www.chocolativore.com. I also have an author’s page on Facebook, I can be followed on Twitter and Goodreads, and a really fun way to get to know more about Theft By Chocolate is to check out the visual storyboard I created for the book on Pinterest. And don’t worry, I created it carefully so as not to spoil any of the plot threads.
Links to my Facebook page, Twitter and Pinterest boards can all be found on the “Contact” page on my web site.
And I’m always happy to chat with my readers, so there are a variety of ways of getting comments to me. I’ll always try to reply to them in as timely a manner as possible.
Thanks so much for hosting me. It’s a privilege and a pleasure.