Kate Lansing is an award-winning short story author. She lives in Denver with her husband, daughter, and a chair-napping tabby cat named Maple.
Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
My husband and I have enjoyed tasting wine together for nearly a decade, and at one point even harbored a daydream of owning a winery. This story was a way for me to vicariously fulfill that fantasy in combination with one of my other passions: mystery writing!
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
Fun fact about this excerpt: it was originally the opening to the book. Somewhere in the editing process it (rightfully) got shifted back, but these words will always hold a special place in my heart because of how they capture my main character’s voice—her wants, determination, and humor!
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book?
I started writing this book just after my daughter was born. It was the lighthearted escape I needed, a way for me to maintain my creative identity while being immersed in a new familial role. And something about being a new parent: you’re always hungry! Which is probably why there are so many food descriptions.
It was a happy coincidence to find that the wine tasting my husband and I had enjoyed together over the years formed a solid foundation of research for this story.
Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
There’s something in writing referred to as the mushy middle, that part of the story that sags between the inciting incident and the climactic showdown. I strive to avoid the mushy middle by adding in unexpected twists and turns, one such I particularly recall in “Killer Chardonnay” was the main character’s climbing accident (or non-accident, as it were).
I realized the story needed something exhilarating to keep the reader engaged so added in a part where Parker’s climbing gear was sabotaged, putting her in peril. Not only did this serve the purpose of keeping the reader guessing, it gave an additional clue as to whodunit. I think one of the most exciting parts about writing is when the story takes you somewhere unexpected—becomes something entirely its own.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
“Killer Chardonnay” was my debut novel and had the unfortunate luck of releasing during that time of the pandemic when bookstores were closed. On the upside, I’ve discovered ways to engage with readers in a variety of alternative formats, and learned the valuable lesson to focus on what’s in my control, namely my creative output.
Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
My cozy mystery series features a millennial amateur sleuth, which is younger than typical protagonists in this genre. It was important to me to appeal to a younger audience, to write the sort of story I longed to read, although I had to balance that with genre expectations.
Cozy readers expect certain things: a puzzling mystery, a hook or theme—such as knitting, home renovation, or, in my case, winemaking—a cute animal companion, a lighthearted tone with any violence or hot-and-heavy romance happening off screen. Yet, even within these guidelines, there’s plenty of room for experimentation, to incorporate slang, social media, and other tidbits that make the story feel fresh.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
I’m a morning person and some of my best writing occurs early, before my brain—and the rest of the world—is fully awake. Usually at my kitchen table, which overlooks my backyard, as the sun rises. There’s something about that time and my state of mind that fuels productivity.
However, being a mother of a young child, that time isn’t always available so I’ve also learned to write, if needed, whenever I get a few spare minutes, whether it’s jotting down an idea in the Notes section of my phone or adding a few words to my manuscript.
Tell us about your next project.
The third book in my Colorado Wine Mystery series came out in October. It’s titled “Mulled to Death” and has been great fun to work on, taking place at a scenic (although entirely fictional) ski resort in the Rocky Mountains. More information can be found here.