Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tearooms, B&Bs—An Escape Through Writing

by Judy Alter

I’ve stayed in a few B&Bs where I was downright uncomfortable—shared bathroom, no place to sit in the bedroom, not enough lighting to read in bed at night. But I’ve also stayed in ones I really liked—a series of them across Scotland, and several in Texas. I remember one where we ate a sumptuous breakfast in a solarium and another in Scotland where I got brave and tried blood pudding.

But probably my favorite B&B was Arc Ridge Ranch in East Texas where good friends had three two-bedroom cottages with fully equipped kitchens and all the comforts of home. The hostess stocked the refrigerator with coffee and the necessary accoutrements, along with a loaf of her famous prune bread (no, you can’t have the recipe!). After that, you were on your own for groceries. We used to go with the owners for Saturday night supper at a café in a nearby town.

That café became the setting for Murder at the Blue Plate Café, and I’m sure the ranch is one reason I worked a B&B into the books. When twins Kate and Donna inherit their grandmother’s café, Kate elects to run the small restaurant but Donna is determined to have an upscale B&B. She buys a house her husband assures her they can’t afford and decorates it lavishly. The B&B is pivotal in the second mystery in the series—Murder at the Tremont House.

First Donna decides to serve gourmet suppers to her guests, instead of letting them slip away to Kate’s Blue Plate Café. Her attempt at Coquille St. Jacques (better known to us as scallops in a rich cream sauce) is a disaster—Kate has to save the dish, and when Donna announces Tom, her husband, doesn’t eat fish, Kate takes it home and serves it to a beau. The gourmet dinners are replaced by a cooking school which, of course, Kate is expected to teach. Her recipes for chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce, chicken piccata, quail with dirty rice, Beef Wellington made easy, and other delicacies are a hit, and Kate even finds herself enjoying the classes. But then murder interrupts the cooking school and it finishes with a whimper and not a bang. And a second murder almost forces Kate into seclusion for her own safety.

But there was another reason I wrote a B&B into the series. Just as I’ve always wanted to run a small tearoom lunch place, I’ve been lured by the idea of a B&B. Oh, not here in Fort Worth but someplace scenic—maybe parts of East Texas or the Hill Country or, my favorite city, Santa Fe. In my zeal to run a small café with tuna-stuffed avocados and crab-and-avocado-salad, and soup with finger sandwiches, I overlooked the failure rate of new restaurants. A stint of several years working one night a week in friends’ restaurant also convinced me what hard work a restaurant is.

Similarly I overlooked the hard work of running a B&B. I loved the part about welcoming guests, getting to know new people (my friends met people from all over the world), and serving lovely gourmet meals, but I swept aside the fresh bed linens every day (me, who hates making beds more than any other household chore), the enormous amount of laundry, the constant battle to keep the house spic and span, the need for bookkeeping and marketing, and all the business details. I’m afraid I was like Donna—seeing only the parts I wanted to see, while Kate saw the whole picture clearly.

So, no, I won’t be opening that tearoom (though I’ll make you some terrific tuna salad) and I won’t be running that B&B. I’ll keep on writing novels as a way to work out my dreams in fantasy.


When free-lance journalist Sara Jo Cavanaugh comes to Wheeler to do an in-depth study of Kate’s town for a feature on small-town America, Kate senses she will be trouble. Sara Jo stays at the B&B, Tremont House, run by Kate’s sister, Donna, and unwittingly drives a further wedge into Donna’s troubled marriage to Wheeler’s mayor Tom Bryson. And soon she’s spending way too much time interviewing high school students, one young athlete in particular. Police chief Rick Samuels ignores Kate’s instinct, but lawyer David Clinkscales, her former boss from Dallas, takes it more seriously.

Sara Jo arouses animosity in Wheeler with the personal, intrusive questions she asks, and when she is found murdered, the list of suspects is long. But Kate heads the list, and she must clear her name, with the help of David and Rick. A second murder confirms that someone is desperate, and now Rick is convinced Kate is in danger.

There’s a love triangle, a cooking school, a kidnapping, a broken marriage, and a lot of adventure before the threads of this mystery are untangled, and Wheeler can go back to being a peaceful small town. If it ever does.

Recipes included.


Murder at Tremont House is the second Blue Plate Mystery from award-winning novelist Judy Alter, following the successful Murder at the Blue Plate Café. Judy is also the author of four books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, and Danger Comes Home. With the Blue Plate Murder series, she moves from inner city Fort Worth to small-town East Texas to create a new set of characters in a setting modeled after a restaurant that was for years one of her family’s favorites.

Follow Judy at or her two blogs at or Or look for her on Facebook at!/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857?fref=ts or on Twitter where she is @judyalter.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Judy. It's great tohave you join us here this coming week.

Judy Alter said...

Thanks, Jean, it's great to be here--and talk about one of my favorite subjects: informal hospitality.

marja said...

This sounds like a fun series. Can't wait to dig into it.
Marja McGraw

Heidiwriter said...

What fun! Your books sounds like great reads! I'll have to check them out.

Marsha Ward said...

Thanks for this great interview, ladies. It's always nice to hear about other writers' inner desires. :-).

Marsha Ward
Writer in the Pines