Q & A With Fiction Author Patricia M. Muhammad, Author of Sweet As Murder


Posted November 28, 2021 by permissionsp

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — United States, 2021-November 28—/PR Free/ — Multi-genre fiction author Patricia M. Muhammad publishes Sweet As Murder, a mystery/detective romance novel and answers a few questions about the genre.

 
Q. What was the hardest thing in writing this story?
A. Each time I begin a novel, I consider it a new endeavour. Words begin to form a description of characters and the mind creates from imagination and the real. This is what helped me write this novel. All of it is fiction, but based in a form of reality. The 1950s was a real era, but the characters I created weren't. The hardest thing in writing this book is to create a story believable, which became even harder as I incorporated the element of magical realism. The characters, their attitudes, mannerisms and interactions were the most substantial aspect of the storyline, yet this was even difficult. I did not know at the beginning how many characters or what type of characters other than Wilhemina and the detective I would even have. I would say the hardest thing in writing this story was actually writing this story.

Q. Do you think you were equally invested in both the character and plot? Or did you put more effort into developing the story than in creating compelling and believable characters?
A. This is a tough question. I often consider my writing character-based rather than plot-based—even in some of my sci-fi fantasy books. Because of the amount of characters I included, I still would consider myself more invested in the characters rather than the plot. However, the plot and characters are what drive the storyline. It is not until after I have completed a book whether I can see whether I have focused on one on the other. To help myself (and hopefully the reader), I write 'literary guides' for each book. Of these, I always include a 'Getting to Know the Characters' one as well as 'Places'. The first guide is rather obvious as to what it entails. 'Places' provide the reader insight as to the significance of certain settings in developing the plot. Both characters with their interaction with setting are what further the storyline. So each have an important role in developing the plot. Because Sweet As Murder was the first time I have used the literary device of magical realism in any of my novels, including mystery/detective, the focus was to create another detour that would either hinder or assist the detective (and the reader) in solving the crime. This, of course, if the murder(s) were intended to be resolved. For my writing, I do not think the answer is ever clear.

Q. You use plot twists and red herrings. Do you think you wrote the storyline in a way for the reader to predict certain things before they happened, or did you keep it ambiguous enough to keep the reader guessing until the end?
A. When I began to develop the storyline for Sweet As Murder, I did not initially know that I was to even include magical realism into the plot. I wanted this mystery/detective romance novel to have something different from the other two I have written. Mystery novels are supposed to have 'detours' and since only recently I wanted to try magical realism as part of a plot, I considered this a perfect opportunity as an unexpected twist. The magical realism lineal definition is an element which takes place in the present or contemporary. Sweet As Murder's setting is in the 1950s, I thought that was an obvious detour both for the novel and the genre itself. There is a portion of the novel where I intentionally emphasized a particular character with the likelihood that the detective (and the reader) would assume she was the culprit. However, it remains ambiguous because Sweet As Murder does not have a clear resolution for two of the murders. So it is ambiguous enough to understand that this detective's work regarding those who engage with 'the Society' has yet to be over.

Q. Do you think that the setting and time period in which Sweet As Murder is set significant in understanding the nature and possible resolution of the crime(s)? This question relates to the one above. The 1950s was heavily focused on traditional gender roles. Women, however, possess the same capacity for dubious connivance, even in a baking competition. The era, the use of magical realism, and the setting of a prestigious property with an innocuous-appearing event are all integral in understanding the unlikelihood of the crime being resolved. Magical realism is considered part of the intangible. The understanding of the use of forensics in general in solving crimes was still developing—and these were tangible methods. Magical realism in a time where clear societal rules were promulgated and widely accepted would cause confusion or dismissal, except for those who were part of the hierarchy that Dankworth begins to understand. So this aspect of the novel would not contribute to the immediate resolution of the murders. Yet there are hints that others begin to understand that two of the deaths were not pure natural ones. It is here that magical realism may become the gateway in resolving the crimes—and the possible avenue to commit new ones.

Q. Mystery-suspense novels foreshadow a big reveal and final confrontation. Do you think that you wrote Sweet As Murder with a clear motive for the perpetrator(s)?
A. Of the two widely generated mystery/detective novels, Sweet As Murder would still fall into the traditional category, simply because it is not of the 'hard-boiled' sort. Aside from the use of magical realism, this novel veers from the mystery book tradition as it does not have a big reveal. As I mentioned earlier, there is no clear resolution for two of the murders. The ends are not neatly tied and no one clearly identifies who the likely culprit(s) are. There is no final confrontation. Once Detective Wilhemina Dankworth enters the baking competition she notices some oddities and nearly everyone is a suspect. She begins to understand that some of the contestants, as well as others, harness and wield light. This display seems to be mostly for ostentatious purposes, until she realizes that this may be the reason why the cases are so difficult to resolve.

Contrary to the nebulous nature of the cause of deaths, the clearer aspect of Sweet As Murder is the motive of the perpetrator. Each year, 'the Society' searches for a 'chosen one'. The competition is rigorous and in light of these murders, some of the invited contestants realize that it is also dangerous. Though for most, the reward outweighs the risk. There is a need for balance. Both the good and bad in this local community wield light, and at times none knows which side the user of light is on. Nonetheless, the motive of the murderer is to conquer and win. For some it is only to annihilate those in their path even as they realize that they were never being considered as a viable choice by 'the Society'. Thus, their motive is chaos, for they were used and only part of a hierarchy in which both the coloured and whites were to benefit. It becomes the separation of the chaff from the wheat, the cream from the milk, and as others perish or are put aside in other ways, anger and envy increases. This form of trial is to also measure those beyond skill or talent, but to ascertain those who are of pure heart. Light can be manipulated by anyone with knowledge, but its truest from will not reveal itself until it passes through a conduit worthy to temporarily possess it. To win the baking competition does not necessarily translate into being chosen by 'the Society'. Most were not aware of this caveat when they initially accepted the invitation to compete. The motive is clear, but the winner does not become so until the end. The question remains how they will navigate their newfound prize.

Q. Can you share an excerpt of Sweet As Murder?
A. “Name of entrant,” A faint voice said.
'Right, be in the presence,' Wilhemina thought.
“Write your name here, type of dish.” The woman waited with a two white stickers. “You are entrant number 12. Good number. I don't think it will help you though. You don't seem like a seasoned baker.” She waved one of the stickers around.
'..that is because I am not,' she thought. Wilhemina wanted to laugh aloud, but she not only remembered that she was undercover, but to these people this contest was the next big bragging right of the society pages of this town. 'Society pages,' she reminded herself.
“This is your nametag.”
“Thank you.” Wilhemina wrote her name on the white horizontal sticker and stuck it on the left side of her upper front. She cut her eyes to her right and watched as the officiant wrote her line number on it. Then she placed it atop of the plastic covering her entry. 'Not too dissimilar than our social services here. You are nothing but a number.'
“We will start our meet and greet soon. Does your entry require refrigeration until judging?”
Wilhemina had not given the added protection to her 'entry' much thought. “That would be nice, sure.”
“Umm hummm…” The woman sloshed her body to her left and picked up the baked goods. “She does not know what she is in for,” she mumbled. Wilhemina heard. The detective did not wish to be in the room filled with fresh pastries and rotten personalities. She stepped outside again, this time thankfully not bumping into her colleague. He was busy meandering around.
“Don't make it obvious, Dobson,” she whispered to herself.
“Don't be so nervous,” A young woman said.
“Huh?” Wilhemina saw a new competitor. She was well-groomed; obviously her parents were of the upper-middle class coloured. “These people are ruthless, but in the end, it is only baking.”
“I see.” Dankworth wanted to say something about the murders. Now she had to remind herself of what she wishfully would be able to remind Dobson of. “So this has been happening for a while now?”
“The competition? Yes.” Her new acquaintance whipped out a lace oriental fan. Just before Wilhemina's eyes she morphed into one of those old southern grandmothers. She even had a spare in her pocketbook. Dankworth had one as well—only she left it in her car.
“Thank you.” As soon as the young woman noticed Wilhemina's proper use of the fan, her smile increased. Everything mattered to these people. They were always judging—and not just the baked goods. “So where can I find some history about this competition?”
“Well, I can share some of it. It began ten years ago when some of the coloured schools could not obtain funding for their district. Some thought a bake sale was child's play, insufficient to raise the necessary funds to cover an academic year's expense.”
“But?”
“Some of the coloured elite found the endeavour a sort of entrepreneurship endearing. Kind of like the Booker T. Washington bootstrap but the community instead of the individual. So the prize for winning the baking competition became more valuable. Scholarships to whatever coloured university in the country. Whether for the entrant or child. You were guaranteed to hob-nob and become a fixture of the elite—kind of like the DuBois-Harlem days.”
“You know that was not so long ago…So who are the benefactors?”
“Those who invest in the baking competition? I have no idea and neither do the judges. This is a societal thing.”
“I know, the upper class—”
“No, I mean yes, I can tell you are a part of it just like I am.” She tapped the fingers of her right hand quickly against her chin and looked away. “Perhaps I have said too much.” The wind became stronger. It pushed their A-line skirts of their dresses forward. She reached for her hair. “They'll judge you for that as well.” Wilhemina looked past the young woman. The male who sat on the sidewalk was still there. The woman disrupted her stare when she plucked a leaf from Wilhemina's up do.
“I am Marceline.” Dankworth watched as a dainty, manicured hand suddenly appeared before her with a semi-limp wrist, a typical sort of handshake from a woman. Wilhemina accepted her greeting, but briefly.
“Wilhemina.”
“I may be younger than all of the other competitors, but you are still the newest. Follow me.” Marceline had already turned away from her and taken a few steps towards the patio entry.
“Where are we going?”
“Wow, you really are new. There are archives of the society's newsletters and some clippings from the newspapers…didn't you want to learn more?”
“Yes, sure…but the meet and greet.”
“They will ignore you mostly anyway. It is a sort of sick rite of passage to see if they can break you. Wilhemina thought of her standard-issued weapon. “Wilhemina?”
“Lead the way.” She smoothed the palms of her hands against the front of her fluffy dress. Dankworth still wondered why no one was curious in the least about the guy who lurked in plain sight. She peered in his direction again. This time he was making hand signals towards the air.

Q. Sweet As Murder is set in the 1950s, a very controversial era in American history. How much research did you conduct for Sweet As Murder?
A. Not much. I was aware of some of the dress style and one particular event that I incorporated into the storyline. Racism and its derivative have always permeated American society. The baking competition is among the coloured middle and upper class, who, just like now, often discriminate against others of their "own race". To be steeped in competition where all competitors are women and the stakes are greater than a blue ribbon prize, it was only natural to include the 'crabs in a barrel' modis operandi that still is a part of certain segments of American society.

Q. What would you like to see more/less of in the mystery genre?
A. I really do not read mystery/detective novels for leisure. However, something that you mentioned in an earlier question, that within the formula of traditional mystery is the exegesis of the crime and its resolution. I consider this undermining the anticipation of the reader. It would be exciting if the mystery was left ambiguous or the reader had the option to understand the full resolution to the conflict by choosing to read it in the epilogue.

Q. If you were forced to live the rest of your life as one of your characters who would it be?
A. If I had to choose one character, it would be Yamaria, from the Silhouette Lost series. She underwent a lot and much of it was due to her blood king. Yamaria did not begin to understand her full potential and have her rightful happiness until she married Salvatore. Their love story is filled with power, perseverance and appreciation of each other's strengths.

Q. What is the last fiction novel you have read?
A. The last fiction novel I read was Ghost Summoning. It is a paranormal/magical realism novel, wrought with supernatural, self-doubt, humour and an intriguing love story in which the main character and her love interest are both afraid of rejection. Yet it was circumstance and destiny that made them understand that they were supposed to be together.

Q. When did you start writing fiction and what prompted it?
A. I dabbled in fiction when I was young, and another time several years ago. It was not until recent years where I revisited writing fiction. Circumstance forced me to reflect and suddenly it became an opening for my creative spark that apparently was dormant. I have been writing novels ever since.

Q. How have you developed/evolved in your book-writing career?
A. I would consider that by now I have developed my literary voice. It has become clearer. Regardless of genre, I will always include the elements of romance and in some ways, mystery into my novels.

About the Author: Patricia M. Muhammad is a multi-genre fiction author who has written 22 novels. Patricia engages in landscape photography and enjoys research. She is based in the United Kingdom.

Connect with Patricia:
Social Media: @pmmuhammadbooks
Press: [email protected]
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Last Updated December 24, 2021