Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Author Michael Lee West: How A Cake Lead To A Protagonist

It’s my pleasure today to welcome a ‘new-to-me’ author from neighboring Tennessee, Michael Lee West, as the special guest blogger here at Thoughts in Progress as she makes a stop on her virtual book tour.

Michael Lee’s latest release, GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN, hits the bookstores today. She stop by to talk about how a search for a Red Velvet Cake recipe lead her to her protagonist Teeny
A few summers ago, I began searching for the perfect recipe for Red Velvet Cake. I measured, baked, and consumed until I couldn’t fit into my clothes and my fingers were permanently stained by food coloring. But the recipe eluded me.

I was born into a family of dedicated Southern foodies, people who think nothing of driving hours for spiced Alabama sausage, shrimp etouffée in New Orleans, or Carolina barbecue.

My oldest son is a professional chef, and he was lucky to attend Johnson & Wales when the school was still in Charleston. Trey advised me to visit the Low Country. I was just about to start a novel about wacky Tennessee sisters, and normally I like to stay home and eat Twizzlers while thinking about my characters-to-be. But off we went to Charleston. 

That night, tucked into my rented bed by the sea, a character
named Teeny Templeton wandered into my dreams. She was a sassy, brown-eyed blonde with a penchant for throwing fruit at wayward boyfriends.

The whole time I was in the Low Country, Teeny talked non-stop. “Let me tell you about my bulldog,” she said. Then she wanted to exchange recipes. When she promised to help me with my quest for Red Velvet Cake, I gave in.

“Okay,” I told her. “You can stay. But I won’t write about you.”

“Thank goodness,” she said. “I’m a backsliding Baptist. And I can eat my way through a bag of Twizzlers. Plus, I don’t have a drop of regret.”

My first novel, CRAZY LADIES, came to me in a dream. Ever since, I’d been waiting for a character to pay me a nocturnal visit. Writers pay attention to their dreams because the subconscious is a collaborator. We wait for the moment when a dialogue begins with the book—because that means a dialogue with the main character can’t be far behind.

I thought Teeny would tell me a story about her quirky aunts or offer a Red Velvet recipe that somehow incorporated peaches, but she had other plans. Her boyfriend had turned up dead and all fingers pointed at Teeny. Plus, the body count was rising.

“You’ve got to get me out of this,” she said. “And you’ll need more than red food coloring.”

I brought Teeny home, then I made her aunt’s Red Velvet cake. I cut a huge slice, then opened a notebook and wrote Gone With a Handsomer Man on the first page. I held on for dear life while she whirled through adventures and unusual recipes. I hope you will join Teeny as she cooks her way through love, death, and Red Velvet cakes.

Sweet dreams,
Michael Lee West

Michael Lee, thanks so much for guest blogging today. I love learning how Teeny came to be. She sounds like a fun-loving Southern girl even though she gets into a bit of trouble. And who can resist Red Velvet Cake?

Here’s a bit about GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN:
Teeny Templeton believes that her life is finally on track. She’s getting married, she’s baking her own wedding cake, and she’s leaving her troubled past behind. And then? She finds her fiancé playing naked badminton with a couple of gorgeous, skanky chicks.
Needless to say, the wedding is off. Adding insult to injury, her fiancé slaps a restraining order on her. When he is found dead a few days later, all fingers point to Teeny.
Teeny’s only hope is through an old boyfriend-turned-lawyer, the guy who broke her heart a decade ago. But dredging up the past brings more than skeletons out of the closet, and Teeny doesn't know who she can trust. With evidence mounting and the heat turning up, Teeny must also figure out where to live, how to support herself, how to clear her name, and how to protect her heart.
Early praise for the book:
GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN is fun, funny, and fabulous!” – JANET EVANOVICH, New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series.

“Michael Lee West Fans rejoice! GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN has a fresh, funny and delightfully flawed heroine that you’ll fall in love with from the get go. Teeny is a trouble magnet, and it is wholly diverting to follow her tumbling joyride through bad men and good recipes. By turns sweet and surprising, it’s a wonderful, quirky escape.” --Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times Bestselling author of BACKSEAT SAINTS

“Teeny Templeton is small-statured and big-hearted, a heroine worthy of this novel, which is by turns acerbic and sweet, poignant and funny, with great sex, bad boyfriends, and Do Not Try This At Home recipes. However you slice it, GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN is as addictive as Red Velvet cake. I hope it sells as many copy as that other novel set in the South that starts with the words ‘GONE WITH’ . . .” --Harley Jane Kozak, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity-award winning author of DATING DEAD MEN and A DATE YOU CAN’T REFUSE

‘West's diverting debut plays nice variations on several mystery subgenres—Southern, romantic, screwball, culinary… Readers will look forward to more helpings of Teeny Templeton.”  --Publishers Weekly

Now for a bit about Michael Lee. She is the author of six novels including CRAZY LADIES, MAD GIRLS IN LOVE, AMERICAN PIE, MERMAIDS IN THE BASEMENT, SHE FLEW THE COOP, as well as a food memoir CONSUMING PASSIONS. She and her husband live on a farm in Lebanon, Tennessee with three bratty Yorkshire Terriers, a Chinese Crested, assorted donkeys, chickens, sheep, and African Pygmy goats.  For more information on Michael Lee and her books, visit her website at www.michaelleewest.com .

Two things I didn't get to post last night due to thunderstorms and power outages. Here's  a book trailer and a free downloadable e-cookbook from Michael Lee.

Teeny Templeton an out-of-work pastry chef--a major foodie. Here's her downloadable e-cookbook.

What do you think of Red Velvet Cake? Would you go or have you gone in search of the perfect recipe? Want to share it with us? If you’re a writer, do you have characters come to you in dreams?


  1. I love her name Teeny Templeton :) and Red Velvet Cake sounds so exotic.

  2. Hi Mason .. this was a delightful interview with Michael Lee - such fun searching for the Red Velvet Cake .. certainly a creative idea. Then the dreams .. the characters arising .. sounds really enticing .. cheers to you both - Hilary

  3. I recently read this book and it was a fun read.

  4. Mason - Thanks for hosting Michael Lee.

    Michael Lee - So interesting how a dream gave you the idea for your main character! I'm going to have to start paying closer attention to my own dreams :-). I wish you much success!

  5. Michael Lee, thanks again for guest blogging. Your characters sounds intriguing and one can never go wrong with a good ole Southern girl as a protagonist. Wishing you much success with your writing.

    Niki, the name Teeny Templeton just stays with you doesn't it?

    Hilary, thanks for stopping by. We never know where a search will lead us.

    Dru, I remember your review for this book was good.

    Margot, thanks for stopping by. Dreams can be interesting in the dark or daylight. LOL

  6. Oh this sounds delicious, red cake and all! And I have a character named Tweeney in a short story so this really grabbed me. I have gone looking for recipes for books I'm writing and red velvet cake is a favourite in Winnipeg, Manitoba - which is a LONNNG way from the south - don't know how that happened.
    Jan Morrison

  7. For some reason this book attracts me. I know I'll be reading it.

  8. Red Velvet cake is a favorite around here. My mom has a really good recipe. The book sounds interesting and I like how you came up with your character.

  9. Mason, thanks for introducing us to Michael Lee. Teeny sounds like a fun character, but Michael Lee had me at red velvet cake. Cream cheese frosting???

  10. I have no idea of what is a Red Velvet Cake.
    A book recomanded by Janet and Harley and presented by you Mason is surely a book that will interest me.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.