Writers come in all flavors and the ladies of BroadUniverse.org are at least as varied. But one thing that does seem to be universal is a love of chocolate! Cindy Lynn Speer shares how chocolate acted as her inspiration in her novel, The Chocolatier’s Wife, and upcoming sequel!
How much research do you do and where do you get your information?
The Chocolatier’s Wife (And the sequel that’s coming out at the end of June, The Chocolatier’s Ghost) both required a bit of research into chocolate making. When I first got into the first book, I bought a ton of books on chocolate history and read until I had a good grasp. A lot of it doesn’t make it into the book – it is mostly so that while William is doing stuff and talking to his wife, Tasmin, he looks like he has half a clue as to what he is doing.
Is writing your only job or do you have another? Does it impact your story?
As I mention above, I do have another job. I am a secretary for the Department of History, Politics and Society. It impacts my work in a couple of ways – one, it makes me a catch as catch can writer. I am good at writing when I have free time, stopping, doing my job and going back to it. (Though days when I can do that don’t come as often as you might think.) It also impacts me in that I am surrounded by interesting and brilliant people – Women’s Studies and Sociology have encouraged me to really read up more on issues, anthropology has a lady who knows tons of stuff about forensics and bones. I know a lot more about politics and history and it has broadened my interests.
What did you enjoy most about your story?
I really love Tasmin and William, and really loved the chance to see how these two people would work together and fall genuinely in love as they worked to solve the mystery. The idea is that a spell chooses your spouse, and they choose “the best suited to you” which does not mean that this person will be your true love. It’s a very practical spell. But you are bound by it. So, would they love each other? How do you make the best out of the situation?
What comes next for you as a writer? What’s your end goal?
Next month The Chocolatier’s Ghost comes out, and that will be awesome, to finally see the much promised sequel finally make print. After that, in a year I already have written and ready a book called The Key to all Things, which takes place in a different area of the world and won’t be related to Tasmin and William’s adventures. Right now I am trying to manage to write a book a year. I would like that – because I think that is the best path to becoming a swashbuckling hermit. (That’s my end goal. I want to be able to support myself with my writing enough to stay home, go fencing with my friends, and maybe do some road trips.)
About The Chocolatier’s Wife
Tasmin has never met her bethrothed, the chocolatier William, but from his letters she knows him to be a good, honest man. When she receives news that he is being accused of murder, she gathers her wind sprites and rushes to his remote town to investigate.
Facing suspicious townsfolk, gossiping neighbors, and William’s own family, who all resent her kind – the sorcerer folk from the North – Tasmin must learn to tell friend from foe, and fast. For the real killer is still on the loose – and is intent on ruining William’s family at all cost.
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The young woman stood gracefully when called and named all herbs and flowers associated with memory. She said them in a sweet, clear voice, and then stared at her teacher, waiting.
The teacher tapped a stylus on the table and arched an eyebrow, clearly stating that she was not impressed. The young woman swallowed. “Did I miss one?”
Tasmin Bey placed her stylus aside, folded her hands, and looked at the young woman very firmly.
“I think that you will find, if you turn to page 325 in your book on magical herbs and flowers, that you have recited the wrong list. In the future, Miss Hollins, I believe you should consider pouring more of your efforts into your studies, rather than in love potions.” This was greeted by laughter, and she glared at them all. “None of you are perfect, so I will thank you to stop laughing. Miss Elsbin, I would like you to list the herbs that are said to prove against sea sickness, if you please.”
She listened as the next girl rose and recited the list. As one of the youngest members of the university, her task was to teach students basic herbal lore, stone lore, and craft. The meanings of flowers and of stones were her particular specialty, and every morning she taught four groups of students at varying degrees of difficulty. Some of the students were wonderful. They didn’t just memorize; they understood. Most were merely adequate; they only learned what they could apply. Some of them used what she taught them as a sort of sneaky shorthand language—which annoyed her further because surely they understood the correlation between the fact that she taught them what it meant and the fact that she knew what it meant.
“Mister Hibbs, since you seem determined to talk during class, perhaps you will be so kind as to recite those herbs that cause silence?”
No wonder I have such a headache. How ever am I to work on my own studies when this lot wears me down so?
But still, when she had sent the last group off to lunch, after which they would have laboratory sessions and study time, she went directly to her own study in the library. She kept a cache of fruit and nuts there, so that she would not have to socialize with other faculty during lunch. It was not that she did not enjoy talking to others, she rather liked many people, but she wanted to concentrate on her work. She drank water with a little wintergreen in it for her head, and then picked up a light stone to augment the muddy daylight. She knocked the light stone on the desk to get it to work, placed it in its bracket, and began to take notes. She was doing work on protection amulets. Sometimes amulets could grow unstable, even do the opposite of what they were supposed to, and she was trying to find quick and efficient ways of breaking them, so that even those without the right talent could disable them.
Her headache did not go away, and so she eventually threw her notes into her satchel and trudged home in the late afternoon light, thinking only of soup and a good night’s sleep.
As she walked she hummed a summons, letting the wind sprites know she was heading home.
At the house she walked up steps held together with twisted vine. In the spring the leaves would come back, and the vines that held the treads and the handrail would blossom. The door was quite plain next to that, but as she opened it she felt a small lift. Coming home always felt so good.
“This is wonderful news! I could not possibly be more pleased. Alica, please break out the marzipan; we must celebrate.” Tasmin heard her mother’s voice, upraised in happiness. She put her things down and peeked into the parlor, curious. Later, she would wish she’d slipped on up to her room. “Tasmin, sweetheart!” Her mother waved a letter at her.
“Come in! We have news!” Tasmin smiled at the gathering and walked into the parlor. Her uncle and her father had been drinking port, their faces glowing for joy and drink. Her mother needed no drink, her excitement far outstripped theirs.
“What is it? Don’t keep me in suspense.” Pity that it could not be the letter she’d been hoping for since she’d turned eighteen, of William sending for her at last, for doubtless everyone would be decked out in funeral garb and singing dirges. Her mother handed her the letter. Tasmin skimmed—it looked to be written by the Azin Shore Wise Woman—until she got to the important part.
We now come to the reason for this letter. It brings me great sorrow to inform you that William of the House of Almsley, intended to your daughter, has been arrested and charged with the murder of Bishop Kingsley. They suspect that he sent the man poisoned chocolates, and my understanding is that the evidence is quite indisputable. As a woman of honor, your daughter is permitted to be spared the infamy of further acquaintance with William Almsley, and is freed of her obligation. If indeed he is proved innocent of the accusation, he and his family may speak to you about renewing the agreement, but as the aggrieved party you no longer need allow Tasmin to wed him.
“Arrested for murder!” her uncle burst out. “I told you they were all barbarians.”
Tasmin waved the letter at them. “And how is this good news?”
“Why, my dear,” her father broke in, “You can stay on as a teacher until such a time as Mistress Alcide decides to step down from the inner circle. Your future is secured.”
“You are exempt from marriage! You cannot possibly marry a murderer!” Her mother was positively bursting to leap up and dance. Tasmin licked her lips, feeling a bit overwhelmed. “Well.” She swallowed, her hands knotting together as she tried to gather her thoughts. “I need to go upstairs for a moment. Pray, excuse me.”
Her room was mostly decorated by William’s travels. She had a quilt on her bed that was made from the cloth he had used to wrap her presents. The first present, a doll, her face cracked from an accident involving falling books, sat on top of pillows that had come from the lavender fields of Elia. There were tomb rubbings, tapestries, little decorated boxes and bottles, preserved samples of flora, carved bits of stone and wood and ivory. She let out a pent-up sigh.
She stumbled over to the rocking chair by the window, barely remembering to let the wind sprites in.
They tumbled through the open window, spinning around her, but she did not note their capering, even when they slammed the window shut.
They sensed her feelings and retreated, reacting to her moods as they always did, this time by settling into silence.
She sat quite still and thought.
The sun went down, people knocked quietly at her door and went away unanswered; the street lights and house lights went out one by one. Still, she sat, unseeing, unmoving.
Murder. Funny, how the idea of one’s future husband killing someone made headaches go away. It was not that she could not conceive that he was a killer; anyone who read the shipping information at the back of the newspaper, listing, among other things, the manifests of pirate ships that had been taken and destroyed, would know William was quite capable of killing. But, she reasoned, that was hot blooded killing, it was not murder. Poisoning someone with chocolate required coldness and cunning.
She moved at last, only enough to take her hair down. She stared at the pins in her hands. No. She could not believe that William was capable of cunning. He was smart, aye. But practical smart. Not without imagination, of course, you could not accuse a man who wanted to make chocolates of a lack of imagination, but he was also not the sort of man to go around blithely killing people with the very product he hoped to sell. She could not believe it.
After a while, the surprise wearing off, she tried to imagine the two paths her life might take. She thought of being at the university. She had trained there, and so she had friends as well as colleagues among the staff. Eventually she would have the seniority to teach only the advanced students, perhaps even ascend to the Circle, as her mother hoped. A life of teaching and learning how to use herbs, divining the secret meanings hidden in the wind, the rain, and the veins of leaves was hers. She was no master wizard, but she was very, very good, and she knew her life was mapped out for her here, a scholarly life of respect and decent wages and wanting for nothing. It was, clearly, a good life, which was why her family wanted it for her.
Then there was William. She tried to imagine him, blurry in her mind, by her side. A life of children, shop-keeping. It did not seem as glamorous or interesting, though she trusted she would be able to continue her studies and believed that William would provide for her, but her fame would be as his wife alone. No one would remember her save their children. Still, it was not without its appeal, the idea of having someone who was all yours, someone to curl up against in the winter. It was harder to imagine the future, here, for she knew so little in comparison. The unknown could hold pain as well as joy.
She sighed, and went to bed, in a restless attempt at sleep for what remained of the night.
When she came down the next day she had two cases in her hands, and she was wearing her best traveling clothes. Her family looked up at her from their breakfast, as she put the heavier of the two down, her hands switching the other bag back and forth, nervous and moist on the hard, wooden handle. “You see,” she said by way of good-morning-and-here’s-my-explanation, “the problem is that I rather like him.”