Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery Series: Q & A with A.L. Herbert

By Tyneisha Lewis

Hey Rebel Foodies!

One of my favorite activities is read a cozy mystery series. It's a win-win when it's about food of course! One of my favorite series to read is A Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery Series by A.L. Herbert. The first one I read was Murder with Macaroni and Cheese, the second book in the series. I was hooked in by the plot, characters, recipes in the book, and more. Needless to say, I became a fan!

A.L. Herbert grew up in Maryland, in Prince George’s county and Charles County respectively.So, I just had to see if the author of one of my favorite series would mind doing an interview with me. It was a long shot, but I sent an email to A.L. Herbert asking for an online interview. To my surprise, the response was yes!

Here is our interview:

What inspired you to become a writer?

Honestly, I sort of fell into it. A million years ago (mid 90s) I was working the phones at an insurance company and saw a posting (job postings were actually on paper on bulletin boards back then 🙂 for a proposal writer position, applied, and got the job. I learned to write from a technical perspective doing proposal work and started playing with fiction to take a break from writing about provider networks, quality improvement, and claims administration (yawn). I mostly just wrote funny stories, often with at least some basis in reality, and eventually ended up with more than a hundred pages, which I started turning it all into a novel—this eventually became my first book, Girlfriends (under my actual name, Patrick Sanchez), which came out 2001.

How did the Mahalia Watkins mystery series start? What inspired the series?

 I had written several books in what used to be called the “Chick Lit” genre (think Bridget Jones, Devil Wears Prada, etc.). When the popularity of that genre began to wane, I took a break from writing and figured I needed to reinvent myself if I wanted to start writing again. When I started writing “chick lit” in the early 2000s, the genre was pretty devoid of any ethnic diversity, so I made sure my books had a diverse cast of characters…all my books included strong white, black, and Latino characters. When I started considering writing in the culinary mystery genre I noticed that, it too, was lacking diversity, so I definitely wanted the protagonist to be a person of color. I played around with a few ideas and characters and Halia and Wavonne worked the best for me and just sort of “gelled” …and, at this point, four books in, they are almost like personal friends.

Do you have any advice and/or tips for writers interested in writing their own series/novels?

The best advice I can give is to “just write” …write, write, and write some more. I wish I had a process or structure I could talk about, but mostly I just bungle my way to a finished manuscript. I struggle with this myself, but my best advice would be to try to not censor yourself as you’re writing…. just write what comes to you and know that it doesn’t have to be good (no one has to see your first drafts but you) and much of it probably won’t be good…but some of it likely will and those are the parts you’ll go with and expand upon. And, I must say, for me, all the best story ideas come while I’m tapping away on the keyboard writing…. they never come when I’m trying to think a plot through in the car or on the treadmill.

Just write about anything. If something funny happened, write about it...if something sad happened, write about it…. keep what works or sparks more ideas and table the rest for another project. Sometimes as you’re writing about something completely unrelated to a piece you wrote days or months before, you’ll figure out how the two can be part of the same story and how “that other piece you wrote last month” can be worked in too.

Some writers will say “writing is like breathing” to them, that it’s just something they “do” …that is so NOT my experience. It’s really hard work and writing fiction is particularly hard because you’re creating as you go along. It can definitely be gratifying and sometimes the words really do just flow, and it’s a great experience when that happens, but mostly it’s feeling like you hate everything you’re putting down on paper and questioning yourself…and wondering how you’ll ever get it done. But if you keep at it, you do eventually get it done and what you thought was awful may actually be really good…or morphed into something really good with just a little tweaking.

So, in summary, write! 🙂

Are there any new or upcoming books in the Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery series?

Yes! Murder with Honey Ham Biscuits will be out July 28... I worked long and hard on a honey ham biscuit recipe that’s included in the book—drop biscuits with bits of cheese and bacon topped with turbinado sugar and rock salt—they are amazing if I do say so myself.

Where can people find out more about the series?

The A.L. Herbert Facebook page is the best place: .

You can buy Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery Series in retailers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, and others. If you’re looking for a new series to get into, check out this series. It's a tasty, fun read for foodies and mystery lovers!

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