Friday, July 10, 2009

Sheila Connolly Talks Seasons (and Apples and Murder)

Welcome guest blogger Sheila Connolly, whose new mystery novel Rotten to the Core came out on Tuesday.

Thank you so much for inviting me to blog with you, to help me celebrate the release of the second book in my Orchard Mystery series, Rotten to the Core.

The series revolves around my ex Boston banker heroine Meg Corey trying to learn how to manage an orchard for profit with zero experience. I have to say writing the series has made me much more aware of the seasons this year.

In the first book, One Bad Apple, Meg arrived in Granford, Massachusetts in the dead of winter to renovate the 18th-century house her mother had inherited. January is not the best time to see rural New England, and Meg wasn't charmed. She didn't even know she had an orchard, and she learned of it just as a developer was threatening to pave it over as a parking lot for a new shopping center. Her first thought was to patch up and sell the house ASAP and leave town.

But of course she didn't, and she managed to save the orchard–and solve the murder of the developer, whose body was found in her yard. Not the best way to start life in a new town, but she finds she is beginning to enjoy the positive aspects of small-town living, not least of which is having neighbors who know you and look out for you.

Rotten to the Core picks up in the spring, when the apple trees are coming alive–it ends with the first bloom. Meg has had to learn a lot about orchard management: she's taking a class at the local university, and she's hired a young manager to help her out. She's also facing tough decisions about whether or not to spray the orchard with pesticides and herbicides–apples seem to attract a lot of problems. If I had known how tricky it is to produce apples that conform to the perfect standard that consumers expect, I might have run too. It doesn't help that the body of a local organic farming activist (or should I say, fanatic?) shows up in the orchard.

The third book, Red Delicious Death (due out next March), is set in the summer and finds Meg pacing like an expectant mother waiting for her apples to ripen. To distract herself she agrees to help a young couple from Boston who want to open a much-needed restaurant featuring local foods in Meg's small town, a plan that almost gets derailed by the death of their sous-chef. And of course the fourth book (not named yet) takes place during the apple harvest. There are a few complications, like the unexpected arrival of Meg's mother and yet another murder.

I'm not a farmer, and I have a brown thumb, but I've gained a lot of respect for those who manage to raise anything. It's heartening to see increased interest in gardening, from the President on down, and I hope that people will realize that local food tastes a whole lot better than stuff that's been shipped halfway around the world. This year I've put in a vegetable garden for the first time in years–not the best year to try it, since we had something like 21 days of rain in June, and the slugs have gone wild. But I figure if I'm going to write about farming, I should know something about it and get my hands dirty. I've even planted a couple of apple trees on my front lawn–and watched them get attacked by pests and plagues. I can only imagine what it must be like to watch it happen on a large scale over many acres, especially when your livelihood depends on it and there's not a lot you can do about and still produce a healthy crop.

But those small farmers who are willing to tough it out deserve our support. I'm beginning to sound rabid about the evils of corporate farming–just ask my family and friends–but bigger is not always better, and paying less for mass-produced food may be more expensive for us all in the long run. Meg's a convert too, and we both say: buy local!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Congrats on the release of Rotton to the Core! I was born on the edge of an orchard that became Great America amusement park -- at least it wasn't *our* orchard :)

We get local organic fruit delivered at work -- I'm losing weight because of how much better the apples taste than Rice Krispie Treats!

Since I was raised on Mac-n-Cheese and Hostess (fill in the blank), there may be hope for us yet!

Looking forward to reading your books!