The Write Stuff: Ellie Alexander

Welcome to Torte!

Mix Sweet shop. A bakery in Ashland that inspired Torte.

Mix Sweet shop. A bakery in Ashland that inspired Torte.

Torte is a family bakeshop in the charming town of Ashland, Oregon—home of the world famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival and where Juliet Montague Capshaw (call her Jules) has returned home to heal her broken heart. It’s also the setting for my Bakeshop Mystery Series, where pastry and murder are always on the menu.

Ashland is one of my favorite places to visit, so when I was thinking of where to send Jules while her heart is on the mend I immediately thought of Ashland. It’s in the southern most corner of the state and is a hub for theater lovers, actors, artists, and adventure seekers of all kinds. Ashland’s downtown plaza houses a variety of shops and restaurants that are themed after the bard’s work and designed in Elizabethan style. That makes for great fun in finding ways to weave little nods to Shakespeare into the books.

Since I don’t live in Ashland I visit regularly. Part of what I enjoy when reading mysteries is the sense of place. I love reading about different regions and places on the planet that I’ve never been to. I want to give readers that feeling about Ashland. My goal is to create an authentic replication of the town—with a little murder thrown in.

A view of OSF's Elizabethan theater from Lithia Park.

A view of OSF’s Elizabethan theater from Lithia Park.

When I’m working on a manuscript I start with a research trip. It’s a rough job, I know. I spend three or four days in Ashland exploring the shops, talking with longtime locals, business owners and tourists, and taking in plays and backstage tours at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). Ashland is almost a town within a town. When the theater is running visitors from all over the world descend on the small town to catch a show or explore Ashland’s many hiking trails, lakes and nearby mountains. When the theater shutters its doors for the season the tourists depart and the town is quiet for the winter. I like using that dynamic in my writing. There’s always someone new rolling into town to kill off.

Oberon's Tavern a pub in Ashland that inspired Puck's Pub

Oberon’s Tavern a pub in Ashland that inspired Puck’s Pub

I take extensive photos of the shops, OSF, and Lithia Park. Once I start actually writing I use these as reference points. All of the shops in the Bakeshop series are fictional but are definitely inspired by what I see on my research trips. For example Oberon’s Pub is a real pub in Ashland (with great food and beer I might add). I used it as inspiration for Puck’s Pub in Meet Your Baker.

In addition to having materials about Ashland lining my walls as I write, I also have bakery inspired posters, aprons, and an ongoing collection of cookbooks and pastry magazines. These help me feel like I’m at Torte with a delicious sweet and coffee in hand. Speaking of pastry, I tend to sample a lot of pastry while I’m working on a book.

A vintage apron for inspiration

A vintage apron for inspiration

All of the recipes in the series are original, so when I’m not working on a draft I’m in my home kitchen testing recipes and trying out new ingredients. Baking helps clear my head and gives me some distance from the manuscript. I take extensive notes as I’m baking about smell, texture, and taste. When I start editing, I work those details into the story. My secondary goal is to have readers salivating and running to their kitchen for a delectable pastry as they read.

Finally I meet with pastry chefs and bakery owners. Since I’m not a professionally trained chef, it’s helpful to watch them at work in a commercial kitchen. I’ve been very fortunate to have some wonderful chefs who have given me a glimpse into the culinary world and their incredible creations. I hope that comes through on the page and that readers will feel transported into the scrumptious world of Torte.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetHappy reading and baking!

Ellie Alexander Facebook @bakeshopmystery Pinterest

Interested in sharing The Write Stuff with me and Girl with Book Lungs blog readers? (I hope you are!) Send me an email at jenna [dot] czaplewski [at] gmail [dot] com today

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