Robin Allen is a writer, reader, knitwear designer, yoga instructor, and Christian living in the great state of Texas. She’s the author of the Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop mystery series which includes, If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Stick a Fork In It, and Out of the Frying Pan.
MTAR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Robin Allen: I hold a BA degree in English which, apparently, qualifies me to work as the following: food server, cocktail waitress, bartender, barista, sales rep, marketing director, freelance writer, technical writer, copy editor, software QA analyst, personal assistant, yoga instructor, knitwear designer, and mystery author.
MTAR: What do you do when you are not writing?
Robin Allen: I read and design knitwear patterns. (I’m atexasgirl on Ravelry.)
MTAR: What inspired you to write your first book?
Robin Allen: Money.
MTAR: How did you choose to write about Poppy’s adventures?
Robin Allen: In my first book, If You Can’t Stand the Heat, I honestly don’t know how that adventure came about. I worked on it here and there over several years, and one day I found that I had written a book. For my second, Stick a Fork In It, I started with the idea for the themed restaurant and then wrote a story around that. And for my third, Out of the Frying Pan, I wanted to write a book that put all of the recurring characters in the same place at the same time, like at a festival, but it turned into something else.
MTAR: Why did you decide to make Poppy an inspector and where does her obsession with rules and regulations come from?
Robin Allen: I worked in restaurants and night clubs to pay my way through college, so I knew I wanted to write a restaurant-related mystery series. If I made Poppy a chef or a waitress, I had the problem of either having someone die in her restaurant in every book or I had to make her jump jobs, neither of which would be easy to sustain. So I made her a health inspector, which allows me to write about a different restaurant in every book with the added bonus of telling a story about the “back of the house.” I like that I get to write about gross stuff.
Poppy likes rules and regulations because they are black and white, right or wrong, did or didn’t. And since Poppy is an amped up version of me, you can go from there.
MTAR: Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Robin Allen: There were many, but one of the most frustrating is that when my agent was shopping the book, the editor at one publishing house would like the characters and the plot, but not the pacing. Another editor liked the pacing and the story, but couldn’t connect with the characters. Still another editor liked the characters and the pacing, but not the story. One editor read about half the manuscript and decided to pass, but told my agent that she was going to finish reading it because she wanted to see how it ended. Okay, but shouldn’t you publish a book that makes you want to find out how it ends?
There was also a situation in which Anthony Bourdain agreed to blurb my book (really!), but somehow that didn’t happen. I’m happy with New York Times best-selling author David Liss, and award-winning authors Ben Rehder, Nadia Gordon, and Gillian Roberts.
MTAR: Can you tell us about your upcoming book, Out of the Frying Pan?
Robin Allen: In this third book in the clean, humorous Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop mystery series, Poppy is enjoying a rare night off at a fundraising dinner at a local organic farm. When someone dies from an apparent heart attack, Poppy is sure that it’s foul play and decides to investigate. To complicate things further, Poppy also has to choose between the two men in her life.
MTAR: What was your favorite chapter (or scene) to write and why?
Robin Allen: In all of my books, my favorite scenes to write are the ones with Ursula’s sous chef, Trevor, because he’s such a flirt, and Poppy’s neighbors, the Johns because she has a crush on one of them and the other one can’t stand her, so there is always some tension to deal with.
MTAR: How did you come up with the title?
Robin Allen: All of my titles are food-related, and I chose these particular ones—If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Stick a Fork In It, and Out of the Frying Pan—because they are well-known sayings that potential readers complete on their own, which involves them in the books right away.
MTAR: Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
Robin Allen: I was a little bummed when I had to kill Évariste Bontecou in my first book, If You Can’t Stand the Heat. He was fun to write because he was so egotistical and self-absorbed. I wish I could go back and make him even more outrageous.
MTAR: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Robin Allen: For this English major and professional technical editor, I cringe every time someone mentions misspelled words in my books. They were spelled correctly when I turned in my manuscript! My publisher’s production editors made those mistakes.
MTAR: What has been the best compliment?
Robin Allen: The fact that someone has read my books is a compliment.
MTAR: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Robin Allen: Writing a publishable book is a thousand times harder than you think it’s going to be and will take much more time and effort than you believe it should. Your book will not be done when you write The End, so don’t be in a hurry to query literary agents or self-publish. Be prepared to reread and revise your book many times. Read your entire book out loud at least once. And have lots of subplots. They’re what will sustain the bulk of your story.
MTAR: What book are you reading now?
Robin Allen: Right now, I’m working on a new sweater design, so I’m browsing through a lot of stitch dictionaries. I’m also always reading the Bible.
MTAR: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Robin Allen: Can I name two? My best friend, Tina, and my yoga students. They listened to the details of every high and every low of the publishing process, cheering and comforting as necessary. And one more—Jackie Kelly, author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. She went through the publishing process before I did and answered all of my newbie questions.
MTAR: Do you see writing as a career?
Robin Allen: In that I’m making enough money to earn a living? No.
MTAR: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Robbin Allen: My biggest challenge is putting my butt in a chair every day, which is why I need an accountability partner. We are each committed to certain writing goals (mine is two hours a day six days a week, but I often write longer; hers is 30 minutes a day five days a week), and we check in with each other daily to report our progress. The only excuse for not writing is a major catastrophe.
MTAR: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Robin Allen: I have favorite books rather than favorite authors, and one of mine is The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester. His main character is brilliant and, as it turns out, a psychopath, and the way the author reels out the details of his insanity is masterful. I reread that book often and see something new with each reading.
I also love A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The characters and situations are perfectly madcap.
MTAR: Who designed the covers?
Robin Allen: My book covers were designed by someone at my publisher, then the final artwork was executed by Desmond Montague. I didn’t immediately love the hot dog on Poppy’s badge, but it has grown on me.
MTAR: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Robin Allen: I wanted to write books that my at-the-time 15- and 16-year-old nieces could read and still think highly of Aunt Robin, so there isn’t any foul language or squirmy scenes. It’s surprisingly challenging to write a clean story.
MTAR: Do you work with an outline, or just write?
Robin Allen: For me, the story comes out in the writing of it, so I prefer to just write. My first book was written over many years, and I sort of kept writing and rewriting until it turned into something. For my second and third books, however, I had a contract and a deadline, so I had to be more organized. I didn’t outline those books, but I did have a better idea of where I was going and how I wanted to get there.