April 10 – 16: “What about beverages?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Books often focus in on food but what about beverages? This week a full slate of ITW Members, including Lisa von Biela, Maris Soule, David White, Debbie De Louise, Vicki Delany, Toni LoTempio, Sue Owens Wright, Albert Tucher, Jake Bible, DiAnn Mills, Armand Rosamilia and Kate White discuss how thriller writers work coffee, alcohol or water into the lives of their characters.


Inspired by the likes of Stephen King and Rod Serling, Lisa began writing horror and sci-fi short stories near the turn of the century. Her first published story appeared in Greg F. Gifune’s small press ‘zine The Edge in 2002. She stayed with short fiction, honing her craft and seeing more of her work published, before finally embarking on her first novel, THE GENESIS CODE, released in 2013. After working in Information Technology for 25 years, Lisa dropped out of everything—including writing—to attend the University of Minnesota Law School. She graduated magna cum laude in 2009, and now practices law and writes in the Seattle area.


Albert Tucher is the creator of prostitute Diana Andrews, who has appeared in more than seventy hardboiled short stories in venues including THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2010, edited by Lee Child. Diana’s first longer case, the novella THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE, was published in 2013. Characters from Diana’s world also appear in the novella THE PLACE OF REFUGE. Like so many hardboiled authors, Albert Tucher is a librarian in his day job.


Debbie De Louise is an award-winning author and a reference librarian at a public library on Long Island where she lives with her husband, daughter, and two cats. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters-in-Crime, and the Cat Writer’s Association. She is the author of the Cobble Cove cozy mystery series that includes A Stone’s Throw, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and her new release, Written in Stone.


While Toni Lotempio does not commit – or solve – murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper. Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at age 10 – The Secret in the Old Attic.  She (and ROCCO, albeit he’s uncredited) pen the Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime – and the just released Cat Rescue Mysteries from Crooked Lane!  The first volume, Purr M for Murder is out now! She, Rocco and company make their home in Clifton, New Jersey, just twenty minutes from the Big Apple – New York. Catch up with them at www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com or at www.tclotempio.net.


Sue Owens Wright is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction. She is an eleven-time finalist for the Maxwell, awarded annually by the Dog Writers Association of America to the best writer on the subject of dogs. She has twice won the Maxwell Award. She writes the Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series, which is recommended on the American Kennel Club’s list of Best Dog Books. Her most recent novel is The Secret of Bramble Hill.


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall. Connect with DiAnn here: www.diannmills.com


Maris Soule had 25 romances published before switching to mystery/suspense. So far she’s had 5 mysteries traditionally published. Originally from California, she met her husband to-be in Santa Barbara, and two years later they moved to Michigan. Although Soule taught art and math for 8 years, reading and writing have always been her passion. She and her husband now divide their time between Michigan and Florida.


Dave White is the author of the Jackson Donne series. His novels have received starred Publishers Weekly reviews, Shamus Award nominations, and have been bestselling ebooks. He lives in Nutley, NJ with his family.




Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers, author of twenty-five crime novels, including standalone Gothic thrillers, the Constable Molly Smith series, and the Year Round Christmas Mysteries. Under the pen name Eva Gates she writes the Lighthouse Library cozy series from Penguin. The first Sherlock Holmes Bookshop novel, Elementary She Read, will be released in March 2017 by Crooked Lane Books. Vicki is the past-president of Crime Writers of Canada.


Kate White the former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, is the New York Times bestselling author of six Bailey Weggins mysteries, including the upcoming Even If It Kills Her (Oct ’17), and five stand-alone psychological thrillers, including The Wrong Man and the newly released The Secrets You Keep. She is also the editor of The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook.


Jake Bible, Bram Stoker Award nominated-novelist and author of the bestselling Z-Burbia series, short story writer, independent screenwriter, podcaster, and inventor of the Drabble Novel, has entertained thousands with his horror and sci/fi tales. He reaches audiences of all ages with his uncanny ability to write a wide range of characters and genres. Other series by Jake Bible: the bestselling Salvage Merc One, the Apex Trilogy, the Mega series, and the Reign of Four series. Jake lives in the wonderfully weird city of Ashville, North Carolina.


Armand Rosamilia is a New Jersey boy currently living in sunny Florida, where he writes when he’s not sleeping. He’s happily married to a woman who helps his career and is supportive, which is all he ever wanted in life…He’s written over 150 stories that are currently available, including horror, zombies, contemporary fiction, thrillers and more. His goal is to write a good story and not worry about genre labels.



  1. This is an easy question for me, as in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series the protagonist is the co-owner of a tea room. Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, to be precise, located at 222 Baker Street. The bookshop is at 220 Baker Street.

    My main character, Gemma Doyle, is English now living on Cape Cod. She loves her tea and can be found most mornings lined up at Mrs. Hudson’s for a tea and muffin before opening the store. Being English, she has gone to great length to teach not only the tea room staff how to make a proper “cuppa”, but other establishments in town as well (a good cup of tea being something she finds sorely lacking in the United States. (Take it from a Canadian: it is).

    Gemma and the co-owner of the tea room, Jayne Wilson, meet every day over a pot of tea and the day’s left-over baking for their partners’ meeting. The ritual of tea gives me, the author, the chance to have both characters thinking out loud about what’s happening in their lives (usually a murder or other) in a setting that leads itself to good description – the tea room, the patrons coming and going, the china, the type of tea. Darjeeling today, or maybe a smoky Lapsang Souchong?

    All is not tea and scones, however, and Gemma has been known to have a glass of Sauvignon Blanc on occasion. Often when she’s slyly questioning a suspect in a bar or restaurant. She is not, she says, a beer drinker.

  2. I’m not too familiar with thrillers per se, but I know that beverages play a large part in the genre I write in, which is cozy mystery! There are many popular cozy series that are centered around beverage shops. The most popular one that comes to mind is Laura Childs’ Tea Shop mysteries. Recipes are always included and I have to admit it’s given me a whole new appreciation for tea!

    Cleo Coyle’s coffeehouse mysteries are another good example. Clare Cosi returns to her old job of managing a historic coffeehouse in New York’s Greenwich Village, and on her first day back finds the assistant manager unconscious in the store. Her adventures progress from there, and you can learn an awful lot of facts about coffee from reading these books!

    There are quite a few other cozies that feature tea shops, coffee shops and the like as settings; my Nick and Nora Mysteries features a sandwich shop where coffee is served. After all, where better to discuss a suspect list than over a fresh brewed cup of coffee? Beverages are definitely a staple in cozies!

    1. Hi, Toni. Yes, tea and coffee are favorite cozy mystery beverages. Although Alicia in my Cobble Cove mysteries doesn’t run a tea or coffee shop and beverages are not served in libraries (except in the staff break room), the local inn once owned by Dora and later in the series by Gilly, often serves afternoon tea. I’m sure the sandwich shop in your Nick and Nora mysteries brews a great cup of coffee for our sleuths.

  3. We humans have been steeping leaves in hot water for eons. I’ve been drinking tea since childhood. Back then, all we had was bland Lipton’s Tea, but that changed after I married a Brit. Now I drink PG Tips, Barry’s Gold Blend (Irish) or my favorite, Yorkshire Gold, which turns a lovely golden color when you add milk. I also love the beautiful Yorkshire scenes on the box. Tea makes you more alert, more relaxed, and improves longevity. Of course, in a murder mystery, that may not necessarily be the case, depending on who’s doing the brewing.

    I’m definitely a tea-total, which explains why there’s plenty of brewing and sipping of tea in my latest novel, “The Secret of Bramble Hill.” The book is set in England, where I’ve traveled extensively and found the inspiration to write it. A hot “cuppa” provides a constant panacea for the protagonist, Tessa Field, who returns to Bramble Hill upon her aunt’s mysterious demise to search for the killer and nearly becomes a victim herself. When Maggie, the housekeeper and Tessa’s kindly confidante, prepares tea, it’s often accompanied by her delicious Cornish pasties or a plate of freshly baked biscuits. Tessa finds that life tends to look rosier over a cup of tea, which could be due to theanine, a mood-balancing amino acid in black and green tea that helps to calm us and reduce anxiety. Sometimes tea can reveal important clues and provide plot points in a story. Tea also figures largely in my Lake Tahoe-based Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series, though it’s an herbal variety that provides healing properties to Native American sleuth Elsie “Beanie” MacBean and her daughter, Nona. Next up in the dog lover’s series, EARS FOR MURDER.

    As for me, I find that tea boosts my creativity and productivity, which is why I do my writing in teashops. Teatime also provides a relaxed setting for socialization and problem solving. My friends and I often discuss politics and current affairs over afternoon tea. One can’t help wondering whether the world’s ills might not be more peacefully resolved over a nice pot of tea.

  4. I hadn’t thought about it before this topic came up, but my hardboiled stories about prostitute Diana Andrews may have more coffee than sex.

    Diana lives and works in a small town in the northernmost part of New Jersey. The kitchen in her rented Cape Cod has become neutral territory for her and some of the police officers in the area. In my researches I have learned that cops and prostitutes have a complex relationship. They are supposed to be adversaries, but neither side is going away, and both know it. Much of the time cops and hookers have to coexist. Prostitutes can also be useful to the police. They know things the cops need to know.

    So the cops come to Diana for her hard-won understanding of money, men, sex, marriage, jealousy, hatred and other constants of human nature. Often her insights help solve the case, and she always serves them with coffee. One detective in particular has a bottomless capacity for coffee and a deep respect for Diana’s experience and instincts. My novella THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE opens with a coffee scene in which that detective inadvertently launches a threat to Diana’s business and her life.

    Coffee consumption can be a social activity or an accessory to solitary reflection. In my new novella, THE PLACE OF REFUGE, Detective Errol Coutinho of the Hawaii County Police sits at the counter in Ken’s House of Pancakes, a venerable Hilo institution, and ponders his case. The fictional cook at Ken’s is also a confidential informant, and he drags Coutinho away for a meeting. Coutinho gets crucial information, but he loses his coffee, which the annoyed hostess confiscates.

    The lesson? Get it to go.

  5. For me the beverages my characters drink help to define their personalities and their occupations. Katherine Ward, in ECHOES OF TERROR, is a police officer. There’s always a pot of coffee in the back room of the station. But when her whole world comes crashing down, she grabs a bottle of bourbon. In A KILLER PAST, Mary Harrington seems like a sweet, 74-year-old widow as she fixes her cup of tea. It’s only when she’s with her former partner, talking about her past as an assassin, that she kicks up her heels and knocks over her glass of wine.

    For me, using beverages in a scene offers A way to identify one speaker from another and keep a scene from being talking heads. As Mary prepares coffee for the sergeant investigating her, she’s able to feign innocence—play the role of a sweet old lady. And when a knock at the door causes Katherine drops her glass of bourbon, I don’t need to tell the reader how tense she is or how she’s using alcohol to help her forget what happened to her in the past.

    With my P.J. Benson Mysteries (THE CROWS, AS THE CROW FLIES and EAT CROW AND DIE), coffee is the beverage of choice. I even had one reader mention my characters seemed to drink a lot of coffee. With that in mind, when P.J. gets pregnant (in the third book), coffee suddenly isn’t her drink of choice…in fact it sends her running to the bathroom.

    1. And that’s why your writing is so good! It’s the little details that give your characters life.

  6. I write mysteries more than thrillers, but I believe beverages are handled similarly in both. In my Cobble Cove cozy mystery series, the beverages I usually include are tea (a staple for cozy mysteries), coffee, and wine. In A STONE’S THROW, the first book of the series, John accompanies Alicia back to Long Island where they locate her sister-in-law, Pamela, who offers them wine to avoid answering questions about her brother.

    “Pamela got up and opened a sideboard cabinet. Alicia could see some whiskey and wine bottles inside. “I know it’s early in the day, but I need a drink. Would either of you care to join me?”
    Before Alicia or John could reply, Pamela placed a bottle and three glasses on a tray and brought it over to the table in front of the couch. “Red is best with dinner, but I’m in the mood for it now. Can I pour you some?”
    Alicia didn’t know whether Pamela’s mood for wine had to do with discovering her brother was dead or, more likely, the questions she had been asked.

    In my second mystery, BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE, John offers Alicia tea to calm her from the frightening experience of being followed home from the library.

    John led her to the rockers by the lit fireplace.
    “Let me get that tea for you, Ali. Please sit and try to calm down. I didn’t see anyone. Maybe it was a possum or another night creature. They can be loud but hide from humans.”
    “No, John. It was a person. There was someone behind me. He followed me from the library. I think it’s that stranger who’s been hanging around town.” Alicia was still shaking.

    Later in the book when John and Alicia are touring New York city near the holidays, they stop for refreshments at a bakery near a cat café.

    They took the short walk to the Meow Parlour’s Patisserie, a French styled bakery, on Ludlow Street. It was a small place crammed with delicious baked goods from brownies to a variety of cookies and macarons, many of them cat-shaped. The shop also sold drinks – hot chocolate, iced tea, a variety of other teas, sodas, and raspberry lemonade. Alicia ordered a Rosemary & Cornmeal with Apricot Jam cat-shaped cookie and herbal tea, while John chose a brownie with hot chocolate.

    In WRITTEN IN STONE, my latest Cobble Cove Mystery, released this month, when John and Alicia have their editor over for dinner, she drinks a bit more wine than they expected.

    Mary Beth complied taking her place by a glass Alicia noticed was full of white wine. A half empty bottle stood next to it. While she and John occasionally had wine with dinner, they usually had only one glass. It looked like Mary Beth was on her way to emptying the bottle before dinner was even on the table.

    Beverages can also be used as convenient places to hide poisons. In my upcoming short story, DYING FOR A VACATION, that will be included in the mystery anthology, “Plots and Schemes” By Solstice Publishing, a cup of coffee in the library staff lounge proves deadly to a librarian. In this scene, the detective questions one of the co-workers who made the coffee that day.

    “I don’t have too many questions for you, Mrs. Lark. We’ve already ascertained that you made the coffee the morning Mrs. Frost was poisoned. Since no one else took sick that day, and the entire library staff drank the coffee made from the pot you brewed, I can only assume that Mrs. Frost’s coffee was tampered with before, after, or during the time she had her coffee break.”

    Just as in real life, when food is served during meals, social events, and other gatherings, drinks accompany the dishes. Whether to set a scene, introduce characters, or conceal poison, beverages in thrillers and mysteries make fictional food easier to swallow.

  7. The beverage a character chooses doesn’t simply give him/her something to do. The beverage may quench a thirst, but what kind of thirst? Is it physical, mental, or spiritual? What value is added to the scene if the character drinks nothing? The choice has the potential to deepen characterization or add a level to the setting. The character may be fitting into a group or testing boundaries. But the beverage choice is always for a reason that serves the scene’s goal.

  8. My characters take in a lot of fluids. I don’t think I fully realized this until I edited The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook and started to think about food and drink in terms of how it related to mysteries. As I looked back at my own books, I was kind of in shock. There was so much beverage consumption!

    My characters drink wine, beer, martinis, more wine, water, tea, coffee, cappuccino, espresso, juice, sodas. The often have some kind of drink in their hands. In some cases all this hydration is there to move the plot along. In my current standalone, The Secrets You Keep, for instance, the main character has been in a bad car accident and she has some fatigue issues. She drinks iced tea and espresso to help stay focused. In one of my Bailey Weggins mysteries, one character actually dies from something someone puts in her bottle of Fiji water.

    But I think all the drinking in my books reflects the fact that I tend, in real life, to interpret people’s personalities partly through their beverages. I’m very aware of what everyone I know in my life drinks, and it informs me about them. Maybe even more than their food choices. So I guess I brought that to my mysteries. Drink informs character.

    Think of all the tea Miss Marple consumes. And the coffee Jack Reacher consumes. And those cocktails Linda Fairstein’s Alex Cooper loves. I know those characters so much better because of their beverage choices.

  9. Kate gets to the heart of the matter. Beverages reveal personality, and its one of the subtle ways a writer has to inform the reader about the characters without resorting to “Miss Marple was a straight-laced English lady”

  10. In my “Dirty Deeds” crime thriller series, the main character is getting older and fighting not only the bad guys but his waistline. He indulges in lots of food and drink he shouldn’t be anywhere near.

    I like to add a lot of humor to the series and one way is his love of Dunkin Donuts coffee, which will sometimes drive the story as he needs another cup, even when things are going bad around him.

    Like Diann Mills said, it shouldn’t just be giving the character something to do. It should be a small piece of the puzzle that helps to flesh him out.

  11. Beverages are great. You can use the choice of beverage to reveal personality. You can use the way the character interacts with the beverage (and its cup/glass) to reveal mood.

    Take a teetotaling vegetarian. She drinks tea (there’s a whole lot of tea going on in this week’s column, I see). Pretty consistent. What if the tea-drinking teetotaler tries a martini? Why would she do that? Did someone talk her into it? Does it show a different side to her personality/character? Is she experiencing some sort of crisis or change? Is it a one-time thing that gets her into trouble? Is it a conflict/tension with the rest of her persona?

    How does she interact with that tea (or booze)? Doe she sip? Does she guzzle? Sip, then guzzle? Does she fiddle with the cup or glass nervously while she’s having an interaction with another character?

    Back to choice. I have a scene in a recently completed manuscript where the CEO and the CFO are in a bar, celebrating a recent victory. The CEO chooses the most expensive scotch there is, savors it. The CFO chooses the house scotch, thinks it’s just fine. The choice of drink highlights some personality differences.

    Now, it’s time for my morning cuppa Joe.

  12. I like what Diann asks: What kind of thirst is a character trying to quench with his/her drink? I’m going to keep that in mind as I write. A very good point.

    I’m thinking right now of some very fast paced books where the characters never eat or drink. The authors have obviously decided that’s not-essential info. But I don’t enjoy those books nearly as much.

  13. I do agree with Maris. The beverage matches the setting and the characters drinking. In my latest release, Chef’s Surprise, the heroine from a grubby part of the Florida Keys has risen to fame as a chef in New York. By chance, she finds herself employed as Chef in a penthouse on the upper West
    Side of Manhattan. The dashing lawyer there invites her to his hot tub and when she asks for Champagne and strawberries, he has fancier tastes in mind. And the taste test begins.

    Thanks for a wonderful post today with a fine cast of characters I’d be so pleased to meet.

  14. I think tea is more common for Brits while Americans prefer coffee. Runners drink a lot of water. Beverages do become a good device in description–and in poisoning.

  15. I’m late to the discussion because I was finishing edits on my latest scifi thriller, Mech Corps. The funny thing is I never intended for Mech Corps to be a part of this topic at all, yet it is.

    In a lot of my books alcohol is primary. Whether it’s whiskey or beer or whiskey and beer, or in the case of my far future mech westerns, “brown” liquor. But with Mech Corps, it turns out tea and “stim” are the main drinks. Yes, there is whiskey and there is beer, but only on station. Out in the vastness of space, the crew ate teatotalers. Mainly because that’s what the ship’s galley can produce. A version of “tea” and a version of coffee called “stim”. Neither taste like they should, and are notoriously awful, but they get the job done. And these are people that don’t know the difference.

    Part of the fun of having fake tea and coffee in the novel was to highlight the fact that Earth is an environmental wasteland. I could use the fact that real coffee and tea died out centuries earlier because of the destruction of the climate and the very soil the plants grow in. The new beverages have to be synthesized from algae and mycoprotein (mushrooms and fungus) then conditioned with bacterial cultures to achieve the stimulant properties needed. I got WAY more involved with the creation of those drinks than I ever expected I would.

    Of course, now the beverages are a part of the story, so I better remember to not only include them in the rest of the series, but I have to make sure I follow the “rules” of their use and creation too. It is worldbuilding that I didn’t plan, but I’m happy I stumbled into.

  16. This is turning into an interesting conversation. One thing I personally realized years ago is how region and economic status influence what beverages are chosen. I grew up in California, upper-middle class family. My father entertained corporate executives at our house. When a guest was asked, “Would you like a drink,” it was assumed the request would be for wine or a mixed drink. They loved to try the “newest” mixed drink, and would talk about their wine cellars.

    A few years later, I married a man who had grown up in Michigan and we moved to Michigan. Our house was located in farm country, 20 minutes away from a city of any size, and the people who stopped by were generally farmers or people who worked in factories. If we asked them if they wanted something to drink, there was a 90% chance they would ask for coffee, no matter what time of the day. Very few drank wine, and if so, it would usually be a sweet wine. Beer was consumed, but rarely a mixed drink.

    So, for me, when a writer includes a beverage in a story, it’s not just what the character drinks to satisfy a thirst, it’s also a way of telling me, the reader, something about the character.

  17. There are also some lively pub scenes in “The Secret of Bramble Hill,” where pints of beer are being poured. My protagonist, Tessa Field, samples a rum and black but prefers the more ladylike Shandy, which is beer mixed with a soft drink such as carbonated lemonade, ginger beer, ginger ale, apple juice, or orange juice. Tessa and her romantic interest, Peter, first get cozy in front of a toasty coal fire over drinks at the Butcher’s Arms Pub.

  18. I’m reading an advanced copy of the much buzzed about Gone Without a Trace and the protagonist has to change her drink of choice midway through the book because of a plot point. It makes it interesting to see how her behavior shifts because of this. Does anyone have any favorite beverage scenes from other books?

  19. Kate, I honestly can’t think of a ‘beverage scene’ that sticks in my mind. I will give it some thought. But I am thinking that wine is a great vehicle for seduction or flirting. If the book is set in the 30s or the 60s, then a cocktail would be the beverage of choice.

  20. Another thing that could be used to reveal character through drink is ritual. Is there some particular ritual involved? Is there a favorite coffee mug–does it have a story behind it? Does the character just down the beverage (whatever it may be) without much thought? Is there any savoring? Does it trigger a memory? What sensations does it trigger?

    So many opportunities!

    1. Lisa, in A KILLER PAST I have my protagonist making her tea using a microwave. No heating the water to a certain temperature. No seeping the tea for a certain amount of time. I know true tea aficionados probably blanch when they see that.

  21. Those are interesting points, Lisa. You reminded me that there’s a Native American healing ritual using a particular kind of “tea” in my cozy Tahoe mystery, “Braced for Murder.” My sleuth, Beanie, also serves tea or cocoa in special ski mugs whenever her grown daughter, Nona, comes to visit. They share many heart-to-heart talks over those mugs, and mother and daughter have bonded over tea, coffee, or cocoa served in them. The mugs are souvenirs of their cross-country ski trips in the Sierra, and when one of the mugs gets broken, Beanie searches local thrift shops for a replacement. When I used to cross-country ski, warming huts provided much-appreciated hot beverages like tea/cocoa along the trail. Nothing ever felt so good!

  22. Sandwiches? I don’t think we can read much into that. One of my daughters, who’s a pretty high-level executive, gets mocked at work because she brings plain cheese sandwiches for lunch. one slice of cheese between two pieces of ordinary whole wheat bread. They say that’s a child’s lunch. She doesn’t care – that’s what she likes.

    1. In my Cobble Cove mysteries, Mac and John have a secret family PB&J sandwich recipe. I invited some of my readers to submit their own for a contest and featured the winning entry in the second book. The McKinney’s recipe remains a mystery.

  23. In the Sherlock Holmes bookshop books, the protagonist is English, and she had gone to great lengths to instruct Americans on the proper making of a cup of tea. As the discussion has indicated – that reveals character. She doesn’t mind telling people they’re not doing something right (in her opinion). Now that I’m thinking of that, remember the opening scene in the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel when Maggie Smith does just that.

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