Jodi Rath has a passion for both mysteries and education which has led her to combine the two. She now he splits her time between working as an adjunct for Ohio teachers and creating mischief in her fictional writing. As a high school English teacher, she used fiction and non-fiction to focus on themes and central ideas. When it came time to write a mystery series, Jodi decided to use the 70-year-old cast-iron skillet in which her grandmother only made Pineapple Upside Down Cake for her grandfather as a starting point for the series name.
Starting with a theme
“When I taught, I used universal themes to connect students to things in their lives. For instance, my best friend has MS. I taught many LGBTQ homeless students. I’ve seen urban sprawl and gentrification first-hand and how it has affected my students. I’ve worked for the Fairfield County Disabilities Association. So, every theme has directly affected my life in one way or another.
“The series has fourteen books in it with overarching themes of urban sprawl, gentrification, LGBTQ homeless youth, and MS awareness. Actually, starting with the holiday book, Turkey Basted to Death, I began collaborating and contracting with The MS Society and True Colors United. I donate a percentage of my profits monthly to those charities.”
Jodi said she incorporates as much diversity in the series as possible. “It’s extremely important to me to reflect my teaching philosophy of twenty years in my writing. Many of my previous students read my series and stay in touch with me. Sometimes I wonder if using so many real-issue themes is not a good thing for cozies but so far, the series has done really well, which makes me happy that readers are embracing it.”
The importance of readers and their stories
“As I continue to write the series, my monthly newsletter subscribers have increased to close to 8,000 subscribers and my social media following has grown to 22,000 followers. I work to regularly communicate personally with all my readers. One of the things I love the most about my readers is their willingness to share very personal stories with me about the themes in my books to help me with research. I have spoken to some on the phone, through texting, emailing, or DM and messaging. It is my most favorite part of writing the series is doing research from readers’ personal stories that they are willing to trust me with to use. So, many of the vignettes/scenes you read in the books are taken from a reader’s personal story. I’ll say to your blog readers, if any of you would like to share with me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or subscribe to my monthly newsletter or find me on social media and message or DM me. I love chatting with all readers.”
“My philosophy of life, in teaching, and in my writing are all interweaved into a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the GREATEST accomplishment.’ I’ve used that quote to springboard many lessons in teaching and with book themes and conversations. While it promotes being yourself, an individual, and unique, I also like to connect it to tolerance and open-mindedness. People can only be a true individual when they learn to accept and love themselves and not feel a need to please others.”
Jodi said she used this philosophy to teach her students to be open-minded and willing to agree to disagree with others while being tolerant of their thoughts and motives. “This is something I worked to teach each one of my students and the main message I strive for in this series as well. This is the way I attempt to live my life daily. Of course, I fail a lot, but I work to reflect and correct as I fail.”
Difficult times and a new resource
Jodi wrote Blueberry Cobbler Blackmail when my mother-in-law, aged 97, fell and broke her hip, then passed away. “It was also during the holiday madness season. Then, I got pneumonia that I had for nearly a month. All of those things proved to be a huge challenge for me in staying on deadline.”
There was, however, good news on the horizon. Jodi’s husband retired in August 2019, and he’s turned into a very helpful research assistant. His work began with learning the Merangue. “I was running way behind with everything that was happening. We had to research and watch several videos about professionals dancing the Merengue, then watch bad examples of the Merengue dance. Then, we had to practice the dance ourselves in order to properly write a hilarious scene in this next book. That was probably the MOST fun I’ve had to date with research!”
Jodi said that learning the Merengue from scratch with her husband rates high on her list of favorite research activities. The fact that she has only a two-minute drive to her local is also very helpful. “I have HUGE stacks of books for research because I’m a full-time writer. I write more than just the culinary cozy mystery series—I also write educational blogs and for educational affiliations and publishers. I’m working with educators around the world with a publisher in CA on a teen series that ties directly into art, and all content areas.”
Jodi says she’s in her local library checking out everything from children’s books to subjects like poison, autopsies, and mental disorders. “My librarians SWEAR I’m on an FBI list somewhere and they say if they didn’t know me personally, they would be terrified of me based on the books and topics I check out!”