Valerie Comer is a Canadian author with a passion for local food, faith, and fiction. We’re talking today about her new novel, Wild Mint Tea, and also about healthy eating.
Janet: Welcome back, Valerie, and congratulations on the release of your new novel. The Farm Fresh Romance series features three friends: Jo, Claire and Sierra. This is Claire’s story, right? What do we need to know about her?
Valerie: Thanks for having me back, Janet! Yes, this is Claire’s story. She’s a chef who specializes in local foods and who’s grounded in Green Acres, the farm she bought with her two friends. All her life she’s moved from one place to the next, and she’s so done with it. If she never leaves her new community of Galena Landing, Idaho, again, it will be too soon.
Janet: And Noel, the hero, has an entirely different plan for his life, right?
Valerie: So true. Noel believes the whole world is there for him to explore. It’s why he loves owning a reforestation company. He gets to move around the Pacific Northwest all summer and play hard in the tropics all winter.
Janet: Sounds like they’ll have some obstacles to overcome, but the journey will be worth it. Thinking of Claire’s work as a local-foods chef, I suspect she’s good at adapting recipes. Is that something you do, yourself?
Valerie: I hate to admit it, but I rarely prepare a recipe (at least a savoury one) exactly how I found it. There’s usually some ingredient I don’t have but can substitute for, etc. I think it comes from living on the farm and growing a garden, as there’s always an abundance of some foods and a dearth of others. For one thing, did you know that green beans and asparagus are interchangeable in most recipes? Try it!
Janet: Ooh. I like asparagus! Do you share recipes on your website, or in your author newsletter?
Valerie: I do share recipes on my blog from time to time. Here’s the recipe for Honey-Mustard Potato Salad that I attribute to Noel in Wild Mint Tea. This is entirely my own concoction, and a sweetly pleasing upgrade to the typical potato salad. One day soon it will be summer and I can justify making it again!
Janet: I’ll have to give that one a try myself. Love a good potato salad. We’re tea drinkers in my house, and the word “tea” in Wild Mint Tea caught my eye. Is there a specific connection with the story?
Valerie: There definitely is a connection, one I was able to bring into the story on several levels, including the drink of choice for the characters throughout the tale. Also, mint is a persistent plant. When the conditions are right, it flourishes and is difficult to uproot. Sort of like love.
Janet: That’s a great illustration for love, and I liked how you threaded it through the story. One of the nice things for readers about a series is that we can reconnect with the friends we made in the previous book. I’m looking forward to an update on Jo, Zach and Domino, the Border collie. Has much time passed since the events in Raspberries and Vinegar?
Valerie: There’s 6-7 months between the end of Raspberries and Vinegar and the beginning of Wild Mint Tea. I hadn’t planned for each story to be a March-July tale but, when I figured out the storyline for the second book heralded the beginning of tree-planting season, my hands were tied. When writing stories set in farming and forestry, the season is pre-set and part of the plot.
Janet: You’re also working on another project… something to do with snowflakes, while the rest of us look forward to warmer days?
Valerie: Yes! Snowflake Tiara contains a fun pair of Christmas novellas that will release in one volume this September. My good friend Angela Breidenbach has written a historical tale while mine is contemporary, and both center around the (fictional) Miss Snowflake Pageant in Helena, Montana. Some readers have told me that a story about pageantry seems far removed from my typical farm lit tales, but I found a way to connect them strongly together.
Janet: Sounds fun! This isn’t your first collaboration, either. Are you finding it different from working on Rainbow’s End?
Valerie: Yes and no. Four authors worked together on Rainbow’s End, so there was more input on how things worked—both a positive and a negative. In Snowflake Tiara, Angie and I have only each other to consult, and we’ve made one visit to Helena together, which was a big help. Also, this novella is twice as long at 40,000 words than the one in Rainbow’s End. However, in both cases, I’ve loved the sense of a bigger story and world than I’d imagined myself.
Janet: Let’s get back to Wild Mint Tea. It’s light romance, like Raspberries and Vinegar, but is there an idea or bit of information you’d like readers to take away?
Valerie: There are several themes in the story that are best uncovered in context, but one take away I can mention today is my desire for people to think about where their food comes from. In the context of Wild Mint Tea, some discussions involve using all the parts of an animal and not simply living off chicken breasts… and should it matter to the average person?
Janet: Your covers for the Farm Fresh Romance series are a different style—one might say fresh if you’ll forgive the pun—and I’ve seen a few like them but not many. For me, they work really well to set the books apart as one of the “lit” genres (in this case Farm Lit) as opposed to traditional romance. What prompted you to go for a visible difference?
Valerie: My daughter was my biggest prompter, as she’s the illustrator who created both covers. I think her style suits the genre of the stories, like you said. I’m thankful that my publisher was willing to take a chance on a slightly different cover style because they catch a lot of attention, almost all of it positive.
Janet: There’s another Farm Fresh Romance in the works, right?
Valerie: There is! I’m currently working on the final story of the three young women who bought a farm together. This one is called Sweetened with Honey and is set about two years after the end of Wild Mint Tea. Readers will get to see Green Acres Farm as a more established event destination and enjoy seeing Sierra, the resident naturopath, take on beekeeping as well as romance.
Janet: Sounds good! Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Valerie: I have so much advice, I don’t even know where to begin! I’ve written for 12 years now and discovered I do things differently than most other writers (surprise…). I’ve created a free course providing an overview of the fiction-writing process over at towriteastory.com. I want to help newer writers understand what writing fiction entails and what some of the paths are that they might take. I invite your readers to check it out!
Janet: I second that suggestion. I signed up for those emails, myself. Now, we’ve met Valerie the writer, but there’s plenty more that fills your days. Tell us a bit about Valerie the private citizen.
Valerie: Busy. I stopped working an outside job over a year ago, but so much has flooded in to take that empty time. I’m doing some freelance work online as well as writing fulltime. In the summer, I add gardening and food preservation to the mix. No matter what, I always find time to enjoy my three little granddaughters! I love hanging out with them, reading, doing puzzles, or jumping on the trampoline.
Janet: I’ll bet they love to come to visit! Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.
Valerie: My husband and I own a small farm in south-eastern BC, Canada. I love rural living and I love having the mountains around me. I truly believe I live in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. So blessed.
Janet: I have to ask, since I know local food is important to you: is there something special food-wise that you’ll buy even though it has to be shipped in?
Valerie: Definitely. Like many Canadians and Americans, we like our coffee and chocolate, to name two biggies. However, we try to eat (and drink!) organic not only for the sake of our bodies but also for the sake of the environment and the workers who labor in the fields. Buying organic and fair trade helps protect those workers and our planet.
Janet: I confess to buying Mexican raspberries in the winter. Because of shipping, they’re not as good as locally-sourced ones, but those are strictly a summer treat. Thanks for visiting today, and all the best in the year ahead!
She’s rooted deep. He flies free.
Local-foods chef Claire Halford envisions turning Green Acres Farm into an event destination. Weddings prove trickier than she imagined when the first one comes with a ruggedly handsome brother-of-the-bride, who has everything but a fixed address. Oh, and faith in God.
Noel Kenzie loves the freedom his reforestation company affords him. Why worry about deep stuff like God and commitment when he’s in his prime? Except there’s a woman who might make it worth giving up his wings…and digging in some roots. If he dares.
Click the cover to visit Valerie’s site and read a sample chapter of Wild Mint Tea.
Hi Janet and Valerie,
Thanks for this great interview. I enjoyed it a lot, especially as I’ve read the book too. I did appreciate the parts about treating food properly. I remember that part about what they would do with the rest of the chicken once the breasts were accounted for. I’m looking forward to trying the honey mustard potato salad too, especially since Noel impressed Claire so much with it.
I loved the covers too. They really suit the stories. Looking forward to ‘Sweetened with Honey’
I may not wait for summer to try the salad, Paula. Sounds so good!