In the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of cooking shows and competitions. The Great British Bake-off in particular has won over people’s hearts on both sides of the Atlantic. Watching people make (usually) good food is simply great fun. But what if the food was downright murderous? That’s at the heart of Misha Popp’s debut Magic, Lies and Deadly Pies (5/10/22), which features Daisy Ellery who can whip up delicious pies…and pies that kill abusive, horrible men. It’s a love letter to food, especially pies, and a big dollop of female vengeance. Murder & Mayhem had a chance to talk with Misha Popp about her delicious debut.
Note: This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Murder & Mayhem: Where did you get the idea for the book?
Misha Popp: It was the TV show Pushing Daisies, which was a cult hit a few years ago, and it is about a pie maker who can wake the dead. He has a misquote in the show where he says, “I’m Ned, I have a pie maker. I wake pies and make the dead.” I was like, “Okay, what if this really cute kind of innocent guy really did make the dead instead of waking the dead?” It sort of sprung off of the idea of “Who would be the pie-ssassin?”
And who better than somebody who looks completely innocent and charming with her little dresses and her cute little dog at the farmers market? Then she has this whole secret dark side.
How would the book be classified?
It is a crazy feminist revenge fantasy dressed up in a really cute dress with good pies. When I finished it, and got it ready for submission, the draft that we had at the time could have sat equally in fantasy in women's fiction or in crime. But none of them were really stronger than the other. Given the murdery element of it in—the fact that she is a serial killer— it did end up going crime rather than women's fiction or romance. But it is definitely a genre mashup. It's not the easiest thing to describe. This is just my weird murder pie book.
What is it about food that makes it magical?
I'm a big believer that food can change the world. Like, when the world ends, I will be there with cookies and snacks because it's not going to make things worse and it might make things better just for that little moment. It's not obviously magic in the witchy sense. But it has that effect. When you’re having a terrible day, that perfect bite of ice cream or that bit of pie might make it a little bit better even for that tiny moment. That is a power that pretty much everyone can harness and use unless they're a complete kitchen disaster, which is a whole different story.
I'm a big foodie, I worked as a baker for a long time. So food is just part of who I am. Over the top food descriptions are up my alley. I love Amy Reichert’s books—The Coincidence of Coconut Cake and stuff like that. Going back to the inspiration thing, I liked those kind of elements of foodie books, but also my heart is will always be in crime and murder. So it's combining all sorts of disparate elements into something that is weird and hopefully works.
You were a baker? Could you tell me about that?
So I started baking, it probably would have been the early 2000s. This was back when Ace of Cakes and other cake shows were a big thing on the Food Network. So I definitely went through a massive cake phase. I'm not artistic unless I'm sculpting things out of chocolate, but I cannot draw my way out of a paper bag.
I was actually teaching high school at the time. So my students would be the recipients of all these wacky things I was making—like some days we'd have dinosaurs, other days we'd have Lilo and Stitch.
That kind of morphed into a home business for a while. Then once I got out of teaching, I was working in a bakery in western Massachusetts that was fabulous. It was two other people and me. It was really small, but we did high volume so it was always busy. The kitchen scenes from the book definitely pull from the flavor of that work experience of being in that kitchen and having that kind of camaraderie.
Unfortunately the bakery burnt down, which was terrible. It was this whole strip of businesses. Now making cakes is back to being kind of a monetized hobby, something I do on the side, and I get to be picky about who I'm baking for, which is nice. There are definitely days where I miss working in that bakery kind of atmosphere and I think, “Maybe I should go back to it.” But it can take over your life for sure. Kitchen hours are not friendly.
You make pies too?
If I'm making something for myself at home, pie is what I default to. If I'm making a cake, it's usually some kind of big sculpted fondant monstrosity. Maybe once a year, I will have a craving for cake. But I always see cake as being like more of a job thing. I get paid for cake. I get to make and just eat pie. It's awesome. So pie and macaroons tend to be my most common home baked things for myself.
Revenge is at the core of the book, especially against terrible men. Could you talk about that?
There are a lot of terrible men in the world who are really content being publicly terrible. That's what ticked off as being a revenge thing, especially in those Trump years. It's definitely still an issue. But there were so many awful people with big platforms just being like, “Hey, I'm awful.” I wanted somebody to take them down.
What do you want people to take away from this book?
At the end of the day, this is a fun escape. Times are bad. Sometimes you just need a little whimsy in your murder. On the more serious side of it, there’s the importance of found family and staying true to your principles, even when it's hard, and people don't understand.
Thanks to Misha Popp and her new book Magic, Lies and Deadly Pies that will also have a sequel tentatively coming out in May 2023!