The Berry Basket series is set in Oriole Point, a fictional resort town along the shores of Lake Michigan. My heroine, Marlee Jacob, owns a berry themed store, one of many unique businesses that draw million of visitors each year to her picturesque village. Because the beaches are the number one tourist attraction, summer is high season. So when I began to plot Book One, I decided on a June setting to launch the series. As someone who lives and works in just such a Michigan lakeshore town, I know June is when tourist season really kicks off. Since each of the books in the Berry Basket series focuses on a different berry (and the murder surrounding it), strawberries needed to be the focus of my debut book. They are the first berries to ripen, and the reason why June’s full moon is known as a Strawberry Moon.
As soon as I learned about the Strawberry Moon, I included it in Dying for Strawberries by creating a festive event called the Strawberry Moon Bash. The day before the event begins, Marlee’s superstitious friend Natasha asks her to interpret a disturbing dream she had about strawberries. Conversant with all things berry, Marlee tells her that strawberries represent happiness and purity; the Cherokee regarded it as a symbol of good luck. However, she does warn how a dream about strawberries may portend a forbidden desire, or that someone they know has a secret. And Marlee soon learns all of the above are correct.
But Marlee is right to reassure Natasha about the positive meaning of strawberries. Strawberries have been viewed as a symbol of honor and purity for centuries. Medieval and Renaissance monks drew strawberries in the borders of their illustrated manuscripts and prayer books. Emblematic of virtue, strawberries appear in paintings of that period, especially those featuring the Virgin. There is even a medieval painting known as Madonna of the Strawberries.
Shakespeare’s Othello provides the best known literary use of strawberry symbolism. In the play, Desdemona’s white handkerchief is decorated with strawberries, which represent marital fidelity. Othello tells Desdemona that the handkerchief belonged to his mother, and was woven by an Egyptian prophetess using sacred silk and a dye derived from the blood of mummified virgins. (I have no idea how that was achieved!) Thus the red of the strawberries on the white silk of the handkerchief symbolizes the virgin bride’s blood staining the wedding night bed. Seems a convoluted and bizarre use of the lovely image of a strawberry. Then again, Othello had some serious issues.
Even in modern day, strawberries are used to represent good will and happiness, albeit in a more subtle fashion. In the 1957 Ingmar Bergman film Wild Strawberries, an elderly doctor revisits his past in a series of dreams. The second dream finds him reliving a cherished time in his youth, represented by a wild strawberry garden. It doesn’t take a medieval monk to tell us this symbolizes youth, innocence, and family.
Recent bestsellers have employed strawberries as symbols, too. When Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games begins, Katniss and Gale are in the woods preparing to forage and hunt. The first thing they eat are wild blackberries, but it is the strawberries they pick which they’re more pleased about. Katniss found the patch of strawberries years earlier, and Gale has covered the plants with mesh net to protect it. They each save the strawberries for the evening meal “to make it special.” Since Katniss and Gale are the providers for their families, strawberries represent their virtue and goodness. Katniss later sells half of the berries to the mayor of their district, explaining how “The mayor had a passion for strawberries.” Anyone in the Renaissance would have known this indicated the mayor was a decent man in an indecent world. In fact, from a symbolic viewpoint, the strawberry motif lets the reader know Katniss, Gale and the mayor are honorable and trustworthy people.
Children have also responded positively to strawberries since the 1980s, when the rag doll Strawberry Shortcake debuted, soon to be followed by other fruit and dessert-theme characters who live in Strawberryland with her. The popular Strawberry Shortcake series continues the long held cultural belief that strawberries are not only sweet and delicious, they’re symbols of goodness and harmony. And even though trouble strikes during strawberry season in Dying for Strawberries, the honorable and trustworthy Marlee emerges triumphant. And with her love of strawberries intact.
With seasonal crowds flocking to its sandy beaches, lively downtown shops, and the Berry Basket, a berry emporium with something for everyone, the lakeshore village of Oriole Point is ripe for summer fun—and murder.
Much has changed for Marlee Jacob since she returned to Oriole Point, Michigan, three years ago. Between running the Berry Basket, dodging local gossip, and whipping up strawberry muffins, smoothies, and margaritas to celebrate the town’s first annual Strawberry Moon Bash, the twenty-nine-year-old hardly has time for her fiancé, let alone grim memories of her old life in New York . . .
But unfortunately for Marlee, Oriole Point is muddled with secrets of its own. First her friend Natasha disappears after an ominous dream. Next the seediest man in town threatens to crush her business. Then an unknown person nearly kills her on the night of the Bash. When she discovers a dead body while searching for Natasha, Marlee realizes she’ll have to foil a killer’s plot herself—before the past permanently stains her future.
Sharon Farrow is the author of The Berry Basket mystery series set in the Lake Michigan village of Oriole Point. She is also one half of D.E. Ireland, the Agatha nominated writing team of the Eliza Doolittle/Henry Higgins mysteries. Under the name Sharon Pisacreta, she has also written romantic suspense, numerous magazine articles, and a one-act play performed off-Broadway. She is an active member of Sisters in Crime, The Authors Guild, and Sleuths in Time. Visit her online at sharonfarrowauthor.com and www.facebook.com/SharonFarrowAuthor. Or follow her on twitter @SharonFarrowBB