In Smith’s The Unspoken (Thomas & Mercer, Oct.), society matron Violet Gerrigan hires Chicago PI Ashe Cayne to find her missing daughter.

After a successful career writing books on nutrition and fitness, what compelled you to write mysteries?

I’ve always been a reader and lover of mysteries and thrillers, which led to a passion and desire to write mysteries, to deliver readers the excitement and emotions I get from reading authors like John Grisham, Michael Connelly, and Harlan Coben. I always wanted to make readers late to appointments, lock themselves in their rooms, or stay up deep into the night because they just have to read one more page. When readers tell me this after finishing one of my books, it makes me extremely satisfied that the mission was accomplished.

You’re the cohost of the Rachel Ray Show, on the board of several foundations, and an expert on nutrition and fitness. When do you find the time to write?

Writing to me is not work, but a pleasure that comes to me instinctively. I am very focused and efficient in my writing process. When I sit in front of the computer, it’s meditative, exciting, and cathartic all at once. But before I put a finger to keyboard, I’m constantly writing in my head first. I see and hear things that give me ideas. I get inspiration from everything and everywhere. This makes it easier to develop plot, and fun to sit down and let all the ideas pinging around in my head escape onto my computer screen.

What kind of lead is Ashe Cayne?

Ashe Cayne is the kind of guy I would watch a game with or sit for hours and talk to over a plate of barbecue ribs and fries. He’s an imperfect hero. He’s tough and smart and sarcastic, but he struggles in romance and has a complicated relationship with his father. He has a big problem when it comes to injustice and an even bigger problem when people are not appropriately punished for their transgressions, even when everyone else is content with simply leaving things as they are. Most of all, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

What were you trying to say about the privileged in our society through the character of Violet Gerrigan?

The Gerrigan family represents the classic privileged elite who believe their wealth and connections give them rights the rest of us don’t have. People who occupy this stratum delude themselves into believing because they set the rules, they don’t have to follow them. I want readers to not only see how they think but to also see that their social status doesn’t make them immune from what afflicts the rest of us.