This is my second interview with an author who writes multiple mystery series. My guest is Leslie Budewitz, current President of the national Sisters in Crime and a founding member of the Guppy Chapter of SinC. Leslie is the first person to have won Agathas for fiction and nonfiction. Death al Dente, the first in her Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Her guide for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure, won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. Also, her essay is featured in Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer's Journey edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Henery Press), which won Agatha and Anthony awards this year. Welcome, Leslie!
Thanks, Paula, for including me in this series!
How did you initially decide to write fiction?
I started writing at 4, on my father’s desk. Literally – I did not yet grasp the concept of paper. Fortunately, my parents were understanding, and kept me readily supplied with pens and paper. Though while I always wanted to write, I didn’t think it was something you could really do. But I was an avid reader, of course, and someone was writing those books. In my mid-30s, during a difficult time, I realized that someone could be me. I wrote the first chapter of my first novel one afternoon in my firm’s law library. But the process of becoming a fiction writer is a continual series of decisions – to keep writing, to work on the craft, to learn about the business, and to persevere. So glad I did!
Now, I’m writing two light-hearted or cozy mystery series. No graphic sex or violence, lots of graphic food. In the Spice Shop Mysteries, Pepper Reece never thought she’d find solace and comfort, let alone employment, in bay leaves, but running a spice shop in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market gives her a new zest for life – until murder ends up in the mix.
The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries is set in NW Montana, where I live. After years away, Erin Murphy’s come home to Jewel Bay, a tourist community on the road to Glacier National Park. She remakes her family’s hundred-year-old grocery into the Merc, a specialty local foods market and commercial kitchen used by the village chocolatier, the jam maker, and other producers, including Erin’s mother, Fresca, who makes pastas and sauces that Erin sells. While pursuing her passion for pasta and huckleberry chocolates, Erin discovers a talent for solving murder.
You have published short stories. How did those help and continue to influence your career?
Honestly, I never thought I could write a short story. They daunted me. How could I could tell a story in less than 80,000 words? But I had a couple of ideas that were clearly short stories, not novels, and when they came together, and then were published, they gave me the sense that despite a lot of discouragement, I actually could write fiction. At about that same time, I wrote my nonfiction book, BOOKS, CROOKS & COUNSELORS: HOW TO WRITE ACCURATELY ABOUT CRIMINAL LAW AND COURTROOM PROCEDURE (Quill Driver, 2011). In the process, I realized that as much as I love helping other writers, I wasn’t through telling my own stories. And so, I recommitted – that decision-making process again – and started my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries.
Who publishes each of your series and how did you begin writing each series?
I wanted to create a cozy series and knew that food themes are popular. Mr. Right and I love to cook and try new recipes, so I thought we had the culinary chops. The Food Lovers’ Village mysteries introduce readers to a surprising little village very much like my own – a small town in a gorgeous setting with tremendous food, art, and theater that delights the many visitors who have a very different idea of what small-town Montana will be!
When I decided to start a second series, I wanted a completely different setting. As a student at Seattle University and later as a young lawyer, I fell in love with the Pike Place Market and spent many happy hours eating my way through it. When I worked downtown, I bought most of my produce, cheese, and baked goods there, along with other treats. It’s a terrific setting for an urban cozy – a city within a city – and readers seem to enjoy the trip as much as I do. Of course, I have to go there regularly for research – by which I mean “eat.”
So while both series are light-hearted, and feature women who work in food-related retail, the settings are total opposites. I’ve worked hard to make the two women and the other characters distinctive as well.
Both are published by Berkley Prime Crime. And I must say, I would not have been able to make the contacts to get the contracts without the support and encouragement of friends I met through the Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter.
How many books do you write in a year and what is your publication schedule?
This year is a bit of an anomaly: By the end I will have written four books and published three. I hope in future years to write and publish one a year in each series, giving me time for a few more short stories and another project I have in mind.
Do you write under more than one name? If so, was that by your choice or a publisher’s request?
What “relationship” do you have as author with each of your series’ protagonists?
Erin Murphy, the protagonist of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, is a lot like me in many ways – she left her native Montana, then returned in her early 30s. She spouts off snippets from plays and poems with little provocation. Jewel Bay, her hometown, is a lot like the community where we live, so she lets me dive into that theme of coming home, only to find that both you and the place have changed more than you expected. I also get to share my love of this wonderful state and a town that never fails to surprise visitors!
Pepper Reece, the owner of the Spice Shop, is a Seattle girl through and through. She lets me indulge and explore my love of the Emerald City. We both fit the “life begins at 40” cliché, and as with Erin, I find it a lot of fun to explore an aspect of my own life through the life of a younger woman with her own talents, quirks, and choices.
Both love to cook and eat, and that makes us all great companions!
Setting has an important role in each series you write. What is your approach to developing a setting that fuels the story and draws in readers?
It’s all about the details – finding the right ones that create a picture and evoke a mood and flavor for readers who may never have been to the place you’re describing or one like it. And you’ve got to know when enough is enough – don’t describe a place unless it’s actually important to the story. Setting a book in a real city – Seattle – is challenging because I want to get it right, and darn it, it keeps changing, as cities always do. Many people know Seattle – 10 MILLION people visit the Pike Place Market every year. So I do a lot of research. I keep maps on my wall and guides to the city close by. I read Seattle newspapers and blogs, and consult friends who still live there.
Jewel Bay is an easier place to write about because while it’s modeled on a real village, it is ultimately a place of the heart.
Is it a challenge to keep coming up with original and inventive plots? How do you do it?
Drink wine and eat chocolate. Seriously, I can only hope that I don’t repeat myself or draw too heavily on the conventions of the genre. Ultimately, plot comes from the characters – what do these people want, and what will they do when they don’t get it. The people are the heart of the story.
Since at The Stiletto Gang we like to delve into shoes and accessories, what are your protagonists’ favorite foot or carrying apparel? (Pictures are welcome!)
Erin counts on her lucky red boots, and Pepper her pink shoes. I don’t actually own either pair – they are their own women, after all – but I envision Erin’s boots like these pictures.
|Painting by Leslie's friend, Bigfork artist Nancy Dunlap Cawdrey|
Thanks for having me at the Stiletto Gang today. I’d be delighted to give a copy of GUILTY AS CINNAMON and an adorable gingerbread man tea infuser to a commenter!