Leslie Budewitz technically lives in the Rocky Mountain chapter of MWA, but here in the NW, we’ve claimed her as our very own. After all, her Spice Shop series is set in Seattle, and we appreciate the PNW-sensibility of her novels!
Tell us about your new book!
When a young widow returns to her family’s lakeside Montana lodge in search of solace, murder forces her to reconnect with estranged friends and confront everything she thought she knew about the tragic accident twenty-five years ago that tore them apart.
BITTERROOT LAKE, written as Alicia Beckman, is my suspense debut after eleven cozies (and counting!) in two series. It’s an exploration of love and grief, women’s friendships, the secrets and lies that exist in even close families, and that point when resentment becomes deadly bitterness. We read for emotional experience as much as for entertainment, and I hope my stories give my readers a deeper sense of human experience.
I also hope my readers enjoy the trip to a historic mountain lodge on the shores of a Montana lake, a hauntingly beautiful place where the past and the present intersect.
Writing suspense after so many cozies was both great fun and a challenge. In a cozy, an amateur sleuth investigates a crime that has a deeply personal link to her, someone she cares about, or her community, using her knowledge and connections to suss out the true motives, capture the killer, and restore the social fabric of the community. In suspense, the main character faces a threat that could kill her, often from a source she can’t identify, and usually without a lot of help. The mood and tone are different, as is the role of the main character. The end game may differ, too. But both are as satisfying to write as they are to read.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I started writing at 4, on my father’s desk–-literally. I did not yet grasp the concept of paper. Fortunately, my parents were amused and kept me well supplied in paper and pencils, and though my father did not live to see me published, my mother was a quiet but ardent fan.
Even though I was A Teenage Bookseller—still my favorite job, other than writer—I didn’t think you could actually be a writer. So, naturally, I went to law school and practiced in downtown Seattle for several years before returning to my native Montana almost 30 years ago.
I fell in love with Pike Place Market as a freshman at Seattle University in the late 1970s, when the Market renovation was just beginning and the place was still kinda funky. I made it my mission to eat my way from one end to the other, easy to do as it’s constantly changing. Of course, now I call it research for my Spice Shop mysteries, in which the main character runs a spice shop in the Market and solves crime.
When I first started writing seriously, other writers asked me questions about the law which led to newsletter columns and my nonfiction guide for writers, Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure, out ten years this month and winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. I’m delighted to report two more Agatha teapots: Best First Novel (2013) and Best Short Story (2018).
Now I write two cozy series, the Spice Shop mysteries and the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, set in a lakeside resort town in NW Montana, and short stories, all as Leslie. My alter ego Alicia—the name honors my mother and grandmother—writes moody suspense, set around the Northwest.
Currently, I’m an at-large member of the MWA national board, and served as president of Sisters in Crime in 2015-16. Mr. Right and I live in the woods outside Bigfork, Montana, with our elderly gray tuxedo cat.
What was your journey to publication like with this title?
I actually proposed a traditional mystery series, but editor Terri Bischoff at Crooked Lane, whom I’d worked with at Midnight Ink, thought the first story would make a good a stand-alone suspense novel. She was right. The book does have series potential; sales will determine if we go that route or if I write more stand-alones.
Did you do any unusual research while writing this book?
On one gloriously blue spring day in May 2020, aching with cabin fever, my husband and I visited two historic cemeteries in the area. I love the intricate monuments, curious names, and intriguing bits of history. I wanted the feel of the place, a few telling details that could help me set a scene in Bitterroot Lake, and I got it. Old cemeteries often have amazing views, and when I combined that with the knowledge, gleaned on a visit to a historic cemetery in Philadelphia at a long-ago Bouchercon that families often made a Sunday picnic to visit their deceased loved ones, a major scene in a historical novella emerged. That novella is part of Carried to the Grave and Other Stories, a collection of Food Lovers’ Village short mysteries that came out earlier this year.
We also crawled around an old ice house on the outskirts of a nearby town, a place neither of us had known existed until I was researching Bitterroot Lake. It’s a fascinating bit of history, and became the scene of the final confrontation.
What’s your favorite book that you’ve read in the past year?
I’ve been steeping myself in contemporary suspense, and I’ll confess, I’m glad I hadn’t read Go to My Grave by Catriona McPherson or anything by Ruth Ware before I wrote Bitterroot Lake or I’d have been too paralyzed by envy to type a word. Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway knocked my socks off. Thank goodness I had a fresh pedicure!
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
So much good advice! I don’t know where I first heard the suggestion to outline a recent mystery of the type you write, one you’ve read and admired, and break down the structure, but it’s genius. I still do it occasionally, when I want to stretch or shift direction, as I did with both a favorite suspense novel and a historical novella.
The best advice I can give is to learn to read like a writer, noticing what the author is doing, what works, what doesn’t, what keeps you reading and makes you swoon with admiration. It may wreck your pleasure for a while, but eventually, the noticing will become part of the joy. Read, write, repeat.
How can people learn more about your book and follow you?
Find out more about me and read excerpts from my book at my website, www.LeslieBudewitz.com I share quotes for writers and other creative folks, Writing Wednesday tips, and occasional suggestions on using the law in your fiction on my blog, www.LeslieBudewitz.com/blog While you’re there, join my newsletter community—subscribers get a free download for a short story, currently “The End of the Line” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine), featuring an elderly Greek man who hates change, inspired by our honeymoon to Greece twenty-one years ago this month.
If you like food and cozies, drop by Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, www.MysteryLoversKitchen.com, where a dozen mystery writers cook up recipes and crime. I share an illustrated recipe on the 1st, 3d, and 5th Tuesdays.
And I love talking with readers on Facebook, as Leslie Budewitz Author.
Thank you, Kelly, for the chat!