Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Leslie Budewitz Interview

Leslie Budewitz writes The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana. “It takes a village to catch a killer.” The books feature Erin Murphy, proprietor of The Merc, a market specializing in regional foods, in her family’s century-old former grocery. Erin’s passion for pasta, retail, and huckleberry chocolates leads to an unexpected talent for solving murder.                                

Welcome to Writers Who Kill, Leslie. Your first book, Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure, won the 2011 Agatha Award for Nonfiction. As a mystery writer, what prompted you to write nonfiction?

Thanks for the warm welcome, Elaine.

Why nonfiction? I’m also a lawyer, in practice since 1984. Over the years, other writers have asked me questions about using the law in their stories, so I started writing regular columns in writers’ newsletters – primarily First Draft, the Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter newsletter, and InSinc, SinC National’s quarterly – and working directly with writers, providing research and reviewing manuscripts. My focus is everyday plot problems, like when a fictional police officer needs to warn a suspect, how to get a search warrant, and whether a character can inherit from another. Eventually that led to a blog and a book. It’s possible to get the facts right AND tell a good story, but sometimes writers need a little help.

What was the best fiction-writing instruction you ever received?

Ah, so much to choose from! Write – er, right now, I’m keeping in mind advice from Dennis Palumbo, mystery writer, therapist, and former screenwriter, at a presentation at Bouchercon in 2010: You have all you need to be the writer you want. And, you can only solve writing problems by writing.

What is your favorite mystery genre and why?

I’m loving writing cozies! What strikes me most is that the murder disrupts the social order of the community. Law enforcement is necessary to restore external order – aka obtain justice -- but the amateur sleuth has the inside knowledge necessary to identify the critical clues, solve the crime, and restore the internal order of the community. And community is at the heart of the cozy.

How did the deal with Berkley Publishing Group for the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries come about, and did you obtain a three-book deal?

The series sold on proposal---meaning a short overview of the series and each of the first three books, and a synopsis and first three chapters of the first book. No outline required, although I am an outliner and wrote one for myself so that I could dive back into the story easily when it sold. I love that Berkley offers three-book deals for new series, to give writers time to find their audience.

In Death Al Dente, main character Erin Murphy hasn’t chosen an easy position. She’s working in a family-owned business with her mother, the foibles of a mother/daughter relationship included, to save and change the Glacier Mercantile; she’s replaced the long-time manager, who wasn’t suited for the job and who becomes a murder victim; and she’s changing the focus of the business, which creates hard feelings with old venders. Why did she take the job?

Erin is 32, a critical age for a young woman. If she’s not married yet, and focused on her career, she’s rethinking. Erin’s come to realize that while city life’s been fun, and she’s enjoyed her work, it’s not what she really wants for the future. And as with a lot of Montana kids – maybe small-town kids world-wide, she’s thinking that the town she couldn’t wait to leave is looking more attractive.

Plus there’s still that matter of her father’s death in an unsolved hit-and-run ….

 “Every victim has a good side. But they’re often the folks who live on the edges, and find themselves
on the wrong side of luck.” (Kindle 3863, Death Al Dente) Do you believe in luck?

What’s that old line, “fortune favors the well-prepared”?

Why does Erin have three stars tattooed on her left wrist, and what color are the stars?

Ah. I’m going to make you wait until a future book for the “why”! I see them in primary colors, red, blue, and yellow. 

Erin’s cat is a Burmese. What attracts you to this species?

Because there’s one sitting on the couch next to me! Seriously, Burmese are wonderful pets – a sweet mix of friendliness and feline independence. 

Erin has labored under a false assumption concerning her former best friend and now police detective, Kim Caldwell. Is timing an important element in life? Does coincidence happen?

More to come on that story line. I tend to agree that there are no coincidences – but we often don’t know all the forces behind some of life’s more mysterious events.

Would you share the promotional blurb of your next Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, CRIME RIB, which will be released in July, 2014?

“Gourmet food market owner Erin Murphy is determined to get Jewel Bay, Montana’s scrumptious local fare some national attention. But her scheme for culinary celebrity goes up in flames when the town’s big break is interrupted by murder…

Food Preneurs, one of the hottest cooking shows on TV, has decided to feature Jewel Bay in an upcoming episode, and everyone in town is preparing for their close-ups, including the crew at the Glacier Mercantile, aka the Merc. Not only is Erin busy remodeling her courtyard into a relaxing dining area, she’s organizing a steak-cooking competition between three of Jewel Bay’s hottest chefs to be featured on the program.

But Erin’s plans get scorched when one of the contending cooks is found dead. With all the drama going on behind the scenes, it’s hard to figure out who didn’t have a motive to off the saucy contestant. Now, to keep the town’s rep from crashing and burning on national television, Erin will have to grill some suspects to smoke out the killer…”

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with non-published fiction writers?

Read, write, analyze, and keep working. As Dennis Palumbo says, you have what you need inside you – and you can only write the books you want by writing.

As a lawyer, are there any legal thrillers in your writing future?

Not for a while. I’ve got at least one more Food Lovers’ Village Mystery to write, and also have a
three-book contract with Berkley Prime Crime for the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries. The first, tentatively titled Spiced to Death, will be out in March 2015.

Bonus Question: I have a feeling that my next question is a no-brainer, but do you prefer beach or mountain, and why?

Oh, I’m a mountain girl, no question. That’s where my heart soars.

Thanks for letting me visit Writers Who Kill!


  1. Welcome Leslie.

    I wish you great fortune with your two series. I’m curious why you decided to do a second series when a first seems to be going well. What’s the mortality of Berkley’s 3-book series after the first three books?

    ~ Jim

  2. Thanks for the welcome, Jim & Elaine.

    I started a second series because I'm getting a late start -- and I want a career! Many of the more successful writers on the lighter side write multiple series: Rhys Bowen, Laura Childs, Carolyn Hart, Sheila Connolly, and others. Many don't, of course, but I couldn't tell all the stories in my head any other way.

    No clear answer to your second question. I'm looking at my shelves and seeing several series from Berkley and its sister company NAL that are well over ten books: Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse Mysteries, Laura Childs' Tea Shop and Scrapbooking series, and a few that didn't find their audience. What I admire about these publishers is that they rarely simply drop a writer; if the first series doesn't fly, they ask her for another proposal.

  3. Oh, I should have clarified that Berkley bought the Seattle series months before the Village series debuted -- so we didn't yet know how it would do. And *I* didn't realize how much work the launch would be!

  4. Leslie,

    Thanks for coming on WWK to share your ideas and advice. I enjoy your work. Keep writing.


  5. Welcome to Writers Who Kill, Leslie. I've added your book to my list of books to order. It sounds like one I would like.

    I like reading and writing cozies because of the community of characters one gets to know and love - or not. And yes, the mystery, too, of who might have done the dastardly deed. It's fun trying to solve that before the end of the book.

  6. I'm looking forward to reading CRIME RIB maybe as a summer beach read! I also have a copy of Leslie's nonfiction on my reference shelf. It comes in handy. Thanks for the interview, Leslie. I always read authors works before I interview them. Yours have been a pleasure.

  7. Thanks, Warren, Gloria, and EB. Yes -- in cozy world, it's all about the community.

  8. Hi Leslie,
    Can't wait to start reading your series - such an appealing setting and I love the little mystery of the three star tattoo! Thank you for stopping by.

  9. Hi Leslie!
    Congrats on your success with Berkley. You helped pave the way. I love the puns in your back cover copy. Did you write it?


  10. Thanks, Shari & Diane. (Grabbing book to read back cover copy.) Nope, credit that to Berkley's fabbo copy department, although I did give them ideas. So many wonderful Guppies -- members of the Sisters in Crime Great UnPublished chapter -- paved the way for me at Berkley, especially Peg Cochran, Daryl Wood Gerber, and Krista Davis.

  11. Leslie, I enjoyed meeting you at Malice Domestic. Congratulations on your success. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

  12. Congratulations on your success with Berkley, Leslie. I look forward to reading CRIME RIB. After reading your great blurb I want to find out whodunit and why.

  13. Thanks, Paula and Kara! CRIME RIB is Book Two -- DEATH AL DENTE is out now!

  14. Thanks, EB and Friends, for inviting me to visit with you today!