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Celebrating Death Al Dente

By Edith, north of Boston

We’re so pleased to have fellow cozy mystery author Leslie Budewitz to visit today. Her first mystery is out! She’s also the author of the Agatha-winning Books, Crooks, & Counselors, which helps all us authors with legal questions in our fiction. this wicked cozy Montanan all day. One lucky commenter wins a free signed copy of Death Al Dente, too!

E: You have a new book out! Congratulations, and tell us a little about it.

LAB: Thanks! Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, debuted August 6, and in its first week, hit #11 on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list for mass market paperback mysteries.

The town of Jewel Bay, Montanaknown as the Food Lovers’ Village—is obsessed with homegrown and homemade Montana fare. So when Erin Murphy takes over her family’s century-old general store, she turns it into a boutique market filled with local delicacies. But Erin’s freshly booming business might go rotten when a former employee turns up dead… 

E: I can’t wait to read it! Your nonfiction guide, Book, Crooks, and Counselors, won an Agatha award. How did you come to write it?

LAB: I’ve been practicing law since 1984, first in Washington State and since 1993, back home in Montana. When I started writing fiction, other writers asked me legal questions, which I happily answered—like anyone with an expertise, I hate seeing mistakes in print and want writers to get it right. Doug Lyle’s columns and books answering writers’ questions about medicine and forensics inspired me to do the same for legal issues, starting with a column in the Sisters in Crime Guppies Chapter newsletter and one in the SinC National newsletter. I’ve also consulted directly with writers. I finally decided I had enough material – and had demonstrated enough of a market – for a book. My then-agent circulated the proposal. Publishers loved the idea and proposal, and liked me, but questioned the market and turned it down. Two years later, I sold it myself to Quill Driver Books, part of Linden Publishing, a small house in California with a line of books for writers, including The Writer’s Guide to Psychology by Carolyn Kaufman. My editor there, Kent Sorsky, asked very smart questions that helped me give writers what they need. The Agatha Award confirms that we identified a need and filled it—and that makes me very happy.

E: Do you still work full time as a lawyer? If so, how do you find time to write fiction?

LAB: I work part-time, primarily doing research, analysis, and writing for a small litigation firm. My goal is to make the transition to writing full-time – soon.

E: You and I are both members of the Sisters in Crime Guppies group, and were both unpublished long before we achieved publication. Why did you decide to write a mystery, and how long was it from when you starting writing murder fiction before you landed your contract?

LAB:  I started writing fiction during a difficult time in my life, in the mid 1990s. I was on the road a lot in those years, and listened to a lot of mysteries on tape – so long ago that it really was tape. Tony Hillerman, Elizabeth Peters, Ellis Peters, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton. So, little surprise that when fiction emerged, it chose the form of mystery! And I love that. Mystery allows us as writers to explore human emotions and behavior within a framework that usually leads to some form of justice—either externally, through the legal system, or internally, through personal transformation. I wrote four mystery novels, including a finalist for the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic contest for best first unpublished mystery, and two nonfiction proposals; all were agented but didn’t sell. I started a historical novel that ultimately would not take shape. I got dejected and put mystery aside for a while, although I did write and sell several mystery stories to Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen, and other magazines, along with a few articles. (My short story, Snow Angels, published in ThugLit in 2008, made the list of “Other Distinguished Stories” in Best American Mystery Stories, 2009.) In 2009, having just turned 50, I hauled out the nonfiction proposal for Books, Crooks & Counselors, touched it up, sent it out myself, and sold it. While writing the book the next year, I realized I was not through with mystery and wanted back in. The cozy called to me and my sense of social justice. In the cozy, murder is unusual – even though one happens in every book! – and disrupts the social order. Law enforcement brings about external resolution, and the amateur sleuth internal resolution, by restoring the sense of order and peace within the community. Plus there’s good food.

From first ink on yellow pad to contract with Penguin took 17 years, with a year-long break early on and another longer break later.

E: All of the Wicked Cozy authors writer about New England and many of us are from here. Montana – what’s it like? Do you live at altitude? Is it hard to bake a cake? But more important, how does it inform your characters and story to set a book in a place like that

LAB: Montanans are sometimes called the Big Sky Snobs. We are very fond of our state and proud of our good fortune in living here! It’s a huge state – 147,000 square miles, slightly less than California – populated by just over a million people. Grand prairies and badlands in the east, more prairie dotted with low mountain ranges in the central part of the state where I grew up, and glacier-carved valleys and peaks in the west. Our home, in the NW corner of the state near Glacier National Park, is at about 3,200 feet. I prefer pie and cookies to cake, which typically requires an extra tablespoon of flour. I add a tablespoon of water when I bake bread, because our flour dries out from lack of humidity

It is impossible for me to separate place from character. I honestly believe it shapes us every bit as much as family or education. And of course, story derives from intriguing characters put in positions of contrast and conflict. Montana is rich in all these, making it a particularly rich source for writers.

E: What’s one thing about yourself that would surprise us to know?

Leslie and “Mr. Right” crossing the Continental Divide at 7600 feet.

LAB: For my 50th birthday and my brother’s 60th, he, my husband, and I backpacked 60 miles through the Bob Marshall Wilderness, across the spine of the Rocky Mountains, crossing the Continental Divide at 7600 feet. I blow beautiful spit bubbles and hate sweet potatoes. (Okay, so that’s three things. I’m not good at math.)

E: I think you have a second cozy series coming along – set in Seattle? Congratulations, and tell us about it.

LAB: I fell in love with the Seattle Public Market when I started college at Seattle University in 1977. Both then and later when I was a downtown Seattle lawyer, I visited the Market at least one a week, sometimes more often. My Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in March 2015, featuring Pepper Reece—a forty-something entrepreneur who was not named for her shop, but feels destined to run it!

E: Anything else you’d like to share?

LAB: My story as a writer is one of perseverance, networking, and determination to find a way in. The Universe wants us to succeed. Sometimes, we just have to get out of our own way and do what we were meant to do.

Thanks for the invitation, Edith!

E: It’s my pleasure. Readers, comment or ask away (remembering that Leslie is on Mountain Time), and one lucky commenter will win a copy of Death Al Dente!

Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, debuts from Berkley Prime Crime in August. The series is set in a small, lakeside resort community in Northwest Montana, on the road to Glacier Park, near where author Leslie Budewitz lives. Leslie’s second series, The Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, will debut in early 2015.

Leslie is also a lawyer. Her first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books) won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and was nominated for the Anthony and Macavity awards. Leslie blogs about the law for writers at and talks mystery at Join her on Facebook

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