Location, Location, Location – Welcome Guest Alicia Beckman

Laurie Pinnell is the winner of a copy of Bitterroot Lake! Watch for an email from Leslie!

I’m so happy to welcome Alicia Beckman who you probably know as Leslie Budewitz. She has a new name and a new book out! It doesn’t get better than that. I read an early draft of the first few chapters and know it’s fantastic! Look for a giveaway at the end of the post!

Leslie: Part of the joy of writing is taking my readers to a place I love. Just between us: It isn’t always real. My Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, written as Leslie Budewitz, are set in fictional Jewel Bay, Montana, which closely resembles the small northwest Montana town where we live. I had to change the name, I always say, so I could kill people. Both towns share a stunning setting, on a river at the foot of a mountain range, near a massive glacial lake, but I’ve renamed streets and businesses, moving restaurants, and adding shops as the series progressed. And because writing, like reading, is partly wish fulfillment, I created a green belt around the bay and a beautiful library and community center just this side of the very real one-lane bridge.

The challenge in my Spice Shop Mysteries, set in Seattle, where I went to college and lived for several years after law school, is presenting a real city on the page. Cities are always changing and a business described in one book may have moved or closed by the next. I try to keep up by making regular visits for research—and by research, of course, I mean eat—as well as scrolling through the local paper and neighborhood blogs. My BFF lives nearby and is happy to ground-truth a street or scout a location. But reality has its restraints. I can make up a business, but I can’t mess with landmarks or the one-way streets.

When the story that became Bitterroot Lake, my suspense debut, began to take shape in my mind, I recognized the setting instantly. Just as quickly, I knew it wasn’t a real lake or town. Deer Park, Montana laid itself out like some inner city planner was hard at work. A few features I can trace to other towns—it sits at the southern end of the lake like Polson, Montana and McCall, Idaho. Streets split to go around the courthouse, literally in the middle of town, as in Kalispell and Choteau, Montana. My brain flipped through images of real-life mills, past and present, and recalled visits to old cemeteries to create McCaskill Land & Lumber and Valley View Cemetery

How to keep track of the town growing in my mind’s eye? I literally sketched it out, marking the café that any small-town resident will recognize, the law office where the murder victim is found, the florist with the grumpy woman behind the counter. (“Shouldn’t that woman be happy, working with flowers all day?” my protagonist Sarah McCaskill Carter asked her grandmother when she was a child. “She’s had a hard life,” came the reply, and therein lies part of the tale.)

The lake, too, came into being as though drawn on some cosmic map, “shaped like an uneven piece of elbow macaroni, Whitetail Lodge at the outer edge of the bend, town to the southeast, hidden by the curve.” In reality, a small lake called Little Bitterroot, home to blackflies and trout and a few family cabins, sits in the general vicinity of my fictional lake, though there’s no other resemblance. Not until the first draft was nearly finished did I realize that would be the perfect name for both lake and book. But you’ll recognize the place, I’m sure—the historic lodge facing a church camp across the water trophy homes towering over trailers, tensions between money and history, old and new. I hope you can travel back with my characters when they pore over old family photo albums to see the steamboat that traversed the lake well into the 1930s. Maybe you can even picture, as I can, the intrepid blasters and wielders of pickaxes, carving out of rock the road leading there and back again, as Bilbo Baggins said.

Who doesn’t love a map in a book? My friend Francesca Droll, a graphic artist and painter, took my sketches and created a real map. As we talked over the story, we realized the reader didn’t need to see both lake and town; the better choice was to create an inset focusing on the area around Sarah’s family lodge. Working with her helped me visualize the scene more clearly, and I appreciate the patience she showed as I tweaked the locations of the roads and moved buildings like tiny, two-dimensional Monopoly pieces.

It’s all very real to me. I hope, when you’ve visited the place on the page, you’ll feel you’ve been there, too.

Readers, do you prefer a fictional setting or a real one? Flip back and forth as you read, consulting the map? Create a picture in your head? Tell us, for a chance to win a copy of Bitterroot Lake.


From the cover:

When four women separated by tragedy reunite at a lakeside Montana lodge, murder forces them to confront everything they thought they knew about the terrifying accident that tore them apart, in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman’s suspense debut.

Twenty-five years ago, during a celebratory weekend at historic Whitetail Lodge, Sarah McCaskill had a vision. A dream. A nightmare. When a young man was killed, Sarah’s guilt over having ignored the warning in her dreams devastated her. Her friendships with her closest friends, and her sister, fell apart as she worked to build a new life in a new city. But she never stopped loving Whitetail Lodge on the shores of Bitterroot Lake.

Now that she’s a young widow, her mother urges her to return to the lodge for healing. But when she arrives, she’s greeted by an old friend–and by news of a murder that’s clearly tied to that tragic day she’ll never forget.

And the dreams are back, too. What dangers are they warning of this time? As Sarah and her friends dig into the history of the lodge and the McCaskill family, they uncover a legacy of secrets and make a discovery that gives a chilling new meaning to the dreams. Now, they can no longer ignore the ominous portents from the past that point to a danger more present than any of them could know.

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (April 13, 2021)


Alicia Beckman makes her suspense debut with Bitterroot Lake (Crooked Lane Books, April 2021). As Leslie Budewitz, she’s a three-time Agatha-Award winner (2011, Best Nonfiction; 2013, Best First Novel; 2018, Best Short Story) and best-selling author of the Spice Shop mysteries, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, inspired by Bigfork, Montana, where she lives. A practicing lawyer, she’s a national board member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.

74 Thoughts

  1. The setting doesn’t have to be real so long as it SEEMS real. Truly, if I have to flip to the map, the author isn’t doing a good job of grabbing my attention. Yes, the map is nice to give me an over-all view of the situation, but if I NEED to consult it, you’ve momentarily lost my attention.

  2. As long as the location feels real, it doesn’t matter, but if you use a real location, then you need to be accurate. I remember reading a book and the author had the character near Central Park and in ten minutes they were in Union Square, not going to happen. I like maps because it helps me visualize the scenery and no I don’t flip back and forth because it will take me away from the story.

  3. I prefer real locations but as long as the location seems real to me I’m fine with that too. Congrats on your new book. I also enjoy suspenseful books along with my cozies!!

  4. Thank you for sharing your process with us, Leslie. Frankly, I never look at the pretty maps in frontispieces because I want to work out in my head where things are. But I definitely have sketched out a map for my fictional towns.

    I am SO excited to read this book, and am hauling through the one I’m reading now so I can get to this gem!

    1. No matter how pretty the map, the reader’s got to be able to work it out herself, doesn’t she? I hope you love the trip to Montana, on the page!

  5. I’m eager to get my hands on this one!

    I agree with Dru. Fictional is fine as long as the author brings it to life. And real locations need to be accurate or someone who knows the area will call you out EVERY TIME.

    1. Right? That’s kind of the terrifying part of using a real setting, though so far, I haven’t gotten any criticism of how I’ve used Seattle. Whew!

  6. I so appreciate a map in books and I refer back to them. While traveling my husband and I use real printed maps in addition to help from our phones, but for me the real printed map is best and I even know how to fold them back in their original form. 😉 Very exciting to read about your new suspense book Leslie. I look forward to reading it. Your Spice Shop Mysteries remain at the top of my “best ever read” cozy mysteries along with a few others…the top is crowded and how wonderful is that? Best of luck with this new series and I hope, hope, hope for a new Spice Shop Mystery again soon.

    1. Thanks, Judy! I love paper maps, too, and keep one of Seattle on a poster board in my office, with maps of Washington and Montana close by. So glad you like the Spice Shop books — and I think your wish will be granted!

  7. Fictional settings or real settings? I don’t think I really have a preference.

    In the case of real places, it isn’t like I really know much about most places so even if there are “mistakes” in geography, how would I know?

    As for fictional settings, I don’t usually refer to any maps of the area that are offered.

    I’m sure those who live in places where books are set will do the usual email complaining or fake 1-star reviews for having a geographic impossibility, but I just go with the storytelling flow.

    It is all about the author bringing the location alive to me (or other readers of course).

    1. Hi, Jay! So far, I’ve escaped those emails or nasty reviews, thank goodness. And my local readers seem to enjoy trying to figure out what I’ve done with town, thank goodness!

  8. So excited for you on the release of “Bitterroot Lake”! Anxious to read this book which has been on my TBR list since you first talked about it.

    It’s fun to read both fictional settings as well as real ones. Real ones give us a chance to travel to places we may not be able to otherwise to experience the locations, food and sights. Whereas, fictional ones let our imagination fly. It’s also fun to see if we can spot some real place we might have been in some of the details. Maps are a great aid for me since I often can make sense of things after I see them. It’s like when we travel, the first thing I look for is a local map so you can see the layout of the land visually.

    Thank you so much for the chance to win a copy of “Bitterroot Lake”! Shared and fingers crossed to be the very fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Oh, yes, Kay, such fun to spot real places we know! I’m reading Louise Penny’s All the Devils are Here, set in Paris, a city we’ve visited twice, and it’s great fun to pick out a bridge or a corner we know!

  9. As some have stated above, the location doesn’t have to be real as long as the writer makes me imagine it is real. I love in-depth descriptions of the land, water, houses, people – all of it! Your description above makes me think you are very good at “painting a picture” of the town. Also, I do love a map! When one’s in a book, I find myself referring to it often. I like knowing the layout of the town and who’s where. I don’t find it distracting at all, I appreciate having the reference.

    Your character sounds like she’s a little psychic with her prophetic dreams! That would be fun to read about!! The lodge, the lake reminds me of areas where I live, but I’ve never been fortunate enough to visit Montana. I picture it to have long rolling fields, mountains and lots of horses.

    Best of success with your new book, I will be looking for it!

  10. I don’t have a preference for real or fiction, but as others have said, please be accurate if you use a real place. Don’t move the courthouse or turn a one-way street into a two-way arbitrarily (although making up businesses is okay – I have a policy never to kill someone in a real business).

    I like looking at maps before or after I read, but like Dru, I don’t flip back and forth because it interrupts the story for me.

  11. I don’t care if the town is real or fiction, as long as I can picture it in my mind. But if you use a real place, please get the details right, otherwise it drives me crazy! I read a book that talked about Guam, where I lived for 2 years, and it talked about large ships using the harbor at the capital, which was impossible! Authors, do your research!

    1. Right? I read a Famous Author’s book in which he describes a hospital I know well as being built of cinderblock. No. Those mistakes break our connection with the story, don’t they, even though we know it’s hard to get every detail right.

  12. So excited for you! Congratulations on taking this new writing path.I adore maps in books but before and after reading – I don’t flip back and forth because that would take me out of the story.

  13. Congrats on the upcoming release, Alicia! I like having maps in books. It helps me get a sense of place, if you know what I mean. I think part of that is because I’ve read a fair amount of fantasy over the years, with maps of the fantastical realms part of every book. Cheers!

    1. Hi, Jim! One advantage, when you make up a place — no one can tell you you got it wrong and the Dairy Queen’s on the 4th star to the left, not the 3d rock to the right!

  14. I like both. I probably like the fictional town a little bit better if I HAD to choose one or the other. The only reason would be the author can make it look any way they want and has complete and utter control of everything without worrying about authenticity.

    1. I like both, too. Thinking back on recent reads, they’re a mix, but I can picture both real and fictional equally in my mind, so the authors hit the mark!

  15. I love the maps in books and so appreciate the authors who include them. I’ve read a lot of fantasy and they often need those maps to anchor the reader. For my first mystery (as yet unpublished), I drew maps on small lined paper while covering the reception desk during lunch breaks and pieced them together to photocopy into one map. Very definitely helped me anchor myself in a summer camp location on a lake that twisted around to envelope the lower portion of the camp. And, like your story, I began with a real place and changed names, geography (a little), and a few other things while retaining much of the original setting. One friend had her mother read it and she knew exactly where it was located because she’d grown up nearby.

    1. Thanks, CAM! A lot of my local readers like seeing where I’ve moved things and what I’ve changed in the fictional version of our town. No maps in those books, though I did put my sketches up on my website.

  16. Congratulations on Bitterroot, Lesley. It sounds like a wonderful story.

    I love maps in books. I am a definite flipper going from page to map and back again to ground everything in my mind. That said, if a book lacks a map, I make up scenes and spaces to fit my impression of the town.

    1. Thanks, Kait! All the pieces need to work together, don’t they? (Glad to hear from another page flipper!)

  17. I love both real and fictional settings, as long as the book is well written. When I read your Spice Shop books, I love visiting Seattle, where my son lives with his family. Books set in places I’ve never visited, real or fictional, let me be a tourist & enjoy a new place. I also love maps in books. When I was a teenager my aunt gave me a hardcover set of The Lord of the Rings with the large foldout maps & I fell in love with them, referring back to them as I reread the books to map the travels. The new book sounds wonderful & I look forward to reading it!

    1. Isn’t it fun to revisit a place you know on the page? We can reconnect with the people we love there as well the places. And thanks for the reminder of those wonderful maps of Middlearth!

  18. I enjoy both ways. A fictional location means plenty of leeway to imagine your own town. But I do like to explore real places by reading. And on the rare occasion I’ve actually been to a place mentioned in a book, it’s fun to remember and easy to imagine the scene.
    Maps are a neat addition, especially if there’s a lot of different locations. Makes for a more immersive read I think, being able to get a sense of the layout and see how a character would move place to place.

  19. I love real settings in books. I am terrible with maps, so I picture the details in my head as I read. Congratulations on your debut suspense novel!

    1. Thanks! Since you won’t actually have to get anywhere using this map, I hope it will add something to the story for you!

  20. I enjoy a real setting if it is somewhere I know so I can recognize the major landmarks. It’s rare I recognize a particular business – honestly, I would assume those are made up anyway unless they are famous.

    However, I also enjoy fictional settings, especially if they come to life.

    As you can see, I’m very picky. 🙂

    1. Nice to see you here, Mark. Some real businesses are almost like landmarks — you can’t change ’em, so you have to write around them.

  21. Congrats on a new series. Sounds intriguing. I prefer fictional locations because so much more fun can be had with them with writing. And I love maps, which I do refer to frequently. And the description better be good, too, because if I can’t picture the setting clearly, I can’t get into the book. I want to get so into the book that it all feels real and like I am in the book itself. Like others, if a place is real, it better be accurate. I read a book where someone drove from Cusco, Peru to Machu Picchu. Nope. Can’t be done. That killed an otherwise good book for me.

    1. Those mistakes really pull us out of the story, don’t they? Even if it’s minor, the cost is the author’s credibility, though I do try to give an author some leeway — it’s tough to get everything right and we as readers can me mistaken sometimes.

  22. Unless the story took place in my actual neighborhood, where I would likely be distracted by anything not exactly like the real life version, I enjoy both fictional and real settings. I am usually able to lose myself in the story and location. I love maps in books and yes, I flip back and forth. That is one of the few things I dislike about e-readers – the maps are too hard to see. I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Bitterroot Lake, sounds so good. And the courthouse – my home town had the courthouse right in the middle of town, too! Thanks for the giveaway.

    1. Thanks! Every one of those courthouses is a story, isn’t it? I remember watching the driver of the Oak Ridge Mtn Boys bus, pulling a trailer, navigating the single lane split road around the Flathead County Courthouse and was very impressed!

  23. I prefer fictional settings, mostly. The Spice Shop series is an exception, because I get to visit a city on the page that I’ll probably never see in reality, and you do a very good job of taking me on that tour.
    I’m so glad you’re including the map with Bitterroot Lake, because that’s a great way to make a fictional setting seem more real. I’m looking forward to reading this first novel as Alicia Beckman.

  24. I like both real and fictional locations in books. If it’s somewhere that I’ve visited, I can picture the town in my mind. If it’s a fiction town, I make up my own vision of the town if there isn’t a map of the location.

  25. No preference in settings, as long as the story captures my interest. I’ve always loved maps and blueprints of houses! Can’t wait to read Bitterroot Lake!

    1. Thanks, Lynn! Maps, cast lists, recipes, chapter epigraphs — they all add another layer to the story, if we do them right.

  26. Fictional setting or places in real life are both fine with me. Maps and diagrams sometimes help, depending on the story.

    1. Oh, you mentioning diagrams reminds me that family trees are sometimes used, too, and like maps, add another layer to the storytelling. Thanks for the prompt!

  27. Hi! Congratulations on your new book! I like to be able to picture the location in my mind, but at the same time, if a map is included in the book, I always check it out. There were a few times I have flipped back to the map for reference, but now that I’m fully a digital reader, it isn’t as easy to go back and re-center myself with the map. I’m excited to find a new name (actually two in one!) to read. Thank you!

    1. Great to meet a new-to-me reader! And yes, I do miss the ability to flip back when I read on an e-reader, but there are other other advantages, aren’t there?

  28. Real settings are great for reminding me of places I’ve been and telling me about places that I haven’t. Fictional places are good if they bring the feel of the real thing. I love maps and flip to them except with e-books. I love your other series. Stay safe and well.

    1. Thanks, Sally! I’m delighted to say there will be a new entry in the Food Lovers’ Village series this summer, a collection of short mysteries and a historical novella, and a new Spice Shop mystery next year.

  29. I like both kinds of settings and actually enjoy maps that pertain to the story very much! This looks great, thanks!

    1. Thanks! I hope you enjoy the trip to Montana — on the page!

  30. I enjoy both. It all depends on how the story is written. In a fictional town, if the author creates a picture that brings the town to life, I do not find any difference. Thank you for sharing.

  31. Congrats, Leslie, on the new book. Can’t wait to read it!

    I tend to create fictitious towns planted in real places. If I’m not going to say anything bad about a town, its government or law enforcement, then I make it a real town. If there are going to be bad, corrupt events going on there, then I make up a town or county. When I use real places, I love it when folks say things like, “Oh, I know where that restaurant is,” or, “I’ve been to that park.”

    As a reader, I agree with others here. If it’s a real place, get it right!

    1. Thanks, Kassandra. Good point about negative portrayals — and there is more than a bit of that in Bitterroot Lake!

    1. Small towns are great places for mysteries, especially cozies, because we all think we know each other — and we don’t! Urban settings seem to lend themselves to the grittier side, but I’ll tell you, I’m enjoying the heck out of writing an urban cozy series (my Spice Shop series). The key is to find the community within the community.

  32. Hi Alicia/Leslie. I love mystery books that offer drawings or maps about a fictional location, such as you have done. That is hard work to make it happen, but it truly adds so much intrigue and involves the reader in the story. I have enjoyed reading quite a few old mysteries by English writers which feature maps or house layouts. Such fun. I also love books that feature “Cast of Characters” with descriptions about them at the beginning. It really helps keep the characters in mind, especially when they are many, or when reading a new series with unfamiliar names. Some writers use similar names for their characters, which confuses…like Doris and Daisy, for example 🙂 Thank you for sharing your talents with us.

    1. Thanks! After my first mystery, Death al Dente, came out, I heard from readers that a cast of characters would make my large cast easier to follow, so I added cast lists to my cozies, in both series. This book didn’t seem to need one — I hope not, anyway!

  33. Real or fictional, it makes no difference to me. And I love maps of both. Sometimes I refer to them and sometimes I don’t, depending on how germane location is to the story.

    The more I read about your new book, the more I want to read it, Leslie!

    k maslowski at fuse dot net Fingers crossed!

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