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.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
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)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
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.