Building Character with Guest Leslie Budewitz #giveaway

News Flash: Adrienne is Leslie’s lucky winner! Congratulations, Adrienne, and please check your email.

By Edith, vacationing in coastal Maine.

But I’m never too busy – or relaxed – to welcome my good friend, Leslie Budewitz, to the blog. First, you all need to know about her latest Spice Shop Mystery, which comes out next week.

Here’s what I said about it: “Between a Wok and a Dead Place is the most tantalizing Spice Shop mystery yet!” — and that quote appears on the front cover!  

It’s the Lunar New Year, and fortunes are about to change.   Pepper Reece, owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, loves a good festival, especially one serving up tasty treats. So what could be more fun than a food walk in the city’s Chinatown–International District, celebrating the Year of the Rabbit?   But when her friend Roxanne stumbles across a man’s body in the Gold Rush, a long-closed residential hotel, questions leap out. Who was he? What was he doing in the dust-encrusted herbal pharmacy in the hotel’s basement? Why was the pharmacy closed up—and why are the owners so reluctant to talk?   As Pepper begins to expose the long-concealed truth, the killer is on her tail, driven by hidden demons and desires. Can she uncover the secrets of the Gold Rush Hotel without being pushed from the wok into the fire?  

Take it away, Leslie!

Recently I gave several presentations at a writers’ conference, including one called “Building Character.” The characters are the heart of every story—even in a mystery or thriller, where the plot is critical. When you tell someone about a book you loved, you don’t say “It’s about a bomb . . .” You say “It’s about a woman who . . .” And though I read and write both series and standalones, I know that when readers fall for a series, they remember the characters as much as the individual plots—sometimes more.  

Why is that?   If the writer’s done her job, we connect with these people of the page. We know where they live and work, their friends and family and pets, but we also get to see their hearts. Their quirks and secrets. Their fears and internal conflicts—and what they’ll do to get what they want and to protect the people they love. We like some more than others, and we’re curious: What happens next? Just like with real-life friends, we want to know what’s going on.  

Of course, we get to know story people in installments—just as in real life. You might meet someone in a book group or a watercolor class, and quickly find out what they like to read, how they think about books and art, and a bit about their outlook on life. Then you meet up for a walk or coffee, and find out a little more. You learn more still when you run into them with friends or their partner at a gallery opening or down by the lake. 

A few series characters who keep me coming back to find out what happens next:   Maisie Dobbs, namesake of Jacqueline Winspear’s crime novels set largely in England from the mid 1920s into WW II, was put into service as a child by her widowed father, Frankie, a working man with few other options. The family recognized her potential and had her educated. During the Great War, at only 17, she signed on as a nurse and is still haunted by the ghosts of battle. She became an investigator and psychologist when both were new fields, and while she’s book smart, she also knows people. Thanks to her mentor, she’s learned to trust her instincts, and has an ability to tap into the unseen that serves her well. She’s not fearless, but she knows how to manage her fears. She understands the deep emotions that often drive people, and has a talent for using that, more gently at some times than at others, to solve the crime and reveal the internal wounds that led to it.  

I love Frankie, Maisie’s father, and Billy Beale, the man she nursed in battle who later becomes first her employee, then her business partner. But the star to me, other than Maisie herself, is the wise-cracking, gin-loving, chain-smoking Priscilla, her best friend since college and the battlefield. I’m a sucker for women’s friendships on the page, and this one is a corker.  

As soon as my next book goes in, you’ll find me on the back deck with a pitcher of iced tea and Hidden Beneath, the latest in Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake series. It’s great to watch a young woman navigate business, family, and the push and pull of small town life. I can hardly wait to find out what trouble finds Julia Snowden next—and what on earth happens in her love life!  

My favorite series are those where I learn something and feel I could actually be friends with the main character in real life, as with Connie Berry’s Kate Hamilton mysteries. I’ve never been to the U.K. I like vintage treasures and antique furniture, but I’m no expert. So traveling with Kate as she uses her curiosity and her expertise as an antiques dealer to solve the crime is doubly fun. Plus it’s a treat to follow a mature woman as she deals with common mid-life issues: forging a new path after widowhood, parenting young adult children, finding new love— but where to live and what to do about his disapproving mother?

If I ever do get to England, I’d like to have a pint in a pub with Kate and Tom.   Deborah Crombie manages to create dual protagonists, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, who are each equally appealing. Police officers who met in the line of duty and eventually become involved, they work together in some of the 19 books so far, but not all. We get to know their three kids, their friends, and their families along with their struggles and ambitions. In the latest, A Killing of Innocents, Duncan’s investigation into a series of murders forms the main plot, but when Gemma helps him out by going undercover, she realizes that her temporary part-time assignment is not satisfying, and that they have to find another way to manage career and family. I’ll be right there with them, watching as they figure it out—and keep on solving crime.  

And I’ve got to mention the late Anne Perry’s Christmas novellas. Perry was incredibly prolific and I’ve only dipped a toe into her series, mainly the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series set in Victorian England. In the novellas, a minor character from a series book takes a lead turn, often discovering a hidden strength or passion. My favorites are A Christmas Journey and A Christmas Secret.  

So what about my own Spice Shop mysteries, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market? I love giving readers a tour of the Market, a place I’ve loved since I was a college freshman, and a glimpse of other parts of the city. It’s deeply satisfying to spin a tale of crime and conflict and untangle it for the reader. But as much as I love the setting and plots, I’m in it for the characters—and I learn something new about them in each book. Between a Wok and a Dead Place takes us deep into Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, and I learned things about Pepper and her boyfriend Nate that I had not known. A minor character from an earlier book takes a major turn, another prepares to move on, and new staff join the shop. It’s a slice of life, spiced with mystery and history, and I hope it whets your appetite for a good read.  

Readers, what draws you to a series? What are some of your favorites? One lucky reader will win a Spice Shop mystery of their choice.  

Leslie Budewitz writes the Spice Shop mysteries, set in Seattle, and Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, set in NW Montana where she lives. As Alicia Beckman, she writes moody suspense, including Bitterroot Lake and Blind Faith. The seventh Spice Shop mystery, Between a Wok and a Dead Place, will be out July 18. Find out more and where to buy the book at

Join her on Facebook at or Instagram as , and find out what Leslie’s cooking and eating at, where she posts on the 1st, 3d, and 5th Tuesdays.

74 Thoughts

  1. What draws me in can be the location but most definitely the characters. They start to feel like family and you can’t wait to find out what they get up to next. Some of my favorites are The Donut Shop Mysteries by Jessica Beck/Tim Myers, Haley Powell Food and Cocktails Mysteries by Lee Hollis, The Maine Clambake Mysteries by Barbara Ross, and The Spice Shop Mysteries by yours truly, Leslie Budewitz. Thank you so much for this chance at your giveaway. pgenest57 at aol dot com

  2. I am drawn in by liking the common thread that anchors the series such as series connected to a location that I’ve been to or dream of traveling to (Nantucket Beach Plum Cove by Pamela Kelley) or series with cats or dogs (The Cat Who… by Lilian Jackson Braun). Thank you for the opportunity to get familiar with one of your books! adriennechasteensnow at gmail dot com.

  3. Such a great post, Leslie, and thank you for bringing it to us! I agree about all your examples (although I haven’t read the Perry examples).

    1. The characters and a fun setting are what draw me in!! Congratulations on your book. Love the book cover!

      1. Thanks! This is a particularly fun cover, though I’ve loved them all. The dog!

  4. Love series that give you the excitement and since of familiarity of characters in every book. And then on the last page, after all has been solved, you just can’t wait for the next book to come out. An example of that for me is Edith Maxwell’s Quaker Midwife Mystery series. I also love Kim Davis’ Cupcake Catering Mystery series. It’s also a series that you could almost sit down and cry when you hear that the new release is the last book in a series because it’s almost like losing that best friend.

    Can’t wait for the opportunity to read and review “Between a Wok and a Dead Place”, which is most definitely on my TBR list. Love the pooch on the cover!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  5. Finding out your related and never knowing it until you decide to do a DNA test. cheetahthecat1982ATgmailDOTcom

  6. What draws me to a book is the setting, characters, and the mystery. I like a country setting with lots of interesting townspeople – it’s great when the author really describes the scenery and layout of the town. I don’t care for gushy mushy romance, I’d read romance novels if I was looking for that lol! Lately, I’ve been reading about older characters which may be my age showing. And, most of all, a really juicy mystery with lots of twists and turns keeps me interested.

    1. The package deal! It all comes back to Barb’s cozy covenant, doesn’t it?

  7. Great post! And while you’ve named many of my favorite series, I’d like to add Annette Dashofy’s Zoe Chambers series – following Pete and Zoe through their relationship ups and downs has been like sharing life with my best friends.

    1. Ah, yes! Creating those realistic relationships is such a challenge — cheers to those who do it well!

  8. I’m drawn to a series with strong characters, especially if the sidekicks are interesting and well developed. I also love it when the protagonist has a career or hobbies that match mine. Recipes being included are also a huge plus. My favorites are the Poppy Mcallister series and Ellery Adams’ Secret, Book and Scone Society. Congratulations on your new release!

    1. The secondary characters add so much — they’re like seasoning in the stew! Two more excellent examples!

  9. Congratulations on your upcoming book release.

    What draws me to a series is the character and their relationship. As you mentioned, we get to know them more with each book written. I have too many favorite series to list, but I do love Barb Ross’ Maine Clambake series, Maddie Day’s Cozy Capers Book Group series, and of course J.D. Robb’s In Death series.

    1. Reading a new book in a favorite series is like sitting down with a friend for brunch at a mystery convention, right? I remember fondly visiting with you and Risa over eggs and tortillas in Albuquerque and getting to know you both better!

  10. I like series with fun settings that I’d like to go to, but I also really like series where the main character still does a job, rather than spending 2/3 of the book snooping, haha. I love the Spice Shop series because of its Seattle locations and the fact that Pepper actually puts time in in the shop, or when she’s out and about, a lot of times it’s business related. Another series I like is Krista Davis’ Paws and Claws series. I want someone to make a real life Wagtail so I can live there, haha. zukeeper.geo(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. I’d go to Wagtail in a minute, but what I really want is for Krista’s Sophie to cook for me!

    1. Thanks, Julie! Readers and writers, united by our love of our imaginary friends!

  11. I have to agree with everyone here. I want to know the characters well enough to feel I’m right beside them all the time. And they have to be interesting besides just good problem solvers. I want to learn something new with each book I read.

    1. Right? We are taking this journey through time and place and internal growth WITH these people. Love it!

  12. Congratulations on the new book! The first thing I notice is a dog on the cover. Or a cat. Or once it was a rabbit. What brings me back is if I like the characters.

    1. Thanks, Carol. And this cover has both a dog AND a rabbit! (Okay, so one is stone, but it still counts, right?)

  13. The setting is very important to me! For example, I like an English city or village with people who drink tea or sherry. I also like settings near the seashores in Maine, Massachusetts, the Carolinas and Florida. Still, I enjoy Maddie Day’s Hoosier setting in her Country Store Mystery series. I also like the Amish mystery setting. I guess I like too many different settings to pick one in particular!

  14. I love series that drawn me in on multiple levels. Back in the day, when the women in my family watched soap operas(usually mom watched and caught the rest of us up), dad would sometimes have to ask if we were talking about real people or our “soap” people. When a series could make that same thing happen in conversation, I know it is a real winner. Thanks for the chance to win. egoehner(at)roadrunner(dot)com

  15. The location of a book is usually what makes me buy a book. I like reading series because I really get to know the characters and I get to feel iike they’re my friends. My favorite series is The Tradd Street series by Karen White. It takes place in my favorite city of Charleston SC. I love other series also, I have a long list, but Tradd Street is my number one.

    1. Love armchair travel! Love Charleston, too, so I’ll have to try that series.

  16. Oh my yes! The characters constantly bring me back. They become friends and family in some cases. I have so many that I love, but a few favorites definitely include the Maine Clambake series, Krista Davis’ Diva series, the Book Retreat and Secret Book and Scone Society series by Ellery Adams, Library Lovers and Hat Shop mysteries both by Jenn McKinlay, and I will definitely miss the Sea Glass Saloon crew. While the plot and setting helps draw me in initially, it is the characters that bring me back, over and over again.

    1. It’s all about the story people, isn’t it? And what excellent examples you’ve given!

  17. The characters are what draw me in. If it is a culinary theme, then that is definitely a plus for me since I am a foodie.

    1. Food! The magic word! My characters and I are obsessed with it!

  18. I am drawn to characters and settings (and pets).

    Of course, Spice Shop is one of my favs along with, in no particular order:
    Molly MacRae’s Haunted Yarn and Highland series
    Gigi Pandian’s Jaya Jones and Accidental Alchemist series
    Krista Davis’s Paws and Claws and Domestic Diva series
    Kate Carlisle ‘s Bibliophile and Fixer-Upper series and, finally,
    Steve Higgs’ Albert Smith’s Culinary Capers (which should include Rex in the name since he is more memorable than Albert)

    1. Hey, Val! What an excellent list, although I admit I don’t know that lost series. Thanks for chiming in.

  19. I like to read books about places that I am interested in, but if the characters don’t also draw me in then I usually won’t like it as well and may not continue if it’s a series.

  20. There are many things that can draw me into a book, but it’s the characters that keep me reading a series! The first series I read was Trixie Belden, I loved how Trixie and Honey became close friends in spite of their differences and loved being part of their adventures. I love Pepper Reece, Maisie Dobbs, Maggie Hope, Armand Gamache, Alex Delaware, Hercule Poirot…and dozens more. The supporting characters can also keep me reading, watching relationships grow & develop over a series turns the characters into friends

  21. I like quirky character and interesting setting like bookstore, restaurants or bakeries.

  22. What draws me to a book is if I have read it and love that author and the characters, then I will keep buying it. I also love any with animals (especially dogs and cats), food, lighthouses, libraries, antiques, vintage houses, and I could go on and on. I love locations of cities that I have been to and enjoyed as well as the locale in that city–New Orleans, the Florida Keys, San Francisco, Charleston, Savannah, Maine, and many other favorite places. I also care about the cover, the characters and the short synopsis. Favorites besides Karen White (as replied to above) are Kate Carlisle (I love Brooklyn and Derk) Ellen Byron/Maria diRico, Maddie Day, Eva Gates, Victoria Gilbert, Victoria Hamilton, Margaret Dumas, Cate Conte, Ellery Adams, Diane Kelly, Vivien Chien, Lucy Burdette, Jennifer J. Chow, Barbara Ross, Sherry Harris, Leslie Budewitz, Lorraine Bartlett/Lorna Barrett, Hannah Dennison, Joanne Fluke, Sherry Harris, Lynn Cahoon, Laurien Bernson, David Rosenfelt (though he might not be considered a cozy), Juliet Blackwell, Barbara Allen, Lucy Arlington, Sheila Connelly, Virginia Lowell, Sofie Kelly, Jenn McKinlay, Sherry Randall, Sofie Ryan, and so many more. I am sorry if I did not mention you, but I mentioned so many. And then there are those that are gone, or they have quit publishing. And so many that I want to read. So many books, so little time as they say. I love you all.

    1. Madeline, you are a book goddess! And I am delighted to be on your list!

  23. The cover draws me in first. If it is an author that I have read and liked, it is a no brainer that I will grab the book. If it is a new author to me, I will read the blurb to see what the story entails. I love quirky characters, small towns, amateur sleuths as well as a pet. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

  24. The plot, characters and the writing. So many wonderful series which I have enjoyed. Chet and Bernie, Charles Lenox, Anne Perry, Maisie Dobbs, Charles Todd, and many more.

  25. Your series is always delightful. I look for entertainment and the characters whose lives I follow. The locale and the storyline. Kate Parker, Anna lee Huber,Victoria Thompson, Rhys Bowen.

    1. Thanks, Ellie! Looks like you particularly enjoy historicals — I hope you like the touch of history in WOK.

  26. I like great sidekick characters, a hint of romance, and places that I have heard of like Pikes Peak!

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