Up Close and Personal with Leslie Budewitz, An Interview - Dark Streets
Leslie Budewitz is the only author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction—the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, for Death al Dente (Berkley Prime Crime), first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, and the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books). She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher.
Tell us a little about your background
I started writing at age 4, on my father’s desk. Literally---I didn’t yet grasp the concept of paper. Happily, my parents were amused and my mother, who is 89, still gives me notebooks and pens for Christmas.
After college in Seattle and law school at Notre Dame, I practiced in Seattle for several years, then came back to my native Montana. I still practice law part-time for a small firm, primarily in personal injury and business litigation, with some criminal, insurance, and employment work. My husband, a singer-songwriter and a doctor of natural medicine, is also a Montana native, and we live in the woods in the NW corner of the state, on the road to Glacier National Park. Although we had dogs for many years---Border Collies and a Remoyed (a Samoyed and Retriever mix)---we are currently supervised by a ten year old Burmese cat.
Tell us a bit about your Food Lovers Village series. Where did the idea come from?
After that early experience on my dad’s desk, it took me another three decades to decide I really did want to write seriously, and more than fifteen years before I held my first book in my hands. In the interim, I wrote several unpublished manuscripts, although a few were agented and came close, and published half a dozen short stories. After my nonfiction guide for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, 2011) was published, I decided that as much as I love helping other writers get the facts about the law write—er, right—I wasn’t through telling my own stories. I love the light-hearted subset of traditional mystery sometimes called the cozy, and decided to try that genre. Foodie fiction is popular, and I love to eat and cook, so I created a village obsessed with food—in Montana, of all the unlikely places. Erin Murphy manages Murphy’s Mercantile aka the Merc, a specialty regional foods market in her family’s hundred-year-old building in the village of Jewel Bay. The village is inspired in part by the town I live in, and while there are even more great places to eat on the page than on our streets, it’s actually not too far from the mark! Happily, the locals have embraced the books.
As a college student, I fell in love with Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Later as a young lawyer working downtown, I tried to eat my way through the Market at least once or twice a week. I’d start at the front entrance with a slice of pizza from DeLaurenti’s walk-up window, browsing the covers of the magazines at the First & Pike Newsstand— eyes only until my hands were clean! I’d sip a sample cup of tea at Market Spice while watching the fishmongers throw salmon and amuse the crowd with their comedy routine, pick my produce and cheese for the week, and end with dessert—a hazelnut sablé from Le Panier, the French bakery, or a Nanaimo bar from a now-departed shop in the warren off Post Alley.
So naturally, when I thought about setting a mystery series in Seattle, the Market beckoned. I created my own spice shop, influenced by the ones that exist there and shops I’ve visited in other regions, but with a flavor all its own. Pepper Reece is the poster child for the adage “life begins at 40.” After thirteen years of marriage, she discovered her police officer husband and a meter maid—she still can’t say “parking enforcement officer”—in a back booth in a posh new restaurant practically plugging each other’s meters when he was supposed to be working an extra shift. She moved out and bought an unfinished loft in a century-old downtown warehouse. Then the law firm where she’d worked in HR, managing staff, imploded in scandal and took her job with it. She tossed her office wardrobe, cut her hair, and bought the Spice Shop, a forty-year-old institution that had lost its verve.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Motivation is---or was---the biggest challenge for years. Not because writing is hard, though it is, but because I was going through a period in my life where nothing seemed to come to fruition. Ultimately, in my writing life, I broke through that barrier with the short stories and my nonfiction book.
Staying motivated day to day isn’t hard at all. Writing is the thing I most love doing. To paraphrase Gloria Steinem , it’s the one thing I do where, when I’m doing it, I don’t think I should be doing something else. Joseph Campbell said “Never underestimate the value to the Universe of a fully realized life.” This is mine, and that’s motivation aplenty.
I’ll confess though, that right now, I’m starting a new book, waiting for edits on another, and launching a new series, and staying focused is a challenge!
You are also a lawyer, which career is the bigger challenge?
They’re so different---they both have their own challenges. I do appreciate that in mystery writing, I can kill people without going to prison.
What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
Alas, at the moment, there is no such thing as typical---not with three books at different stages and several law firm projects in progress. Generally, though, I write ten pages a day, five or six days a week, and fit in promotion when I can. During the run-up to launching a new series, though, that sort of flips for a few weeks! But I don’t want to let the new story get too far away from me, so I try to get in some writing time every day. Even half an hour will give me a few paragraphs or a page, and keep the story moving in my head.
If you could take only three books with you for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
I have no idea!
What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Read, study, write, repeat. Join a writers’ group and learn from other writers. Focus on the craft first---might not be a bad idea, if you’re working on a novel, to finish your first draft before you start delving into the publishing business. Only then can you understand the options and the many paths to publications, decide on your goals, and begin making choices.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Carrying a 60 pound backpack 60 miles over the Continental Divide, on an eight-day trip with my husband and brother through the fabulous Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana’s Northern Rockies. Also the most amazing trip I’ve ever taken and the greatest physical challenge.
What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
Probably that I don’t view any of my characters as based on me, even though I try to give them some of my own experiences----what they do with them is up to them!
Where can we learn more about you and your books?
I’ve got a lovely new website, www.LeslieBudewitz.com, a seasonal email newsletter, and a blog called Law and Fiction that blends fun stuff for readers and info for writers who want to get the law right in their fiction.
Columnist: Toni LoTempio
While Toni Lotempio does not commit – or solve – murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper. Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at age 10 – The Secret in the Old Attic. She lists among her favorite mystery/suspense writers Erle Stanley Gardner, Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson, as well as EJ Copperman, Steve Hockensmith, Victoria Laurie, Ali Brandon, Rita Mae Brown, Miranda James and Sofie Kelly to name only a few! Toni is also passionate about her love for animals, as demonstrated with her four cats: Trixie, Princess, Maxx and, of course, ROCCO, who not only provided the inspiration for the character of Nick the cat in the Nick and Nora mystery series, but who also writes his own blog and does charity work for Nathan Fillion’s charity, Kids Need to Read! Toni’s also devoted to miniseries like The Thorn Birds, Dancing with the Stars, reruns of Murder She Wrote and Castle (of course!). She (and ROCCO, albeit he’s uncredited) pen the Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime – the first volume, MEOW IF ITS MURDER, debuted Dec. 2, 2014. She, Rocco and company make their home in Clifton, New Jersey, just twenty minutes from the Big Apple – New York. Visit them at www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com or www.tclotempio.com