LESLIE BUDEWITZ – Living a Life of Crime in Montana

Leslie Budewitz is a three-time Agatha Award winner and the best-selling author of 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 stand-alone suspense set in the Northwest, including Bitterroot Lake and Blind Faith. Leslie is a past president of Sisters in Crime and former board member of Mystery Writers of America.

It’s a delight to be here, George, and to chat with you and your readers about my books. My newest cozy mystery, Between a Wok and a Dead Place, the seventh Spice Shop Mystery, will be out July 18. When her life fell apart at age 40, Pepper Reece never expected to find solace in bay leaves. But her impulsive purchase of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market turned out to be one of the best decisions she ever made. Between selling spice and juggling her personal life, she also discovers another unexpected talent—for solving murder.

Pepper 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 the clues pile up, it’s clear that someone’s fortunes are about to take a deadly change.

Do you write in more than one genre? Like a lot of authors, I have many stories to tell. My cozies—whether the classic small-town setting of my Food Lovers’ Village mysteries or the city life of my Spice Shop mysteries—focus on an amateur sleuth who uses her skills, resources, and connections to solve a crime that affects her community. While the cozy is the lighter side of mystery, often seasoned as mine with food and humor, the focus is always the impact of a crime on the community. It’s a flexible kind of story, with plenty of room for exploring social issues. Murder is a social issue, after all, and people are social creatures, with a full range of problems. I hope that when readers finish a Spice Shop book, they feel they’ve learned something about Seattle, food, and the experiences of other people—and had a fun, entertaining read.

As Alicia Beckman, I write moody suspense, what I think of as “women’s lives, plus crime.” I’ve also published more than two dozen short mysteries—six are collected in Carried to the Grave and Other Stories, the wrap-up to the Food Lovers’ Village series. Some of my shorts are cozy, some are historical, and a few verge on noir. The short story allows a writer to explore specific ideas, take a quick detour, or try a new style, without the commitment of a full book.

What brought you to writing? I’d always been interested, but it didn’t seem like a career path! During a personal crisis in my late 30s, my creative instincts became both my way through a difficult time and the way forward. Turns out that’s not uncommon: When we are broken open, an essential part of us emerges.

Tell us about your writing process. I call myself a planner. Story emerges from the characters: these people in this place confronting these challenges and obstacles. I get to know them in a very organic way, asking who they are and how they would behave in a particular situation, and taking lots of notes. Then I organize those snippets of dialogue, setting, and action, filling in as much as I can before beginning to commit to actual sentences and scenes. For me, outlining is a highly kinetic, right-brain process of discovery—not the arbitrary decision making some pantsers seem to think it is—and if I try to short-circuit it, I run into trouble.

These days, I write full-time, after practicing law while writing my first several books. I try to keep office hours, writing in the morning and tackling business and promotion in the afternoon.

What are you currently working on? My desk is a mess write—er, right—now, as I revise the 8th Spice Shop mystery, To Err is Cumin, coming in July 2024. When Pepper spots a ratty wingback chair put on the curb for the taking and snaps it up, she bites off more trouble than she can chew.

Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Like many members of Sisters in Crime, especially the Guppies, I would not be published without those organizations, or without Authors of the Flathead, a multi-genre group here in NW Montana. Virtually every opportunity I have had in this business has come from being part of those groups. I am the last original Guppy, and so pleased with how the chapter has evolved. Serving as president of Sisters in Crime (2015-16) was both challenging and joyful, and without a doubt, one of the great privileges of my professional life.

Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No, but they often surprise me. They are human, with their own experiences and perspectives. I love when they force me to dig deeper into my own heart, assumptions, and understanding of human interaction.

This was especially true in The Solace of Bay Leaves, where Pepper confronts her misconceptions about an old friend—who turns out to have her own flawed view of their relationship. And in Blind Faith, my second stand-alone written as Alicia Beckman, I took a deep dive into the community where I was raised. In the process, each of my main characters reassesses some of their own decisions and beliefs.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Read, write, repeat. Learn to read like a writer. Connect with other writers. Find what you love about the work and commit to it. Write the stories only you can write.

How do our readers contact you?
Website: www.LeslieBudewitz.com – Newsletter subscribers receive a free short story.
Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor
Instagram: www.Instagram.com/LeslieBudewitz
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen: http://www.MysteryLoversKitchen.com – 12 cozy authors cook up crime and recipes.

4 Comments

  1. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Dear Leslie,
    As one far behind you on the publishing trail, I thank you for all your contributions to writers and writing, particularly SinC and its Guppy Chapter, which have come to feel like family to me. It’s also reassuring to see one author who can experience success in so many different writing genres. (I’m writing a historical and so was particularly intrigued to see you’ve even written in that category).
    PS: Loved the title of your newest… Between a WOK and a Dead Place. You, dear Leslie, truly (wait for it)… Wok.

    Reply
  2. Vicki Batman

    a very nice interview!

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Great writing advice, Leslie, and I love your titles. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  4. Leslie Ann Budewitz

    Thanks for the invitation, George! Your questions got me thinking!

    Reply

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M.E. ROCHE – Registered Nurse / Author

Since growing up in the Midwest, M. E. Roche has lived on both coasts as well as in Ireland. As a registered nurse, she’s had the opportunity to work in many facets of nursing and volunteer with her local coroner—part of the sheriff’s department—in northern California. Her favorite books have always been mysteries.

 

 

Her first three books were young adult mysteries, introducing Nora Brady as a student nurse. Nora has since moved on to three adult mysteries, and the newest ONCOLOGY has just been released on Amazon. In addition, M. E. has written the standalone mystery novel: BIGAMY, set in the 1930s. She is currently working on another standalone set in the Dust Bowl era.

ONCOLOGY – Cancer Treatment Can Be Murder has Nora working as an RN in an oncology clinic. When a former patient suffers a heart attack while on a cruise, an autopsy is done as required; this shows no evidence of prior cancer treatment. The medical examiner in San Diego who did the autopsy notifies his friend, the medical examiner in Jacobsport, who is Nora’s friend—the one who got her the job in oncology. Determining how this might have happened and how many other patients might have been affected is a complicated undertaking for this inexplicable situation. Determining who is responsible while not raising any alarms can also be risky for Nora and her friends.

What brought you to writing? Like many, I thought about writing long before I sat down to do it. At some point, it’s that “If not now, when?” The shortage of nurses has always been a problem, never more notable than the present. While I had never read the books written in the 1950s and 60s about nursing students who solved mysteries, I knew of them, read them later in life, and decided they needed an update, which is what my first three novels attempted to do—the idea being to attract young readers to the nursing profession. After completing those, I decided I wanted to bring Nora Brady into adulthood and wanted her to become a detective without completely giving up her nursing career.

Your Writing Process: I start with a vague idea of what a story will be about, but I love letting the characters shape the direction of the narrative. I find that writing first thing in the morning, after a cup of coffee or two and maybe the early news, is the best time for me—sitting at my desktop and letting the words come…or maybe not come. I’ll give the process an hour or so, then take a walk and let the day begin. I seldom go back to work in progress, rather using later in the day for editing or correspondence. When writing, I prefer no distractions, but later in the day, I may have an easy listening station playing.

Current Project: I often have several projects going on at the same time. Right now, I’m working on finishing a novel I started some time ago about a series of crimes that transverses the country, from the northwest coast to the city of Boston. It involves inter-agency workings that I’m attempting to learn and manage. In addition, I’m working on another novel set in the 1930s about a great-aunt of mine who immigrated from Ireland and ended up marrying a man in Nebraska—a homesteader. He eventually dies, and she’s left with all the problems that ensued for many wiped out during the Dust Bowl era. It raised so many questions and has necessitated quite a bit of research, not just in that era but also about my family. Most of the family had made it to Chicago, so how did she end up in Nebraska?

Setting the Location for a Novel: The Nora Brady novels are set in the fictional Jacobsport, California, which is based on Eureka, California. I was told I should have used the actual name of the town and places, that it would be more relatable for readers, but I worried about getting too close to home with actual places or people. Eureka readers will tell me they see the places I describe, but I hope there’s just enough anonymity. However, when Nora goes down to San Francisco, I use actual streets and landmarks. This is also what I do for the background in Boston. When I was writing Bigamy, however, I did base the story on actual people in a small town in New York state, where relatives of the characters still lived. I couldn’t chance using real names or locations, so I moved the story to New Jersey and a fictional town.

Kind of Research: There is some research for every novel, even where my nursing is involved, as things have become so specialized. When writing about law enforcement, I try to stay pretty clear of legal and procedural specifics and instead focus on the character’s deductive reasoning. In my volunteer work with the coroner, I did several ride-alongs with the sheriff’s deputies; that chance to talk with the deputies over several years was invaluable.

When writing about another era, I try to read as much as I can, both fiction and non-fiction, about the period until I have something of a feel for the time. There are always details, however. If I use an actual town and want to talk about transportation, I have to be sure of what might have been available. If I write about peanut butter, was it even a product at that time? If I write about the characters meeting in an Irish parish, was there one in the area? Readers do recognize the accuracy of details. I want things to be realistic and relatable.

Please consider visiting my website at:   www.meroche.com

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Peg, I’m so glad you described your typical writing day here. I’m just now in a situation where I have more time to write than I ever have before. I’ve always felt most productive in the morning, as you describe to be the case for you in this post. But I’ve been struggling with when to do the daily walk, fearing I may never ‘get to it’ if I don’t walk before I start to write. Does that happen to you, or are you disciplined enough to fit that walk in every day–after a bout of new writing?

    Reply
    • Peg Roche

      Hi Pamela: I’m so sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier! I do find that I’ll end up skipping that walk if I don’t do it first thing. I usually write for an hour or so, walk, and then try to get back to it either after the walk or sometimes in the afternoon if other things are planned. You’re right, though. I find I have to be disciplined as it’s easy for me to be distracted!

      Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you’re juggling a lot of different projects at the same time which is always challenging for a writer. But your background in nursing probably prepared you to handle many things at once. I’m looking forward to hearing more about you and Nora Brady at the PSWA Conference. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Peg Roche

      Hi Mike: I’m so sorry I didn’t catch your comment earlier. Thanks for taking the time. You’re right, there is some juggling involved, and it does take planning, which I’m sure you know from all your books! It was a pleasure meeting you and the conference was just great! Already looking forward to next year! Thanks again!

      Reply
  3. Peg Roche

    Thanks for the opportunity, George!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      So glad you could stop by and share your story.

      Reply

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MAUREEN BOYLE – Journalist – True-Crime Author

Award-winning journalist Maureen Boyle is the author of two true-crime books. Shallow Graves: The Hunt for the New Bedford Highway Serial Killer was published in 2017, and The Ghost: The Murder of Police Chief Greg Adams and the Hunt for His Killer (Black Lyon) was published in June 2021. Her next book, Child Last Seen: The Disappearance of Patty Desmond (Black Lyon), is set for release in May 2023.

Maureen was named New England journalist of the year three times and has been honored for her work covering crime, drug issues, and human-interest stories. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and a master’s in criminal justice. She is now the journalism program director at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts.

Do you write in more than one genre? After decades as a cop/court/crime reporter, writing true-crime feels natural to me. That might change, but the research needed for this genre aligns with what I had been doing for years working on newspapers in New England.

What brought you to writing? I can’t imagine doing anything other than writing. In the second grade, when the teacher was going over sentence structure and how to use quotation marks, I remember thinking: “Pay attention to this. You will need to know this when you write.”

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? After working in noisy newsrooms, very little distracts me. I have a very cluttered home office surrounded by stacks of notes, books, and digital recorders. Some might consider it chaotic; I call it being surrounded by work. I shut the door and just write. I’m pretty focused when I’m at the keyboard.

Tell us about your writing process: I generally write as I research while the information is still fresh in my mind. I do this so I don’t forget scenes, the tone of individuals, and other bits of information that might get lost over time. Of course, this also means I need to rewrite a number of those early sections as I gather more information.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Making sure every fact is correct is always challenging when writing true-crime. Writing about crimes involving communities in states you are not familiar with can be extra challenging. For example, in New England, there are cities and towns, not townships or boroughs. Making sure I understood the different local governments and the different levels of law enforcement in other states was crucial in my second and third books. I couldn’t rely on what I already knew. However, the most challenging part is always making sure the victims’ stories shine through and that the families of the victims feel comfortable talking to me. The bottom line in this genre, at least to me, is making sure the victims’ stories are told.

What are you currently working on? My latest true-crime book, Child Last Seen: The Disappearance of Patty Desmond, was released June 1, 2023. I discovered this case through retired Pennsylvania State Police investigator Danny McKnight while working on my second book, The Ghost: The Murder of Police Chief Greg Adams and the Hunt for His Killer. I have two other true-crime projects in the research phase. One is about a murder during Prohibition. The other is about the abduction-murder of a teenager by a sex offender, the decades of court appeals before the killer was finally convicted, and the effect the case has had on a small community.

Who’s your favorite author? My favorite author is always the one I’m reading at the time. I read a wide range of writers and across genres, looking at how each crafts his or her work. Good writing is good writing, whether it is true-crime, thriller, mystery, horror, science fiction, romance, or anything in between. I have been a huge Stephen King fan since the 1970s and am always amazed at how he can turn a phrase. I read Erik Larson for the way he crafts detail in his non-fiction. I read Laura Lippman for both how she structures her novels and her unique stories. I read Hank Phillippi Ryan for the writing, structure, and story. Each author brings something different to the reader in each genre, so I am always open to reading everything that comes my way.

How long did it take you to write your first book? I like to say it took me thirty years to write Shallow Graves: The Hunt for the New Bedford Highway Serial Killer, but that would be an exaggeration. I covered that story in 1988 when I was a reporter at the Standard-Times of New Bedford in Massachusetts and always planned to write a book on the case. The delay? I was waiting for an arrest. Finally, I decided it was time to write the book and started re-interviewing investigators and victims’ relatives. I had stayed in touch with most of them over the years. Once I got started in 2015, things went pretty quickly.

How long did it take to get it published? The book was published in 2017 by the University Press of New England thanks to help from a friend, Elaine McArdle (who is also a terrific writer). Several agents at the Boston University Narrative Conference rejected the book proposal, and she suggested I contact her agent, who rejected me. However, that agent suggested I contact UPNE directly, and things went quickly from there. UPNE has since closed, but Brandeis University Press took over the list.

                                       

What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? William Faulkner was an author I couldn’t stand when I was in college. His run-on sentences drove me crazy. Since then, I’ve grown fond of his short stories and other works and can appreciate his fine writing.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I have one book coming out in May then it is back to researching and writing. I am bouncing between the novels, and the non-fiction works right now.

Do you have any advice for new writers? If you want to write, sit your butt in the chair, put your fingers on the keyboard, and do it. Pick a time that works bests for you but do it. Don’t wait for divine inspiration. The more you write, the better you get. Writing is an art, a craft, and a business.

How do our readers contact you?
I’m on Twitter (@maureeneboyle1)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maureen.boyle.710

TikTok (@maureeneboyle)

Instagram (maureeneboyle)

They can also reach me through my websites, www.maureenboylewriter.com or www.shallowgravesthebook.com

 

4 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    Very interesting interview, Maureen. Good luck with your new book!

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Great interview, Maureen, and thanks for continuing to tell the stories of the victims. They are too often forgotten. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  3. John Schembra

    Interesting blog, Maureen! Congratulations on your latest book!

    Reply
  4. Peg Roche

    Great blog, Maureen! I will definitely look forward to reading one of your books. Thanks for the introduction, George!

    Reply

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