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.
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen: http://www.MysteryLoversKitchen.com – 12 cozy authors cook up crime and recipes.