Please welcome Leslie Budewitz, author of the Food Lovers Village Mysteries and the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries!
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
One in which I laugh a lot, eat great food, hang out with my hunny (aka Mr. Right), and the words flow on the page. Fresh flowers from the garden would be a plus.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
I always wear a bracelet, and for fun occasions, including book events, I often wear a scarf. Scarves make me feel happy and sparkly, and as one of my favorite authors, Margaret Maron, says, an author’s job at a book event is to sparkle!
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been influenced, in one way or another, by everything I’ve read. I attended a Jesuit liberal arts college, Seattle University, and though my degree is in English Literature with a minor in Philosophy, the program I was in included courses in theology, history, music, art, and science. Basically, I got a college degree for reading books, many of them novels. So I learned to analyze literature at the same time as I learned to love it. But of course, the love goes way back – to the Happy Hollisters, Calico Bush, and the shelf in the local bookstore that I called “good books” and later learned, when I became a teenage bookseller, were actually called “the classics.” < smile >
As a teenager and young adult, I adored poetry, and I think the Elizabethan poets, e e cummings, Richard Hugo, Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, and others influenced my sense of internal rhythm and language. I have long said Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, and especially Victoria Holt got me through law school, because a few minutes of gothic suspense before bed was enough to wipe all thought of torts and taxes from my brain. (Some of it permanently, alas.) They taught me the importance of story and mood. That lead to more mystery and crime fiction.
In my mid thirties, I was working at a job that put me on the road a lot, and I listened to a lot of books on tape – and they were on tape, back then. The nearest library’s audio collection was high on mystery – Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth Peters, Ellis Peters, Tony Hillerman. So I suspect that’s why, when I started to write fiction, it came out as mystery. From Hillerman, I discovered that the small towns of the West, off and on the reservations, could be great settings. I still adore all those writers, and modern mystery writers like Louise Penny, Deborah Crombie, Margaret Maron, Laura Lippman, and Catriona McPherson. I adore Toni Morrison and Sue Miller. (Oh, dear. Perhaps I should try reading a book or two by a man. I hear some of them write nicely, too.)
Do you listen to music when you write?
No, not even while working on Treble at the Jam Fest, involving murder at a jazz festival! Though I did listen to a lot of jazz faves between writing sessions. Music is a big part of my life, but I find it too distracting while I write – I get too caught up in the music, especially if it’s got lyrics, to attend to the voices in my head and on the page.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A huckleberry truffle, the signature chocolate of the Merc, the shop at the heart of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Every book in this series involves a festival or holiday, some made up and others inspired by celebrations in my village. The Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival and Workshop, held every year the week before Labor Day, inspired me to create a jazz festival. And of course, while most of the musicians who have visited our fair community have been lovely, egos do sometimes clash. With a small-town cozy, your conflicts have to arise within the locals, come with the visitors, or arise between locals and visitors, which is where this story falls. I was also interested in the subplot involving Erin and Adam. The “retail ladies” are key to the economy of a tourist town, and I wanted to play with them, as well.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
In all my books, identity is a huge issue. In fact, while the hero’s journey seems to be a good model for stories with male leads, I think that the search for identity may be the heroine’s journey. In my Spice Shop series, the metaphor becomes literal, as many characters are not who they appear to be. In the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, that search for identity is shaped by Erin’s return to her home town, where she works to shape her own identity in a community where everyone thinks they know her; she takes over the family business from her mother, so the mother-daughter relationship influences that search for identity as well, and is a huge part of each story. And always, I find myself writing about art, whether it’s musicians as in Treble at the Jam Fest, the potter in Killing Thyme, and painters and collectors in Butter Off Dead. Insider-outsider tensions drive a lot of mystery, and they flare up occasionally in both my series. I’m also always looking at how a small town recreates and revitalizes itself.
Tell us about your main character.
I write two series, and it turns out that Erin Murphy in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and Pepper Reece in the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries are quite different, though each is passionate about food and retail. Erin, the driving force behind Treble at the Jam Fest, is a driving force. She grew up in Jewel Bay, although she left for ten years after college, and in the first book, Death Al Dente, she’s just returned. She’s convinced she knows all about her home town, but darn it, the place went and changed while she was away. She changed, too, and it sometimes frustrates her that people don’t always realize that. (Yes, those expectations are a bit contradictory, but humans are sometimes, aren’t we?) She’s 32 and single when the series opens and looking to settle down, so romantic relationships are much on her mind. She works with her mother, she’s opinionated. She’s passionate about community and cooperation, and impatient with what she and her mother call the againsters. You know them—whatever suggestion you have, they’re against it. Both Erin and Pepper are passionate about justice, and believe that individuals play a huge role in solving both criminal and social injustices around us.
What’s next for you?
The fourth Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, Treble at the Jam Fest, is just out, and I’ve just turned in the fifth. My hometown, the model for Jewel Bay, calls itself Montana’s Christmas Village, and I’ve been eager to write a Christmas mystery since I first started the series. Still untitled, alas. My titles all refer to the holiday or festival, include a hint of mystery, and suggest a food—in this book, cookies. Suggestions most welcome!
And I’m working on something completely different, a stand-alone set in Billings, Montana, from 1981 to the present. Two women whose paths crossed briefly 35 years ago meet again, while chasing down the same mystery from different directions.
Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two national best-selling series, the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, and the Spice Shop Mystery, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. DEATH AL DENTE, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The immediate past president of Sisters in Crime, she lives and cooks in NW Montana.
Find me online at www.LeslieBudewitz.com and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor More about Treble at the Jam Fest, including an excerpt here: http://www.lesliebudewitz.com/treble-at-the-jam-fest/
I blog with the Killer Characters, where the characters do the talking, www.KillerCharacters.com, on the 27th of each month, and at Mystery Lovers Kitchen, cooking up crimes and recipes, www.MysteryLoversKitchen.com, every other Tuesday.