Please welcome Leslie Budewitz! She’s on such a great roll with her Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries (Berkley Prime Crime) series. The first novel in the series, Death al Dente, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. And her second novel, CRIME RIB (don’t you love the titles?) will be out on July 1st!
In Crime Rib, Gourmet food market owner Erin Murphy is determined to get Jewel Bay, Montana’s scrumptious local fare, some national attention. But her scheme for culinary celebrity goes up in flames when the town’s big break is interrupted by murder…
Food Preneurs, one of the hottest cooking shows on TV, has decided to feature Jewel Bay in an upcoming episode, and everyone in town is preparing for their close-ups, including the crew at the Glacier Mercantile, aka the Merc. Not only is Erin busy remodeling her courtyard into a relaxing dining area, she’s organizing a steak-cooking competition between three of Jewel Bay’s hottest chefs to be featured on the program.
But Erin’s plans get scorched when one of the contending cooks is found dead. With all the drama going on behind the scenes, it’s hard to figure out who didn’t have a motive to off the saucy contestant. Now, to keep the town’s rep from crashing and burning on national television, Erin will have to grill some suspects to smoke out the killer…
First, tell us about one book that made an impact on you.
On a snowy day when I was about ten, my mother and I went Christmas shopping in downtown Billings, Montana. Although we were frequent library users, we didn’t often buy new books. We pushed through the double doors of paradise—a book store. Near the front stood a table of children’s hardcovers and my mother let me pick one. Calico Bush by Rachel Field was originally published in 1931, nearly 40 years before I found it. Marguerite is a young French girl orphaned on board ship to the New World in 1743. With no other options, she’s re-named Maggie and “bound-out” as a servant to a pioneer family heading north to the Maine coast. She experiences both love and hardship as she adapts to her new life. It’s a beautiful book that took me to an unfamiliar time and place, and served as a guide post in my own adolescence.
Years later, I worked in the same bookstore. Walking in that front door always sent me back in time. Calico Bush is still in print, and I treasure every chance to share it.
From working in a book store to having your books in book stores — thrilling! The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
When Sir Paul sang about the “long and winding road,” he could have been referring to me and publication. My first manuscript made the short-list for the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Contest for Best Unpublished Traditional Mystery—in 1997. While shopping it, I finished a second manuscript with the same character—a young woman lawyer in a small town on an Indian reservation in western Montana. Guess what my life looked like at the time! Both got interest but no takers, although one agent taught me a lot about revision and increasing early tension. The third book reached several editorial boards only to be turned down. My agent decamped to a new firm, leaving her mystery clients behind; no one else in the office had room for me.
After a week-long intensive workshop with Elizabeth George, I wrote a psychological suspense novel set in Montana with a female sheriff’s detective and a male lawyer on the trail of a killer targeting single fathers. Found a new agent who left the business halfway through submissions, stranding the book.
In truth, the rave rejections half killed me. I started a historical novel about a woman driven to paint in a time and place—eastern Montana ranch country in 1900—when a woman was a wife and mother. Started it twice. I hope some day I’ll know how to write it.
Wrote a proposal for a writers’ guide to using the law in fiction. Third agent, more rave rejections. Two years later, I sold it myself. Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure was published in 2011 by Quill Driver Books—which had turned it down several years earlier.
But I realized that while I love helping other writers make their stories stronger by getting the legal details right, I wasn’t finished with mystery. The cozy, with its emphasis on food, family, community, and justice, drew me. Berkley Prime Crime bought my proposal for the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries on a three-book contract. To my surprise, even before Death al Dente, the first book, came out, they bought a second series. My Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in early 2015. (Fourth agent, in case you’re counting. A young one who won’t retire before I do.)
When Death al Dente won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, I nearly cried. Perseverance is exhausting, but it’s also exhilarating. I’ll borrow a line from my protagonist’s mother: “Don’t quit. You never know what’s just around the corner.”
Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?
The village of Jewel Bay closely resembles the town where I live. A local shop owner is convinced that the owner of a shop in the book is based on her. “She’s a flashy blonde who dates hunky cowboys,” I’ve heard her tell customers. I checked the book: no hair color given, and if she’s ever dated a cowboy, it wasn’t on the page. But she does favor close-fitting dresses and drips diamonds and sapphires. Needless to say, she went blond in the next book. And as for the cowboy, well, stay tuned.
What’s your secret or not-so-secret superpower?
I can hang a picture centered and level without measuring.
Last but not least, share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
Chicken-crossing-the-road jokes. Just writing that makes the corners of my mouth curl up. I finally had to put one in the third Food Lovers’ Village mystery, out in 2015. I nearly fall on the floor thinking about it. My editor will probably say “huh?” and delete it. But I’ll be laughing as I put it back in.
Thanks, Leslie! What an inspiring story about your twisty journey to novelistic success!
So, friends, what’s guaranteed to make you laugh? Bonus points for a chicken-crossing-the-road joke that Leslie has never heard!
GIVEAWAY! Comment on this post by noon EST on Friday, July 4th, to enter the giveaway for a signed copy of CRIME RIB. US and Canada only. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
Leslie Budewitz is the national bestselling author of Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries set in northwest Montana, and winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Crime Rib, the second in the series, was published by Berkley Prime Crime on July 1, 2014. Her Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in March 2015.
Also a lawyer, Leslie won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books), making her the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction.
For more tales of life in the wilds of northwest Montana, and bonus recipes, visit her website and subscribe to her newsletter at www.LeslieBudewitz.com
Find her on Facebook: LeslieBudewitzAuthor