Writing Wednesday

Since last week was the launch of my tenth novel, The Solace of Bay Leaves, the 5th Spice Shop mystery, I figured it might be good, in talking about favorite references, to mention my first book, Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver, 2011). When I first joined authors’ groups, other writers asked me questions about the law—how would my detective get a search warrant, can this character inherit from that one, who is Miranda and why are we always warning her? Like DP Lyle’s Murder and Mayhem which I highlighted a couple of weeks ago, it’s aimed at mystery writers, but it’s equally useful for nonfiction writers, including journalists. 160 questions and answers in a dozen topics, illustrated with examples from real-life cases, including some of my own, and books and movies.

And yes, I still pull my own copy off the shelf now and then to remind myself of the facts about the law. Because even though it’s fiction, we owe our readers the truth.

By the way, Books and Crooks, as it’s known in my house, won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. Such a special moment, because it told me I’d correctly identified a need and filled it. Though it’s been out several years, it is still largely accurate, though there have been quite a few developments in the law of the death penalty since then. Use this blog’s search function for some updates.

The Solace of Bay Leaves — paperback launch day!

Cheers for the paperback of THE SOLACE OF BAY LEAVES!  

I promise, it’s true. There’s a BIG box of them in my upstairs hallway!

In this strange year, ebook and audio lovers got their copies early, last July. Though I hated that some of you had to wait for the paperback, I am enormously grateful that my publisher was able to get those versions out as scheduled, and that it made the right call to wait so the paperback could get to you safely and smoothly.

Pepper is celebrating her second anniversary at the Spice Shop, but her friend Laurel is honoring a more somber anniversary, the still-unsolved murder of her husband, three years ago. When evidence links the murder to a friend’s shooting, Pepper’s own regrets surface. Can she uncover the truth and protect those she loves, before the deadly danger boils over? 

I love this book. I know, I say that every time—and it’s always true—but SOLACE is special. It’s all about women’s friendships—how they lift us up and evolve over time, how they bounce back from jealousies and misunderstandings. It’s about new love after forty, about home and the importance of our neighborhoods and communities. About identity. About solace and comfort, and soup. 

All the things we’ve learned to value even more these last few months. 

There’s a saying that each book teaches you how to write it, and that’s never been more true for me than with this one. (Well, okay, maybe with BITTERROOT LAKE, out next April, too.) I was so sure I knew what this one was about. Boy, was I wrong. I thought Maddie was a minor character—when you meet her, you’ll see how impossible that was! I can still see myself walking into a gathering of my lovely women’s group in July 2019, mid book, completely freaked out. They talked me down, and the very next day, I discovered what the book was really about.

That’s why SOLACE is dedicated to those eight brave, creative, inspiring women. 

No book travel this fall—we’ll make up for lost time next year. But I will be celebrating safely at the Bigfork Art & Cultural Center this Saturday at 3:00 pm for a socially-distanced book talk and signing. If you’re in the area, do join us. 

I’ll also be visiting several blogs to talk about how audio books influenced my writing, the urban cozy, writing a series, ghost signs, and more. (I’ll share links on my Facebook Author page.) Swing by for a virtual chat.  

And when you finish reading, I hope you’ll want to tell your friends about the book. My website includes discussion questions for all my novels.  

I’ll confess, I stay away from Pinterest as much as possible because it’s so darned addictive. If you love the visual as much as I do, take a look at my Spice Shop board–-I’ve updated it with some of the images that inspired SOLACE

My thanks, as always, for joining me on this writing journey. I literally could not do it without you!

From my heart,
Leslie 

In Western Montana, my books are available in Whitefish at Bookworks, in Kalispell at The Bookshelf and Montana Art & Gift (at the airport), in Bigfork at Roma’s Kitchen Shop and Bigfork Art & Cultural Center (Bigfork ), and in Missoula at Fact & Fiction, Shakespeare & Co., and Barnes & Noble. And of course, they’re available online and at independent bookstores across the US and Canada.

Praise for SOLACE and the Spice Shop Mysteries:  

Audiobook cover

A “complex, well-developed mystery. … VERDICT The character-driven mystery by the award-winning author of Death al Dente is darker than many cozies. Readers attracted to unusual settings and mature, introspective amateur sleuths will appreciate this intricately plotted story depicting the impact of murder on the family and community.” — Library Journal, in a starred review

Publishers’ Weekly called SOLACE “savory.” Isn’t that delish? “Budewitz’s affection for Seattle is apparent on every page. Foodie mystery aficionados will love the mouthwatering recipes at the end.”  

“Budewitz continues to whet the appetites of her readers while also highlighting the many unique characteristics of Seattle. … Full of humor and delicious descriptions of local cuisine, ASSAULT AND PEPPER isn’t afraid to tackle timely social topics and the complexities of family, responsibilities, and learning to let go.” —Kings River Life 

“[C]lassic “Golden Age” … set in contemporary Seattle.” — PJ Coldren

Read an excerpt from THE SOLACE OF BAY LEAVES.  

Saturday Creativity Quote

Bitterroot Winter by Rachel Warner (collection of the author)

“Creativity never responds to the stick, only the carrot.”

Tiffany Yates Martin, editor and novelist

One of my own carrots is to buy myself an “art prize” when I finish the edits of a book. This lovely little oil by our friend, Columbia Falls, MT painter Rachel Warner, was my prize for Treble at the Jam Fest, the 4th Food Lovers’ Village mystery

Writing Wednesday — putting words to the feelings

cat on desk

How I first found The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (2012), I have no idea, but you can see that both the cat and I find it enormously useful, if for slightly different reasons.

The ability to identify and describe body language and facial expressions is critical in conveying emotion on the page. The authors list dozens of emotions, from adoration to worry, briefly define them, then set out physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and other key indicators. They also include a section on avoiding common problems, such as too much telling and cliches, and tips such as finding the root emotion, using the setting, and using visceral or instinctive reactions.

I use the lists as a starting point, thinking about a particular character, their personality, gender, how they use their body, how controlled or demonstrative they are, the intensity of the situation. You are the ultimate authority on your characters, but the authors’ lists will get the ideas moving. I’ve annotated my copy, listing additional emotions, adding observations of my own, and interleafing other resources. The authors have also written books on character traits, setting, and more. I see from their website, Writers Helping Writers, that they’ve put out a new edition of the Emotion Thesaurus. Maybe the cat will get me a copy for Christmas.

Writing Wednesday — our old reliables

Murder and Mayhem, with moose bookmark, lovingly crafted by my mother!

We’ve all got a collection of books we pull off the shelves over and over, references we rely on to help us find the right word, get the legal or medical details right, or figure out how to ramp up the emotional content of a scene. (“I said emotional content. Not anger,” as Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon.) Over the next few weeks, I’m going to highlight a few of mine. If you’ve got a favorite to recommend, please chime in in the comments.

Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers by D.P. Lyle (Thomas Dunne Books, 2003). A medical doctor who writes thrillers, TV tie-in novels with a medical theme, and books on forensics, Lyle also writes the “Forensic Files” column for the Mystery Writers of America answering questions for writers of both contemporary and historical crime novels. His blog, The Crime Fiction Writer’s Blog, is another terrific resource, often featuring fascinating guest bloggers from the worlds of medicine and science.

My copy of Murder and Mayhem barely fits in its slot on the shelf anymore, stuffed with articles and emails from Doug that I’ve printed out. When you need to know what drugs might cause cardiac arrest or what happens to body and brain when one character pushes another down the stairs or off a cliff, this is THE book.

And columns, book, and author were a big inspiration for me in writing my first book, Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver, 2011), a book that should be on YOUR shelves!

Writing Wednesday — Emotional Research

Sometimes characters have experiences we haven’t had. In my Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, Erin lost her father to a hit & run accident when she was 17. My father died when I was 30. Those are very different experience. I knew some of the emotion she might feel from observing people as a lawyer, in personal injury cases. But I needed to know more. I sat down and wrote by hand about every person I could think of that I knew – well or not well – who’d lost a parent when they were a child. I was drawing on my own observation, some incomplete, some 30 years old, but it turned out that I knew a lot. I wrote about the high school classmate whose father died the year after we graduated, and whose own husband died in his early 40s, leaving her with a small child, giving me a dual perspective. I wrote about my reaction and that of my classmates when a boy in our class was killed in a car accident our junior year, research that triggered a huge swath of the ms. that’s currently out on submission.

Talk to people who’ve had the experience, if you feel you can, or to people involved with it in other ways—your friend who teaches junior high, or your walking buddy who’s a social worker.

I searched online for guides for teachers and school counselors on dealing with students who lost a parent. You could also read memoir, personal accounts, or YA novels involving that situation.

And from all of that, I was able to see how Erin would have responded, the different ways her older brother and sister responded, and how the loss affected her relationship with her mother at the time, and how it affects their relationship Francesca still wants to protect Erin, who’s 32 now, and knows she can’t, any more than she could when Erin went off to college that fall. What does that lead her to do – and say – when she sees her daughter investigating murder?

This all has ripple effects. The loss led Erin to be a bit aloof in college, focused on school. She barely noticed a guy who was really into her. She meets him again, 15 years later. How does that history influence their relationship? And the impact on her relationship with her BFF is a big driver of the story as well, because the woman is now a sheriff’s detective in their hometown.

For Bitterroot Lake, my suspense debut written as Alicia Beckman (Crooked Lane, April 2021), I did the emotional research during revision in response to questions from my editor. I thought about people I knew who, from my perspective, were driven by bitterness and resentment. I read articles online in Psychology Today and other sources. All that helped me flesh out my personal observations. It gave me specifics on how such a person views the world, and the language they use, and helped me see what this particular character in this town, in this crisis, might do.

So when you’re checking on the time of sunrise and sunset and what wildflowers might be in bloom during your story time, don’t forget the emotional research, too.

Writing Wednesday – The humbling moments of copyedits

desk

Or should that be copy-edits? Or copy edits?

I’m at the stage in the next book, Bitterroot Lake, my suspense debut, written as Alicia Beckman (Crooked Lane Books, April 2021), where I’m reviewing the publisher’s copy edits and I have no idea what’s what. Or what is what.

Most writers think we’re pretty good with grammar and punctuation. And I thought I’d turned in a pretty clean manuscript. I did, in fact; there weren’t a lot of corrections. But some of them are, well, humbling.

This is the stage when a professional copy editor, a man or woman who sleeps with the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, close to one hand and the latest Merriam-Webster near the other hand, who knows the house style (the publisher’s own practices) like they know their own name, and can spot an italicized comma at a hundred yards, reviews the ms. with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. They won’t comment on the comb as a cliché; instead, they’ll insert that hyphen if you didn’t.

I’m deeply grateful to copyeditors (CE, in Word’s Track Changes function) for saving me from myself.

In reviewing their edits, I do some research of my own. I discovered for the first time that according to the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, a volume that lives on our library shelves when it’s not in a daypack for a hike, my favorite wildflower (which is one word, not two) is capitalized as Arrowleaf Balsamroot, not arrowleaf balsamroot, as I’d always thought. Let’s hope I remember.

It’s humbling, to discover that something that sounds right to me, Garner’s Modern American Usage views as “either a typo or a serious grammatical error.” (Neither … or instead of neither … nor. And Garner also considers the pronunciation I grew up with, nyether instead of neether “slightly pretentious.” Ouch.)

The explanation for other errors is less painful. I wrote “ordinary time,” not “ordinary times,” revealing my Catholic upbringing. I was so pleased with myself, with this ms., for finally learning where to use en dashes vs. em dashes. Oops! (Hide—and—seek; claw—foot tub.) Turns out that mistake is probably a function of the software: I write my drafts in Word Perfect and convert to Word for submissions; the conversion is usually seemless—oops, seamless—but only if created properly, not using a shortcut. Oops!

I made plenty of dumb mistakes I’d have recognized in anyone else’s work. Nick-nack? Doorjam? Please. (Knick-knack and doorjamb.) And how many times I typed breath instead of breathe and never noticed. Eek! Who knew methinks is one word, not two? (Put your hands down. I’m embarrassing myself plenty without your help.)

Publishers’ preferences vary. One drinks chardonnay, another Chardonnay. I had to rework a line referring to cab(ernet) so readers didn’t suddenly think Sarah had called a taxi.

In rejecting a proposed change, it’s important to not just “stet,” meaning leave as is, but to recognize that an underlying glitch triggered CS’s change and rephrase to correct it. Copy-editors understand that dialogue is often ungrammatical, but that narrative should generally be grammatical. But when the third person perspective is particularly close, as mine often is, it too can follow casual usage, not correct usage. (I want to put commas before and after “too” but that was, correctly, corrected.)

Raise your glass—of chardonnay or Chardonnay—to copyeditors everywhere, who dedicate their working lives to making our reading lives a little easier.