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.

Murder on the Nile — The Continued Influence of Agatha Christie

Originally published March 5, 2017; reprinted today, in honor of Dame Agatha’s birthday, September 15, 1890. 

A few weeks ago, I was asked to introduce the Bigfork Community Players’ production of “Murder on the Nile,” Agatha Christie’s stage play based on her book, Death on the Nile. That got me thinking about Dame Agatha’s continued influence on readers and writers. The play is great fun—different from both book and movie—and it was a delight to be a part of the show for a night. My comments:

Thank you.

I’m Leslie Budewitz, author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in a fictional version of Bigfork, and the Seattle Spice Shop mysteries.

When Karen Koler asked me to join the fun tonight, we chatted a bit about the play, and our amazement at how widely read – and watched – Agatha Christie remains today.

And that got me thinking about Agatha Christie and her continued influence on mystery writers and readers.

For many of us, her books were the gateway into adult literature. When we’d had enough of Nancy Drew, we gravitated naturally to Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and my favorites, Tommy and Tuppence. I still remember buying my first Agatha Christie, a paperback, in a dime store in Burlington IA when I was ten or twelve. With my own money. I read it by the pool and begged my mother to let me go back and buy more.

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and died in 1976. She wrote 75 novels, not all of them mysteries, 100 short stories, more than a dozen plays – some based on her novels, and two autobiographies. She was also a prolific diarist. I’m pleased to have won two Agatha Awards, named for the great lady herself, for nonfiction and best first novel. The year I was nominated for Best Nonfiction, one of the other nominees was John Curran, a Brit who’s written two books looking at her secret notebooks, where she sketched out her plots and character ideas, and occasionally wrote the first drafts of her short stories. Her books are still bestsellers, and her plays still draw crowds.

Why?

Because she was first and foremost a tremendous storyteller. John Curran attributes that in part to her unconventional education. She also had a tremendous curiosity about the world. She traveled widely with her mother, with her first husband, an army officer, and with her second, an archaeologist. Those trips inspired several novels, including Murder on the Orient Express. Her trip to Egypt was no doubt the spark for her 1934 short story called “Death on the Nile,” featuring Parker Pyne, one of her lesser-known detectives. She then expanded it into the 1937 novel, featuring Hercule Poirot, and later adapted it for the stage as Murder on the Nile, making significant changes along the way.

She wrote what are typically called traditional or cozy mysteries, where a murder happens in a discrete, defined community, and has a deep ripple effect. The murder disrupts the community, and a surprise – even though one happens in every book. The murder must be solved not only for justice to prevail, but to restore the community, and help the individuals get their lives back on track – something we’ll see in this story.

She also created highly memorable detectives. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are instantly recognizable. They’re both intriguing, he for his experiences, and she for her astuteness despite her apparent lack of experience. That nosy village woman lurks in many of us, and she’s the inspiration for so many modern amateur sleuths, including my own.

Both Miss Marple and Poirot were typically outsiders, although Miss Marple did occasionally investigate an incident in her own village, St. Mary Mead, and that outsider status gave them the ability to see things and make connections others – including the police – couldn’t see. That’s very much an element of the modern traditional mystery, as is the counselor or sounding board role that each often played.

Some of her secondary characters feel like cliches now, but I think that’s the result of time and imitation. She did a brilliant job giving her minor characters the telling details that made them come alive. She also used our assumptions about certain types of characters against us, such as our belief in the innocence of a caring doctor or a devoted child.

We also love her intricate plots. She often recycled plots, or wrote variations of them, which the very prolific can do. The mystery writer Robert Barnard wrote that she could use the same trick a second time – and still fool us. She hid clues in plain sight, and she was a master of the red herring. In fact, we’ll see tonight how she used misdirection to make us think one thing while something entirely different was going on.

She was daring, as anyone who’s read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd will remember, but I won’t say anything more, for those of you who haven’t read it yet.

I admire her ability to create a world. Tonight, we’ll feel ourselves part of the group on the cruise, and feel the friendships and tensions that develop. She had an uncanny eye and ear for the subtle conflicts between people, and as one writer friend pointed out, her subtle hints of inappropriate sexual obsession were way ahead of time. Morality is a recurring theme in her work.

She had wit. The same friend recalls her describing a character’s eyes as the color of “boiled gooseberries.” My friend had no idea what a gooseberry was, but the image totally painted a picture.

And she’s inspired modern day authors quite literally. There’s a mystery set a conference on Christie’s work, another hypothesizing that she wrote a long-lost play during her mysterious 1926 disappearance, and another involving a Golden Age of Mystery book club, structured like her novels. In my books, I use a Cast of Characters, as she often did, as a way to help readers remember who’s who, but also as another form of storytelling.

Dame Agatha remains popular because her stories still tell us something about human nature, and because they’re fun.

I’ll be in the lobby at intermission and after the show, chatting about mysteries – both Dame Agatha’s and my own. And I do have books and bookmarks available.

Thank you – and enjoy your trip down the Nile.

(Thanks to Art Taylor and his article in the Washington Independent Review of Books for the origins of “Murder on the Nile,” and to my friend Ellen Byron for sharing her memories and observations.)

Writing Wednesday — Learning by Reading

leslie reading
The author as a bookish child

Writers must be readers first.

We come to the page first as readers. If you had older siblings, like I did, you probably ached to read as a small child—to decipher those black marks on the white page, or to know what your parents were talking about when they discussed the day’s mail or something one had seen in the newspaper. Then you learned, and a world opened up, and eventually, you knew you had to be part of it.

I’m a big fan of books on writing, on classes and workshops and critique groups. But the best tool you have in improving your craft is to read like a writer. I highly recommend Francine Prose’s 2006 book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them.

My tip: Write your own book reviews. Keep track of what you read and what you thought. I started doing this ages ago when I first started writing, and it’s been hugely important. Use a small spiral notebook, no bigger than 5X9. In the front, reserve two pages for that year’s chronological list. List each title, author, and year of publication. I don’t number my list, but do note every 5th book in the margin, along with the month. I use highlighters to distinguish mysteries and general fiction; you might highlight other genres. If you’re trying to read more books by authors or about main characters vastly different from you, use another color for diversity.

Then write a review of every book. I often make notes as I read on something that delights or annoys me. When I finish the book, I note the date, then write a page or two or three. Summarizing the plot is a good exercise, revealing whether it held together, was memorable, or gaped with holes you didn’t notice as you read. (Why not? Too spell-bound by the language or the main character? Too caught up in the mystery, the what-ifs and whys? Note that, too.) Did the setting stand out? The main character and her motivations? The language? The structure? What other elements worked or didn’t?

Be positive as well as negative. Identify at least one thing you want to emulate—the author’s use of POV or how she weaves physical descriptions in through action. Note the failures, the imagery the author clearly thought important that escaped you, the sentences you never understood despite re-reading them two or three times, the failure to evoke a visceral or emotional response. Why did the story work or not work for you? If you’ve read other books by this author, how does this one compare?

At year end, you might want to see how many mysteries you’ve read, whether any are eligible for awards you’re eligible to vote for, or just look back fondly.

I’ll warn you that when you first start reading as a writer, reading isn’t as much fun as when you were six and enraptured by everything on the page. That will pass; you’ll learn to critique and enjoy.

And you’ll be a better writer for it, I promise.

Armchair Travel

The Solace of Bay Leaves

“There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away,” Emily Dickinson wrote, and though she rarely left Amherst or even her home, she was so right. Many of us had trouble reading when the pandemic first hit—days at home with no appointments, no running around, seems like the perfect time to read until it descends, dusted with anxiety and uncertainty. But that sense has eased for me, and I hope for you, too.

Mr. Right and I had a grand adventure in January, traveling to Paris to see the Louvre’s exhibit commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo DaVinci in France, in 1519. Besides spending the day at the exhibit, which was truly magnificent, we walked, wandering Paris, getting lost, finding churches and statues and gardens we might never have found with a plan. So in May, I found myself craving a touch of Paris. The only unread book on my shelves set there was an ARC (advance review copy) of Mission to Paris by Alan Furst, historical espionage set in 1938-39, following an Austrian-born American actor in Paris to make a movie who finds himself the target of German operatives who need a mole in the industry. I have no idea how I got the book—most likely a promo copy in a mystery convention book bag—but it was great fun. The actor’s home base in Paris is a hotel in the First—la Premiere—the district where we stayed, and I enjoyed tracing his travels through the city with the map on the frontispiece and my own memory. Furst has written a series of novels set in Europe in the run up to WW II and during the war, and they’re worth searching out.

Then a friend gave me The Little French Bistro by Nina George, author of The Little Paris Bookshop. Though Bistro starts and ends in Paris, much of the book is set in a small town on the Breton coast, a part of the country I haven’t visited. Not in person, anyway. It’s delightful—the story of a woman blossoming at 60 after a lifetime of oppression, finally making her own choices and finding joy in happy accidents.

I loved New Orleans on my one visit and am eager to return with Mr. Right, but visiting on the page is great—no heat, no bugs! Plus it’s so easy to get out of the city—just turn the page! The Orion Mask by Greg Herron is an homage to the gothic mysteries of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, following a young gay man who discovers that the mother he never knew came from a family with a grand history and a terrible secret that could have consequences for him all these years later. Set partly in NOLA and partly on a plantation a short drive away. Spooky, atmospheric, and fun.

If there were a prize for best title, The Murderess of Bayou Rosa by Ramona DeFelice Long would win. How can you not pick that up? Set in the early 1920s in a small town southwest of NOLA, with later scenes in Baton Rouge and Memphis, it’s the story of Geneva Amais, a young teacher, and her mother, Joelle, the murderess. Family secrets drive this book, too, and it’s a great trip.

Where to next? So many choices! Where are you booking your travel these days?

Bigfork Festival of the Arts — update

One of the highlights of summer in my town is the Bigfork Festival of the Arts. I’ve been going nearly every year for decades, and loved taking my late mother through the streets – street, singular; town is very small – on her visits, browsing the booths of pottery, jewelry, soaps, and other handmade items. When my first mystery, Assault & Pepper, came out in 2013, Mr. Right and I had a booth right outside our favorite art gallery. The number of books we sold still astonishes me – the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries are set in a fictional version of the town, and the real-life residents have been my biggest supporters.

And every year since, we’ve been there. Regular readers know I usually have a new book out, and come by to pick up a copy and get it signed. We all look forward to it.

This is a tourist town, and the Festival draws many visitors on their first visit to the valley. They haven’t met me or the books yet, and I love chatting with them. With “Playhouse kids,” the young actors who get giddy at picking up a copy of Butter Off Dead, featuring the theater lobby on the cover, for their mother or grandmother. The planning-ahead Christmas shoppers. The readers who say “Oh, are these like the books by the woman who writes about the food?” and aren’t the least bit surprised that I know exactly who they mean. (Diane Mott Davidson. Every time. And it still makes Mr. Right smile and shake his head in wonder.)

By four-thirty on Sunday, we can barely speak. We pack up the booth—everything, even the canopy, fits in the back of my Subaru—call our favorite restaurant for a pizza to go, and head home. Hot, exhausted, and happy. So happy.

This virus has disrupted my publication dates as well. The Solace of Bay Leaves will be out in ebook and audio on July 21, and in paperback on October 20. (The publisher was forced to delay the paperback by disruptions in the supply chain, which meant it couldn’t guarantee that distributors, booksellers, and libraries would have the book by October 20, but those problems don’t affect the ebook or audio, and we didn’t want to make you wait any longer than necessary.) I do hope we can safely meet by then; watch my website and newsletter for updates.

So you can imagine how sad I am to miss the Festival this year. At this writing, it is still planned for August 1-2, in the village of Bigfork. It will have a different configuration, and no doubt fewer vendors and shoppers. But I won’t be there. Mr. Right is a doctor of natural medicine, and we can’t risk unwittingly spreading the virus to his patients. Social distancing isn’t possible at a festival, especially for me. Books aren’t like pottery or soap. Yes, you might visit with the soap maker and ask the potter questions about glazes and designs, but books—you gotta talk, up close and personal! Especially if you don’t know the books, you want to visit and hear about the book from the author. And I want to talk with you. I want to sign the book and smile for a selfie with you and my bright colorful booth.

Just know that I miss you, that I’m still writing, and that I’ll be back next year.

Until then, be well.

Leslie

PS — If you do pop into the Village at any time, you can find signed copies of my books at the Bigfork Art & Cultural Center gift shop (next to the library) or at Roma’s Kitchen Shop.

Murder on the Nile — The Continued Influence of Agatha Christie

Originally published March 5, 2017; reprinted today, in honor of Dame Agatha’s birthday, September 15, 1890. 

A few weeks ago, I was asked to introduce the Bigfork Community Players’ production of “Murder on the Nile,” Agatha Christie’s stage play based on her book, Death on the Nile. That got me thinking about Dame Agatha’s continued influence on readers and writers. The play is great fun—different from both book and movie—and it was a delight to be a part of the show for a night. My comments:

Thank you.

I’m Leslie Budewitz, author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in a fictional version of Bigfork, and the Seattle Spice Shop mysteries.

When Karen Koler asked me to join the fun tonight, we chatted a bit about the play, and our amazement at how widely read – and watched – Agatha Christie remains today.

And that got me thinking about Agatha Christie and her continued influence on mystery writers and readers.

For many of us, her books were the gateway into adult literature. When we’d had enough of Nancy Drew, we gravitated naturally to Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and my favorites, Tommy and Tuppence. I still remember buying my first Agatha Christie, a paperback, in a dime store in Burlington IA when I was ten or twelve. With my own money. I read it by the pool and begged my mother to let me go back and buy more.

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and died in 1976. She wrote 75 novels, not all of them mysteries, 100 short stories, more than a dozen plays – some based on her novels, and two autobiographies. She was also a prolific diarist. I’m pleased to have won two Agatha Awards, named for the great lady herself, for nonfiction and best first novel. The year I was nominated for Best Nonfiction, one of the other nominees was John Curran, a Brit who’s written two books looking at her secret notebooks, where she sketched out her plots and character ideas, and occasionally wrote the first drafts of her short stories. Her books are still bestsellers, and her plays still draw crowds.

Why?

Because she was first and foremost a tremendous storyteller. John Curran attributes that in part to her unconventional education. She also had a tremendous curiosity about the world. She traveled widely with her mother, with her first husband, an army officer, and with her second, an archaeologist. Those trips inspired several novels, including Murder on the Orient Express. Her trip to Egypt was no doubt the spark for her 1934 short story called “Death on the Nile,” featuring Parker Pyne, one of her lesser-known detectives. She then expanded it into the 1937 novel, featuring Hercule Poirot, and later adapted it for the stage as Murder on the Nile, making significant changes along the way.

She wrote what are typically called traditional or cozy mysteries, where a murder happens in a discrete, defined community, and has a deep ripple effect. The murder disrupts the community, and a surprise – even though one happens in every book. The murder must be solved not only for justice to prevail, but to restore the community, and help the individuals get their lives back on track – something we’ll see in this story.

She also created highly memorable detectives. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are instantly recognizable. They’re both intriguing, he for his experiences, and she for her astuteness despite her apparent lack of experience. That nosy village woman lurks in many of us, and she’s the inspiration for so many modern amateur sleuths, including my own.

Both Miss Marple and Poirot were typically outsiders, although Miss Marple did occasionally investigate an incident in her own village, St. Mary Mead, and that outsider status gave them the ability to see things and make connections others – including the police – couldn’t see. That’s very much an element of the modern traditional mystery, as is the counselor or sounding board role that each often played.

Some of her secondary characters feel like cliches now, but I think that’s the result of time and imitation. She did a brilliant job giving her minor characters the telling details that made them come alive. She also used our assumptions about certain types of characters against us, such as our belief in the innocence of a caring doctor or a devoted child.

We also love her intricate plots. She often recycled plots, or wrote variations of them, which the very prolific can do. The mystery writer Robert Barnard wrote that she could use the same trick a second time – and still fool us. She hid clues in plain sight, and she was a master of the red herring. In fact, we’ll see tonight how she used misdirection to make us think one thing while something entirely different was going on.

She was daring, as anyone who’s read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd will remember, but I won’t say anything more, for those of you who haven’t read it yet.

I admire her ability to create a world. Tonight, we’ll feel ourselves part of the group on the cruise, and feel the friendships and tensions that develop. She had an uncanny eye and ear for the subtle conflicts between people, and as one writer friend pointed out, her subtle hints of inappropriate sexual obsession were way ahead of time. Morality is a recurring theme in her work.

She had wit. The same friend recalls her describing a character’s eyes as the color of “boiled gooseberries.” My friend had no idea what a gooseberry was, but the image totally painted a picture.

And she’s inspired modern day authors quite literally. There’s a mystery set a conference on Christie’s work, another hypothesizing that she wrote a long-lost play during her mysterious 1926 disappearance, and another involving a Golden Age of Mystery book club, structured like her novels. In my books, I use a Cast of Characters, as she often did, as a way to help readers remember who’s who, but also as another form of storytelling.

Dame Agatha remains popular because her stories still tell us something about human nature, and because they’re fun.

I’ll be in the lobby at intermission and after the show, chatting about mysteries – both Dame Agatha’s and my own. And I do have books and bookmarks available.

Thank you – and enjoy your trip down the Nile.

(Thanks to Art Taylor and his article in the Washington Independent Review of Books for the origins of “Murder on the Nile,” and to my friend Ellen Byron for sharing her memories and observations.)

 

The Agatha Award nominations are out — celebrate with me!

cat sleeping with tea potsThe Agatha Awards are given every May at Malice Domestic, the convention celebrating the traditional mystery. It’s always fun to see the list of nominees — and to try to read as many as I can before “the con,” so I can cast my vote.

It’s even more fun to see the list when I’m on it! “All God’s Sparrows,” my first historical short story, is nominated for Best Short Story. It was originally published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May-June 2018; it’s now available, free, on my website. The authors of the other nominated shorts have also posted their stories — it’s a tradition, because so many stories would not otherwise be available — see the links below.

In 1885 Montana Territory, “Stagecoach Mary” Fields and Sister Louisine encounter a young mother and her daughter whose plight requires an inspired intervention. Mary is a historic figure who was born in slavery in Tennessee in 1832 and moved to Montana Territory to care for the ailing Mother Superior at St. Peter’s Mission near Cascade.

I’ve got a pair of Agatha teapots, for Best Nonfiction (2011) and Best First Novel (2013) — that’s Ruff, our late kitty, lounging with them in the library window sill. But honestly, that makes me even more excited, because I know what an honor a nomination is. And I’m sure you’ll agree that the other stories are terrific — I feel like we’re all winners already.

Here’s the full list, courtesy of Malice Domestic:

Announcing the 2018 Agatha Award Nominees

Best Contemporary Novel

Mardi Gras Murder by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)
Beyond the Truth by Bruce Robert Coffin (Witness Impulse)
Cry Wolf by Annette Dashofy (Henery Press)
Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)

Best Historical Novel 

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen (Berkley)
The Gold Pawn by LA Chandlar (Kensington)
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)
Turning the Tide by Edith Maxwell (Midnight Ink)
Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson (Berkley)

Best First Novel

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman (Kensington)
Little Comfort by Edwin Hill (Kensington)
What Doesn’t Kill You by Aimee Hix (Midnight Ink)
Deadly Solution by Keenan Powell (Level Best Books)
Curses Boiled Again by Shari Randall (St. Martin’s)

Best Short Story

“All God’s Sparrows” by Leslie Budewitz (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
“A Postcard for the Dead” by Susanna Calkins in Florida Happens (Three Rooms Press)
“Bug Appetit” by Barb Goffman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
“The Case of the Vanishing Professor” by Tara Laskowski (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
“English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

Best Children’s/YA Mystery

Potion Problems (Just Add Magic) by Cindy Callaghan (Aladdin)
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson (Henry Holt)
A Side of Sabotage by C.M. Surrisi (Carolrhoda Books)

Best Nonfiction

Mastering Plot Twists by Jane Cleland (Writer’s Digest Books)
Writing the Cozy Mystery by Nancy J Cohen (Orange Grove Press)
Conan Doyle for the Defense by Margalit Fox (Random House)
Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson (Pegasus Books)
Wicked Women of Ohio by Jane Ann Turzillo (History Press)

The Agatha Awards will be presented on May 4, 2019 
during Malice Domestic 31.  

(Picture of “Stagecoach Mary” Fields courtesy of the Montana Historical Society.)

Love the book, hate the movie?

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel by [Shaffer, Mary Ann, Barrows, Annie]We’ve all been there, right? Loved the book, hated the movie, wondered why we bothered. And yet, we know they’re different media and the stories have to change.

Mr. Right and I watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  a few weeks ago. I’d read the book — by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows — shortly after it came out in 2008. The authors created such vivid images of London during the bombing that I felt I was there, even though I’ve never been to London, let alone seen my flat and everything in it, including my precious books, well, flattened. The epistolary — letter — format was a delight, allowing us to meet other characters and see the world, whether in London, Scotland, or Guernsey — as they saw it. Mr. Right doesn’t read much fiction and the story was new to him. The movie spends more time on Guernsey than in London, and we loved the scenery. A few characters disappeared or were combined, and the occupation of Juliet’s suitor changed, but on the whole, I felt the movie quite faithful to the book. Above all, it gave me the same feel as the book — a glimpse at strength and resilience in times of great turmoil, and the healing power of story. (And yes, it was fun to spot actors we’d seen in Downton Abbey.)

And it got me thinking about books made into movies. They’re different experiences, for sure. Some succeed better than others. A few I’ve loved:

Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak — Perhaps the best excised story, from a typically elaborate Russian novel, I’ve seen. So good that I can forgive director David Lean deviating from the first line. (“Yuri Zhivago was not a handsome man.”)

The Harry Potter movies — the books are so visual, and yet, the worlds so detailed and involved. Four different directors, and certainly the mood shifted, but that matched the shift in the books. Pretty much every BBC adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout on HBO — only a handful of the stories were filmed, and 2-3 combined, but oh, gosh, it worked. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin — Ellis is so interior, I couldn’t imagine how that could translate, but Soirse Ronan made me a believer.

What of the failures? I know there are many, but neither of us can think of adaptations we hated at the moment. You can, right? What book-to-movie adaptations have you loved or hated?

 

 

Celebrate with me! Release Day for Treble at the Jam Fest

leslie budewitz's treble at the jam festOh, look, a book! By me! You may be used to it by now, but if it ever stops thrilling me, it will be time to hang up my pen — or my keyboard!

TREBLE AT THE JAM FEST, #4 in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, officially launches today, from Midnight Ink, in trade paperback and e-book. Watch for the audio book later this summer.

From the cover:  Erin Murphy, manager of Murphy’s Mercantile (aka the Merc), is tuning up for Jewel Bay’s annual Jazz Festival. Between keeping the Merc’s shelves stocked with Montana’s tastiest local fare and hosting the festival’s kick-off concert, Erin has her hands full.

Discord erupts when jazz guitarist Gerry Martin is found dead on the rocks above the Jewel River. The one-time international sensation had fallen out of sync with festival organizers, students, and performers. Was his death an accident?or did someone even the score?

Despite the warning signs to not get involved, Erin investigates. And when the killer attacks, she orchestrates her efforts into one last crescendo, hoping to avoid a deadly finale.

If you shop online, here are the links:
IndieBound
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Fact & Fiction 

If you shop in person, you can find TREBLE and my other books in Whitefish at Bookworks, in Kalispell at the Bookshelf, Montana Marie (formerly Think Local), and the Hockaday Art Center, in Missoula at Fact & Fiction, Shakespeare & Co, and Barnes & Noble, and in Bigfork at Roma’s Kitchen Shop, Bay Books, and the Bigfork Art & Cultural Center.

And here’s where I’ll be this summer, live events and blog tour stops–posts about the book and writing life, interviews, reviews, and the occasional giveaway! And remember, you can find me and a recipe at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen on the 1st, 3d, and 5th Tuesdays, and on Killer Characters on the 27th of each month.

Thanks for being part of the fun! And remember, wherever you go this summer, be sure to take a good book!