leslie budewitz agatha award winner 2013

2013 Agatha Best First winner Leslie Budewitz
(photo by Deborah Lacy)

Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two light-hearted mystery series: the Spice Shop Mysteries, set in Seattle, and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in northwest Montana. Her books focus on strong women who share her passions, and have a talent for finding trouble!

Leslie is the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Her guide for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure, won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction.

A Montana native, Leslie graduated from Seattle University and Notre Dame Law School. After practicing in Seattle for several years—and shopping and eating her way through the Pike Place Market regularly—she returned to Montana, where she still practices law part-time. Killing people—on the page—is more fun.

A true believer in the power of writers helping other writers, Leslie served as president of Sisters in Crime (SinC) in 2015-16, and a founding member of the Guppies, the SinC chapter for new and unpublished writers. She is the Montana representative to the board of the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and is also a member of the Authors of the Flathead and Montana Women Writers.

Leslie loves to cook, eat, hike, travel, garden, and paint—not necessarily in that order. She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, Don Beans, a singer-songwriter and doctor of natural medicine, and their gray Tuxedo, named Squirt but usually called Mr. Kitten. Because what else would you call a 12-year-old, 17-pound killer and cuddler who always dresses in formal attire?

q and a

What’s your favorite part of Seattle’s Pike Place Market?
The food first, of course—fresh, local, wild and wonderful. Creative and colorful, funky and flavorful. But I also adore the vibrance and energy of the place, from the street corner musicians to the flying fish to the artisans who run the craft stalls, and the ever-changing mix of merchants in the “stores with doors.” As a student at Seattle University and then as a young lawyer working downtown, I ate and shopped my way through the Market weekly. It’s a treat to imagine the place from the inside—thanks in part to the merchants and vendors who’ve shared their stories with me—and share it with readers.

Why create another spice shop in the Market?
Because one is never enough! (The famed Market Spice Shop is in the Market, and World Spice and Penzey’s are close by.) I created my own so I wouldn’t be limited by reality—and so I could kill people.

How on earth can Pepper afford that loft?
I’ve asked myself that, too. All I can say is, it’s fiction. Plus she’s a great scavenger, so most of the furniture and fixings were cheap!

Is there really a Merc?
Readers familiar with Northwest Montana often ask me this. A sandstone block building on the north end of the village of Bigfork, now a sculptor’s gallery, housed the town’s original Mercantile. It closed in the late 1960s when a supermarket was built out on the highway, but my husband remembers visiting it as a child, and I remember similar mercantiles in other Montana towns. I chose to create my own Merc, in a different location on the same street, so I could play around a bit and give Erin her own memories.

My characters tell their stories at Killer Characters on the 27th of every month. Stay current, or catch up on the backstory by reading my characters’ earlier posts.

Who creates your covers?
My publishers, Midnight Ink and Berkley Prime Crime (part of Penguin Random House), contract with artists who have a magical ability to convey our story worlds in pictures. Authors provide images and a description of key locations—the cover of the first book in a series usually showcases the protagonist’s shop, library, or bakery. And of course, the animals!

My cover artist for both series is Ben Perini, also a fine artist who calls himself “a professional dreamer.” His covers are your invitation to enter the world of my dreams, so welcome—come on in.

Where can I find your books? 
They’re available from all bricks-and-mortar bookshops and all on-line booksellers. In Western Montana, find them in Whitefish at Bookworks, in Kalispell at The Bookshelf, Montana Marie (formerly Think Local), and the Hockaday Museum of Art giftshop, and in Bigfork, at Roma’s Kitchen Shop, Bay Books (summers only), and the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center Gift Shop. In Missoula, find them at Fact & Fiction, Barnes & Noble, and Shakespeare and Co.

They’re also available in libraries across the U.S. and Canada. (I’ve been amazed to see how many Alberta libraries carry them!) And remember you can ask your library to purchase any book.

And here they are in order:

The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries:
Death al Dente (#1, 2013)
Crime Rib (#2, 2014)
Butter Off Dead (#3, 2015)
Treble at the Jam Fest (#4, 2017)
As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles (#5, coming in June 2018)
Carried to the Grave, a short story, free to newsletter subscribers

The Spice Shop Mysteries:
Assault and Pepper (#1, 2015)
Guilty as Cinnamon (#2, 2015)
Killing Thyme (#3, 2016)
And yes, I’m hoping there will be more—stay tuned!

Both your main characters—Erin and Pepper—like to read. A little auto-biography, perhaps?
Well, sure! But I find readers are the most interesting people, don’t you?

I didn’t know Pepper was a big fan of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries until she pulled that first book out of her mother’s box. She’s working her way through the series—giving me a chance to reread them—before moving on to Margaret Frazer’s Sister Frevisse books and Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma series.

A reader suggested I compile Pepper’s reading list — it’s on my blog, in two parts.

Erin tends to leave the mysteries to her mother, Fresca, in favor of nonfiction about food. She loves food magazines, and Chiara gives her the annual Best Food Writing anthology for her birthday. She also loves “chef lit,” like Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter and Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant by Scott Haas.

leslie reading

What are your favorite cookbooks?
I’m a big fan of cookbooks where the recipes turn out right every time, because they’re so well-written and tested. A few faves that measure up:

Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table is a delight, with mini-essays about eating in France, clear instructions, and photos that really do look like the dishes!

Lean Italian Cuisine by Anne Casale. Every recipe is perfect: simple, elegant, and easy to follow. Some will suit your taste more than others, but all will turn out like they should.

The French Country Table: Simple Recipes for Bistro Classics by Laura Washburn. Like Greenspan, Washburn’s cooking is strongly influenced by the great Julia Child, and you’ll be glad of it! Her Macaroni Gratin and Petit Pots au Chocolate are divine.

And for bread baking, this is a classic: Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine by Linda West Eckhardt and Diana Collingwood Butts. (I don’t mind admitting I use a bread machine to mix and rise the dough, then bake in the oven. Perfect for us absent-minded cooks.)

Where do you find your recipes?
Some, like the minted fettucine, stuffed mushrooms, and palmiers in Death al Dente are family favorites. My husband created the recipe for Huckleberry-Morel Tenderloin in Crime Rib after feasting on a steak served on a portabello in an Italian restaurant in Monterey. Others are adaptations of recipes in magazines or blogs—I’m a fan of Country Living, the Williams-Sonoma blog, and Deb Perelman’s “Smitten Kitchen” blog and cookbooks.

Occasionally, I go hunting for a recipe I need—something to fit what’s fresh in the Pike Place Market, or that Laurel in the Spice Shop Mysteries might bring home from Ripe, her downtown deli. The Spice Shop creates its own seasonal spice blends, so I like to offer those recipes and a dish or two highlighting them.

I share a recipe, with photo illustrations, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen on the first and third Tuesdays. My story people take the stage at Killer Characters: Where Characters Do the Talking on the 27th of the month, and occasionally, one will share a recipe.

Tell me about the cats on the cover of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries. ruff the cat
Erin’s companion, Mr. Sandburg, is a sable Burmese based on Ruff, who lived with us when the series started but crossed the Rainbow Bridge unexpectedly in May 2016. He was an excellent supervisor as well as a cover model and an avid bird watcher. The standard Burmese coloring is sable—dark brown with black pointing or highlighting on the face and ears, feet, and tails. Even young sable cats may sport flecks of silver—it’s a breed trait, not a sign of age. Burmese resemble their better-known relatives, the Siamese, with a characteristic small, round head and short nose. They tend to be small—a full-grown male may top out at ten pounds. Burmese combine a sweet friendliness with typical cat independence. Ruff often greeted visitors to my husband’s in-home acupuncture clinic and regularly left a dead mouse on the doorstep. Burmese make wonderful pets—especially if you like a cat who talks to you.

Pumpkin, who comes to live with Erin in Butter Off Dead, is a full-figured orange tabby based in personality and appearance on Autumn, who had a long and happy life with us, and deserved a place on the page.

These days, we hang with Squirt, a twelve-year-old Russian Blue tuxedo, with a rich gray coat and a quirky personality, who came to live with us when his original owners realized their life-long dream of full-time RV living. Squirt prefers a home that stays put,  and settled right in. He, too, greets visitors with enthusiasm, and may be our best hunter yet. He also likes snow. (I told you he was quirky!)

Will you visit our book club, writers’ group, or library? How can I get bookmarks?
I’d love to join any group for a discussion of my books by speaker phone or Skype. Anywhere in western Montana, I’ll come in person.

I’m also available to speak and teach at writers’ conferences. I’ve had great fun as a panelist and moderator at all the major mystery fan conventions—Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and Left Coast Crime. I’ve taught at the 2013 Colorado Gold conference in Denver; the 2012 and 2014 Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, MT; and the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy. I’ve also spoken to the Orange County (CA) chapter of Romance Writers of America, Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and closer to home, the Authors of the Flathead. I particularly enjoyed teaching a class on building character to high school writing students. References are available. My favorite topics include characterization, setting, publishing, and common mistakes writers make about the law.

If you’d like bookmarks to share with your book club, library, or friends, drop me a line at leslie at lesliebudewitz dot com with your mailing address.

Recipe correction: The recipe in Death al Dente for Fettucine with Minted Tomato Sauce is missing the amount of mint. Use 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped.