The Saturday Writing Quote—creativity and walking

“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.”
– Raymond InmonIMGP1813

“I write a given number of words a day, currently about 400, and I do it five days a week when I’m working full strength on a book. [If I get stuck, I take a walk.] There’s some kind of process by which a morning walk of about 35 minutes reliably produces an idea at about the two-thirds point, halfway up a 200-yard hill – I often think of a word or an answer to something I’m working on then and there as the blood starts to perk.”
— Ivan Doig (1939-2015), quoted by Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times book editor, in The Missoulian, 5/3/15

(photo by Leslie: the road in front of my house)

The Real Jewel Bay — out and about

IMGP1961Continuing my occasional series of photos of the people and places who’ve inspired my stories. Summer sights around western Montana — even though the about-to-be-launched book is set mid-winter!

Barrows full of flowers, on the East Shore of Flathead Lake!





A fence made of river rock and bottles in Missoula. Love how the blue sake bottles look like a flowing river!




And the heron welded of car parts at Woods Bay, on the East Shore, that never fails to make me ooh and aah—and my husband never fails to tell me “take a welding class, honey!”


Phone cramming — a bad example to follow

I often call myself a techno-idiot, and while that may be unkind, it’s not untrue. So it’s dangerous for me to try to explain this case, in which a Montana man plead guilty to federal wire fraud and money laundering charges after a $70 million case of “phone cramming.”

But if you’re smarter than I am — and than the defendant — you might want to know. For fictional purposes only. According to the Missoulian newspaper, 59 y.o. Steven Sann pled guilty to the charges, in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office says he tricked customers across the country into signing up and paying for services they didn’t authorize or receive — primarily voicemail accounts and fax services — while answering questions on websites offering free products or job search assistance. While the monthly charges were small — ranging from 9.95 to $24.95 — they added up; his companies eventually returned more than $40 million to customers.

The newspaper reports that Sann’s lawyer says the plea agreement recommends a 2-year prison sentence. Stay tuned; Montana judges — state and federal — can be an independent-minded bunch.

July 2015 update: The AP reports that Sann was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to forfeit $500,000 that he had transferred to his personal accounts. 

Party Time! Help me celebrate BUTTER OFF DEAD!

IMGP2970Time to celebrate! Join me for a launch party for BUTTER OFF DEAD, third in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, from 5-8 p.m., Friday, June 26, at Frame of Reference Gallery in Bigfork, as part of the 3d annual (!) “Bigfork in Paint and Print” exhibit. Owner Derek Vandeberg has put together another terrific show featuring new and familiar artists and their renditions of the sweet town and stunning region that inspire my “Jewel Bay, Montana.” And Chef Dan Solberg is providing the food—from the book!

From the cover of BUTTER OFF DEAD:  “As the national bestselling Food Lovers’ Village mysteries continue, the merchants of Jewel Bay, Montana try to heat up chilly winter business with a new film festival. But their plans are sent reeling when a dangerous killer dims the lights on a local mover and shaker …

In an attempt to woo tourists to Jewel Bay and cheer up the townies, Erin Murphy, manager of the specialty local foods market known as the Merc, is organizing the First Annual Food Lovers’ Film Festival, popping with classic foodie flicks and local twists on favorite movie treats. But when her partner in planning, painter Christine Vandeberg, is found dead only days before the curtain rises, Erin suspects someone is attempting to stop the films from rolling.

To make matters worse, Nick—Erin’s brother and Christine’s beau—has top billing on the suspect list. Convinced her brother is innocent and determined that the show must go on, Erin must find who’s really to blame before Nick gets arrested or the festival gets shut down. And as the anniversary of Erin’s father’s death in a still-unsolved hit-and-run approaches, her own beau isn’t so keen on her leading role.

But the closer Erin gets to shining a spotlight on the killer, the more likely it becomes that she’ll be the next person cut from the program…”

Yes, THAT Christine Vandeberg! BUTTER‘s official release date is July 7, but my publisher, Penguin Random House, has given me permission to sell physical copies early this one night only. (Sorry, no e-books until July 7.)

And if you’re worried about getting to both the book launch and the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival concert that same evening, don’t fret (pun intended) — I’ll be at the gallery early, with books, food, and wine!

The Saturday Writing Quote — the nudge

Image0183“One of the things that changes as we age is that people stop nudging us. We need to be nudged all our lives. Find people who will nudge you.”
~Gene Cohen, M.D., a pioneer in the field of geriatric psychology and founding director of the Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities in Washington, D.C. (1944-2009)

(Thanks to Sharon Wildwind for this one.)

(Mixed media collage by Leslie, created by a nudge)

The Real Jewel Bay — the Jewel Inn and the Steps

IMGP2978Creating a town based in part on the gem where I live has been a lot of fun. For the most part, I’ve moved things around to create my own vision, and to meet the story’s needs. My friends and neighbors tell me they have a lot of fun seeing what I’ve done, and guessing which businesses and locals I had in mind.

But a few landmark features I’ve left in, though with some changes to fit the story. One is the Jewel Inn, run by Tony and Mimi George. The merchants’ association meets there, under the watchful eyes of a stuffed moose and a trophy antelope. The real Inn does have a few mounts, but those particular heads are ones I’ve added. In CRIME RIB, second in my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, Drew Baker is head chef. And in BUTTER OFF DEAD, third in the series (out July 7), we meet the Georges’ daughter Zayda and attend a gala dinner party at the Inn.




My Jewel Inn is loosely based on the Bigfork Inn, owned by Bob and Suzie Keenan, which has its own colorful history that I’ll let you check out for yourself. The Inn’s presided over the north end of the village—the original townsite—for decades. The WPA-built steps next to it lead up the hill to the schools and a residential area. I hope it continues to thrive—in life and on the page—for many more years.



BUTTER OFF DEAD, out July 7, available for pre-order now.

(pictures by Leslie)

“Justice for All” radio interview


A few weeks ago, lawyer and radio host George Yates interviewed me on his radio show, “Justice for All.” We talked about my first book, BOOKS, CROOKS, and COUNSELORS, a guide for writers on using the law in their fiction. (And incidentally, great for reporters or anyone interested in learning more about the legal system.) We also talked about writing fiction, some current legal issues, and more. Enjoy!

(It’s a YouTube link, so it’s easy to pop on in the background as you do other things!)

The Real Jewel Bay

Bay & Bridge

Jewel Bay, Montana, home of my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, is a place of the heart. But it’s modeled on a real village in NW Montana, with bits and pieces drawn from other communities around the NW and the western provinces of Canada. My friends and neighbors tell me they like seeing what I’ve done to the place, figuring out what buildings I’ve moved, what businesses and people I’ve used as models. And even if you don’t have a clue what communities I have in mind—or care—I hope you’ll enjoy taking in the scenery with me, on the next several Thursdays. This scene is the one-lane bridge into town, built shortly after 1900 when the dam and electric plant (behind where I’m standing to take the picture) were built.

What it’s like to be a kid in jail or homeless

sparrows nestToday, I’m linking to a handful of articles that look at young people in the justice system. Their stories should matter to us as writers and readers, but mostly as humans—beyond a list of issues and a chart of statistics, each of these kids matters. And when they are lost, we as a society, as a community, lose, too.

The NW Sidebar, the Washington State Bar blog, reports on homelessness, school suspensions, and criminalization among LGBT kids. Anthony Gipe writes: “Nationwide, there are estimated to be in excess of 350,000 gay and transgender youth who are arrested and/or detained each year. While these youth account for only 5–6 percent of youth overall, they account for over 15 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system. It is also a startling statistic that of the LGBT youth in juvenile justice, more than 60 percent of those youth are also black or Latino.”

This article in Slate highlights the work of Richard Ross, a writer and photographer who’s been chronicling girls in the juvenile justice system. Ross says “Girls are the fastest-growing population in the juvenile justice system, accounting for hundreds of thousands of arrests and charges—often for minor offenses, like running away from home or breaking curfew—every year.”

In my own valley in NW Montana, the Bigfork Eagle reports that more than 300 children have been identified as homeless, including teens who live on their own—many not by choice, and many not part of the child protection system or foster care. Examples: a 14 year old girl living in the woods, taking shelter in a portable toilet or a Dumpster at night; a teenage boy who searches for unlocked cars to find a warm-ish place to sleep. School is their safe place. Some are still in school, but too old for the foster care system. A former church building was donated as a shelter for kids not in the system; a consortium of local churches raises funds for the project. In an April “awareness” campaign called “Somebodies,” mannequins dressed as homeless teens were placed on benches downtown. I watched the confusion as people tried to figure out what was going on; even with educational info posted nearby, it was too hard to digest, to understand that this is really happening.

A couple of other articles that caught my eye, from Crosscut, an online news source in Seattle: Kids and the American dream denied: A Conversation with Robert Putnam, and Trai Williams’ dream house for youth of color — one activist’s goal, grown from her own experience.

In mystery and crime fiction, all variety of characters touch on these issues: teachers, law enforcement, judges and court officers, prosecutors and defenders, social workers. Is your character a parent worried about her kid—or about her child’s best friend, who’s been kicked out of her house for dressing like the boy she feels she is, and not the girl her parents think she is? Each of these articles includes links to studies, books, and other resources that writers can use to dig a little further.

I’m big on showing emotion on the page, using emotion to drive the plot. What you just felt, reading these stories? Find where it resonates in your body—how it grips your jaw, makes your heart heavy, causes a damp eye or a tight throat. Give those feelings to your characters, and show us how they respond. Your stories will be stronger, your people a little more real. And all our eyes and hearts a little more open.