All God’s Sparrows — a cover reveal and origin story

It’s a two-book year. To Err is Cumin, will be out later this month, and in September, my historical short story collection, All God’s Sparrows and Other Stories: A Stagecoach Mary Fields Collection, will be out. I think the cover is perfect — more on how it came about below. (If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ve already seen it. And if you don’t, I hope you will — link here.)

Leslie Budewitz' All God's Sparrows and Other Stories

From the cover:
Born into slavery in Tennessee, the remarkable “Stagecoach Mary” Fields was a larger-than-life figure who cherished her independence, yet formed a deep bond with the Ursuline Sisters, traveling to their Montana mission in 1885 and spending the last thirty years of her life living there or in nearby Cascade. Mary is believed to have been the first Black woman in the country to drive a U.S. Postal Star Route, the source of her nickname.

In All God’s Sparrows and Other Stories, Agatha Award-winning author Leslie Budewitz brings together three short stories, each originally published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, imagining the life of Stagecoach Mary in her first year in Montana, and a novella exploring her later life, including:

“All God’s Sparrows,” winner of the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story; “Miss Starr’s Goodbye,” a nominee for the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Derringer Award; “Coming Clean,” a finalist for the Western Writers of America’s 2021 Spur Award for Best Short Story; and “A Bitter Wind,” a brand-new novella in which Mary helps a young woman newly arrived in the valley solve the mystery of her fiancé’s death and his homesteading neighbors’ bitterness toward him.

Includes an abbreviated bibliography and historical notes from the author.

“Finely researched and richly detailed, All God’s Sparrows and Other Stories is a wonderful collection. I loved learning about this fascinating woman . . . and what a character she is! Kudos to Leslie Budewitz for bringing her to life so vividly.”
—Kathleen Grissom, New York Times best-selling author of Crow Mary

All God’s Sparrows is available for pre-order. Please ask your local library to consider ordering it. Details here.

How did the cover come about? Readers had suggested to me for years that I should write more stories about Mary Fields. The three stories were too short for a collection, so if I wanted them to be available, I had to follow my readers’ advice! Last fall, I decided to write a novella to anchor the collection. I wanted to carry through on some of the themes that had emerged in the stories; I had a woman I thought was a mail order bride, a teacher, and the name Amelia, but not much more.

While I was struggling to figure out the crux of the story, I had a dream showing the image of a late 19th century woman and a rose coated with frost. I knew immediately that my subconscious was reminding me of a story told by a woman I once worked with, about her grandmother coming to Montana from Pennsylvania as a picture bride, carrying a cutting from a pink and white rose in a coffee can. The message was clear: Amelia should be the focus of the story, and the rose was a key image. I still didn’t know the crime or its effects, but the themes and key imagery put me on the right track. A rutted two-track through unbroken prairie, but a track nonetheless!

The dream image was reminiscent of the collage style of a Montana artist, Amy Brakeman Livezey, whose work I had long admired, though I had never met her. Why my dream voice chose her work I have no idea – I can only guess that I’d seen posts on Instagram or Facebook for an exhibit she was part of at the Hockaday Museum in Kalispell. I couldn’t make the exhibit opening but stopped in the next week. When I saw her portrait of the woman in blue titled “When Worlds Meet,” I’m sure my mouth fell open. I don’t know if that painting was in the posts, and I did not see that particular image in my dream, but I knew she was my Amelia, right down to the blue suit, and I kept that image in mind as I wrote. (And yes, I have told the artist this story, and she was pleased.)

I’d read an essay by novelist Barbara O’Neal on Writer Unboxed about using collage to unlock story imagery, so I tried it. Here’s the result.

I shared the story and collage with my editor. He collected covers from other historical novels that spoke to him, I added a few, and we settled on the key elements. He did a mockup, then gave that to his cover designer, and you see the final result.

What’s the lesson I can give you as writers? Trust your inner voice. Ask all your senses to work with you. Give yourself time. Play, whether with paint and glue and collage, or something else. (Finally, a use for my childhood stamp collection, still in a box in the closet!) Be open to all that’s around you. Be part of the creative community — go to art exhibits, concerts, and readings. Soak it all up.

And — how can I not say this? Follow your dreams.

12 thoughts on “All God’s Sparrows — a cover reveal and origin story

  1. I can hardly wait to read your new work!! When we met years ago, I knew you were a special thinker and creator of stories. I am so happy to enjoy all that your imagination brings to your readers. All God’s Sparrows and Other Stories will be an exciting read.
    Thank you for following your dreams.

    • Oh, Jo! How wonderful to hear from you, and to read your very kind words. Though we haven’t seen each other or been much in touch since we met at BONI-HR — can you believe how long ago that was? — I think of you fondly and remember so clearly the kindness and graciousness you’re sharing here now. Thank you for making the journey with me, on the page and in our hearts.

  2. (I thought I commented earlier. Will try again.)
    The cover is fabulous – thanks for sharing the story of how it came together. How fabulous you found your Amelia!

    You know how much I loved this collection, and I know readers will, too.

  3. I love the cover and the story and imaginings behind it. I never read the Agatha-winning short, but I will now in this collection. I often use Pinterest for researching ideas and developing character profiles, though I miss the tactile aspect of a physical mood board or collage and you’ve inspired me to pick it up again with my next story. CONGRATULATIONS, Leslie!

    • Thanks, Tessa! I admit, I hung on to the idea of a collage long before I did it, afraid that I wouldn’t do it “right,” whatever that means, but once I had the painting and the rose, the collage helped me unlock the rest. Good luck with your story!

  4. Leslie, congrats. I’ve subscribed to your newsletter. Love the collage and your advice on where/how to gain inspiration. Looking forward to your collection. Kudos to your editor!

  5. Very, very, nice! I’m looking forward to reading it too. I hope you’re having a super summer.

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