Saturday Creativity Quote — Virginia Woolf

An open box of colored pencils
Pencils (photo by the author)

“For it would seem… that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver…

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters, and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say…”

~ Virginia Woolf

Saturday Creativity Quote — Marge Piercy on doing the work

photo of welded sculpture of a heron, with a mountain lake in the background

I subscribe to the Poetry Foundation’s free Poem-A-Day email, something I recommend to all writers, whether you think you like poetry or not. It’s a way to stretch how you think about language, and play a bit. This poem by Marge Piercy (b. 1936) was a recent featured poem. It’s a bit harsh and a bit funny, and more than a bit insightful about how art and artists are perceived in our society.

For the young who want to

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Murder on the Nile — The Continued Influence of Agatha Christie, born this day in 1890

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, Iowa 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. [And later a third, for 2018 Best Short Story.] The year I was nominated for Best Nonfiction, one of the other nominees was John Curran, an Irish scholar 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.


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 comes as 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.)

Saturday Creativity Quote — on failing and more

A few weeks ago, the novelist and musician James McBride was interviewed on the PBS Newshour, talking about his work and the release of The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, an alternative history of the grandmother he never knew. It’s a terrific interview, not long, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

“I don’t mind failing. Writers, most of what we do fails. And that’s the lesson writing teaches you. I tell young writing students all the time, fail and fail better.”

On giving his grandmother a better life than the one she had, on the page: “Fiction is magical that way. Fiction allows your dreams to come true.”

An Unholy Death is Launched and Death al Dente turns 10!

It takes a village . . . to catch a killer.

Friends, I am thrilled to celebrate the 10th birthday of Death al Dente, the first Food Lovers’ Village mystery and winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, by presenting a special edition of An Unholy Death, the historical novella prequel.

An Unholy Death originally appeared in Carried to the Grave and Other Stories, the 6th Food Lovers’ Village mystery, so if you have a copy of Carried, you’ve already got this story. It’s available in paperback and ebook, for all e-readers.

(To tell the truth, the novella actually released on Tuesday, August 29, but I was so focused on finishing the 8th Spice Shop mystery, To Err is Cumin, by my September 1 deadline that I waited to let you know. The manuscript went in this morning!) 


As the cover copy says:
It’s 1910 and newly married Kate Murphy arrives in Jewel Bay, Montana, with her husband Paddy, proprietor of Murphy’s Mercantile, intent on building their life together in this unfamiliar place. The conditions are rough—as are some of their clientele—and get even rougher when Kate discovers the dead body of the widowed local preacher. She’s determined to keep his young daughter safe, but the task takes all the courage Kate can summon as she faces the first of many mysteries unfolding in her new home . . .

I’ve always been fascinated by Montana history and when my husband was asked to write and perform the music for a documentary, Bigfork: A Montana Story, on the history of the model for Jewel Bay, I decided to explore that history on the page. What would this rough Montana town have looked like to a new bride, fresh from Baraboo, Wisconsin? How would she have adapted? What conflicts would she walk into? What skills would she bring?
Turns out her great-granddaughter Erin’s talent for sleuthing may be inherited . . .

Like Kate, my own great-grandmother grew up in Baraboo as one of four sisters in an Irish family. I borrowed their names, ancestry, and hometown, but the rest is fiction.

Readers often ask about the titles and covers. Choosing a title can be a challenge. I wrote this novella without a title, not for lack of trying. A friend reminded me that good titles often come from the language in the book. Nothing worked, until I remembered that I could add a phrase for just that purpose. That led to this, at about the midpoint, during the funeral of the minister Kate found dead in the church just days earlier.

In the front pew, Grace sitting straight-backed between her and Paddy, Kate tried to focus on the minister’s words. Tried to forget that he stood on the very spot where she had found Reverend Haugen on what the minister called “that unholy day.”

Perfect, I think.
In the documentary, I spotted a picture of the church and school in about 1906. The cover artist stylized the image, creating a curved, narrow lane between them and adding trees and wildflowers. I love it.

But what makes the cover truly stand out, I think, are the mountains behind the town, done in the grand landscape traditions of the late 19th century painters Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt, who focused on the Rocky Mountains. Moran is best known for images of Yellowstone, Bierstadt of Yosemite, but their style translates beautifully to this area, on the edge of Glacier National Park.

Available at:  Amazon   Barnes and Noble   Books-A-Million   Bookshop.Org   And your local booksellers!

I hope you enjoy the trip back in time with me. If An Unholy Death is your first visit to the Food Lovers’ Village, I hope you’ll make a return visit with the five novels. And remember, my gift to you as a newsletter subscriber is a Village short story, “The Picture of Guilt,” in which our modern heroine, Erin Murphy, and her husband Adam make an unexpected discovery while hiking and picking huckleberries in those very mountains. Sign up on my newsletter and follow the links in the Welcome letter. (I’m having a hard time updating it to mention the latest books and this short story, but the links all work!)

All my best,


Saturday Creativity Quote

“Ethnic specificity in fiction goes far beyond race or color. Think about Frances McDormand’s character in Fargo,” who embodies a specific ancestry and place.”

Naomi Hirahara, at Left Coast Crime mystery convention, 2023

I loved Clark & Division, set in the Japanese community in Chicago during WW II and focused on a California family just released from the camps who cannot return home. When they arrive, hoping to connect with the older daughter released earlier, they discover that she’s dead — and they mystery begins.

Pepper’s Bookshelf – Between a Wok and a Dead Place

Between a Wok and a Dead Place -- book cover, showing shop interior decorated for the Lunar New Year, and an Airedale terrier
Book cover for Between a Wok and a Dead Place

Spice Shop readers tell me they love spotting names of books and authors they recognize and finding potential new reads on Pepper’s bookshelves, both in her loft and in the shop. Pepper and Kristen, who handles most of the Spice Shop’s book buying, love creating seasonal book displays.

For the Lunar New Year, they’ve set out several foodie cozies with an Asian theme: Vivian Chien’s noodle shop mysteries, Jennifer Chow’s LA Night Market series, and Mia Manamsala’s Tita Rosie’s Kitchen mysteries, set in a family-run Filipino restaurant. I have read and enjoyed them all. I’ll confess that I’m the customer who told them about The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones, a fascinating novel about an American food reporter who meets a Chinese-American chef in China, a man determined to keep alive an intricate, formal style of Chinese cooking far beyond what most of us can imagine.

Pepper forges a working relationship with the owner of the new cheese shop in the Market, Say Cheese!, and seals it by giving her copies of For Cheddar or Worse by Avery Aames and Cheddar Off Dead by Korina Moss, both mysteries set in cheese shops. Food puns rule.

The staff steered customers planning a trip to France to cookbooks by two American food writers who focus on French food, David Liebovitz and Dorie Greenspan, along with a shop favorite, The French Country Table: Simple recipes for bistro classics, by Laura Washburn. Not coincidentally, all are favorites in our home.

The book Lena insists Pepper read is The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, set in Seattle’s Chinatown during World War II and the present day.

I discovered some terrific resources in my research, mentioned in the acknowledgments: Building Tradition: Pan-Asian Seattle and Life in the Residential Hotels, by Marie Rose Wong, Ph.D., an account not just of the CID’s residential hotels but of the economic, political, and social forces that shaped it. Two books provided helpful personal accounts, photographs, and historical research: Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle by David Takami, and Reflections of Seattle’s Chinese Americans: The First 100 Years by Ron Chew and Cassie Chin.

I was totally absorbed by the memoir Long Way Home: Journeys of a Chinese Montanan by Flora Wong and Tom Decker. The experience of American-born Flora, whose daughter is a friend of ours, in returning to China as a small child in the 1930s, enduring tremendous hardship on a small family farm, then returning to the US in the late 1940s through an arranged marriage was heart-wrenching, and helped me understand more about the hardships of life in China and the tug that many immigrants felt, even after making the difficult decision to leave.

Another interesting reference, though one I barely dipped into, is Herbs and Roots: A History of Chinese Doctors in the American Medical Marketplace, Tamara Venit-Shelton, Ph.D. And while not part of my research, some readers may be intrigued by The Middle Kingdom Under the Big Sky: A History of the Chinese Experience in Montana by Mark T. Johnson. Both Professor Venit-Shelton and Professor Johnson speak widely about their research, and videos of their talks are available on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet.

Finally, I always learn something interesting from Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City by David B. Williams.

Check out Pepper’s Bookshelf from Peppermint Barked. Here’s what Pepper was reading in The Solace of Bay Leaves and Chai Another Day, along with Parts One and Two of Pepper’s Bookshelf, dishing on her discoveries in the first three books of the series, Assault and Pepper, Guilty as Cinnamon, and Killing Thyme.

I’ve just finished Book Eight as I write this, and I can tell you, the reading fun continues!

Saturday Creativity Quote

I occasionally get a note from a reader who tells me that my books kept her company in a difficult time, or that something I wrote triggered a new insight. Those are moments of pure magic.

“You never know how your creative work leads to small but meaningful decisions in other people’s lives. To actions they take, or a gateway that opens up to them through your words.”
– Dan Blank, “Art Lasts,” Creative Shift newsletter

A bargain vacation — a great deal on a short story collection

A bargain cruise — and such fun! Murder at Sea: A Destination Murders Short Story collection is only 99 cents for Kindle through Aug 21. Eight short cozy mysteries and eight fabulous trips — no shoes required. Pepper Reese from my Spice Shop series makes her first short story appearance in “Seafood Rub,” when she and Nate take a long weekend getaway to the San Juan Islands, only to discover that trouble took the same ferry…

Isn’t that a darling cover? If you love short cozies, take a look at the earlier entries in the series: Murder in the Mountains, including my Food Lovers’ Village short mystery “The Picture of Guilt,” and Murder at the Beach!