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.

The Saturday Creativity Quote — supporting the creative community

I’ve long followed Dan Blank of The Creative Shift and deeply appreciate his insights into applying our creativity to our sharing and promotional efforts, as well as his emphasis on building and supporting the creative community. So I’m sharing this recent quote from his Substack article:

“Support those who create before they are gone. Is there an author whose work you appreciate? Send them a thank you email. Is there a local bookstore you love, but you just don’t get there often enough? Take a trip this week and set the intention to spend a certain amount of money to support them. Is there a local nonprofit in the arts that you admire? Go to their website and see how you can support them, even if it is just showing up for an event or spreading the word.”

We’re big supporters of local galleries and art centers, and love going to openings — First Friday Art Walks are especially great in the summer. This week, I took Blank’s advice and wrote thank you emails to the authors of two books I recently read: Anthony W. Wood, author of Black Montana: Settler Colonialism and the Erosion of the Racial Frontier, 1877-1930, and Michael K. Johnson, author of A Black Woman’s Montana: The Life of Rose B. Gordon, the daughter of a former slave who was born in a small central Montana town in 1883 and lived most of her life there. I read both after I finished my short story collection featuring another early Black Montanan — All God’s Sparrows and Other Stories: A Stagecoach Mary Fields Collection — coming in September, so they didn’t directly contribute to the writing, but both books helped me better understand Mary’s time and era in Montana, something that will be a big part of my book talks this fall.

Will either man reply? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. I simply wanted to acknowledge their work, something I suspect authors of books that lean toward the academic side don’t often hear! (Wood’s book is more academic than Johnson’s, but both are excellent explorations of a little known part of Montana history.)

So what can you do this week to support your creative community — local or otherwise?

(And no, I’m not fishing for thank you notes — spread the love around!)

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!


Book News! Book News!

Thank you, thank you, friends. We did it. YOU did it!  

I’m thrilled to say that Crooked Lane Books will publish Alicia’s next suspense novel, tentatively titled BLIND FAITH, on October 11, 2022. Two women whose paths crossed in Montana when they were teenagers discover they share keys to a deadly secret that exposes a killer—and changes everything they thought they knew about themselves and their families.

And I credit YOU for giving BITTERROOT LAKE the push we needed to persuade them!

Who’s Alicia Beckman? You may remember that with BITTERROOT LAKE, the publisher wisely asked me to write my suspense novels under a pen name to avoid confusion with my cozies. (Don’t worry—Leslie will keep writing cozies!) Alicia novels are moody and I hope, suspenseful; still no gore, not much blood, but some darker moments. The name honors my mother, Alice, and my maternal grandparents.  

I’ll be diving deep into revisions with my fabulous editor shortly.

Meanwhile, more good news! AS THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CRUMBLES, the 5th Food Lovers’ Village mystery, was re-released in paperback and e-book on November 9, by Beyond the Page Publishing. I’m so pleased to have all the Village books available again, after the sad closure of publisher Midnight Ink. And just in time for holiday reading — and gift-giving! (If you love Christmas mysteries, be sure to read “The Christmas Stranger” in CARRIED TO THE GRAVE AND OTHER STORIES, the 6th Village book.)

Speaking of short stories, Erin, Adam, and the villagers will return in “The Picture of Guilt,” in MURDER IN THE MOUNTAINS: A Destination Murder Collectionfeaturing short stories by nine terrific authors, out in paperback and ebook on February 1, 2022. Isn’t the cover a delight? And you can pre-order the ebook now for only 99 cents! (WoW!) 

Last, but so not least, we have a publication date for PEPPERMINT BARKED, the 6th Spice Shop mystery, coming from Seventh St. Books on July 19, 2022. (Available for pre-order now.) Seattle Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece investigates when a young woman working the Christmas rush in her friend Vinny’s wine shop is brutally attacked, on the busiest shopping day of the year. 

Meanwhile, I’m working on the first draft of another Alicia novel, using tips I picked up in a class to help me clarify the emotional heart of the story and identify what actions the characters take as a result. That’s always been key to me as a writer and reader, and I’m loving having new tools to help me heighten that story element. 

For sheer fun: Reader Carol sent me the link to this smile-out-loud video the Seattle Police Department created for the 2018 Lip Sync Challenge, with officers and student dancers performing to a medley by Seattleite Macklemore. Naturally, it won!

(Reader Carol, who lives in Seattle, also bought SIX copies of ASSAULT & PEPPER as holiday gifts. I heart Reader Carol. And I sent her bookmarks. Drop me a line if you’d like a few to tuck in your holiday packages.) 

I also heart libraries! The Mercer Co. (NJ) library system creates videos of authors sharing a bit of book-related triviaI’m part of this compilation of mystery, suspense, and other fiction authors. Check the library’s channel for more trivia videos, including mystery and children’s books. 

Reader Barb asked if I’d ever published the recipe for the Spice Shop’s signature spice tea. Surprise—I never had! CHAI ANOTHER DAY includes Pepper’s chai recipe, and PEPPERMINT BARKED will include both the pie spice recipe Pepper often puts in coffee and her peppermint mocha recipe, but the tea? I knew what was in it, so I headed down to the kitchen and brewed up a cup. For one cup, use a teaspoon or more of black Assam tea leaves, a slightly crushed cardamom pod, two allspice berries, and about 1/8 teaspoon dried grated orange peel (or fresh if you’ve got a willing orange). Use an infuser or a strainer. Steep 3-5 minutes, then pretend you’re sipping tea in the Spice Shop with Pepper, Sandra, and Arf!

Wherever you are, I hope you are safe and well, with a good cuppa and a good book close at hand. 

My deepest thanks for keeping me company on this journey. 


Book launch news — Carried to the Grave is out today!

It’s a treat to take you back to the village with this collection of short mysteries.  

Today, May 25, my beloved Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries return with CARRIED TO THE GRAVE AND OTHER STORIES, a collection of five short mysteries featuring Erin and the Villagers, and a historical novella set in 1910, the year Erin’s great-grandmother Kate arrived in Jewel Bay as a new bride. Turns out that Erin’s sleuthing skills may be hereditary! 

From the cover:
In her Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, Agatha Award-winning author Leslie Budewitz introduces us to Jewel Bay, a tight-knit Montana community that thrives on tourism and farm-to-table fare. Featuring Erin Murphy, beloved proprietor of the Merc—a century-old general store converted into a local foods market—each book brings us closer to the folks who call Jewel Bay home, and the cunning culprits in their midst.

In this delicious new collection of five short stories and one novella, she takes us further into the heart of Jewel Bay—from the playhouse to the Merc, from funerals to food festivals—with equal parts humor, suspense, and compassion, and no shortage of murder to spice up the menu . . .

In “Carried to the Grave,” a long-hidden family secret refuses to be put to rest.

Jewel Bay’s community food festival serves up the perfect opportunity for a devious killer with an appetite for murder in “Pot Luck.”

In “The Christmas Stranger,” a small gesture by a mysterious man turns out to change lives . . . and much more.

A romantic getaway to a secluded beach town in Mexico provides a deadly remedy for a couple’s trouble at home in “A Death in Yelapa.”

As the local playhouse opens for the season, it’s curtains for a stage manager with a secret in “Put on a Dying Face.”

And in “An Unholy Death,” when Kate and Paddy Murphy open Murphy’s Mercantile in 1910, they know making a go of it in rough-and-tumble Montana will be hard work, but for a local preacher, it’s murder.”

I hope you enjoy the trip back to Jewel Bay as much as I’ve enjoyed taking you there. And remember, if you’ve enjoyed my books, please tell your friends, library staff, booksellers—even your dog, if he reads. And leave a review online, if you’re so inclined.     

My thanks, as always, for joining me on this writing journey. 

From my heart,

Beyond the Page Publishing
May 25, 2021
Food Lovers’ Village #6
Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookseller.

The Mystery Hour — a live short story reading

Missing travel? Love a good mystery? Join me Monday evening, March 15, at 7 pm Mtn/ 9 pm Eastern for The Mystery Hour, sponsored by Authors Live Online. I’ll be reading “With My Eyes,” a 2019 Derringer Award winning short story originally published in Suspense Magazine. Inspired by a little woman my husband and I spotted at the Acropolis on our honeymoon trip more than 20 years ago, it features a lovesick man who sees what he wants to see.

My good friend Daryl Wood Gerber will be reading “No Final Act,” originally published in Mystery Most Theatrical, the 2020 Malice Domestic Anthology.

The event will be held on Zoom and live-streamed to Facebook Live. No technical skills needed — just get your free ticket from Authors Live Online and they’ll do the rest.

What could be more fun than a trip that doesn’t require shoes or hours crowded in an airplane? Pour a cup of tea or a glass of wine and join us!