Pike Place Market: Magic in the Heart of the City

An edited version of this essay appeared in the program for Left Coast Crime 2024: Seattle Shakedown, held April 11-14 in Bellevue, Washington. There wasn’t time for me to take readers to the Market and show them some of the places I love, so I’m grateful to have been asked to contribute this piece. (All the photos are mine.)

Pike Place Market: Magic in the Heart of the City, by Leslie Budewitz

“This market is yours. It is here to stay and there is no influence, no power, no combination and no set of either political or commercial grafters that will destroy it.”
—Seattle City Councilman Thomas Revelle, dedicating Pike Place Market on November 30, 1907

I fell in love with Seattle’s Pike Place Market as a wide-eyed college freshman just a few years after residents voted to save the Market from “urban removal.” It was funky and vibrant, and I adored every inch of it. I made it my mission to eat my way through the place, and since it’s constantly changing, I’ll never be finished.

In the late 1970s, not every corner was clean; not every pillar and post stood upright. The Market is an amalgam of buildings erected over the decades bearing history-laden names like the Economy Market, the Sanitary Market (no horses allowed!), and the Soames/Dunne Building. Suburban growth and the economic downturn that hit the city hard had taken their toll. Many farm stalls and shop fronts stood empty. Some days, it’s said, pigeons outnumbered potatoes.

Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?
—1970s billboard

After a years-long public campaign, voters approved the creation of the Pike Place Market Historical District in 1971, later the first mixed residential and commercial use project named to the National Historic Register. The mission was clear: Preserve Seattle’s history. Foster the direct link between the region’s farmers and food producers to the community they fed. Provide public services and low income housing. And do it with Northwest style!

And while the Market was coming back to life, a few ghost stories emerged as well: The early Market Master who wore a top hat and loved to dance and who, some say, can still be seen dancing past upper story windows. The orphaned stable boys who slept in the hallways and now occasionally toy with shop merchandise at night. The ghosts of men murdered for bounty money who haunt the old mortuary, but are appeased by a pitcher of beer left out at night.

When I was a college kid trekking down the hill from Seattle University to prowl the cobbled streets, behind-the-scenes renovations were upgrading the structures and utilities. The Preservation and Development Authority was busy ensuring that farmers could sell their produce, fishermen their catch, bakers their breads and rolls. The PDA helped stabilize and grow existing businesses and incubate new ones. They created the network of arts and crafts vendors who fill the daystalls in the Main Arcade, and established funding sources for the community foundation that provides social services.

Later, as a young lawyer working downtown, I developed a simple routine: Twice a week, I walked to the Market. Bought a slice of pizza at DeLaurenti’s on the corner of First and Pike. Stood at the newsstand browsing newspapers and magazines from around the world with my eyes—hands off until my pizza was gone. Strolled down to Market Spice for a sample cup of tea redolent with orange and cloves. Watched salmon fly at Pike Place Fish, where men (and later women) in rubber boots and aprons sang, joked, and tossed the catch threw the air. (“Crab for Montana!” they called back and forth when my visiting mother made a purchase. She was mortified and delighted.) I tasted food and flavors I had never known.

Then I went in search of a cookie, nibbling while listening to street-corner musicians, marveling at the man who rolled his painted piano along the sidewalks. I bought books and scarves from merchants in the lower levels known as “Down Under” and earrings and a Hmong quilted pillow from Market artists. I bought fruit and vegetables, bread and cheese and coffee, and occasionally, flowers.

The Market is home to more than seventy-five farmers, two hundred shops and restaurants, two hundred craftspeople known as daystallers, a score or more of buskers ranging from musical trios to balloon artists, and nearly five hundred residents, all on nine acres. Not to mention ten million visitors a year.
Between a Wok and a Dead Place, by Leslie Budewitz

As Seattle has changed, so has the Market. Neighborhood groceries offer more variety than in years past. Weekend farmers’ markets dot the city. But Pike Place—which is both the main street and the name locals use—continues to thrive. The focus remains a direct-to-consumer farm connection, served up alongside a dizzying array of shops and restaurants. Artistic delight has become a bigger part of the experience. Light fixtures take the shape of cast aluminum figures who climb the walls, globes in hand. Tile walls celebrate flora and fauna. No one knows the point of the disgusting bit of psychogrunge that is the Gum Wall, but it adds color and story nonetheless.

My Spice Shop mysteries are an example of the urban or city-based cozy, a subgenre built around a community within a community. The Market embodies that perfectly. My goal has always been to convey the literal and figurative flavor of the place. To create a world where the reader can taste the food, meet the people, and smell the salt air tinged with coffee and salmon, all while absorbed in a mystery that means something, in a story that could be set nowhere else.

“It’s the Market. Anything can happen here.”
—Pepper Reece, in Assault and Pepper, by Leslie Budewitz

After more than a century, Pike Place Market remains the heart and soul of Seattle—and its stomach. I hope you’ll make a visit while you’re here, on foot or on the page, to experience the magic for yourself.

Leslie Budewitz lives and writes in NW Montana, but a piece of her heart will always walk beside the ghosts along the cobbles of Pike Place.

Saturday Creativity Quote — on community

In April, I went to both Left Coast Crime, the mystery fan convention held in late winter or spring somewhere in the West, and Malice Domestic, the fan convention celebrating the traditional mystery held in Bethesda, Maryland the last weekend in April. Two weeks apart — remind me not to do that again. But it was great fun. (More photos below.)

Nominees for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel (clockwise from lower left: Korina Moss, Tara Laskowski (winner), Annette Dashofy, Ellen Byron, Leslie Budewitz (moderator), and Gigi Pandian)

I love meeting readers in person, and both cons are great opportunities for that. It’s also wonderful to hear authors, readers, booksellers, and editors speak on panels about various aspects of the writing craft, bookselling, and publishing. The conversations over coffee or dinner and in the hallways are priceless, especially for a writer like me who is happier and healthier because I spend most of my time alone with people who only exist because I made them up.

I always come home exhausted, but inspired. Inspired to read more, write better, connect with more readers and writers. No doubt that’s why I reached for a notebook during Nina Simon’s remarks on accepting the Lefty for Best Debut for Mother-Daughter Murder Night, when she said “Creativity comes from the community.”

It does, doesn’t it? From our brains and hearts, but in communication with all we experience and all those we connect with.

On this writing journey of yours, don’t go it alone. Create a community, online or in person, with others who care about books and creative work just as you do. Nurture it. You — and your readers — will be happy you did.

Join the fun next year! Registration is open for both Malice and LCC.

Three Sisters in Crime presidents! Past President Lori Rader-Day (2019-20), me (2015-16), and current president Kelly Oliver

Saturday Creativity Quote — reaching through the veil

Trees in the Mist, photo by Leslie Budewitz

I’m a big fan of the group blog Writer Unboxed, where more than 30 authors share advice on the craft and business of writing, and on motivation and inspiration. On the surface, this quote seems to speak mainly to authors of fantasy or magical novels, but I think it says more than that. It touches on a point I’ve often made here, that our work should say something true, something not immediately visible. Something you have to quiet your own mind and listen to the world to grasp, and to figure out how to express.

“Where do writers get their ideas? Sure, we might just be making it all up. But what if a writer is the only point of contact with an urgently real-in-its-way world that’s hidden from all others? We rub the membrane thin, and story leaks out. Or maybe we raise our lightning rods, and story flashes down our arms and onto the page. Or we open a door, and the ideas rush in. Choose your metaphor, but in every case, it is your role as a writer to document those moments of connection. Without your books, other worlds remain obscured. Without you, we will never be transported to the time and place that you alone can find.”
— Kristen Hacken South, “Thin Places,” on Writer Unboxed

Saturday Creativity Quote — listening to your own voice

“Poetry is often the art of overhearing yourself say things you didn’t know you knew. It is a learned skill to force yourself to articulate your life, your present world or your possibilities for the future. We need that same skill as an art of survival. We need to overhear the tiny but very consequential things we say that reveal ourselves to ourselves.”
– Irish poet David Whyte

Novelist Paul Lynch said something similar in his PBS interview, which I quoted a few weeks ago, about the difficulty of listening to ourselves in the modern world, shaped by the noise of technology. I think the Irish writers are on to something!

How can you make time in your day to quiet yourself enough to hear your own voice?

(Painting: In the Clearwater Valley, by Leslie Budewitz; pastel on suedeboard)


The Agatha Awards, two black teapots and one white teapot
Agatha Awards

Later this month, at Malice Domestic, the convention celebrating the traditional mystery, I’ll be moderating a conversation between the nominees for Best Contemporary Novel. I’ve been loving reading the books and thinking about what to ask. So I thought I’d bring you into the conversation, and let you meet these terrific women and their books.

In Wined and Died in New Orleans, Ellen Byron’s 2d Vintage Cookbook Mystery, it’s hurricane season in New Orleans and Ricki James-Diaz is trying to shelve her fears and focus on her business, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbook and Kitchenware Shop, housed in the magnificent Bon Vee Culinary House Museum. She’s thrilled when repairs on the property unearth crates of very old and valuable French wine. But when a dead body turns up on the property, Ricki has to help solve a murder and untangle family secrets, all while living under the threat of a hurricane that could wipe out everything from her home to Bon Vee.

In Helpless: A Zoe Chambers Mystery by Annette Dashofy, Vance Township Police Chief Pete Adams and his wife, County Coroner Zoe Chambers-Adams, must race against time and a hurricane to capture the mysterious killer, who murdered a young mother and kidnapped her daughter while leaving the only witness, the little girl’s father, critically wounded and trapped beneath a disabled farm tractor. Will Pete be able to stop a savage and cunning predator? And will he and Zoe be able to reunite a family before it’s too late?

In Case of the Bleus by Korina Moss, the secrets to an enigmatic and award-winning blue cheese may be gone forever when its creator –Willa’s former boss, Max — dies. But when the presumed heir is killed for those secrets, the hunt for Max’s Church Bleu begins. When Willa discovers that she’s the intended heir, she must decipher the riddles Max left in order to find the cheese and the killer before the killer finds her.

The Weekend Retreat, Tara Laskowski Every year, the illustrious Van Ness siblings gather at their secluded winery estate for a joint birthday celebration. It’s a tradition they’ve followed nearly all their lives, and now they are back with their significant others for a much-needed weekend of rest and relaxation, away from the public spotlight. With lavish comforts, gorgeous scenery, and indulgent drinking, the trip should be the perfect escape. But it soon becomes clear that even a remote idyllic getaway can’t keep out the problems simmering in each of their lives. As old tensions are reignited, the three couples are pushed to the edge. Will their secrets destroy them, or will they destroy each other first? And who’s been watching them from beyond the vineyard gates?

One murder. Four impossibilities. A fake séance hides a very real crime. Tempest Raj returns in The Raven Thief by Gigi Pandian, where sliding bookcases, trick tables, and hidden reading nooks hide something much more sinister than the Secret Staircase Construction crew ever imagined.

Leslie: What would you most like readers to know about your book?
Ellen: It’s funny, twisty, and loaded with the flavor of New Orleans.
Annette: At its core, Helpless is a story about friendship and priorities. Sometimes you have to put the demands of your career aside to help a friend. And sometimes, the only thing you can do is just be there to sit and listen. Zoe’s hands are tied during most of the story, yet her simply being there is the most important role in the book.
Korina: It’s a mystery with cozy shades of The DaVinci Code and Ocean’s Eleven… with cheese thrown in.
Tara: The family in the book is not based on anyone I know, especially my own family (thank god!) Their terrible self-centeredness is all the product of my imagination. But I still love them all.
Gigi: The Raven Thief is a locked room mystery, also known as an impossible crime novel, that pays homage to the Golden Age of detective fiction. I wanted to channel authors like John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie, who wrote fair-play puzzle plot mysteries, but putting my own modern spin on the genre. The puzzle plot is the key to the story-but family, friendship, and food are the heart.
With The Raven Thief, I went even further than one locked-room mystery, creating four ways in which the mystery looks impossible.

Leslie: What did you learn, about writing, life, murder, magic, or some other weird or amazing subject, while you were writing this book?
Ellen: I happened to be in New Orleans while I was writing this book and my daughter and I had to evacuate for Hurricane Ida. I learned how frightening and traumatic that experience is, and how it takes the resilience of those amazingly strong New Orleanians to move beyond it and get your mojo back.
Annette: I learned an inordinate amount of information about incapacitating an old Ford farm tractor and also, about how to fix one.
Korina: There can be a dark underbelly to the cheese world. In one year, almost seven hundred blocks of Saint Nectaire were stolen in France for the black market. In Italy, Parmigiano-Reggiano makers have started putting edible microchips the size of a grain of sand on their 90-lb cheese wheels to combat counterfeiters selling rip-offs. It’s no wonder—last year, a 4.8 lb. wheel of Calabro from northern Spain sold for $32,000.
Tara: I learn something new about my writing process every time I work on a book. It’s usually a very painful lesson, though. This time, I learned that I need to do a lot of “people work” upfront and really understand my characters and their motivations before I start writing, because so much of their actions and the plot depends on who they are, essentially, as humans. I didn’t do enough of that in my early drafts of this book, thinking I’d figure it out as I wrote, and that got me into trouble!
Gigi: At the center of each Secret Staircase Mystery is a renovation project, building magic into peoples’ homes through elements like sliding bookcases and secret doors that lead to hidden libraries. In The Raven Thief, the woman who’s hired Secret Staircase Construction hosts a book club focused on classic mystery novels, and she also requests a faux séance in the room.
To create the most fun book club room for mystery enthusiasts and a space that would work for a séance-gone-wrong, I reread many of my favorite classic mysteries with an eye towards elements I could turn into architectural details, and I learned more about how fraudulent spiritualists faked séances. I thought I knew a lot about how tricksters could fake séances, but wow there are a lot of tricks!

Leslie: What keeps you going, on days when writing is hard?
Ellen: Deadlines!
Annette: My readers. I’ll never forget the email I received very early in my writing career. A woman wrote to tell me she’d bought Circle of Influence as a Mother’s Day gift for her mom who was going through chemotherapy. Reading my book during the treatments helped her mother take her mind off her illness. I learned this mother and daughter lived about a half hour away, and at her next chemo session, I went to the hospital and sat with them, signed the book, and had pictures taken for them. It was a humbling experience and a stark reminder of the real reason I do this.
Korina: Hearing from readers, especially when my books are getting them through a hard time in life.
Tara: When I’m having a really bad writing day, I try to tell myself, “It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be there.” My wonderful agent Michelle Richter once told me, “You can’t edit it if it’s not on the page.” So I give myself permission to suck, hoping that once there are words, it’ll be easier to fix them. It doesn’t always work, but it is a kind of writer self-care, a sort of grace we can extend ourselves so we don’t get so wrapped up in our heads. And most of the time, when I go back later and re-read it, it’s not as bad as I feared.
Gigi: Connecting with my fellow book people is the best! Some of the readers and writers I’ve met since I started writing have become my closest friends. My fellow Agatha nominee Ellen Byron is one of the fabulous women in my writers group!
I always want each new book I write to be better than my last, so if I’m ever feeling stressed out that a book isn’t coming together as I want it to, I simply chat with one of my author pals or pick up one of my beaten-up old Elizabeth Peters novels to read a few pages. Either one does the trick to inspire me.

ELLEN BYRON: Winner of multiple Agatha and Lefty awards, Ellen Byron transitioned from a twenty-plus-year career writing television sitcoms to penning humorous mysteries and has never been happier. She is also an award-winning playwright but considers working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart her most impressive achievement.

ANNETTE DASHOFY: USA Today bestseller Annette Dashofy is the author of fifteen novels including the seven-time Agatha Award nominated Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic-turned-coroner in rural Pennsylvania as well as the Detective Honeywell series set along Lake Erie. Her standalone novel, Death By Equine, won the 2021 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for excellence in thoroughbred racing literature.

KORINA MOSS is the author of the Cheese Shop Mystery series (St. Martin’s Press) set in the Sonoma Valley, including the Agatha Award winner for Best First Novel, Cheddar Off Dead. She lives in Connecticut, where she is devoted to the art of cheese.

TARA LASKOWSKI is the author of the suspense novels The Weekend Retreat, The Mother Next Door and One Night Gone, winner of the Agatha, Macavity, and Anthony awards. She also wrote two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders. Her short fiction has won Agatha and Thriller awards, and she was the longtime editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly. She lives in Virginia with her husband, crime writer Art Taylor, and their son Dashiell.

GIGI PANDIAN is a USA Today bestselling mystery author, breast cancer survivor, and locked-room mystery enthusiast. She writes the Secret Staircase mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries.

If you’re headed to Malice Domestic this year, I hope to see you at 3:00 Friday afternoon, in Ballroom B/C, for what I know will be a delightful conversation. If not, I hope you’re intrigued by the nominated books and will pick them up for a guaranteed good read!

Saturday Creativity Quote — more from Paul Lynch

Jeffrey Brown : “You have written about the role of the novel today and I guess a concern about whether it can still be valued, even important, have a place in our society.”

Paul Lynch: “Yes. It goes back to what I call the whisper in the ear. I mean, the novelist can whisper in the reader’s ear, and that’s a beautiful conversation. There’s also whisper in the ear that you have with yourself. But we live in a time where technology has done something to us.

We are no longer, for many of us anyway — unless you cultivate it and shape it, we are not in tune with ourselves. We’re not hearing the voice in the ear. And it’s harder to read fiction too. And I think that a culture that cannot hear itself think is a culture that is in serious trouble.

And I like that idea of fiction just being a little bit more dangerous, a little bit more engaging, pushing into — seeking this hidden charge of things and giving the reader maybe a little bit more electricity, but doing it respectfully.”

— Irish novelist Paul Lynch, winner of the 2024 Booker Prize for the novel Prophet Song, interviewed by Jeffrey Brown on the PBS Newshour

Saturday Creativity Quote — on flow

Rushing water between two large sedimentary rocks

Flow. We know it when we feel it, but what is it? How can we cultivate it? A new study done at the Drexel University Creativity Research Lab used brain imaging to study jazz guitarists working on an improvisation and summarizes the results this way:

“The findings reveal the creative flow state involves two key factors: extensive experience, which leads to a network of brain areas specialized for generating the desired type of ideas, plus the release of control — “letting go” — to allow this network to work with little or no conscious supervision.”

I like this so much, not just because it rings true, but because it also tells us what we can do to experience flow more often and more readily: practice the work, whether it’s chord structures or writing dialogue, creating new pathways in the brain, and practice giving up conscious control of the process and the results.

Saturday Creativity Quote — accepting self-criticism

I’m deep in a first draft, at that stage where I’m not sure that anything I’m doing makes any sense, that I’ll be able to make it make sense, or that readers will care. Whether you write, paint, make music, or create in any of countless other ways, I am confident that you know the feeling.

partially open door of a weathered cabin

And that’s about the only thing I’m confident of write — er, right — now. So I like these words from my favorite blogs on writing, one of the contributors I always read because I always know she’ll give me useful, practical insights.

Accept that your work will never feel satisfactory, because without that self-critical element, we’d never try to improve. Our yearning to accomplish more is what makes it possible to endure a learning process that for quite some time may offer little promise of external reward.
. . .
[I]t isn’t up to us to believe in ourselves, it’s up to us to do the work.
– Kathryn Craft, on Writer Unboxed

Saturday Creativity Quote — more on the value of a schedule

I’ve been emphasizing the value of a schedule, of a regular commitment to writing. One more quote to bolster that:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”
— Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life

What’s my routine? After decades working as a lawyer in firms and courts, now that I’m pretty much writing fulltime, I still keep office hours. Ideally, I’m “on the page” — that is, writing or editing — by 8:30, sometimes 9:00. I work until just after noon, eat lunch, and tackle promotion and writing business, along with personal stuff, in the afternoons. When I’m researching, or pondering, scouting the world and my brain for the story, that can get thrown off. I don’t make appointments on Mondays unless absolutely necessary, so I can start the week focused and protect my time.

Your life is probably more complicated than mine, but think about your schedule, a routine you can create and keep. Protect it. Honor it, and your creative spirit will shine. I promise.