By Dawn Ius
Leslie Budewitz started writing at the age of four—on her father’s desk. Literally. She would scrawl on top of the wood with her crayons, pencils, or whatever she could find.
Thankfully, her parents were understanding, and to this day, Budewitz’s mother, now eighty-nine, buys her daughter notebooks and pens for Christmas, a loving reminder about the concept of paper.
Harriet the Spy inspired Budewitz to use the notebooks, a habit still, but she concedes they’re more of a journal than a secret spy record.
In them, she jots ideas for recipes and stories—both of which are passions she’s combined to write cozy mysteries, such as her latest, ASSAULT AND PEPPER, the first in her new Spice Shop series.
“One challenge of starting a new series—and a big part of the fun—is populating the story and getting to know the characters,” she says.
In ASSAULT AND PEPPER, Pepper Reece is the proud new owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, and by Budewitz’s own description, someone who “totally does not mind being the poster child for the cliché, life begins at forty.”
“After thirteen years of marriage, she discovered her police officer husband and the meter maid in a back booth in a posh new restaurant practically plugging each other’s meters,” she says. “She moved out and bought an unfinished loft in a century-old downtown warehouse. Then the law firm where she’d worked imploded in scandal and took her job with it. So naturally, she tossed her office wardrobe, cut her hair, and bought the Spice Shop, a forty-year-old institution that had lost its verve.”
At first, it appears a good investment, and Pepper’s creations are the talk of the town—until a panhandler named Doc shows up dead on the store’s doorstep, a Spice Shop cup in his hand. Suddenly, Pepper is once again the center of town gossip, especially when one of her employees is arrested for murder.
“Investigating forces Pepper to confront the limits of her own judgment and her ability to work with other people,” Budewitz says. “In the process, she learns new skills and draws on internal resources she didn’t know she had.”
This exploration of the human experience is one of the reasons Budewitz is drawn to the genre. Like many writers, she’s penned a stack of unpublished manuscripts—although several came close—and then used her law background to write her non-fiction work, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure.
“I decided that as much as I love helping other writers get the facts about law write—er, right—I wasn’t through telling my own stories,” she says. “I love the light-hearted subset of traditional mystery sometimes called the cozy, and decided to try. Food fiction is popular, and I love to eat and cook, so I created a village obsessed with food.”
That small Montana town was the inspired setting for her Food Lover’s Village series, and while she’s not necessarily finished with those characters or that environment, she’s enjoying the opportunity to further explore her “spice girl” and Pike Place, the market she fell in love with while in college.
“A place draws me on the page the same way it does in real life: by calling on all the senses,” she says. “If as a reader, I feel I know which way to turn, what it will look like, how it will sound and smell, then I’m more likely to be hooked by the story. The challenge as a writer is to find the telling details that allow the reader to experience the place—just the right combination of the familiar and the unexpected.”
When she first started her career as a writer, Budewitz found one of the biggest challenges was access to information—what agents are looking for, who was good and who was bad, sample contracts and terms, and various other details.
Now that she’s found success as an author, it’s important for her to share her knowledge, and help aspiring scribes navigate the somewhat tricky and continuously changing publishing landscape. She is an active member of local, national, and international writing organizations, and is the soon-to-be president of Sisters in Crime.
Between her work as an author advocate and writing the second Spice Shop mystery, Guilty as Cinnamon, Budewitz has her hands full—but it’s all part of her master plan.
“If I survive the gig, eventually I’ll be awarded the title of Sisters in Crime Goddess,” she says. “And who doesn’t aspire to that?”
Leslie Budewitz is the bestselling author of the Spice Shop Mysteries, debuting with Assault & Pepper (March 2015), and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries. Death al Dente won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Also winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure, Leslie is the first author to win Agatha Awards for fiction and nonfiction. She lives in NW Montana.