You probably know Leslie Budewitz from her fun, frothy Food Lovers’ Village and Spice Shop cozies – the latest of which, CHAI ANOTHER DAY comes out on June 11. Or maybe you heard that she just won the coveted Agatha for her short story, “All God’s Sparrows.” Those of us in the crime fiction community also know her as a wonderfully encouraging colleague, a former president (and tireless promoter of) Sisters in Crime (where she co-founded the Guppies for not-yet-published writers), and member, as well, of the Mystery Writers of America, Authors of the Flathead, and Montana Women Writers. Personally, I’ll never forget her kindness when I was mourning the loss of my longtime feline companion, Musetta. As she has her own feline companion, Squirt (aka Mr. Kitten), she got it. All of which goes to why I am honored today to give you Leslie Budewitz!
How does a book start for you?
What a surprise it was to learn that every book has its own process, and that none starts the same way! I think it’s Neil Gaiman who quotes a teacher of is saying, in effect, that each book teaches you how to write it. With luck, of course, some of what you learn carries over! Since I write series fiction with amateur sleuths, when I get past the first book, the setting, main characters, and tone are fairly well-established, although they develop further over time. But generally, the trigger is a combination of a scenario—“what if this happened?,” the place, and the protagonist. How would she get involved? What are the stakes for her? That, of course, depends on her relationship with the victim or the accused, or someone closely connected to one of them.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most — and why?
Oh, great question! (Of course it is, I hear you saying. I asked it.) In CHAI ANOTHER DAY (coming June 11 from Seventh St. Books), Seattle Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece overhears an argument in an antique shop, and she finds herself drawn into a murder that could implicate an old enemy, or ensnare a new friend.
It’s about loyalty, trust, and identity — that last is a theme in all the Spice Shop Mysteries. Pepper’s starting a new relationship, and struggling a bit with knowing whether she can trust this man and her own judgment. She’s juggling employee crises and conflicts, as every business owner does, and trying to be a good daughter to a mother going through shifts of her own. It’s about an ever-changing city, and yes, it’s about chai.
Pepper and I were both surprised to discover some of the conflict and racism her friend Seetha deals with every day, as a woman of South Asian (Indian) ancestry. Pepper thinks she knows how she would deal with it, and is a little frustrated when Seetha takes a different tack. She has to back down and recognize that we all get to be the experts in our own lives, and that problems can look very different from the inside than from the outside.
I was also a little surprised by Nate, the new man in Pepper’s life, but it’s probably best if I don’t say too much about that!
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
The Spice Shop series is set in Seattle, largely in the Pike Place Market, with some scenes in the Eastlake District, the Lake Union houseboat moorage, and on Fisherman’s Terminal. I fell in love with the Market my first year in college, more than 40 years ago, and still find it a crazy, magical place. It’s the oldest continuously operating public market in the country — founded in 1907 — and it’s constantly evolving.
It’s an urban cozy, which requires a community within a community. That pretty much Pike Place, which is owned by the city but run by a Public Development Authority. In my early forays to the Market, I always stopped at Market Spice, next to the fish market, for a cup of tea, and it was the whiffs of herbs and spices that lured me into learning to cook. Spice has been luring humans for millennia! Giving my protagonist a spice shop not only gives her a popular market haunt, but it also connects her to the city’s food and restaurant world, giving her good reasons to investigate. And giving me good reason to research. (By “research,” of course, I mean “eat,” but you knew that.)
What are you working on now?
The next Spice Shop mystery, scheduled for spring 2020. I’m also working on a stand-alone, set in my native Montana from 1981 to the present, and a proposal for a new series. Plus short stories — I’ve been writing a couple a year the last few years, and they’ve done well in the world. “All God’s Sparrows” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine), my first historical fiction, set in Montana Territory in 1885 and featuring a real-life historical figure named “Stagecoach Mary” Fields, just won the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. (It’s available free on my website, www.LeslieBudewitz.com) The second Mary story, “Miss Starr’s Goodbye,” will appear in Alfred Hitchcock later this week. And “With My Eyes” (Suspense Magazine), set in Seattle and Athens, won the 2018 Derringer Award, given by the Short Mystery Fiction Society, in the long story category. I do plan more short stories; they’re great “palate cleansers” between novels, and of course, some ideas are shorter than others!
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
“Is there a cat in the book?” No, darn it. Pepper’s sidekick is an Airedale terrier she acquired in the first book, ASSAULT & PEPPER. He’s a lovely gentleman she calls “Mr. Ambassador,” although he does take down a bad guy in book two, GUILTY AS CINNAMON. I have never owned or known an Airedale or their smaller Welsh cousins, so I don’t know where he came from, but I’ve met a few since, and they are terrific dogs. I’m quite in love with him, though happily, I’m not the one who has to walk him or keep him supplied with bones to chew.
Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two cozy mystery series. CHAI ANOTHER DAY, her fourth Spice Shop Mystery, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, is due on June 11. DEATH AL DENTE, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. She also won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. “All God’s Sparrows,” her first historical fiction, won the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. A past president of Sisters in Crime and a current board member of Mystery Writers of America, she lives and cooks in NW Montana.
Find Leslie online at www.LeslieBudewitz.com and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor More about CHAI ANOTHER DAY, including an excerpt here: http://www.lesliebudewitz.com/spice-shop-mystery-series/