Back Up the Idea Truck — Guest Alan Orloff

RUNNING+coverThanks so much for stopping by for a visit Alan! Alan has two great giveaways today of his latest book. Running from the Past is a Kindle Scout winner.

Here’s a bit about Running from the Past: After selling his company for millions, Colby Walker takes his family–and his son’s friend Jess–on vacation, wanting nothing more than to unwind in the sun and surf. But he spots the alarming signs in short order: Jess’s downcast eyes, a familiar passivity, and angry red welts marching across the boy’s bare back. Walker understands what they mean because he’d been that boy, many years ago.

He’d suffered in silence, too. Can Walker stand by and let the torment continue? Does he trust the authorities–the same ones who had failed him in his youth–to take care of Jess? Hell no. With Jess in tow, Walker packs up the minivan and takes his family on the lam, keeping one step ahead of Jess’s cruel father and unhinged ex-con aunt. When the stakes escalate and his headstrong actions put people’s lives in jeopardy, Walker must finally conquer his past before he can save those he loves. He can run no longer.

Take it away, Alan.

Writers are often asked where we get our ideas. Over the years, I’ve gotten mine from different places.

For a while, I subscribed to a service, much like the old Netflix model, where they’d send me one idea at a time (or three ideas, if I signed up for the premium option), and I’d evaluate it and either keep it or send it back. Of course, once the idea streaming services took over, my lame mail-in service was never the same. Bankrupt in two years. I still have a leftover idea I never returned to them (anybody want it?).

Then, I found this neat little storefront, down near the docks, where I’d often spend an afternoon browsing for ideas. The place was cluttered and disorganized, and the owner sure liked to bend your ear, but if you exercised patience and didn’t mind getting your hands dirty, you could find some real gems. Some were a little banged up and others were coated with a layer of dust you needed a chisel to dislodge, but it was a real treasure trove. Unfortunately, one night, the place burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances.

After that, I signed up for an adult ed class, Adventures in Plotting. When I got there and the instructor started talking about clay and kilns, I realized there had been a typo in the course listing (an extra “l”). So, no help there. (Although, I did end up making a nice two-tone glazed vase.)

It was at that point when I decided I needed a change, so I resigned myself to generating my own ideas. Surprisingly, I found that I have plenty of ideas running through my head; the challenge is coming up with enough time to explore them all.

In most cases, I can’t identify that instant when I thought of an idea for a particular book. The ideas were just … there. But there have been a couple notable exceptions, a couple of times where I know exactly when I got a superlative idea.

AlanOrloffpicSeveral years ago, I was at the wonderful Sleuthfest conference, in Florida. I woke up at 4:00 am on Sunday morning, with an idea, almost FULLY FORMED, in my head. It stood the “middle-of-the-night garbage test” when I was able to remember it in the morning (and didn’t think it was complete trash). With a few tweaks to the basic (cool, high-concept) premise, I turned it into a thriller (which I’m still shopping).

And that brings me to my current release, RUNNING FROM THE PAST, just out from Kindle Press (as a winner of Amazon’ new Kindle Scout program). I also remember where/when I got the idea for this one.

I was on vacation with my family in Sandbridge, VA (near Virginia Beach). My son had brought along one of his friends, and I got to thinking. What would happen if we didn’t bring that friend home? If we just decided to take off with him, headed for parts unknown? I needed some rationale, of course, to explain why a seemingly normal family would abscond with a seemingly normal kid, so my imagination kicked in. And that’s how I came up with the idea for RUNNING FROM THE PAST, which, by pure coincidence, starts off with a family on vacation in Sandbridge, with the son’s friend along for the ride.

GIVEAWAY: I’m giving away a Kindle copy of RUNNING FROM THE PAST to one commenter at random (I’ll need your email address so I can *gift* it to you).

GIVEAWAY #2: I’m also giving away two signed copies (trade paperback) on Goodreads. Click through to enter!

Readers: How about you? Do you remember where you get your ideas from? Any good stories?
Alan Orloff’s debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, was an Agatha Award finalist for Best First Novel. He’s also written two books in the Last Laff mystery series, KILLER ROUTINE and DEADLY CAMPAIGN (from Midnight Ink). Writing as his darker half Zak Allen, he’s published THE TASTE, FIRST TIME KILLER, and RIDE-ALONG. His latest suspense novel, RUNNING FROM THE PAST (Kindle Press), was a Kindle Scout “winner.” Alan lives in Northern Virginia and teaches workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. For more info, visit: www.alanorloff.com

Wicked New England- Favorite Buildings

Jessie: In New Hampshire, where the birds have started chirping in the mornings!

New England is blessed with beauty. We have coastline and mountains, lakes and acres of forested land. But we are also fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful architecture. From quaint villages to bustling, vibrant ports New England has so many man-made beauties as well. So Wickeds, do you have a favorite building here in New England?

Liz: I work in Hartford, which does have some beautiful buildings, but I’m enamored with the state capitol building. It’s close to my office, right across the street from a park I like to walk in during lunch when weather is nice. It’s something I always take notice of, especially when the sun reflects off the gold dome. Gorgeous.

Photo of Whittier's Seat by Kathleen Wooten.

Photo of Whittier’s Seat by Kathleen Wooten.

Edith: How could I not cast my vote for the Amesbury Friends Meetinghouse? Built in

1851, with John Greenleaf Whittier on the building committee, it is a treasure that reflects simplicity, one of the basic Quaker values. It’s been in continual use for Friends worship since it was new, and has been lovingly restored and maintained by the current

Photo by Ed Mair

Photo by Ed Mair

congregation (of which I am one). The tall antique windows cast wavy light shows on the floor and walls, the wood of the floor and walls seems imbued with spirit, and the outside is modest and welcoming.

Jessie: I love the Portsmouth Music Hall, in Portsmouth, NH. They’ve done a beautiful restoration on an already lovely building. Part of the pleasure of attending events there is the beauty of the environment. If you’re ever in Portsmouth I highly recommend taking in a show just to see inside. The_Daughters_of_Edward_Darley_Boit,_John_Singer_Sargent,_1882_(unfree_frame_crop)

Barb: I had a really hard time with this. Beautiful public buildings are so much a feature of our lives in New England, we use them without thinking about them. What to choose? The Boston Public Library? Symphony Hall? Julie could probably give us a tour of Boston’s wonderful theaters. At the end of the day, I’m going for the Museum of Fine Arts. Bill and I make a pilgrimage there a couple of times a yIMG_3078ear at least. It’s such a wonderful place to spend a quiet afternoon. (Time your visit for after the school trips have left and before the evening hours have kicked in.) The experience renews you creatively. And the new American Wing is a knockout and blends beautifully with the old architecture.

Sherry: We are going to have to do this again — I have too many favorite buildings. Faneuil Hall, the Orchard House, the Unitarian church in Bedford, Massachusetts. And I’m sorry but I had to go with two. The first is what my family calls the Dr. Seuss building on MIT’s campus. MIT calls it the Stata Center but whatever you call it, it’s uniIMG_3219_2que! I also love the Old North Church in Boston. Yes, the building where the two lanterns were hung so Paul Revere knew that Regulars were heading to Concord by sea.IMG_3220 It’s Boston’s oldest surviving church. It’s also called Christ Church and is an active Episcopalian church. If you’re ever in Boston don’t miss the free fifteen minute talk. It’s fascinating.

TRANSEPTJulie: New England does, indeed have beautiful buildings. And Barb’s right, I could give you a tour of some stunning theaters in Boston–we are blessed that so many gems (the City Wang, the Opera House, the Shubert, the Paramount, the Modern, and the Colonial) that have been restored over the past twenty-five years. But my favorite was my workplace for 13 years, Memorial Hall at Harvard University. It was built between 1870-1877 as a memorial to the Harvard alumni who fought and died fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Inside is Sanders Theatre and Annenberg (formerly Alumni) Hall. Acoustically, Sanders Theatre is one of the most stunning concert halls in New England. But it was also a lecture hall, where some amazing historical figures have given speeches. The picture is of the transept, which is where the names of all of the deceased Harvard alums are listed on tablets. See the three figures in the picture, for scale? I’m the one of the left, hard to see because I wasn’t wearing a white shirt.

Readers, how about you? Is there a famous or hidden gem of a place in your neck of the woods?

How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part II

by Barb, who is back in New England where just recently there are signs of the slimmest possibility of spring

Barbara RossSo, when last we left our intrepid heroine, she had learned she was about to be a “cozy” mystery author, and she was freaked out about it. You can read about the events that lead up to that here: How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part I.

At the end of that post I say:

  1. If the author is the brand, and the brand is the author, I was in deep trouble. People might describe me in a number of ways, but nobody, including my kids, would ever describe me as cozy. I’m a city girl at heart. I have no pets, I don’t do crafts. I swear like a sailor. I don’t even cook if I can avoid it. Ulp.
  2. The image of cozy mysteries worried me. So often they’re defined as what they are not. You know, it’s a traditional mystery, with an amateur sleuth, but with no sex, gore or swearing. That drove me crazy. Here I am writing 70,000+ words, and the genre is defined by what’s not in there, instead of what is. It bugged the heck out of me. (Or the hell out of me, as I really would say in my real life.)

Today, in Part II, I’m tackling #1 above.

MusseledOutFrontcoverWhen I look back at it now, it all seems so silly. But at the time, I really was mega-stressed about not being able to embody the brand of what I thought it meant to be cozy. Why was this?

Well, one reason is writers on the verge of publication, and particularly a first publication or a new project, get freaked out exceptionally easily. Yes, you’re all giddy and happy with the accomplishment, but you are also putting yourself out there to be judged in a way that most people never do. It’s scary. You don’t want to disappoint readers, embarrass your family and let down your friends.

So a lot of my anxiety about not being a cozy person was free-floating anxiety that happened to coalesce around that particular point.

Boiled Over front coverPlus, my husband thinks I am peculiarly susceptible to what he calls “Fraud Syndrome.” It’s true that I was a business person for twenty-five years and never thought of myself that way. It’s also true I usually feel I have to have absolute mastery of a subject or skill to hold myself out as an expert. But I think the writer’s life reinforces my already existing tendency. Most writers feel like frauds most of the time. There’s the many years you tell people you’re writing and they, polite and interested, ask, “What have you published?” and you say, “Hammida, hammida, hammida…” Then there are the later years when you say, “I am a writer,” and people ask, polite and interested, “Anything I would have heard of?” and you say…etc. This pretty much never ends. I once heard Lee Child say the reason he gave his blessing to Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher was because whenever he got on an airplane and told his seatmate what he did, the question was, “Anything that’s been made into a movie?”

Fraud Syndrome, indeed.

How I finally got over it was, I participated in the Launch Lab at Grub Street. It’s a class for people with books to be published within the year. They give you tons of valuable information, and more than anything, they teach you to CALM THE HECK DOWN.

The course took place over three weekends, and at some point, during a consultation, I moaned to Lynne Griffin, one of the instructors, about how freaked out I was about the whole cozy thing.

Then she slapped me and told me to get over myself.

CLAMMED_UPShe didn’t actually slap me, or even use those words. Lynne Griffin is one of the most professional people I know. But she might as well have, because whatever she said was just as effective. (I later discovered pretty much everyone in the Lab had had this experience. Not necessarily over sub-genre classification, though I wasn’t the only one. Lynne Griffin telling you to get over yourself is one of the best features of the Launch Lab.)

Once I stopped freaking out, I saw how ridiculous I had been.

For one thing, as I spent time in the cozy world, I discovered it was filled with all kinds of people who read all kinds of stuff. And have all kinds of jobs, hobbies and interests. Not everyone had gray hair in a bun with knitting needles through it and a dozen cats. (NOT that there’s anything wrong than that.) I mean, seriously, I’m a little embarrassed now about how much I bought into the stereotypes.

Plus, I realized the whole the brand is the author and the author is the brand thing was way over-blown in my mind. I mean, yes it’s great that Craig Johnson really lives on a ranch in a town with a population of 25 in Wyoming. But Stephanie Meyer is neither a vampire, nor a werewolf, nor a teenager. And though J.K. Rowling has that whole, cool Edinburgh thing going on, she didn’t go to Hogwarts and she wasn’t raised by Muggles. (Well, actually, I suppose she was, but that’s a different point.)

Hermoine represents Rowling’s emotional truth, not her actual truth.

So that’s how it all worked out. I realized if my books represented my emotional truth, everything else would be fine.

And I calmed the heck down.

And it was all okay. I was over my feeling of being fraudulently cozy. Now I just had to get past the “stigma” of the cozy novel itself. And that’s coming in Part III.

Wicked Wednesday- Shows I Haven’t Seen

Jessie: In NH, wondering if putting away my heaviest coat will tempt a blizzard to pay a visit?

In keeping with our “Things I Haven’t” theme on Wicked Wednesday this month we’re talking about shows we haven’t ever seen. You know, the ones everyone is talking about around the water cooler but you just have no interest in? Take it away, Wickeds!

Edith: I’ll jump right in here. ALL OF THEM. Okay, I’ve seen the first season of House of
Cards until it got too merciless. And I’ve watched and loved all of Downton, Grantchester,orange is the new black and Call the Midwife so far. But Orange is the New Black? Zip, even though I’d like to see it. Big Bang Theory? Modern Family? The Sopranos? Secrets and Lies? Even the modern Sherlock – no, despite how many friends I have who like these shows. Ditto for any other new and most older TV shows. What can I say? I don’t have time for shows. A friend long ago called me a “cultural desert” and he wasn’t far off. I did see all of West Wing live and mourned deeply when it went off the air. Same for ER. But these days (okay, blame Facebook if you must) I don’t even get enough reading done. And books take precedence way above television.

Sherry: I’ve never watched an episode of The Simpsons. They come up regularly as crossword clues — I never get them. No Sopranos here either — maybe I’ll get to it some day.

Jessie: The Walking Dead has not made my list. I love paranormal, supernatural and anything otherworldly, except zombies. I have zero interest in zombies. They’re ugly , reek of desperation and don’t let me get started on the scope of their dialogue!

Barb: I confess I’ve never seen Breaking Bad or The Wire.  I know, I know. Everyone says the writing is amazing on both of these, and I fully intend to stream them. Someday. Also, I’ve never watched an episode of CSI. Although I have to admit, the new CSI: Cybercrimes is tempting me, mostly because of the cast. Law and Order, only the original and long, long ago.

Liz: I’ve never watched Downton and I feel like I’m the only person on earth who hasn’t. Barb, I’ve never watched The Wire either, although it’s been on my list for years now. I still fully intend to watch it someday, along with Orange is the New Black, Castle, and the rest of The Americans (I’ve seen the first two episodes and loved it, just never got back to it). Someday…

Julie: OK, unlike Edith, I think television is where a lot of really creative work is happening. The short seasons NetFlix and Amazon Prime are creating? Some of the best writing around. Given that I am a wicked wimp, gruesome doesn’t work for me. I also, for whatever reason, am not watching comedies at all, though I know I am missing something. Two shows that I haven’t seen, and need to (in my television loving, story craving, world)? Mad Men and The Wire. Like Barb, CSI Cybercrimes interests me. May add it to my DVR.

Readers, how about you? Which shows have you somehow missed?

Guest: Jim Jackson and Left Coast Crime

Edith here, in surgery in Newburyport, but I posted this in advance! 

I’m so delighted to have James Montgomery Jackson (otherwise know as Jim), my fellow james-m-jackson (1)Barking Rain Press author, here as our guest today. I love his crime fiction and his protagonist Seamus McCree, and was more than pleased to blurb Cabin Fever for him. He just got back from attending Crimelandia, this years Left Coast Crime, in Portland, Oregon, and he’s treating us to his reflections, since none of the Wickeds were able to make it this year. Take it away, Jim.

Why I Went to Left Coast Crime

Before I get to my post, I want everyone reading this to look at the masthead. Do the Wicked Cozy Authors look like they are having fun, or what? I’ve been tempted to take up writing cozies just in the hope they’d be willing to add a guy to the group. I love hanging out with them online and at conferences. Alas, I write medium-boiled financial crime novels, and although my protagonist Seamus McCree hails from Boston, much of his story occurs outside New England. I guess I’m stuck being a wannabe. Thanks for having me as a guest. [Edith: Thanks! We do have fun…]

*****

When I was a rookie novelist, I signed up for multiple conferences and sweated bullets over panel assignments. Sometimes I received good ones; more often, as an unknown, my assignments were either the first panel in the morning after the awards banquet or the last panel of the conference when many people were already on their way home.

First Thoughts About Conferences

Initially, I went to conferences because common wisdom told me they were important for debut novelists. Eventually, my finance background kicked in and I contemplated the economic value of conferences for writers.

Left Coast Crime (LCC to its devotees) is a fan conference (as contrasted to craft conferences, which are primarily designed to help authors improve their writing). It’s not a pure split. At least a third of the attendees at LCC were authors and a number of the panels were directed toward them (how to use social media, what agents do, etc.).

The Economics of a Conference

I had to fly from the East Coast, stay at a hotel, buy restaurant meals, etc. To attend the three and a half day conference conservatively set me back $1,500. [Jan (my much better half) and I also did some vacationing around the trip, so I can’t provide an accurate number. Her costs aren’t included in my $1,500.]

No author is going to earn anything near that from book sales at the conference. My own “profit” from LCC book sales was in the very low two digits. So, having your books for sale at the conference can’t justify the expense of attending this conference—or any for that matter.

In this age of ebooks I notice a bit of a bump in ebook sales after I attend a conference. The additional royalties may be enough to pay for one overpriced hotel coffee (or soda, in my case).

It should be clear by now that expecting a positive economic present value is NOT a reason to attend a conference. Common advice suggests that authors get their first 1,000 readers one-by-one. On a per reader basis, attending a conference is a very expensive approach.

Why Authors Should Go

Economics should not drive your decision to attend a fan conference. The main reason to attend is because you are a fan of mysteries and the mystery community. (As a working author you have the added benefit that, assuming your tax advisor agrees, you can write off the adventure as a business expense!)

JMJ_20150317_0001_a

The paper books Jim and Jan brought home from LCC. Not shown are the Kindle books!

Last year Jan and I enjoyed a two-week train trip surrounding our first LCC, which was in Monterey, CA. We had the pleasure of hearing Sue Grafton talk about her road to publication. Let me tell you, Sue does not pull punches. We also heard Tim Hallinan on a panel and chatted with him later on. Once home, Jan binge-read all of the books in his two current series, and since Tim was the guest of honor at this year’s LCC, she lobbied to come back. (Plus she had a childhood friend in Portland we could visit.) She won one of Tim’s books during his guest-of-honor interview, but since she’d already read all of them, he is sending her a pdf of his next as soon as he finishes the edits. She’s delighted. She could have bought the book when it comes out for a fraction of the conference price, but her conversations with Tim were priceless.

What about panels? Authors may pick up a tidbit or two of useful information at a fan conference. LCC included a panel of five FBI agents that was fascinating, and the Sisters in Crime sponsored a breakfast with three invited local police representatives who provided insight into their world as cops. There are always panels with doctors and lawyers where they ridicule how TV shows portray their work. You may even find a new favorite author, as Jan did with Tim Hallinan.

It all adds to your engagement with the larger mystery community. That’s the reason to spend money to attend a convention like LCC. You can meet favorite authors, learn of new authors, and visit with friends in the mystery community. You can make connections.

For example, at last year’s LCC “New Authors Breakfast” (where I did my one-minute spiel as a newbie) we met and enjoyed the company of Anne Cleeland. Anne and I have kept in touch and this year shared table-hosting duties at the LCC awards banquet, which was a lot of fun (but cost money for the ego trip.)

JMJ_20150314_0003_a

From left: Jim, Tina Whittle, Christine Kling, Glen Erik Hamilton, and Lynne Raimondo

Oh sure, you may be dynamite on a panel or as a moderator. (Of the conferences I’ve attended, LCC’s panels stand out for me because moderators and panelists follow well-considered guidelines, and organizers set panel assignments sufficiently in advance of the conference to allow participants time to prepare well.) I am an excellent moderator (so-so as a panelist). I know a few people have noticed my moderating skills and bought a book or put me on a “want to read list.”

But I don’t kid myself that the exposure is worth the cost. There’s an endorphin boost to being selected for a panel. When my first novel was published, it was a time of great (and deserved) celebration. Being included in the “newbie” festivities was part of that fun.

So when you are considering whether or not to attend a fan convention, ‘fess up that it’s a money loser. Once you consciously make that recognition, you can attend for the good times, and the connections, and to recharge your spirit. And maybe even sell a few books.

Best of all, you too can kick up your heels and laugh and smile—just like the Wicked Cozy Authors!

Readers: Do you go to conferences? Authors – find it worth the cost? And what else would you like to know about Jim and his superb novels? Did you know his new novel, Ant Farm was chosen for the very competitive Kindle Scout program? Ask away – he’ll Ant Farm Coverpop in to answer questions throughout the day.

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. ANT FARM (Spring 2015), a prequel to BAD POLICY (2013) and CABIN FEVER (2014), recently won a Kindle Scout nomination. (Ebook published by Kindle Press; print from Wolf’s Echo Press). BAD POLICY won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Jim has published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME: How to Start Winning at Bridge (Master Point Press 2012), as well as numerous short stories and essays. His website is http://jamesmjackson.com.

ANT FARM is a prequel to the Seamus McCree Mystery series. In it, financial crimes consultant Seamus McCree combats the evil behind the botulism murders of thirty-eight retirees at their picnic outside Chillicothe, OH. He also worms his way into the Cincinnati murder investigation of a church friend’s fiancé and finds police speculate the killing may have been the mistake of a dyslexic hit man. Seamus uncovers disturbing information of financial chicanery and in the process makes himself and his son targets of those who have already killed to keep their secrets.
Jackson’s crisp plotting keeps the story rolling, and his complex characters feel as real as next door. Get to know Seamus, one of crime fiction’s most intriguing sleuths, and plan to stay up late turning the pages. -Tina Whittle, Author of the Tai Randolph Mysteries

Going Under the Knife

Edith north of Boston, hoping I’ve tidied all loose ends

Tomorrow’s the day.

shoulderMy right shoulder has been hurting for three or  four years, and it finally got bad enough for me to get it checked out last fall. After a cortisone injection and a month of physical therapy failed to fix it, my doctor ordered an MRI. Here’s the verdict:IMG_20150302_105723_407

“Full thickness tear of the supraspinatus tendon, with resultant 11 mm tendinous gap.” Which means one of the four tendons in my right rotator cuff has a big honking tear in it. That white pointy shape at ten o’clock is the 11 mm gap. The big white shape at five o’clock is fluid also caused by the tear.

The procedure is arthroscopic surgery, which means the surgeon makes three small incisions about a half inch wide and uses a camera and tiny instruments to stick a piece of titanium in there and attach a string (his word) from the metal to the end of the tendon. He’ll also burr off the bone spur that likely caused the tendon to tear.

It’s day surgery, so I’ll be home the same night. The prescription is to wear a sling for a month or so, and he promised me I could type! And I’ll be good to travel over to the next town for my panel at the Newburyport Literary Festival on April 25, and to Bethesda the following week for Malice Domestic (and the Agatha awards banquet…).

steven-mattheos-md_2I like Dr. Mattheos and he comes highly recommended by my primary care doc. When Dr. Mattheos was explaining the tear, he wrote everything down for me on the printout of the MRI. I thanked him and he said, “I treat everybody like my dad. He’s from Greece and his English isn’t that good. I tell him, you have to understand what’s happening.” He says he does two shoulder repairs a week, so I know I’m in good hands.

Of course I’m not looking forward to some weeks of pain, and apparently, sleeping in a recliner for the first week. But I’ll be able to catch up on my reading and haul through a few more mystery series that I’ve been wanting to read, starting with Cara Black‘s Aimeé Leduc mysteries set in Paris. Based on past recuperations, I know I can read a book a day. Once I’m off the narcotic pain meds (which I HATE taking – no idea how people get addicted to those…), I should be able to get writing again, too. Good thing I taught myself how to use a mouse with my left hand a few years ago.dress

I’ve got my desk cleaned off, lots of yoga pants and knit button-up shirts ready to wear, some meals in the freezer, and my new Agatha banquet dress hanging in the closet ( like the one on the right, but with sleeves). I finished writing the first draft of GRILLED FOR MURDER, the second Country Store mystery (due August 1), last week, and also drafted an historical short story that popped into my brain and fingertips. Having these manuscripts in their “seasoning” stage, as Quakers might phrase it, is deeply satisfying, knowing I won’t be good for much of anything besides healing for the next few weeks.

So I’m good to go. Still, would be happy for some prayers, Light, and healing energies sent my way tomorrow at two PM EDT if you have any to spare!

Readers: Last minute questions about what in heck arthroscopy is? About the structure of the human shoulder? About my Theory of Everything? Ask now, or keep it for a few more weeks! Or contribute your best story of rotator cuff repair.

Welcome Back, Leslie Budewitz!

Leslie Budewitz authorBarb: I’m not sure how the Wickeds got to know Montana-based author, Leslie Budewitz. It could have been through Sisters in Crime National, or through the Guppies (Great UnPublished, the online chapter of Sisters in Crime). Or it could have been because she, Sheila, Jessie and Julie are all Berkley authors. Or it could have been because she and Liz were both nominated for Best First Agatha’s last year. So many connections. Anyway, I was thrilled when Leslie asked me to blurb the first book in her new Spice Shop Mystery series, and happily gave it my hearty endorsement. Since this is her publication month, we invited Leslie around for a chat.

Here’s a glimpse at Assault and Pepper.

Assault+and+Pepper+(Final)After leaving a dicey marriage and losing a beloved job in a corporate crash, Pepper Reece has found a new zest for life running a busy spice and tea shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Her aromatic creations are the talk of the town, and everyone stops by for a cup of her refreshing spice tea, even other shopkeepers and Market regulars.

But when a panhandler named Doc shows up dead on her doorstep, a Seattle Spice Shop cup in his hand, the local gossip gets too hot for Pepper to handle—especially after the police arrest Tory Finch, one of Pepper’s staffers, for murder.

INCLUDES DELICIOUS RECIPES!

Barb: We’re so excited about Assault and Pepper. With its Seattle setting, it is part of what is almost becoming a mystery sub-genre, the Urban Cozy. Why did you choose Seattle and its famous Pike Place Market for this series?

pike marketLeslie: I fell in love with the Market as a student at Seattle University. Later, as a young lawyer working downtown, I tried to eat my way through the Market once or twice a week. I’d start at the front entrance with a slice of pizza from DeLaurenti’s walk-up window, browsing the covers of the magazines at the First & Pike Newsstand— eyes only until my hands were clean! I’d sip a sample cup of tea at Market Spice while watching the fishmongers throw salmon and amuse the crowd with their comedy routine, pick my produce and cheese for the week, and end with dessert—a hazelnut sablé from Le Panier, the French bakery, or a Nanaimo bar from a now-departed shop in the warren off Post Alley.

So naturally, when I thought about setting a mystery series in Seattle, the Market beckoned. Despite her name, Pepper Reece never intended to run a spice shop. But when her life fell apart, she found unexpected solace—and employment—in bay leaves.

The heart of a cozy is the community. The amateur sleuth investigates because she has a personal stake in the crime and in making sure the right people are brought to justice. She may think law enforcement officers are on the wrong track, or her role in village life may give her insight and information they lack. The professionals’ job is to restore the external order by making an arrest and prosecuting. Hers is to restore internal order within the community. And that holds just as true in the urban cozy, where the community is a subset of the city, as in the more common rural setting.

Plus I get to spend hours a day in a city I love while still living in the Montana woods.

Barb: You’re best known for your Food Lovers Village mysteries, including the Agatha-winning Best First, Death Al Dente, set in the charming tourist town of Jewel Bay, Montana. (Liz Mugavero interviewed Leslie about that series last September.) How does Pepper Reece, the protagonist of the Spice Shop Mysteries, compare to Erin Murphy in the Food Lovers Village Mysteries? Do you know instantly if an idea is a “Erin story” or a “Pepper story?”

death al denteLeslie: Oh, good question! Pepper is ten years older, a “life begins at 40″ gal. Days after her 40th birthday, she stumbled over her police officer husband and a meter maid—she still can’t say “parking enforcement officer”—practically plugging each other’s meters in a back booth in a posh new restaurant, on an evening he was supposed to be working an extra shift. She left him and bought an unfinished loft in a century-old warehouse downtown. Months later, her job managing staff HR at a major law firm disappeared when the firm imploded in scandal. So she bought the Spice Shop. As her BFF Kristen says, she moves like a glacier on the small stuff but makes major decisions in an instant.

Erin is thirty-two, a Montana girl who moved to Seattle after college and returned home ten years later to take over the struggling family grocery and turn it into a market specializing in local foods. She thinks she knows the place, only to discover it changed while she was away. She’s single and looking, and while she faces some choices, she’s far less ambivalent about love than Pepper! Running a family business creates both closeness and tension. Her father was killed when she was a teenager, in a still-unsolved hit-and-run—and I promise to deal with that in the next installment, Butter Off Dead, in July 2015!

Both Pepper and Erin love to eat and cook. They adore retail, their friends, and art, and are deeply committed to being part of their communities—including putting their lives on the line for justice, when necessary. Especially if dinner and drinks will be served afterwards.

As for what makes a story Pepper’s or Erin’s, I suppose it’s whether it involves a dog or a cat! And whether it is more naturally urban or rural, who else is involved, and what past crimes are rearing their heads.

Barb: Your series protagonist, Pepper Reece, is the owner of the Spice Shop. What kind of research did you do into spices? What’s the most surprising thing you learned?

Leslie: In our house, we spell research E-A-T. I’ve spent hours in all three of the spice shops in or near the Pike Place Market, and I’ve poured over catalogs and cookbooks, and read about the history of spice. It’s quite nasty. Wars were fought over nutmeg and cloves—and empires and fortunes won and lost. The most surprising bit is that while most of the spice trade occurred before America’s emergence, your part of the country turned to the pepper trade after the Revolution, to restore its economy. Between 1795 and 1891, nearly a thousand voyages were made between the states and Sumatra, most of them from Salem.

Barb: What are you working on now?

butteroffdeadLeslie: Butter Off Dead, the third Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, will be out in July. Erin and her friends in Jewel Bay try to heat up chilly winter business with a new film festival. But their plans are sent reeling when a dangerous killer dims the lights on a local mover and shaker …

Guilty as Cinnamon, the second Spice Shop mystery, will be out in December, and I’m working on the third, tentatively titled A Thyme to Kill.

I’m also learning the ropes of Sisters in Crime, the international organization dedicated to promoting the advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers, as vice president. This fall, I’ll become president, and if I survive, I’ll be elevated to Goddess. And who doesn’t aspire to that?

Thanks for having me, Wickeds!

Readers: Are you intrigued? Do you have questions or comments for Leslie? What do you think about urban versus village cozies? What’s your spiciest spice story? Let us know.

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Leslie’s bio

Leslie Budewitz is the only author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction—the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, for Death al Dente (Berkley Prime Crime), first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, and the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books). She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher.

Coming in July 2015: BUTTER OFF DEAD, third in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries!

Connect with her on her website, http://www.LeslieBudewitz.com

on Facebook, http://www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor

or on Twitter http://www.Twitter.com/LeslieBudewitz