Wicked lunch post Crime Bake. From lower left clockwise, Julie, Sherry, Leslie, Barb, Sheila, Liz, Jessie
NEWS FLASH: The winner of Joyce Tremel’s To Brew or Not to Brew is Ruth Nixon! Joyce will be contacting you, Ruth.
Sisters in Crime (SinC) president’s hat at the New England Crime Bake. Since Sisters in Crime (the New England chapter) is one of the reasons the Wickeds know each other, I (Julie/Julianne) thought I’d talk about this wonderful organization a bit.
How long have you been a member of Sisters in Crime?
I joined in 1995, after a friend spotted a piece in the book section of the Sunday paper on SinC and MWA. I lived in rural Montana at the time, far away from other writers and groups, and SinC—which was all by mail then—was my first real introduction to writers’ groups.
Tell us about your writing journey and your path to publication.
I started writing at 4, on my father’s desk. Literally – I did not yet understand the concept of paper. But while l always wanted to be a writer, I didn’t actually think it was something you could do. In my late 30s, I decided I really did want to write seriously, though it took more than fifteen years before I held my first book in my hands. In the interim, I wrote several unpublished manuscripts, although a few were agented and came close, and published half a dozen short stories.
Elizabeth George and Leslie Budewitz at Crime Bake. Photo: Mo Walsh
As an English major turned lawyer who always preferred research and writing to the courtroom, I started reading everything I could about mystery writing. I went to mystery conventions, and in 1999, took a week-long intensive mystery writing workshop with Elizabeth George, which changed my writing life. It’s not her fault that I didn’t get a book published for another twelve years! And it was super-wonderful to reconnect with her at the New England Crime Bake.
Along the way, other writers started asking me questions about using the law in their fiction—how does their fictional police officer get a search warrant, can one character inherit from another, who is Miranda and why are we always warning her? I wrote columns for several writers’ newsletters, including the Guppies’ First Draft and SinC National’s quarterly, InSinC. I was inspired by D.P. Lyle’s Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensics Questions for Mystery Writers to create a book proposal, which eventually became Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction.
While I was writing Books, Crooks, I realized that as much as I love helping other writers get the facts about the law write—er, right—I wasn’t through telling my own stories. I love the light-hearted subset of traditional mystery sometimes called the cozy, and decided to try that genre. Foodie fiction is popular, and I love to eat and cook, so I created a village obsessed with food—in Montana, of all the unlikely places. Erin Murphy manages Murphy’s Mercantile aka the Merc, a specialty regional foods market in her family’s hundred-year-old building in the village of Jewel Bay. The village is inspired in part by the town I live in, and while there are even more great places to eat on the page than on our streets, it’s actually not too far from the mark! Happily, the locals have embraced the books. The first, Death al Dente, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, which still gives me the thrills!
And now I write a second series, the Spice Shop Mysteries, drawing on my love of Seattle, where I went to college and practiced law for eight years.
They are both such great series! Several of us are also Guppies, and by that I don’t mean fish. You are one of the founders of the Guppies. Tell us about the creation of the group, and where it is now?
In the summer of 1996, a beginning writer who was part of the Internet chapter put out a call for new writers to form a support and information group. I responded to the call, along with half a dozen others. In those pre-Internet days, we communicated mainly by mail, sending each other round-robin packages crammed with articles we’d found and chapters for critique. Eventually, we grew large enough for a real mailing list and newsletter, and in 1997, went online. The name came at about that time, from the nickname, The Great Unpublished. We formed the first Guppy Steering Committee in 1997, and I was the first treasurer. Official chapter status came a few years later.
The Guppies is now the largest chapter of SinC, typically reaching 600 members by year-end. It’s such a welcoming place that many members stay in the group long after they become published, as I have. When we started, the challenge was finding information about craft and the business of writing. Now, the problem is too much information, and the Guppies, along with SinC National, does a great job helping writers navigate those crowded waters.
I truly would not be published today if not for the support and encouragement of my friends in SinC, especially in the Guppies. I wrote in my essay for the marvelous anthology Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey that, while writers spend a lot of time home alone in our rooms, every opportunity and achievement I’ve had as a writer is the result of something I learned or someone I met in a group. And it’s absolutely true.
It is true! Other writers make the journey a lot more fun, that’s for sure. Tell me, what do you wish you’d understood at the beginning of this journey?
Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t know how long it would take me to get published, or I might not have kept going, and that would have been a sad thing. I’m a happier, healthier person because I spend so much time alone with people who only exist because I made them up. I kinda wish I’d figured that out a few years earlier and gotten started seriously sooner!
Or maybe your timing was just right, since both your series are so much fun. Tell us about the new book!
Guilty as Cinnamon is the second Seattle Spice Shop Mystery, following Assault and Pepper (March 2015). I fell in love with Pike Place Market as a college student in Seattle, a squillion years ago, and as a young lawyer working downtown, ate my way through the Market regularly. It’s a marvelous setting for a series—a city within a city, a historic place that’s always new, a place where anything can and does happen.
When one of Pepper’s potential clients, a young chef named Tamara Langston, is found dead—possibly from ingesting the dangerously hot ghost chili, a spice Pepper carries— Pepper is drawn in.
I wanted to explore the relationships between the Spice Shop staff and show Pepper struggling a bit with certain aspects of her business. She’s no longer confident in her personal judgment when it comes to romantic relationships, so I wanted to delve into that. I knew that Tag, Pepper’s ex-husband and a bike patrol officer, does not get along with one of the homicide detectives; this book gave me a chance to find out why.
As in all my books, but especially the Spice Shop series, there’s an underlying social justice issue as well. And I wanted her to have fun with that dog!
It is on my TBR pile! Thank you for coming to visit the Wickeds today, Leslie. Readers: questions for Leslie? Ask away.
More about Guilty as Cinnamon:
Pepper Reece knows that fiery flavors are the spice of life. But when a customer dies of a chili overdose, she finds herself in hot pursuit of a murderer…
Murder heats up Seattle’s Pike Place Market in the next Spice Shop mystery from the national bestselling author of Assault and Pepper.
Springtime in Seattle’s Pike Place Market means tasty foods and wide-eyed tourists, and Pepper’s Seattle Spice Shop is ready for the crowds. With flavorful combinations and a fresh approach, she’s sure to win over the public. Even better, she’s working with several local restaurants as their chief herb and spice supplier. Business is cooking, until one of Pepper’s potential clients, a young chef named Tamara Langston, is found dead, her life extinguished by the dangerously hot ghost chili—a spice Pepper carries in her shop.
Now stuck in the middle of a heated police investigation, Pepper must use all her senses to find out who wanted to keep Tamara’s new café from opening—before someone else gets burned…
Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. She fell in love with the Pike Place Market as a college student in Seattle, and still makes regular pilgrimages. The president of Sisters in Crime, 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. Connect with her through her website and blog, www.LeslieBudewitz.com, or on Facebook.