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!
Turns out some authors cringe at the question. Not me! Maybe because I have a great memory—but mostly because it’s fun to retrace, for myself and readers, how disparate images and incidents came together, shifted, and took shape on the page.
I fell in love with Seattle’s Pike Place 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 days after her fortieth birthday, she found unexpected solace—and employment—in bay leaves. It’s the perfect job, with her love of food and cooking, and her experience in HR. But when a dead man turns up on her doorstep and a trusted employee is charged with murder, spice no longer seems quite so idyllic.
Because plot flows from character, it’s crucial for me to know the core conflicts as early as possible. In building my cast, I remembered a conflict between a friend of mine and her father, decades ago. In an understandable urge to protect her from what he perceived as certain disappointment, even pain, he forbade pursuit of a passion. She followed her dream anyway. One of Pepper’s employees has a similar relationship with a parent, although this is fiction, so the conflict is more dramatic, the consequences more extreme. “It’s complicated,” the family says in response to questions, and that’s the key to making a real-life tension into fictional one: complicate it.
One character acts, another responds, and that chain of action and reaction propels the story forward. When medical treatment fails, anger and frustration can outweigh the physical pain. What if, I wondered, a particular patient’s emotions crossed over the line? The familial clash between Pepper’s employee experiences creates an opportunity for another person’s normal, if uncomfortable, emotions to cross the line and become deadly.
Other ideas grow from simple observations and memories. Though I moved back to my native Montana years ago, my husband shares my love of the city and we make regular trips for research. (And by research, I mean eat.) The Market is a breadbasket of sensory triggers: sights, smells, sounds, and of course, the food. It also sparks ideas for clashes between people. When you cram 300 shops and restaurants, two hundred daystall tenants selling farm goods, flowers, food products, and arts and crafts, along with three hundred residents and ten MILLION visitors a year—locals and tourists—into nine acres, well, stuff happens!
A legal secretary of mine was married to one of the first bike cops in the city, and I often saw him zipping around downtown. Not hard to imagine that if his ex-wife ran a Market shop, he might find excuses to drop by. (Another man might invent reasons to avoid his ex’s block—but that’s another character, in another story!)
Research can lead to unexpected paths. I knew what neighborhood the victim had lived in. When I found a picture on a real estate blog of a fairy-tale house in that same area, it became the setting of two pivotal scenes. It also became a central image in the story—a symbol of the novel’s themes of identity, betrayal, and the line between protecting someone you love and interfering in their life.
So when you see an image on the page or read a scene, it may have taken a long—and complicated—path to the page. Because for writers, ideas are everywhere.
About Assault and Pepper:
Pepper Reece, owner of the Seattle Spice Shop, thinks she can handle any kind of salty customer—until a murderer ends up in the mix…
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.
Tory seems to know why she’s a suspect, but she refuses to do anything to curry favor with the cops. Convinced her reticent employee is innocent, Pepper takes it on herself to sniff out some clues. Only, if she’s not careful, Pepper’s nosy ways might make her next on the killer’s list…
INCLUDES DELICIOUS RECIPES!
ASSAULT AND PEPPER, March 3, 2015 (Berkley Prime Crime)