by Leslie Budewitz
Monday. Gray skies, again. Will the temp squeeze up to double digits this aft? Even the dog hates his walk when it’s below zero, the snow crunching beneath his feet and sticking between his toes.
And then I glance out the window. It’s a Saturday in June and the earth is painted green, in the words of the little poem many of us learned as kids. We don’t have a dog, but I hear the cat yowling, ready to come inside after hunting.
Often as writers, we’re working in one season and setting our stories in another. So, so confusing. I’ve reached for a sweater on a hot day because my character is cold and reminded myself of an event coming up, only to remember that it’s in the story, not real life.
There are advantages to this mis-alignment. A few years ago, I wrote a Christmas book in my Food Lovers’ Village series, As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles, and was testing cookie recipes in June, much to my husband’s delight. I’m working on a holiday book now, in my Spice Shop series, and anyone who visits will be taking home a little box of homemade peppermint bark. Off-season, but always in good taste.
When I’m writing, which is most of the time, I play a game with myself called Three Things. If I’m going for a walk while I’m working on a first draft or the first round of revisions, I tell myself to think of three things that can happen in the next scene. One thing triggers another and when I get home, I dash up to my writing room to make note of three, four, or five things.
Three Things is particularly useful when I’m away from the manuscript for a day or more, say on a book tour or at a writers’ conference, or last year when I served on a grand jury. One morning in May, I was sitting in the courtroom behind our forewoman. She had long, curly, dark hair pulled back in a scrunchie, and I watched her tug off the scrunchie, shake out her hair, pull it back again, then take the scrunchie off and slip in on her wrist. A minute or two later, she’d start all over again. I realized she was playing out her anxiety over a decision we had to make. And I also realized that a character in Bitterroot Lake would do exactly the same thing. I hadn’t had a strong physical image of the character, Janine, but once I gave her that hair and a scrunchie, I could picture every move she made.
On my way home from court—more than a hundred miles away—I found myself captivated by the landscape. It’s a road I know well, but I hadn’t been out much and I’d half forgotten what a glorious place the mountain valleys of western Montana are in May, when Bitterroot Lake is set. I didn’t have to play the Three Things game—the images fairly threw themselves at me. Hillsides covered with arrowleaf balsamroot, one of my favorite wild flowers. New-born colts. The weathered barns and outbuildings my husband and I laughingly say “needs paint,” quoting a crusty old rancher neighbor who said just that of a hayshed on his property that had lost its windows and whose roof had caved in. The way, along a lakeshore, a shiny new trophy house might sit right next to a three-room cottage or a trailer. And all the trees that live in the arboreal forest—white pine and Ponderosa and lodgepole, grand fir and Douglas fir, spruce, hemlock, tamarack, vine maple, birch, and aspen. The way their leaves shimmy and shine in the late afternoon sunlight.
My Bitterroot Lake is fictional, as is the town of Deer Park. But fiction—all story—comes alive through the details. The way the red-winged blackbird perches on last year’s cattails. The way the tiny triangular leaves of the snowberry bush go from tightly furled buds to full leaf in just days. The way the human heart aches as it grieves, healing through remembering, through noticing the tiny details. Through the seasons.
From the cover:
When four women separated by tragedy reunite at a lakeside Montana lodge, murder forces them to confront everything they thought they knew about the terrifying accident that tore them apart, in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman’s suspense debut.
Twenty-five years ago, during a celebratory weekend at historic Whitetail Lodge, Sarah McCaskill had a vision. A dream. A nightmare. When a young man was killed, Sarah’s guilt over having ignored the warning in her dreams devastated her. Her friendships with her closest friends, and her sister, fell apart as she worked to build a new life in a new city. But she never stopped loving Whitetail Lodge on the shores of Bitterroot Lake.
Now that she’s a young widow, her mother urges her to return to the lodge for healing. But when she arrives, she’s greeted by an old friend–and by news of a murder that’s clearly tied to that tragic day she’ll never forget.
And the dreams are back, too. What dangers are they warning of this time? As Sarah and her friends dig into the history of the lodge and the McCaskill family, they uncover a legacy of secrets and make a discovery that gives a chilling new meaning to the dreams. Now, they can no longer ignore the ominous portents from the past that point to a danger more present than any of them could know.
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