by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Treble at the Jam Fest by Leslie Budewitz, along with an interesting interview with Leslie. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Treble at the Jam Fest, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Treble at the Jam Fest: A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery by Leslie Budewitz
Review by Cynthia Chow
Tiny Jewel Bay, Montana, depends on tourists for its survival, so the pre-Memorial Day Jazz Festival and Workshop is crucial for local businesses and residents. Five-time Grammy winner Gerry Martin has been brought in as the main attraction, but during his first performance Erin Murphy notices that the stage simmers with jealous hostility between him, his protégé, and another guitar player. Having returned home to help her mother run their family’s Mercantile general store, Erin feels responsible not just for the business but for the opening concert being held on their back patio. Erin was right to be concerned, as it is her boyfriend Adam Zimmerman and his best friend Tanner Lundquist who have the misfortune of seeing the jazz guitarist fatally pushed off of a cliff.
As head of the Village Merchant’s Association, one of Erin’s duties is to ensure the smooth running of festivals that attract economy-boosting tourists to Jewel Bay. Combined with her inherent nosiness and need to meddle, it would be impossible for Erin to remain on the sidelines with rumors risking Jewel Bay’s reputation as a musical hub fostering new artists. Since Erin’s best friend Kim Caldwell remains on leave from the sheriff’s department until she resolves her own issues with guilt, Erin is on her own tracking down the musicians, festival organizers, and even local business owners who resented Gerry Martin and may have given him that final push.
Although Erin feels unsettled in her own life—at the age of 33 she’s housesitting while working in a store owned by her mother—as an investigator she proves as clever as any professional. Erin has the advantage of having grown up in Jewel Bay, and while she may have left to pursue a career in Seattle, locals feel free to share with her information they hesitate to give to officials. The use of Erin’s Spreadsheet of Suspicion is a welcome distraction to her personal life, as the arrival of Adam’s best friend brings news that could have implications for all their futures. The ambitions and egos of the jazz musicians prove rife with possibilities of murder, and as much as Erin hopes that it’s not a resident, they have their own share of motives caused by human weaknesses. Since Jewel Bay also brands itself as a Food Lovers’ Village, the descriptions of locally sourced, gourmet delicacies and meals will have mouths watering and stomachs grumbling. Erin’s family is written so realistically that they feel familiar as one’s own, and their drama is never overplayed or forced. Erin’s love of Montana and her family will have readers hungry for another chance to visit beautiful Jewel Bay.
Interview with Leslie Budewitz:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Leslie: I started writing at four, on my father’s desk. Literally. I did not yet grasp the concept of paper. Fortunately, my parents were very understanding, and kept me well supplied with paper and pencils. I always wanted to write but didn’t really think you [sic] could. As for many people, the creative impulsive broke its way into my conscious life, insisting on being recognized, during a difficult period in my mid 30s, and I’ve been writing ever since. From idea for first novel (still unpublished) to first novel published – with a few short stories and a nonfiction book in between – was 19 years.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Leslie: Death al Dente, the first Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, came out in August 2013, and won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Erin Murphy has just returned to her hometown of Jewel Bay, Montana, a lakeside resort community on the road to Glacier National Park. Erin has a passion for pasta and retail, and a commitment to community. So when she takes over her family’s century-old general store, she turns it into a specialty market filled with local foods. To celebrate, and to help the village kick off summer, Erin organizes the Festa di Pasta, a festival featuring the culinary goods of Jewel Bay’s finest – including her mother, Fresca’s, delicious Italian specialties. But when the shop’s former manager, Claudette, is found dead behind the Merc on the Festa’s opening night, suspicions settle on Fresca. Tensions rise when rival chef James Angelo stirs up rumors that Fresca stole her special recipes from Claudette. Erin uses her business skills to investigate, to clear her mother, and identify the real killer.
Leslie: When I started writing, I was driving a lot and listening to books on tape – and they really were on tape then. I’d always enjoyed mystery, and the nearest library had a lot of mystery on audio – Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth Peters, Ellis Peters, Tony Hillerman – so it’s no surprise that when fiction came out of me, that’s the form it took. It’s a natural for a lawyer, because we understand the investigative process and the judicial system. It’s also a lot of fun. In addition to four Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and three Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, I’ve written a handful of short stories and one nonfiction guide for writers, Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver, 2011).
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Leslie: Treble at the Jam Fest is the fourth Food Lovers’ Village mystery, and it’s a delight to return to the village of Jewel Bay, all resemblance to the town where I live fully intended! It’s late May, and Erin has her hands full getting the Merc ready for summer, hiring a new sales clerk, and meeting her boyfriend Adam’s visiting BFF. It’s also time for the annual Jewel Bay Jazz Festival. When Adam and his buddy find the body of an internationally-renowned guitarist on the river bank near town, Erin investigates to protect the community and keep the music playing.
In real life, my town hosts an annual guitar workshop and festival in late August. My husband often attends as a student, and we go to every concert. I wanted to take a bit of that energy, and the occasional conflict, and expand and explore it on the page. My books always include a lot of food and the recipes to recreate the food from the festival at home, so creating and testing the recipes is always a lot of fun.
KRL: I understand that this series was formerly with Penguin, and is now with Midnight Ink. Was it difficult to find someone to take on an already-running series?
Leslie: Traditionally that has been difficult, but other publishers understood that Penguin Random House cut back on cozies not for lack of sales, but because it adopted a new business model, so they’ve been more receptive to picking up dropped series than in the past. I’m delighted to be with Midnight Ink. The editors, designers, and the rest of the team truly love cozy mystery and are committed to making the book a success. And they even hired the same cover artist!
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Leslie: There is little more satisfying – and humbling – than hearing from a reader who found comfort in my books during chemo, or who says my stories helped her through a difficult time. I hope they are entertaining, of course, but I also hope they illuminate some aspect of life. I think we all read to understand the amazing variety of human experience a little better. The Food Lovers’ Village mysteries explore the conflicts and joys inherent in small-town living and in family business. My Spice Shop mysteries are set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, a city within a city; each of those explores a social justice issue as well as other mysteries of life and food.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Leslie: I write every day, primarily in the morning, leaving afternoons for promotion and some legal work. (I’m still part of a small civil litigation firm, primarily doing research and writing.)
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book while you are writing it?
Leslie: It’s probably most accurate to call me a planner. I outlined the first several books, but in the last couple of books, the outlines seem to have petered out just past the halfway mark, although I usually know the ending. The story starts for me with the characters, so I spend a lot of time getting to know them, figuring out what they want, and what they’ll do when they don’t get it. The emotional conflict is the heart of the story for me. For each series, and the stand-alone I’m working on now, I’ve developed a three-ring binder with character write-ups, notes, calendars, clippings, pictures of outfits torn from magazines, even sketches of buildings or details that catch my eye. I draw maps of the invented communities, and tack others to the door of my office.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Leslie: After years of writing legal briefs on deadline, I can write just about any time of day. Lawyers are a lot like journalists that way!
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Leslie: I wrote four manuscripts that are still in the closet, plus part of a fourth [FIFTH?]. But along the way, I got so much encouragement that I kept going. Sisters in Crime, particularly the Guppies chapter, gave me so much support, along with practical advice and resources. And it’s really clear to me that writing is what I was meant to do.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Leslie: One day early on, I got an envelope from my agent with two rejection letters for one of those still-unpublished manuscripts. One editor loved the protagonist, but found the plot predictable; the other said I clearly had a strong grasp of plotting, but didn’t think the protagonist could carry a series. When you get two completely opposing comments like that, you know you’re in the game – that it’s a matter of preference and taste, so just keep going. So glad I did!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Leslie: I love meeting readers at bookstores, book clubs, and libraries. The smaller the library, the bigger the welcome! At every event where food’s been served, it’s been the food in my books—that caught me by delicious surprise the first time! Now I make sure each book includes recipes easily served at book events – and that I want to eat again and again! The only exception was a library that ordered a cake with the cover of Killing Thyme on it – a yummy twist!
KRL: Future writing goals?
Leslie: The fifth Food Lovers’ Village mystery, set at Christmas, will be out next year. Right now, I’m working on a stand-alone set from 1981 to the present in Billings, Montana, sparked by an incident [during] my senior year of high school. I find myself delving more deeply into the lives of women, with a crime story thrown in.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Leslie: Anyone who manages to finish a novel is a hero to me!
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Leslie: Besides eat? Each Village book involves a festival, some real, some made-up, so I think a lot about the festival or holiday and what is involved. For the Seattle series, I make a trip to the city and walk the Market and any other neighborhoods I expect to play a part in the story. Getting the ground under my feet is critical. I also focus on the spice or herb, and work it into the overall story. And there’s always incidental research – the murder method, or the name of a distinctive type of bridge. For “Treble at the Jam Fest,” I listened to a lot of jazz, which was great fun.
KRL: What do you read?
Leslie: A lot of mystery, of course, but also other fiction, to learn and be inspired. Most recently, I’ve loved catching up on Louise Penny’s books and, on audio, Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books. I’m a huge fan of Margaret Maron, Barbara Ross, and Deborah Crombie. Gigi Pandian’s Accidental Alchemist series is sheer fun, seasoned with history and alchemy. I’m devoted to the stand-alones by Laura Lippman and Catriona McPherson, and I think Lori Rader-Day is a major new talent. And I love books on the craft of writing – Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction knocked my socks off. (See my red toes?)
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Leslie: Any surprise that I love foodie movies?
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Leslie: Teach yourself to read like a writer. Find the joy in a regular writing practice. Keep learning, keep working. Build a community – writers spend a lot of time alone with people who only exist because we make them up, but every opportunity I’ve had as a writer has come because of a group.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Leslie: It is such a gift to be trusted with someone’s most valuable assets: their time and attention. I am so grateful for this opportunity, to pursue my love of exploring the world through storytelling and sharing it with readers.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Leslie: Find me at www.LeslieBudewitz.com, where you can read excerpts from my novels, and www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor. Newsletter subscribers receive a free Food Lovers’ Village short story called “Carried to the Grave.” I also blog with eight other writer-cooks at www.MysteryLoversKitchen.com, and with www.KillerCharacters.com, where the characters do the talking.
To enter to win win a copy of Treble at the Jam Fest, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “jam,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 29, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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