Why do you write cozy mysteries?
Whether it’s set in a small town or a community within a larger city, in the past or the present, whether the amateur sleuth is single or widowed, young or old, whether we like the victim or think she needed killing, the murder in a mystery is a shock that disrupts the norm. It must be solved—and this is key — to restore a sense of order. Of course, there’s one in every book, so the reader isn’t shocked, but the residents are. They share an underlying belief that people are basically good, and natural order can be restored.
Some writers don’t like the term cozy. The great Carolyn Hart, whom I adore, says what’s more uncomfortable than murder in a small town where everyone is affected? I live in a small town, and she’s right. I never want to forget that murder is not just a means to tell a story — it’s real, and it hurts everyone.
But I like the term, because ultimately any book with an amateur sleuth is about community. Our intrepid sleuth steps away from her busy life to investigate because it’s necessary. The job of the professional investigators is to restore external order by making an arrest and bringing the killer into the justice system. But the job of the amateur sleuth is to restore internal order within the community. To restore the social order.
She does that by being part of the community, whether she’s new to it, a long-timer, or a woman returning home. Her occupation — running a coffeehouse or a pet-friendly hotel, catering, or midwifery — puts her at the heart of the community. She knows everyone. She understands the dynamics. She can see things the professionals can’t see and ask questions they can’t ask, because she knows what goes on. Often, her expertise gives her an advantage — because she knows the true value of the stolen rare book, beyond its price, she can understand the motivation to take it and identify the killer the police never suspected.
The characters and their relationships drive the plot, and the entire novel. And so I find the label “cozy” a positive choice. A hopeful choice.
As I often tell readers, cozies are the comfort food of the mystery world. And don’t we all crave a little mac and cheese now and then?
Please tell us about your book. What ideas or images inspired this novel?
Treble at the Jam Fest is the 4th 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.
Do you have an ideal reader in mind when you write? If so, please describe that reader.
I was a reader before I became a writer, so I rely heavily on my instincts. I write what I want to read. I understand that my readers have certain expectations – the main character must drive the story, be smart and independent and able to get herself out of trouble, and be someone the readers want to spend several hours with. My readers enjoy learning things about the businesses Erin, and Pepper in the Spice Shop Mysteries, run, and the specific problems that lead to the mystery. They like the food and festivals, visiting Montana and the Pacific Northwest, and they like a story that’s about something. So do I, so it’s a perfect match!
Please describe your writing routine.
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.) Some writers call themselves outliners; others see themselves as “pantsers,” writing by the seat of their pants! (Others call that organic writing, or as my friend Elizabeth Zelvin says, “writing into the mist.” I consider myself a planner. Plot grows out of the characters – what they want in this particular scenario, and what they’ll do to get it. Once I understand the central emotional conflict, I can begin to see what the characters will do. It’s definitely a process of discovery. I outline as far as I can – a few sentences for each chapter – and I nearly always know the ending, or at least I think I do! For each series, and the stand-alone I’m working on now, I’ve developed a 3-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. And for Treble at the Jam Fest, I listened to a lot of jazz, and ate a lot of huckleberry jam!
What advice do you give new writers just starting out?
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.
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.
More about Treble at the Jam Fest:
Erin Murphy, manager of Murphy’s Mercantile (aka the Merc), is tuning up for Jewel Bay’s annual Jazz Festival. Between keeping the Merc’s shelves stocked with Montana’s tastiest local fare and hosting the festival’s kick-off concert, Erin has her hands full.
Discord erupts when jazz guitarist Gerry Martin is found dead on the rocks above the Jewel River. The one-time international sensation had fallen out of sync with festival organizers, students, and performers. Was his death an accident — or did someone even the score?
Despite the warning signs to not get involved, Erin investigates. And when the killer attacks, she orchestrates her efforts into one last crescendo, hoping to avoid a deadly finale.
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How to connect with Leslie:
Email address: Leslie@LeslieBudewitz.com
Twitter: www.Twitter.com/LeslieBudewitz or @LeslieBudewitz
Buy Link: Midnight Ink: http://www.midnightinkbooks.com/product.php?ean=9780738752402