How do you write a Made It Moment when your earlier non-fiction book has won an Agatha award? Haven’t you already made it? Leslie Budewitz is no stranger to the writing world, and no stranger to this blog. (Her first guest post appeared here almost two years ago). But you’ll see two things from the Moment you’re about to read. One, Leslie is a great writer. You can imagine how the prose in her debut mystery sings from the details she evokes below. And two, there are always things to strive for. Leslie found hers in the power of myth, and one legendary quotation.
By the way, because this is a debut novel–and you know how I love a debut–we’re going to be giving away a copy of Leslie’s first novel to one lucky commenter. Leslie will be here to respond to comments and select the winner later in the weekend because she’s at an arts festival right now with her new book.
I’d say she’s made it.
One winter a few years ago, my hunny and I watched Bill Moyers’ 1988 interviews, “Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth.” (I’d missed them the first time. Probably had my nose in a book.) What struck me most was Campbell’s fervent urging: “Never underestimate the value to the Universe of the fully realized life.”
That quote became my motto. For years, it was taped to the top of my computer monitor. Now, it’s framed and sitting on a shelf near my writing desk.
I finished my first mystery in 1996, and though it was short-listed for the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic prize for the best unpublished first traditional mystery, it didn’t find a home. Actually, it did: It moved into the closet in my study and settled in, along with three of its closest friends, on the top shelf. They do not pay rent, and they do not scrub toilets. Happily, they don’t leave empty beer bottles lying around, so as tenants go, those old manuscripts are pretty decent. They remind me that I’ve been working hard on my writing for a long time. On craft and at publishing. Met a lot of characters on the page, and a lot of great people online and in person—because of writing.
But after four unpublished novels, two unsold nonfiction proposals, and a historical novel that just would not take shape, I’d had enough. I wrote and sold several short stories and quite a few magazine articles. But fiction and I weren’t on good terms.
Then I remembered Campbell’s advice. Without serious devotion to writing, my life wasn’t “fully realized.” I am a better, happier person because I spend much of my time with people who only exist because I made them up. And I needed to get back to it.
So I hauled out one of those proposals, revised it, and sent it out. It became Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, 2011), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and an Anthony and Macavity nominee.
But as wonderful and exciting as that is, the best thing about writing that ms. came when I finished and realized I wasn’t done with mystery. I had to find a way to have as much fun writing fiction as I’d just had telling other fiction writers how to do it. I had to realize my dream.
So here I am, with one mystery just out, one turned in, and one in progress.
Thanks, Jenny, for letting me share this. And for letting me tell other aspiring writers: Campbell was right.
Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, debuts from Berkley Prime Crime in August. The series is set in a small, lakeside resort community in Northwest Montana, on the road to Glacier Park, near where author Leslie Budewitz lives. Leslie’s second series, The Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, will debut in early 2015.
Leslie is also a lawyer. Her first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books) won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and was nominated for the Anthony and Macavity awards. Leslie blogs about the law for writers at www.LawandFiction.com and talks mystery at www.LeslieBudewitz.com.