August 9, 2013

Friday Blowout Moment: Leslie Budewitz

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 1:47 am

Death al Dente

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.

Leslie Budewitz

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my first mystery in 1996, and though it was short-listed for the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic prize for the best unpublished first traditional mystery, it didn’t find a home.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But after four unpublished novels, two unsold nonfiction proposals, and a historical novel that just would not take shape, I’d had enough.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 and talks mystery at


  1. Leslie: I have been following your posts for a number of years now and have learned a tremendous amount from you. You are one of the most generous writers I have read in terms of offering information, encouragement, and gentle correction. It’s fantastic to find out that you’ve scored in the fiction world as well. I am truly looking forward to reading your new series. Thanks for adding to my TBR list. Best, Cassy Pickard

    Comment by Cassy Pickard — August 9, 2013 @ 2:38 am

  2. Interesting post about your journey in writing, Leslie. I’ve been seeing your cover for Death Al Dente on Facebook and it is on my must read list. And BTW I love your law and fiction site. Thank you Jenny for having Leslie here for us to get to know better.

    Comment by Kate Eileen Shannon — August 9, 2013 @ 2:40 am

  3. This is so inspiring! I love that quote and think I might put that on my desk, too. Congrats on your success!

    Comment by Krysten H — August 9, 2013 @ 3:07 am

  4. Inspiring story!
    I’m a huge fan of Campbella dn one of his quotes sits by my writing area. I’t Follow Your Bliss.
    Death Al Dente looks like a fun read. Going to download it!

    Comment by Bobbi — August 9, 2013 @ 7:18 am

  5. I also shouldn’t be allowed to post before I”m awake.
    Clearly I can’t spell before my morning cup of tea.

    Comment by Bobbi — August 9, 2013 @ 7:19 am

  6. Congratulation on your debut novel! I loved your quote from Joseph Campbell. As an aspiring author, fervently polishing my manuscript in hopes of finding it a home (beyond a closet or shelf), your story is inspiring. Your “Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries” concept is intriguing. Best of success to you!

    Comment by Charles Versfelt — August 9, 2013 @ 7:32 am

  7. This was a most inspiring post. I’ve been striving for a fully realized life, too, although I didn’t know to call it that. I write cozies also, and I’ve gone the self-publishing route with some success (at least I consider it success, being an elderly, retired person). I’ve found indie publishing to be a wonderfully liberating way to go, and I’m loving every minute of the adventure.

    Comment by Helen Haught Fanick — August 9, 2013 @ 8:07 am

  8. Hi, Leslie and Jenny,

    A very interesting blog post. No matter how good a writer you are the path to publication is rarely an easy one. I want to say congrats on getting your new mystery so well-published. Perhaps now your older mysteries will now be published as well.

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — August 9, 2013 @ 9:28 am

  9. Thank you, Jenny, for such a lovely introduction. And thanks, Jacqueline. Turns out the path is key — the journey isn’t all about the destination. No matter how often we’ve heard that, we don’t really get it until we see it in our own lives.

    Comment by Leslie Budewitz — August 9, 2013 @ 9:57 am

  10. One of my most treasured possessions (assuming husband, son, cat, home occupy their soul positions at all times) is my sense of myself at my core as a writer. Like the ground. Like true north. No questions asked. I’ve completed four novels and somewhere in the middle of the first one (oh, well, maybe the second) I stopped feeling like a total wannabee. Something just clicked and now I’m the bee. This transformation doesn’t require publication or recognition, although boy oh boy it would be nice and I’m so happy for you, Leslie, and you, Jenny — love that book. It just requires a certain inside-job confidence that there is and will always be the writing and that there is no ultimate “make it.” (I have a friend who has four Grammys and she’s happy to have them but it turns out they’re not “the prize.”) We humans are such dolts sometimes. I wish I’d had somebody back in my wannabee days to slap me and say, “it’s the journey, stupid. No, look at me, eye contact, it’s THE JOURNEY. I admire excellence and salute success but a “fully realized” life is the prize. Aren’t we having fun!

    Comment by Annie Hogsett — August 9, 2013 @ 10:03 am

  11. The poet Rilke once wrote, “All art is the result of being in danger. Of going as far as one can go and beyond.” For some unknown reason I only feel fully alive when I’m working on a crime novel, vicariously putting myself in danger as a way to get far beyond what passes for everyday life. Sticking your neck out, putting yourself on the line and sending your work out there is also part it as acceptance and rejection send you high and low. Thank you, Leslie, for reminding me why I keep at this loopy pursuit.

    Comment by Shelly Frome — August 9, 2013 @ 10:05 am

  12. Great post and inspiring to anyone pursuing writing (or any dream). I read the Power of Myth (basically a transcript of the interview) years ago and I still have it. I remember it transforming my younger self but I didn’t remember that particular quote…obviously I need to give it another read–and steal that quote for my writing board. Thanks for sharing :))

    Comment by Jess Owen — August 9, 2013 @ 10:48 am

  13. Jenny and Leslie, This is a truly inspiring and helpful piece that I wish could be read by every aspiring writing and new author!

    Comment by Julie — August 9, 2013 @ 10:59 am

  14. Somehow, when I posted earlier, I only saw Jacqueline’s post and not the other comments. My apologies for not being able to respond to each one — must head out to Whitefish this minute! — but your comments are lifting me up as I take another step on what Shelly aptly calls “this loopy pursuit.”

    Wishing you a great day — and huckleberry cheesecake for all!

    Comment by Leslie Budewitz — August 9, 2013 @ 11:01 am

  15. As other have commented, this was a very inspiring post. I’m glad I stopped in. You gave me the nudge I needed to get back to work. Thank you!

    Comment by Marja McGraw — August 9, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

  16. So glad you got back to fiction writing. Here’s a quote which has driven me over the years: “Whether or not you pursue your dreams, time will pass. Might as well pursue them.”

    Comment by Marjorie Brody — August 9, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

  17. Many congratulations, Leslie! I think we first met, or at least talked at length, in 1996 in Portland during Left Coast Crime. A few years back, eh? So glad you kept at it. Persistence is the #1 quality of the published writer. Never giving up on improving your craft, on hearing your authentic voice, on telling your unique story. Way to go, fellow Montanan!!!!

    Comment by Lise McClendon — August 9, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

  18. Congrats on getting published. And more importantly for never giving up on your dream even if you took a few years off in the middle. There’s nothing truly wrong with that.

    I’ve added your book to my To Be Read list (although winning it would be awesome!). I do love a good cozy.

    Comment by Mark — August 9, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

  19. Your comments make me think you’re from Michigan with Whitefish and huckleberries, I didn’t think anyone else ever heard of them!
    I was wondering if you adapted your style to some of the popular genres for now, or if the timing just happened to become right for your work?
    I decided to publish one of my books, and probably the sequel, at the urging of some other writers, since I doubted it would find a agent since its not one of the tried and true genres right now. Agents seem reluctant to move too far away from a sure sale to a publisher for new authors. I admire your perseverance in getting a fiction work published since I think that must be one of the most difficult tasks there is. You really showed determination. I hope you can grow with your writing too.

    For me, I am trying but with so many other demands, publishing only seems to infringe on my writing time and I think I’m suffering withdrawal at the moment. I love writing, so I don’t need to be encouraged to do it. The publishing part seems a little iffy. Congratulations for making it.

    And I definitely need to check out your non-fiction book and website for the sequel, I’m sure it will help.

    Comment by Jerrie Brock — August 9, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

  20. Go, Leslie. Looking forward to this read. Sign me up for the giveaway. Thanks.

    Comment by Judy — August 9, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

  21. I loved your article. I am on the last leg of my first historical novel which I began 30 years ago. It takes place in Ireland in 1775. It has turned into a prequel to what I began before. What has amazed me is the realization that I did not have the life experience to write this book any earlier in my life. The emotions, ranging from utter joy to desperate grief, are much richer now so I do not feel that I have lost anything during these years. The other amazing thing is that it seems to be writing itself. I can’t tell you how many times my fingers have flown over the keyboard while I sit and go WOW! Look at that! I had no idea THAT was going to happen! One of my characters has haunted me for most of my life. Very strange.

    Comment by Elaine McMahon — August 9, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

  22. Leslie and Jenny, you are two of the most inspiring writers I know. Leslie, I was thrilled when you won the Agatha and even more excited about these two new mystery series. You may remember my daughter was evacuated from the Montana fires last year and your kind words of encouragement were highly appreciated. She is now moving to Seattle, so we’ll both be salivating waiting for your debut Seattle Spice Shop mystery to arrive in our hands.

    Comment by Cindy Sample — August 9, 2013 @ 7:18 pm

  23. Congratulations, Leslie ~ and this, I’m sure, is just the beginning of your journey in fiction!

    Comment by Connie di Marco — August 9, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

  24. Oh, my. Home, hot and happy, from a long day in Whitefish (Montana! not Michigan, though I’d love to visit it, too!), and headed back in the morning. Thank you all for telling me my words and journey touched you. I can’t respond to each post,but do want to comment on a few. Annie, that sense of yourself at core as a writer: YES. Hang on to it. That’s what Campbell is talking about. We don’t need to cure cancer or walk on the moon to live worthwhile lives — important as those things are — we have only to identify and pursue that core. Jerrie, I chose to write cozies now because I knew publishers were buying them on proposal; I love them and am having a blast writing them and talking with readers who love them, too. Cindy, so glad she got through the fires safely — and Seattle! Oh, my! You will love visiting her!

    Thank you all for sending me to sleep with a smile. I’ll check in again tomorrow.

    Comment by Leslie Budewitz — August 9, 2013 @ 11:53 pm

  25. I always enjoy hearing about how writers got published and how much hard work went into the journey. I look forward to reading your debut mystery! Thanks for a great post.

    Comment by Penny Tuttle — August 10, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

  26. Leslie

    I figured you enjoyed it. I don’t think you can produce something of any quality if you don’t enjoy the style you’re writing in. I just wasn’t sure if your earlier works were also cozy mysteries, just ahead of their time. I can see how the audience would be a fun a group, since they’re a fun diversionary type of book, so its hard to read them and not smile. I wish I could but I’m afraid if I did a mystery it would be rather complex, since most of my stuff is. I do want to give one a try, I think it would be fun, but I’ve got so many I want to write still, sigh…more writing time, more writing time. At least I got my first out there, with a few moments of frustration and now, I can get back to the fun stuff–writing. Thanks for responding.

    Comment by Jerrie — August 10, 2013 @ 11:16 pm

  27. The giveaway winner is Jerrie Brock! Jerrie, I will be emailing you shortly. Congrats!

    Comment by jenny — August 20, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

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