BIGFORK – When Bigfork author Leslie Budewitz is creating worlds for her novels and the people who live in them, a little real-life inspiration can go a long way.
The location for her Food Lovers’ Village mystery series is based on the village of Bigfork, with its festivals, proximity to the water, and colorful characters. And in her upcoming mystery series based in Seattle, a detective character is based on a non-detective friend.
Adding such detail makes these places and people come alive, Budewitz said. And it would seem the critics and readers agree: Budewitz’s book, “Death al Dente,” recently won the Best First Novel Agatha Award at the annual Malice Domestic Convention held in Bethesda, Maryland.
The convention draws about 600 attendees, made up of voracious mystery readers, critics and authors, who vote on the Agatha Award categories – named for the preeminent mystery author Agatha Christie – while at the convention.
During an interview in her writing studio in the heart of the Swan Mountains last week, Budewitz said she was thrilled to get nominated in January, and was excited during the award ceremony.
“I didn’t think I was nervous, but I was,” she said.
This is Budewitz’s first work of fiction to win an Agatha; her non-fiction book “Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately about Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure” won in 2011.
That work was based on her 30-year career as a lawyer, Budewitz said. She’s been writing since she was 4 years old, but began seriously writing 18 years ago. After forming and joining online groups for mystery writers, she found that her fellow writers kept asking her procedural questions about the law.
It made sense to combine her legal knowledge with her passion for mystery, she said. Once her non-fiction work was published, Budewitz realized she needed to keep writing, and it had to be stories of her own creation.
“I wasn’t through telling my own stories, and so I looked around for a way to get back to mystery,” she said.
She penned “Death al Dente,” a story about a mercantile owner in Jewel Bay, Montana, who must solve a murder while also trying to pull off a major food festival.
“Jewel Bay is based on Bigfork, and we love our festivals,” she said.
“Death al Dente” is part of the Food Lovers’ Village series, and Berkley Prime Crime, a division of Penguin Books, has signed on to publish three of the Jewel Bay books, the second of which, entitled “Crime Rib,” will be released in July.
The same publisher will also put out Budewitz’s upcoming novels, the Seattle Spice Shop series.
Food is a big theme in these novels, which Budewitz classifies as “cozy mysteries,” meaning they are lighter hearted than the traditional mystery novel.
“There’s no graphic sex or violence,” Budewitz said, “but there is a lot of graphic food, and some knitting.”
“Death al Dente” and “Crime Rib” include recipes from the stories at the end of the novel to help make the Jewel Bay experience more realistic.
“(The recipes) are all easy to do,” Budewitz said. “They are all manageable for the basic home cook; you don’t have to be a gourmet cook to make them.”
“Crime Rib,” which will feature murder at a televised grill-off event, will be published July 1, and Budewitz will host a release party on June 27 at Frame of Reference Gallery in Bigfork from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
It will be a time to interact with her readers and critics, Budewitz said, and it will give the audience a look into her mindset as she continues to create the world of Jewel Bay.
In her writing studio, Budewitz has bits and pieces of inspiration hanging on pin boards or sitting on her desk, from earrings her characters might wear or apron designs they may sport while cooking.
It’s the little things that give her characters life, and Budewitz hopes to keep giving them adventures for many books to come.
“This is fiction, and all of us who write it know that it is very near and dear to us,” she said.
“Death al Dente” is available at Bookworks in Whitefish; the Bookshelf in Kalispell; at Roma’s and Frame of Reference in Bigfork; and online with all major e-reader and book retailers. For more information, visit www.lesliebudewitz.com.