Is it a Mystery—or a Romance?

Leslie-WEB-ColorBy Leslie Budewitz

Join Leslie on Facebook for a chance to win a gift box of jam from Eva Gates Homemade Preserves. As Erin Murphy, the protagonist of Death al Dente, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel says, “If it’s made in Montana, it must be good!”

I love a good mystery. And I love a good romance. Actually, to my way of thinking, every novel is a bit of a mystery—or should be. Whether the book is shelved in the mystery section or elsewhere, some deep human question—some deep human mystery—lies at the heart of every novel.

And of course, so does love. Whether it’s romantic love, filial love, or that deep and mysterious form of friendship the Greeks call agape, the longing for love and all the related struggles tug at readers of nearly every kind of fiction.

But when my first mystery, Death al Dente, was published last year, I was surprised to discover that mystery readers have distinct opinions about how much romance is too much. Cross over the line, and your books will be categorized not as mystery but as romantic suspense. That’s not bad—but it does put you in another section of the bookstore, and give you a different set of readers. The audiences overlap, but some readers will never cross that line.

Other readers love a good romantic tug-of-war. The love triangle. Will Heroine choose Guy A—or Guy B? Will the man we suspected of murder in the first installment instead turn out to be Mr. Right? Will the man we were rooting for turn out to carry a torch for the long-lost love, returned from the dead in book five? deathaldent

Lo these many years, I found myself interested in two men at the same time. “You’re old enough,” I told myself. “You can date them both.” And so I did, for about a week, when the second man banished all thoughts of the first. (Except for that oh-so-uncomfortable conversation with the first man. He lived.) ANYway, I’m not the only woman to have such an experience, so when my girl Erin found herself interested in both Rick Bergstrom, aka “farm boy,” and Adam Zimmerman, the nerd-turned-hunky wilderness camp director who carried a torch for her in college, though she barely noticed him—well, it seemed true-to-life.  I was not prepared for the readers who said “oh, not a love triangle.” Others said “don’t let it go on too long.” I suspect that despite its realism, it’s been over-used—one series in particular comes to mind, the one with the NJ lingerie buyer who—well, never mind.

But don’t worry. Erin’s a woman who prides herself on both her decision-making and her intuition. She’ll know her  heart soon. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

How much romance is enough in your mystery? And how much mystery do you like in your romance?

February Book News

deer heart

February, the month we celebrate love of all kinds, and relish time with a book in front of the fire.But we’re not sitting home in front of the fire. Nope. We’re a busy bunch.


Leslie Budewitz is delighted to share the news that Death al Dente, the first in her Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries,  has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Death al Dente, a light-hearted mystery set in fictional Jewel Bay, Montana, was published in August 2013 by Berkley Prime Crime, a division of Penguin Books. The second in the series, Crime Rib, will be published July 1, 2014.  Leslie’s first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure, won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction.

On February 9, several Montana Women Writers will be at the Whitefish Community Center from 2 pm to 5 pm, in celebration of National Heart Day. Your Heart Book Cover- Final 1Betty Kuffel, M.D., will give a presentation entitled “Know Your Heart Disease Risks, based on her book, Your Heart: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease in Women, Men, and Children.


Marie F Martin will be at the Whitefish Community Center along with Betty Kuffel on Feb 9th to help celebrate Your heart Day.  She will have Maternal Harbor and Harbored Secrets available for sale and will participate in the author’s reading.  She hopes to see you there.

Ann Burden of Breath Cover - MinnettMinnett will read an excerpt from her second (forthcoming) novel, Serita’s Shelf Life, at the February 9th event. She is also the author of the novel Burden of Breath.

Breaking TWIG

Breaking TWIG

Southern fiction author Deborah Epperson will read from her novel, Breaking TWIG.

Other Montana Women Writers members will talk about writing from their hearts, including the heart of their stories, including Nan McKenzie, author of Big FootAngela Miller, author of The Hornbill’s Daughter; P.A. Moore, author of Courthouse Cowboys and Courthouse  Rebel; and Karen Wills, author of Remarkable SilenceTreats will be served and books will be available.

ChampagneBlue Jay ShamanCongratulations to Montana author, Lise McClendon, who is celebrating twenty years in print in 2014. Her first mystery, THE BLUEJAY SHAMAN, was published by Walker & Co., New York, in 1994. For a limited time THE BLUEJAY SHAMAN, set in Missoula and on the Flathead Indian Reservation, is free on many e-book platforms including KindleiTunes, and KOBO. Publisher’s Weekly called it a “gripping debut” and James Crumley said it was “reminiscent of Tony Hillerman at his finest.” Check out art dealer Alix Thorssen’s first adventure!


Kathy Dunnehoff signed a contract with AmazonCrossing to her romantic comedy The Do-Over in German as print, e-book, and audio by 2016.  She’s also just completed recording the audio version of  Hollywood Beginnings, available on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon by mid-February. And her novel Plan On It will be on sale on Amazon as a 99 cent download Valentine’s Day weekend.

On February 19th, Dr. Betty Kuffel will give a presentation in a webinar sponsored by Planetree Alliance, an international healthcare organization that includes North Valley Hospital in Whitefish. Her thirty minute presentation will address Heart Disease Risks and aspects of providing heart health education. The goal is to reduce the number one cause of death in adults through sharing ideas that can be replicated in many organizations and communities. A panel discussion follows the presentation. She has also been invited to write an article for Planetalk Magazine and e-news for Feb.


December Book News


It’s beginning to look a lot like, well, winter up here in northwest Montana! We’re all giving thanks for our readers, the friends we’ve made along the way on this writing journey, and the chance to share our stories with you. Thanks for joining us!

(And of course, books make excellent holiday gifts!)


On the weekend after Thanksgiving, writers from around the country are celebrating independent bookstores with Indies First, a project of the American Booksellers Association and author Sherman Alexie. Writers will spend a few hours in a favorite indie, lending a hand, talking with customers, making recommendations — whatever needs to be done! LESLIE is joining the fun on Sunday, December 1. She’ll be at Fact & Fiction Books in Missoula from 2-4, talking about some of her favorite mysteries and cookbooks. (And yes, she’ll sign copies of Death al Dente!)

Breaking TWIG Breaking TWIG, by Deborah Epperson, will be on sale Dec. 1-3, 2013 for Kindle on Amazon. Click here.  

Ann Minnett MWW photoAnn Minnett took the NaNoWriMo challenge in November and wrote 50,000+ words of her third novel. Here’s hoping that some of them are worth keeping

HarboredSecrets_ebook_new_smallMarie F Martin  had a redo of her cover for Harbored Secrets and updated both her Amazon sale pages for Maternal Harbor and Harbored Secrets.  She is glad that is done, now back to the Pinkum Crickers.

‘Tis the Season for Eating

By Leslie Budewitz

Since Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries debuted in August, I’ve been hearing from readers. And one common refrain? “This book made me hungry!” Like me, my characters tend to obsess about food. The series is set in the lakeside village of Jewel Bay, Montana-where good food and murder cook side by side. Erin Murphy manages Glacier Mercantile, known as The Merc, selling Montana-made foods and products. If it’s made in Montana, it must be good!

And like me, Erin loves easy, flavorful food. These muffins are perfect for Thanksgiving morning, when you’re too busy with the turkey and its friends to cook breakfast, or for those post-holiday mornings with a houseful of guests. Make ahead if you’d like-they freeze beautifully!


2 cups. all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1-1/4 cup canned pumpkin
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 cups cranberries (fresh, coarsely chopped, or dried, aka craisins)

NOTE: I love using craisins. If you use fresh cranberries, you may need to increase the amount of sugar just a bit.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, spices, and sugar. In a small bowl, mix oil, eggs, and pumpkin. Add to flour mixture and combine into a thick batter. Mix by hand; the batter is so thick that it tends to clog an electric mixer. Fold in walnuts and cranberries.

Spray muffin tins with oil. Spoon batter into tins, about 3/4 full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until a knife or tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Muffins will be soft. Cool slightly before removing.

Makes about 24. These muffins freeze well—so you can nosh on one while reading your favorite fiction!

Death al Dente Leslie Budewitz is the author of Death al Dente, a national bestseller. The second installment in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, Crime Rib, will be published in July 2014 — just in time for grilling season!

All Roads Lead to Montana

By Leslie Budewitz

Death al DenteWell, maybe not. When I was a kid and we visited relatives in Minnesota, they always called out “come back soon” when we left, and my father always replied — sometimes loud enough to be heard outside the car — “the roads go both ways.”

But in my life, all roads — live and Memorex — seem to lead to Montana. One of my eight short stories is set elsewhere (“The End of the Line,” in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, December 2006).* Everything else happens under the Big Sky. 

Like many Montana writers, I consider myself a very placed writer. My view of the world is literally shaped by having grown up here and having chosen to return. I define direction by the flow of the rivers and the location of the mountains. I breath easier in these valleys and on the front range. It is my default landscape — the one that fills my dreams, both waking and sleeping. 

When it came time to choose a setting for my first mysteries, Montana was both natural and right. It’s the place I know best. No other cozies — the light-hearted side of the mystery world — are set in the region, although Diane Mott Davidson has set a wonderful example with her catering sleuth series set in Colorado. Leslie's view

More importantly, story derives from interesting — intriguing — characters put in positions of contrast and conflict. Montana is rich in all of those, making it a particularly rich source for writers of all genres – literary fiction, darker crime fiction (think James Lee Burke’s recent Dave Robicheaux mysteries), and, I hope, the lighter side. Montana is a vast state, with many views, and a many kinds of small towns.  Jewel Bay – like Bigfork, its’ closest real-life relative – surprises people. And surprise is the first ingredient in a memorable setting. 

Come on by. I think you’ll be glad you did. 


* But I’m having a blast writing the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, debuting from Berkley Prime Crime in March 2015. After all, as readers of Death al Dente know, it’s a common story for Montana kids to leave home and return, as both Erin Murphy and I did. But my Seattle years left me with great affection for the city, and it’s a delight to visit it again on the page and for research. And to eat my way through the Market, again, and eat tax-deductible meals in restaurants I remember fondly and their younger cousins.