I hear tell that some authors don’t like that question. Not me! Maybe because I have a great memory—but mostly because it’s fun to retrace, for myself and readers, how disparate images and incidents came together, shifted, and took shape on the page.
In CRIME RIB, second in my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries (out July 1), the TV show Food Preneurs comes to Jewel Bay, Montana to film the 35th Annual Summer Art and Food Festival and its centerpiece, the annual steak grill-off. My protagonist, Erin Murphy, manages a grocery specializing in local foods. After disaster struck the village in DEATH AL DENTE, Erin is content this time to stay on the sidelines, keeping her focus on the Merc and scouting festival vendors for new products.
When the show’s producer is killed in a hit-and-run, Festival organizers beg her to step in and help out, to give Jewel Bay a shot at national publicity. How can a local girl say no? But when the host reveals a less than camera-ready side of himself, and a contestant is attacked and killed, Erin worries that the town’s reputation as a family-friendly, food-loving, vacation village will go up in flames. And when the sheriff runs out of leads, it’s up to her to smoke out the truth.
I knew one of the central conflicts in the story involved two men with a long history—one the TV host, the other a local chef. I’d been reading chefs’ memoirs and other kitchen lit, and recalled an incident in which a sous chef relied on a line cook to pre-cook pasta for one of that night’s dishes. The line cook got distracted and messed up; the sous didn’t check, and the dish went out with limp noodles. Worse, the sous mistimed his dishes and they didn’t all come out at the same time. Worse yet, the table was VIP—a national restaurant reviewer. The chef-owner—subject of the book—was mortified, and livid.
At about the same time, a friend called on a man he’d known years earlier, who was in a position to do him a career-boosting favor. Instead, the other man chose to denigrate my friend’s work, destroying the opportunity and seriously denting my friend’s self-esteem. Why, we wondered. A woman who’d known them in the olden days opined that the other man perceived favoritism by a shared mentor and still nursed a grudge.
What if, I thought, the incident I’d read about and my friend’s crushing experience fit together? What if one of the men still blamed the other for the loss of a dream? Where could that lead, and who else would be drawn into the deadly circle?
Other ideas evolve more simply. I was struggling to picture Tracy, Erin’s shop assistant and a whiz at designing eye-catching displays. At a writing workshop, a classmate bragged about her “cheap chic” wardrobe and instantly, I saw Tracy. Instead of my classmates stylish blond bob, she wore her thick chestnut hair long—the hair of a woman I’d worked with years ago.
Then one morning, my gaze landed on a pair of intricately beaded red-and-silver earrings, a gift I love to look at but rarely wear. “Tracy!” I said, probably out loud. Turns out she adores interesting earrings, and now I’m collecting ideas, online and in real life. (Find a good one? Send me a picture, and if I use it in a future book, you’ll be acknowledged.)
In CRIME RIB, we meet Reg Robbins, a retired NFL player turned potter. Years ago, I heard about a retired football player who settled in Wyoming and began working clay. I know nothing else about the real man—didn’t need to, as my imagination assembled the rest. Reg’s place sits near a real-life art studio I’ve visited, but his occupies a red barn painted to reflect his Southern roots. Many of our friends here in Montana are artists, and some of their work dots his walls and garden paths.
So when we meet someday, at a reading or a mystery convention, don’t hesitate to share your stories with me. Don’t worry—I won’t expose your secrets! When I give them to a character, they shift and change, taking on a new life. You won’t recognize them, but I hope you’ll have fun trying.
To comment on Leslie Budewitz’s blog please click here.