Thursday, April 15, 2021

5 Amazing things "Alicia Beckman" learned writing BITTERROOT LAKE #bookgiveaway


HALLIE EPHRON:
Today I'm so pleased to welcome back Leslie Budewitz, an old friend of the Jungle Red Writers, but you might not "recognize" her because she's sporting a new name (Alicia Beckman) and diving into a new genre (suspense). She's making her suspense debut with BITTERROOT LAKE.

Writing as Leslie Budewitz, she’s a three-time Agatha-Award winner (2011, Best Nonfiction; 2013, Best First Novel; 2018, Best Short Story) and best-selling author of the Spice Shop mysteries and the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries.

She's here today to talk about tackling a new genre, and the five amazing things she learned along the way.

LESLIE BUDEWITZ/ALICIA BECKMAN:
1. Every writer needs a friend who is descended from packrats. As Bitterroot Lake begins, Sarah McCaskill Carter is a new widow who comes back to Montana from her home in Seattle to help her mother clean out the family’s historic lakefront lodge.

The main plot is contemporary, but when Sarah finds an old trunk filled with journals, albums, and letters from the 1920s, she’s confronted with the implications of a pair of tragedies she’d known little about. I’d seen enough old scrapbooks and albums to picture (sorry) the white ink on black pages, the black-and-white photos held with black paper corners. But I’m way down the line of descent in my extended family and half the continent away, so when I decided I had to get hands-on, I called my friend JD, keeper of a vast family collection.

Oh, my goodness. Her great-grandmother’s scrapbook, begun when she was first married and living in a logging camp. (Did I mention McCaskill Land and Lumber Company, started in the 19 teens?) Boxes and boxes of photographs and letters. And the baby books. The McCaskills lost a young daughter in 1926. When I found JD’s mother’s baby book and the baby book for the baby girl who died in 1924 at fourteen months, I felt slugged in the heart. I’d already turned in the manuscript—Covid kept us from getting together earlier—but in revisions, I was able to add the baby book, describe what the albums were made from, and sharpen the sense of discovery.

Those details helped me ground the story in reality and create a stronger emotional connection for the reader. That’s why we read fiction, right?

I’m grateful to have spent a few hours with JD’s collection, but I’ll confess, I’m equally grateful that I’m not the one who has to figure out what to do with it.

2. The freak-out in the middle is apparently part of my writing process. I’m writing away, sure I know what the story’s about—not just the plot, but what’s it’s really about, the emotional core—then at some point in the middle, it all becomes a hopeless squiggle.

I torture myself with too much thinking, make too many notes, take long walks, drink wine, talk to myself and poor, tolerant Mr. Right, and then, it hits me. I know what the story is really about. And the rest of the draft flows.

For The Solace of Bay Leaves, that meant tossing an entire plot line and acknowledging that Pepper’s friendship with Maddie wasn’t incidental but the heart of the story. For Bitterroot Lake, it meant recognizing the central role of Sarah’s family history.


It’s painful as heck, but apparently I have to write half the book before It All Becomes Clear.
I’m hoping that starting the WIP with a stronger sense of the emotional conflict for both sleuth and killer shortens the process. I’ll let you know in a week or two.

3. Toilet tissue was invented in 1857. In the trunk, Sarah finds a dried rose on top of a little girl’s dress, tucked away in 1926. Wrapped in what? I asked my friend Google when tissue paper was invented. This was right when the pandemic started and Google was fixated on toilet tissue, not what I had in mind.

When I changed my search to wrapping paper, I learned that the two are related. In 1863, Ebenezer Butterick began using tissue paper for his newly-invented graded sewing patterns, and its use for gift-wrapping began a few years later.

4. Phyllis Ramey loved baseball. As she’s unraveling the mysteries from a century earlier, Sarah visits a cemetery in the fictional town of Deer Park. I pictured a weeping willow and a stone lamb on the grave of a child, but before writing the scene, I wanted a deeper sense of the place. So, on a clear blue day last May, desperate to leave home for a few hours, Mr. Right and I made a field trip to two historic cemeteries not far away.

Old cemeteries
are fascinating, each grave a story. I will never know why long-ago descendants emblazoned MOTHER in gold on a massive boulder in the cemetery at the University of Notre Dame—or how she would have felt. And the story of the fourteen-foot high statue of a young girl standing beside a woman in a wheelchair at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle seems lost to the ages. But I know, from a flat stone in the cemetery in Creston, Montana, decorated with a photo and the image of a baseball, that Phyllis Ramey loved the game.

I never met her, but that stone made me love her so much.

5. The first thing everyone wants to know—and so, perversely, the last thing I’ll tell you—is who is Alicia Beckman? My publisher asked me to use a pen name to distinguish Bitterroot Lake from my cozy mysteries. It’s moodier, for sure—the cover and copy tell you that—but it’s not like I’ve gone from being Jessica Fletcher to Hannibal Lecter.



My books all stem from the events of women’s lives, with crime, and this book is no exception. My mother’s name was Alice and my father often called her Alicia. The Beckmans were my maternal great-grandparents and I kept a picture of them on my desk as I wrote; they are my visual image of Sarah’s great-grandparents, though their lives were nothing alike. Odd as it sounds, I like thinking of them watching me, wondering what on earth this crazy great-granddaughter is up to.

Hey, I wonder that myself sometimes, especially during that squiggle in the middle.

Readers, learned something fun or intriguing from a recent read? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books, one lucky reader will win a hardcover copy of Bitterroot Lake. And if you buy the book and would like a signed bookplate, drop me a line with your mailing address (leslie@lesliebudewitz.com)



ABOUT BITTERROOT LAKE: When four women separated by tragedy reunite at a lakeside Montana lodge, murder forces them to confront everything they thought they knew about the terrifying accident that tore them apart, in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman's suspense debut.

Twenty-five years ago, during a celebratory weekend at historic Whitetail Lodge, Sarah McCaskill had a vision. A dream. A nightmare. When a young man was killed, Sarah's guilt over having ignored the warning in her dreams devastated her. Her friendships with her closest friends, and her sister, fell apart as she worked to build a new life in a new city. But she never stopped loving Whitetail Lodge on the shores of Bitterroot Lake.

Now that she's a young widow, her mother urges her to return to the lodge for healing. But when she arrives, she's greeted by an old friend--and by news of a murder that's clearly tied to that tragic day she'll never forget.

And the dreams are back, too. What dangers are they warning of this time? As Sarah and her friends dig into the history of the lodge and the McCaskill family, they uncover a legacy of secrets and make a discovery that gives a chilling new meaning to the dreams. Now, they can no longer ignore the ominous portents from the past that point to a danger more present than any of them could know.

86 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Alicia/Leslie on your newest book. I’m intrigued by the idea of finding baby books and weaving that into your story . . . I’m looking forward to reading “Bitterroot Lake” . . . .

    I confess I chuckled over the baseball stone in the cemetery, but it’s nice when those you loved best truly know what you really enjoyed.

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    1. The cemetery baseball: priceless! In our local cemetery there's a tombstone in the shape of a book. I feel a special kinship with whoever is buried there.

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    2. Thanks, Joan. I keep wondering whether Phyllis planned that baseball stone or her family dreamed it up. And Hallie, a book! So touching.

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    3. We saw some wonderful musically-themed headstones while in Scotland. You felt that you instantly knew something important about this person

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  2. Leslie, this new book under the Alicia Beckman name sounds like such a thrilling read. And, that cover is gorgeous. Bitterroot Lake is on my TBB (To Be Bought) list as well as my TBR list. I was interested in your trip to the cemeteries. I love old cemeteries and the different histories and stories they tell. Going through old trunks or drawers or boxes of family memorabilia is fascinating, too. Also, I'm glad you always get through your squiggle.

    I am constantly learning intriguing things from my reading. Most recently, I've learned about the backside of the horse racing tracks and a veterinarian's work there, about body parts and cadavers being sold on the black market, about the night hawks who search for treasures after dark along the Norfolk marshes, and the legend of the Black Shuck (a Norfolk, England piece of folklore about a giant black dog appearing before someone dies). Oh, I also learned that the New York Public Library with the famous lions was built with an apartment in it for the superintendent and his family to live in. After reading the fictional story (Lions of Fifth Avenue), I read some more on Google and found out other libraries in NYC had apartments for their superintendents, too.

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    1. Now that would make a good mystery novel protagonist: the live-in superintendent of a great library.

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    2. Thanks, Kathy! The British crime writer Stephen Booth wrote a series that began with The Black Dog, using that legend you mention. I heard an NPR interview once with a man who grew up in that apartment in the NY library -- fascinating. Old jails often had apartments in them, too, but that's a little creepy for me!

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  3. Bitterroot Lake is on my reading list too. I love little known factoids seasoning my reading, especially historical based fiction. Many thanks.

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    1. "Seasoning" is the perfect word! (Especially because I also write the Spice Shop mysteries!)

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  4. Thank you for those insights, Leslie! I am a third of the way through the book and loving it. I'm currently writing a contemporary book with two murders that happened eighty years earlier. so I'm thinking a lot about life for young people in 1940. I'm racing through first draft now, but I can't wait to go back and explore the details of clothes and music and boats.

    That darn middle! It bites me every time, too.

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    1. Sounds terrific, Edith - can't wait to see!

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    2. Totally intrigued, Edith! Glad you're enjoying the trip to Montana, on the page!

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  5. Leslie, welcome to JRW and congratulations on your new book. Gorgeous cover! The plot is compelling. Our pasts are so much a part of us that no matter how far we go or what turns our lives take, they are never really gone. Seeing an old friend can bring you right back to where you left off, even years later. I want to find out how Sarah's dreams connect her past and her present.

    Don't you love learning new things while reading?! Sometimes it's a word, a term for something you've never heard before. But this morning I learned about when toilet paper was first "discovered." Something that was non-existent for most of humanity, we find absolutely necessary now. Books never address this issue. Bathrooms are rarely if ever mentioned in stories. But I've often wondered about it.

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    1. Can you even imagine life without toilet paper? Or the time before Pampers? Or....

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    2. I never used plastic diapers; my kids were all allergic to them!

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    3. I used cloth diapers occasionally, Karen, but luckily, my baby was not allergic to the disposable diapers. But life without t.p. or without "ladies' personal products" NO. NO! My mother told me that she used rags. They washed them out, just as one washed diapers. 'Nuff said!

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    4. Judy, there is a whole culture around low-waste products, including reusable diapers and non-plastic diaper covers, hemp-based toilet paper, and period cups/washable menstrual pads. One of my daughters is very serious about saving the planet, and I've learned a lot about this stuff. And friends were sewing diaper covers and selling them for years.

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    5. Thanks, Judy! Some friends and I were chatting with an older friend about great innovations of the past century -- this was 25 years ago -- expecting her to say space travel or flight or radio. Nope. Tampons.

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  6. LESLIE/ALICIA: Congratulations on the release of your new book! Looking forward to reading what happens to Sarah and which secrets are uncovered at Bitterroot Lake.

    Yes, I do learn a lot of new things while reading. Recently, I learned how to hide some valuable paintings in plain sight and what it feels like to live in a village of less than 10 people in remote Iceland.

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    1. I want to read about that remote village in Iceland, too - where did you find it?

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    2. HALLIE: THE GIRL WHO DIED. It is Ragnar Jonasson's stand-alone that releases in the US on May 4.

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    3. Thanks, Grace. I'm curious about hiding those valuable paintings in plain sight! What was the book?

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    4. I'm looking forward to The Girl Who Died, as well. No one does Iceland quite as well as Jonasson.

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    5. LESLIE: I mentioned this book to you on FB as one that was recommended by Lesa Holstine.
      A WILL TO KILL by RV Raman is set in a ghostly manor house in remote India, so it's kind of like the movie KNIVES OUT. Very much influenced by Agatha Christie.

      ROBERTA: Yes, I am a huge Ragnar Jonasson fan. I loved both his Ari Thor series and Hulda trilogy. No one writes claustrophic Iceland like he does.

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    6. Ooh, now I'm even more intrigued! Thanks, Grace!

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  7. I learned about different types of antifreeze in a mystery I read recently.

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    1. Now there's something you don't hear every day!

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    2. Ha - I have a book that uses the different types! (Murder at the Taffy Shop...)

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    3. Well, I guess we know what Sandy's been reading!

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  8. Congratulations, Leslie/Alicia. Bitterroot Lake sounds like a wonderful read!

    I learn something new from every book I read - a new word, a new concept - and if I'm lucky a new perspective on an old viewpoint!

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    1. Hi, Kait! And yes, yes on that new perspective. That's a big part of why we read, isn't it, and a lucky find.

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  9. In all the years I wrote about and taught sewing I did not know when the first tissue paper patterns were developed. Thank you for this tidbit, Leslie. Who knew it was related to toilet paper? And I also did not know of the existence of someone named Ebenezer Butterick. I'm charmed to my toes about that.

    I tried Googling Phyllis Ramey, with not much success, but I have known women who were big enough baseball fans that their families, if they had enough imagination, would have created such a tribute.

    I'm chuffed to bits for you and this new book, and wish you wild success with it. Your Facebook videos about the book have been great, too. How fun, to see the lake that Bitterroot Lake is based on.

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    1. For anyone interested, check out Alicia/Leslie's videos on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor

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    2. Hi, Karen! I admit, I never thought of the man -- or woman -- behind Butterick Patterns, even though my mother often bought them. A woman had invented paper patterns a few years earlier; his innovations were the grading and the use of tissue paper, and of course, the marketing. Can you imagine holding your little baby and cooing "Ebenezer"?

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  10. Congratulations on publication and acquiring a new identity! I recently learned what fine quality cello and bass strings are made of, but I won't bore you with the details.

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    1. Immediately I thought: cat gut. But what IS cat gut? Not sure I want to know (I love cats), and I'm guessing it isn't even correct.

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    2. Oh, Margaret, you must tell us! I played classical guitar for years and our strings were nylon; I remember hearing that older strings had been cat gut, but like you, Hallie, didn't want to know if that was true or what it really ws.

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    3. Jeffery Deaver, THE BURIAL HOUR. "Italy...the home of Stradivarius stringed instruments, worth millions, occasionally stolen or left in the back of a taxi, generating New York Post headlines about absentminded geniuses. Appropriate at the moment, because he was winding more double-bass strings into another noose for his next composition, which he would start on shortly. Italy was, as a matter of fact, the source for the absolutely best musical strings ever made. Sheep intestine, goat, lovingly stretched and scraped. (p.71)

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    4. Ah, so that's the origin of the term. Thanks, Margaret!

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  11. Congratulations on your BITTERROOT LAKE and for having the courage to try a new subgenre, Leslie. You are such a fine writer, and I'n not at all surprised you embraced the challenge, but it's a feat, and you deserve applause for taking the risk. I'm happy for you and look forward to reading it.

    BTW, I keep a photograph of my Irish grandmother on my writing desk alongside one of my mother. When called upon, they do indeed provide guidance.

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    1. Love the photos of beloved forebears...

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    2. Thank you, Brenda! I wrote a historical prequel to the Food Lovers' Village series recently, a novella that will be part of a collection out this summer, and drew on images of my Irish great-grandmother and her 3 sisters, with their ancient little immigrant mother. Nice to have them smiling at us, isn't it?

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  12. Congratulations on the new book. I’m looking forward to reading it. I love learning bits of interesting information. And this past year it’s been very important to me to be able to lose myself in other lands and time periods. My first year of retirement was very different than I expected it to be. Life is what happens.

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    1. Thanks, Ann. And yes, not the year any of us expected but especially that first year of retirement with all the plans and dreams wrapped up in it. Thank goodness we're readers!

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  13. Yes, congratulations! This sounds absolutely great, and what a fun blog to read. Thank you! this must be so exciting for you… I remember when we were all talking about the title, and we all loved this one! So perfect.

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    1. That's right -- the Guppies helped me choose the title and it is perfect. Don't you love when you find the right title and the whole book seems to come together in front of you?

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  14. I've had this title on my books wanted list for a while now and after reading these bits I am even more eager to read it! Congratulations, Leslie (and Alicia!).

    In every book I read I learn something new and interesting!

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  15. Being a packrat runs in my family, straight down the line to me. And it missed all the siblings and cousins--AND MY DAUGHTER--so I am holding it all. I really really have to be more ruthless.

    This book sounds enticing, Leslie. I'm looking forward to reading it.

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    1. I have the gene, too, Susan, acquired honestly from my father! As does my older son, although his wife tries to rein it in...

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    2. Oh, Susan! I sympathize, though I don't have the gene myself. Not that you'd know it from my house at the moment...

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    3. That gene runs on both sides of my family. I do try to tame it.

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  16. Ah, the squiggle in the middle. That sounds very familiar.

    Congratulations, Leslie/Alicia!

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    1. That's a technical writing term. :) Thanks, Liz!

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  17. Congratulations Leslie! What a wonderful mystery. I learn so much from books about gardening, cooking and travel.

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    1. And we can all tell you love travel, right?! Thanks!

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  18. I can't wait to read this, Leslie - I bet you do suspense beautifully! And I think you (and Crooked Lane) are right to go with a different name. Even though Alicia is obviously you on social media, etc., it removes so much confusion for readers, who associate the author name with a certain brand or genre. The other time I see it commonly done is for authors writing both adult and YA fiction. Depending on how adult it is, you don't want to mess those two audiences up!

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    1. Thanks, Julia! I did laugh yesterday when a friend in OR posted a picture of the book on FB and her daughter-in-law said she has a friend named Alicia Beckman! Thank goodness I bought the domain name before she did!

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  19. Congratulations on your new release. Reading always brings me such joy and pleasure since it introduces me to many fascinating places and allows me to read about art, history, geography, travel and much more.

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    1. Hello, Petite! You are so right. Where would we have been without armchair travel this past year???

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  20. Congratulations Leslie aka Alicia! I would love to hear more about how it felt to be writing suspense, as compared with the cozies you'd gotten so familiar with?

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    1. Thanks, Lucy aka Roberta! That's a convo that could take all day. A difference in tone, a woman under pressure rather than an amateur sleuth trying to solve a mystery, and no recipes, for starters! But it was great fun -- except for the squiggle in the middle :) -- and I love writing both.

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  21. Congrats! I love that so much can be learned from any type of book. A new recipe or craft, how a business might be run, the history of a real life place I've never been to... The amount of research that writers go through for their books is amazing and it really comes through in the story. And for every interesting tidbit, I'm sure there's plenty more that didn't make it into the plot.

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    1. You are so right, Alicia -- and of course, I love your name!

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  22. Hi Leslie/Alicia, and congrats on your new adventure! I love how you came up with the pen name! Great title, too, and great cover. And boy do I hear you on the "squiggle in the middle!"

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    1. Thanks, Debs. Isn't the cover wonderful? I'll confess, there wasn't a canoe in the story, but when I saw the cover, I snuck one in!

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  23. Do we even want to discuss what people used before toilet tissue was invented? No, I don't think so.

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    1. No, not really. :) Though some cultures still use leaves.

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  24. Congratulations Leslie! I have loved your Spice Shop mysteries and getting to know Seattle (where sadly I have never been). Now I will have the chance to visit Montana, another first for me! Reading has always been my entrée to new places, new worlds, and new information. I too am a packrat so the more trivia the better.

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    1. Thanks, Atlanta! I love packing the trivia into a story -- and then taking a good chunk of it out!

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  25. Painting is rather like your description of writing.
    About mid-way through a painting I hit a point of "What on earth am I doing?!" I just have to paint through it.
    Or, as we used to say in my one painting class, when in doubt, paint it out!

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    1. Love that. Our new motto: "When in doubt, write it out!" The delete key is a lot easier than lifting watercolor or painting over oils.

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  26. That cover is wonderfully moody! I remember using those danged black corners to put photos in an album. When Mom died I shoved all the albums and loose pictures on big brother to take home with him. He claims he'll digitize it all. I don't believe him. But I figure he will never move out of his house so that is a good place to store family stuff.

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    1. Oh, too funny, Pat! Though I'm afraid I'm the one who said I'd digitize the albums and haven't done it yet. Fortunately, my brother doesn't seem to mind.

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  27. Congratulations on spreading your genre wings, Leslie. This books sounds so multi-layered and I feel you on the middle - always the Dead Marsh to me. I can't wait to read Bitterroot lake.

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  28. Congratulations on your new release. I already have Bitterroot Lake on my TBR list. I remember seeing some old family albums like you describe. Book sounds like a great read.

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    1. Thanks, Dianne. Enjoy the trip to Montana, on the page!

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  29. I love learning from books. Unfortunately I don't remember things as well as I used to. Your new book sounds interesting. I enjoy both your cozy series. Stay safe and well.

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    1. Thanks, Sally. Happy to say I haven't gone completely over to the dark side -- the cozies will continue!

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  30. Leslie, I have a few boxes of pictures from my maternal grandmother's side of the family and "wade through" is the right description! And I love your comments about the dreaded middle third of the book...I just hit the third of my 18th book and I know I'll muddle through, but it's always a challenge.

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    1. 18? YOU ROCK! But I know you'll squiggle through!

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  31. Great questions and answers. So fun to learn snippets of the writing process.

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  32. Looks like a lot of us are interested in this book! I would love to win a copy!

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