Erin is one smart cookie, but can she keep the holiday spirit—and herself—alive till Christmas?
In Jewel Bay, all is merry and bright. At Murphy’s Mercantile, AKA the Merc, manager Erin Murphy is ringing in the holiday season with food, drink, and a new friend: Merrily Thornton. A local girl gone wrong, Merrily has turned her life around. But her parents have publicly shunned her, and they nurse a bitterness that chills Erin.
When Merrily goes missing and her boss discovers he’s been robbed, fingers point to Merrily—until she’s found dead, a string of lights around her neck. The clues and danger snowball from there. Can Erin nab the killer—and keep herself in one piece—in time for a special Christmas Eve?
Includes delicious recipes!
Leslie, thanks for stopping by Island Confidential! Can you tell us about your protagonist, Erin?
Erin Murphy runs the Merc, a local foods shop in her family’s hundred-year-old grocery in the heart of the village of Jewel Bay, Montana. She’s half Italian, as you can tell by her name, and deeply committed to the village, local business, her friends and family, and justice. Like a lot of Montana kids, she left the state for a few years, then returned. It still surprises her to realize that while she was gone, her hometown changed. But then, so did she.
In AS THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CRUMBLES, Erin meets another woman returning to her hometown after years away and feels an instant connection. She’s determined to forge a friendship, despite what some locals, and the woman’s own parents, say about her. She’s busy at the Merc, village headquarters for holiday food and gifts. And she’s getting married on Christmas Eve.
What could go wrong?
How much alike are you and Erin?
Like Erin, I grew up in Montana, left, and returned. I’m enjoying exploring that theme, a common one, through the experiences of a younger woman. Like her, I’m obsessed with food and enjoy cooking and entertaining. Erin shares my habit of spouting odd lines of poetry or from a play, my love of cats and cookies, and my commitment to my community. Although her mother Fresca and I aren’t much alike, I suspect that if I met Erin, she would feel like a daughter to me.
Do your characters change and evolve throughout consecutive books in the series?
Oh, definitely! That’s part of their appeal to me as a writer, and I hope, part of their appeal to the reader.
Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean?
I’ve thought of it, but never done it because if I disliked someone that much, I wouldn’t want to spend six months and 300 pages with them!
How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?
The village of Jewel Bay, Montana is closely based on the town where I live, though I’ve changed the street names and most of the businesses. A few are simply too cozy, too iconic, to mess with, so I’ve kept them alive, with the owners’ permission—Red’s Bar, the Playhouse, and the Jewel Inn would all be easy to identify if you strolled the streets with me. There’s a touch of wish fulfillment in my fictional town—a lovely green belt we lack around the bay, which we do have, a library and community center we hope to get soon, and a bakery I’m glad doesn’t exist because I would drop in far too often!
When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?
Honestly, I don’t know! I don’t use actors as models for my story people, and couldn’t begin to cast the finished project! Occasionally, I picture someone I know when I start creating a character, but they evolve so much as the story unfolds that no one would ever recognize them on the page.
What’s the worst and best advice you’ve heard or received as an author?
It’s actually the same piece of advice: Do whatever works. It’s the best because it gives a writer permission to find her own way, and the worst because it can give her an excuse to stay stuck in a rut. Writers are often told they must write every day. When I started, I was practicing law full-time, sometimes more. I just didn’t have the brain power to write every day, so I wrote on Fridays and Saturday mornings—and finished three manuscripts that way. But when my work schedule changed, I chose to develop new writing habits and now I do write nearly every day. I’ve always been a planner, but when I couldn’t see the middle of a book in advance, despite knowing the ending, I let myself start anyway, trusting that I would discover what happened in those chapters along the way. Following a radically different process was terrifying, but for that book, it worked. And now, because I’ve been willing to explore other processes, other options, I’ve got more writerly tools in my box.
Thank you for letting me introduce myself to your readers. It is such a gift to be trusted with someone’s most valuable assets: their time and attention. I am grateful to be able to explore the world through storytelling—and it’s the readers who make that possible.
About The Author
Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician, and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model, and avid bird-watcher.