Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Change of Life

I was intriqued by Leslie Budewitz’s double-life as Montana lawyer, cozy novelist and author of the tell-all insider’s book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure. It’s the real deal. Reviewed next month — Robert Knightly

Like most writers, for years I stole bits of time from myself–and my day job–to write. Half a dozen published stories, four mystery novels in boxes in the closet, and a notebook filled with ideas–one line, two paragraphs, three pages.

So the thrill of selling a book was doubly strange, because my first book intermingled my two jobs. Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, 2011) is aimed at the writer–of novels, stories, screenplays, and more–who recognizes that a legal thread runs through the fictional world, and that getting key details wrong can unravel the entire plot. It’s also useful for nonfiction writers who want a primer on the criminal and civil legal systems.

Now that I’m making the transition from practicing law to writing full-time, I’ve been thinking about how my day job of nearly thirty years has influenced my writing. Most notably, my legal work gave me the subject matter for Books, Crooks & Counselors. It gave me first-hand experience with many of the issues of criminal and civil law I wrote about, the skills to research what I didn’t know, and the ability to identify what writers needed to know. It enabled me to give them real-life examples, and ideas for using legal issues to complicate and deepen their own work.

It's given me discipline and experience writing on deadline. You can’t tell a judge you’ve got writers’ block.

It's taught me to think about my readers and what they need to know–whether it’s to make a decision about a case or get caught up in a novel. As a civil trial lawyer, I might write to a client, an insurance adjuster and his or her supervisors, opposing counsel, a trial judge or an appellate judge—each with different interests and needs. That experience has taught me to think ahead to what my readers will do with the information I give them, and plan my own next steps. It's also taught me how to read more carefully.

While my legal career has been a boon to my nonfiction, it's also a great help for writing fiction—even in my cozy mysteries, where lawyers take a back seat to small-town shopkeepers, artists, and chefs. Lawyers can choose to solve problems—or make them worse. And since story depends on giving our characters goals, thwarting them, and repeating the process for 300 pages, it’s great to be able to analyze both sides. And while making things worse is an irresponsible choice in real life, what fun in fiction!

Writers, how has your day job benefitted your writing? And readers, does knowing what an author does–or did–by day influence your book choices?

Thanks to Bob for inviting me to join you today!

Leslie Budewitz is a mystery writer and practicing lawyer. Her first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, Oct 2011), won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and has been nominated for the 2012 Anthony and Macavity Awards. Read an excerpt and more articles for writers on her website ( and blog (, or join her on Facebook at

Her cozy series, tentatively titled The Food Lovers Village Mysteries, set in a small lakeside community in Northwest Montana and featuring the manager of a specialty local food market, will debut from Berkley Prime Crime in 2013.

Leslie lives in Northwest Montana with her husband, a doctor of natural medicine, and their Burmese cat Ruff, an avid birdwatcher.


  1. Hi, Leslie, when I heard you were coming to this party I was thrilled! Congratulations on your Agatha! I will be in debt to you the rest of my life for your response to the death of Miss Priss and the wonderful essay on your own cat's passing. BTW, this is a meaty blog - I am going to reread it again slowly, then hope to send a reply. Thelma Straw

  2. Thelma, thanks so much for the lovely welcome! Your Miss Priss was a treasure, and lucky to find you -- our little friends leave such big holes when they go.

  3. I tried to give some answers - I agree with you re writer's block - no boss on earth will take that excuse! As to choosing a book for the author's background - I do not care - unless the author is a lawyer! I've found most of the lawyers write the kind of books I love! But a person's background usually does not sway me - as how one has earned a living usually is not how good a book they can write! At least, that's my humble opinion. Thelma