Attorney weaves writing career around her job

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Leslie Budewitz, author of "Books, Crooks, and Counselors," outside her home in Bigfork on Friday afternoon. In addition to being an author, Budewitz is an attorney at law.

Leslie Budewitz always knew she wanted to write.

What she may not have known was her desire to write would first lead her to law school and a career doing legal research, writing briefs for judges and attorneys and practicing law before she got around to writing any stories.

"I think most writers will tell you they've always been interested since they were young, but realized they had to do something else to make a living," Budewitz said, only half joking.

Now a mystery writer, along with her ongoing legal career, she has published seven short stories and written four as-of-yet unpublished novels with a fifth in the works.

Budewitz can't specifically say when she decided to become more serious about writing, but does know it came as the result of a realization.

"When you get to a certain age, the things you haven't done sometimes take on new meaning," she said, "and because I worked part time I had some freedom and a lot of encouragement from my husband to pursue more creative efforts."

The most recent of Budewitz's works of fiction, a short story titled "Thicker Than Blood," is the lead story in an anthology called "Fish Tales," written by the Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime. Sisters in Crime is an international organization founded in 1986 to promote the professional development and advancement of women writing crime fiction, according to the group's website.

Like all but one of her stories, "Thicker Than Blood" is based in Montana.

"It is about one weekend in the life of two women, good friends, who live near Flathead Lake, and what they would do to protect their daughters," she said.

The story came from an image that popped into her mind one day. She said several of her stories have been spun out of pictures or things she has seen.

"‘Thicker Than Blood' came out of the image of a girl looking at a bright red sunset, like the kind we get when there are fires west of us, and she could see two burned trees silhouetted against the sunset - which is blood red - and then she looks down and sees her hands are bloody," Budewitz said. "I had no idea before I saw that image what I was going to write, and the first draft just sort of developed from that."

Her most recent work, however, is her first non-fiction book, published two weeks ago with an official release date of Oct. 1.

Titled "Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure," the novel is a how-to and reference guide to fiction writers wanting to appropriately incorporate legal situations into their works. Among the issues tackled in the book are basics of the judicial system, thinking like a lawyer or judge and legal issues in criminal investigations, each of which are the basis of their own chapters.

Writing such a book posed some challenges unique to the endeavor.

"One is that the law is constantly changing, so I had to do some research and made sure I stayed current," Budewitz said. "The other challenge is that there are general principles of the law, but the specifics are different in every state, every tribe and in the federal system, so it's hard to write something that's going to be accurate in all those jurisdictions. So what I had to do was focus on general principles and then give examples from different states."

She said her initial idea for the book came from her familiarity with Dr. Doug Lyle, a forensics expert who wrote a similar book answering medical and forensics questions for writers.

"People started asking me questions (about legal issues) so I decided to start following in his footsteps, first with a newsletter column than by answering people's questions on online groups. Then I decided to write a book," Budewitz said.

A lot of her source material came from writers who have asked her questions over the years, she said, but has also come from mistakes she has seen in stories. The mistakes that cause her the most grief are misuses of terminology.

"It's not difficult to get things right, and those details are what set the scene," Budewitz said, but added "I don't expect every writer to be an expert in the subject they're writing on, they're experts in writing."

Budewitz pointed out one major difference between writing the guide and writing her works of fiction.

"Most non-fiction books are based on a proposal where you write a detailed description of what you will write and a table of contents and a sample of chapters," she said. "You don't have to write the whole thing first like a novel."

Budewitz shared two particular rules she said would serve anyone with a desire to write, whether it be fiction or non-fiction.

"No. 1 - read, No. 2 - write," Budewitz said. "I know it sounds really simple, but those are the hardest things and the most important things. There is no substitute for reading and for putting your backside in the chair and writing."

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