If a Tree Falls . . .

By Alicia Beckman aka Leslie Budewitz

Our first Christmas together, Mr. Right and I drove over the mountains to spend the holiday with my brother, his family, and my mother. Mr. Right carefully packed two identical long narrow boxes in the car, each with a red bow on top. Into the big apple basket crammed with gifts, he tucked two small identical cardboard boxes, also festooned with red bows. (He’s fancy that way.)

Christmas morning, the last packages under the tree were his. Everyone hushed—this is very unlike them—as I began to open one of the long boxes. A folding camp chair! Though none of them camped, they could see from my face that this was a good present, so they smiled and clapped and turned their attention to the small boxes.

Camping headlights. You know, adjustable LEDs on an elastic band, useful for finding your way from tent to latrine, or reading by fire light. I was delighted, so they smiled and clapped and poured Mr. Right another glass of Christmas champagne.

Twenty-some years later, those chairs are sun-faded but still in use. And the headlamps . . .

The last step before I turn in a manuscript is to print it out, punch it into a three-ring binder, sit in my comfy office chair with endless cups of tea, and read it out loud. The whole darned thing. All seventy-five or eighty thousand words. As I read, which takes a day or two, I’m crossing out repetitive words, rewriting clunky sentences, and striking passages that comment on the evidence—lawyer-speak for explaining what I’ve just made obvious. It’s a critical step and one I never skip.

The manuscript of Bitterroot Lake was due Monday June 1, 2020. I admit, I was pushing hard against that deadline. It’s my suspense debut after ten cozies (Don’t worry, Chicklets! I’m still writing cozies, too!), and the difference in tone was occasionally a challenge. The freak-out in the middle that seems to be a part of my writing process had been pretty spectacular, though once I got over it and figured out the true emotional core of the story, the rest of it flowed. And then, of course, there was that whole shut-down and pandemic thing and the anvil-like pressure we all felt.

I started the read-aloud Saturday afternoon and made good progress. Sunday morning, Mr. Right and I were standing with our coffee looking out the dining room’s French doors into the woods behind the house when the wind began to blow. We’d had an unusual string of windstorms in the previous year and a half, and high winds can be scary when you’re surrounded by the forest. In fact, a storm earlier in the year had prompted me to add a storm to Bitterroot Lake and it became such an integral part of the plot that now I can’t imagine why I hadn’t thought of adding it sooner.

Fifteen minutes later, the worst recorded storm in the valley had blown through. Winds topped eighty miles an hour on the valley floor and reached one-twenty on top of the mountains behind our house. We only lost a handful of trees, partly because more than thirty of the more vulnerable trees had come down in previous storms. (This big Engleman spruce hit the deck later in the summer.) And of course, we lost power.

No matter. I had that printed manuscript to read, remember? And I was still reading it at eleven o’clock Sunday night, in my comfy red chair, with my headlamp, certain the power would be on in the morning and I could input my changes and send the manuscript off on time.

It wasn’t. I couldn’t go to the library to plug in, because—no power. And besides, it was still closed.

Fortunately, I was able to send my editor, Terri Bischoff at Crooked Lane, a Facebook message. I finished my hand-edits and tried to avoid compulsively checking the power company’s outage map to check the progress of restoration. Our power eventually came on late Monday night, although other areas weren’t so lucky. More than half the valley’s homes—over 40,000 people—were affected.

If only they’d all gotten headlamps for Christmas.

Moral of the story: When a tree falls in a forest, put it in a story. And when the wind blows, keep your headlamp handy.

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.

Alicia Beckman makes her suspense debut with Bitterroot Lake (Crooked Lane Books, April 2021).

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, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, inspired by Bigfork, Montana, where she lives.

A practicing lawyer, she’s a national board member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.

It’s always such a pleasure for us here at Chicks on the Case to host longtime friends and colleagues like Leslie, and new ones like Alicia! But we’re curious … have you ever had storm damage like that? Thought a big storm was going to be the end of you? Had a troubling vision? Tell us all your spooky stories!

36 thoughts on “If a Tree Falls . . .

  1. What a story – and those trees!

    We don’t have headlamps (I think), but The Hubby invested in a bunch of solar-powered rechargeable lights for when the power goes on. They last a surprisingly long time and are incredibly bright.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. That’s a good idea, Liz! When we still lived in CA we put together our earthquake kit and found a hand crank flashlight and radio thingamajig. Never needed it for an earthquake, but have used it several times in CO for blizzards and tornados.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Wow! That’s some crazy wind speeds! Thank goodness you didn’t have more damage. In 2006, we had a storm with hail the size of golf balls, one of which punctured the roof. Had to have all of our siding and the entire roof replaced. That was an experience!
    Cheers to your new release, Alicia!

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Same here in CO. You see the thunderstorm heading east over the mountains and you can tell, just by looking, how bad it’ll be. Batten down those hatches! Hail is why our ins rates are climbing sky high around here. So much damage to houses and cars. Although once I got paid for a total loss on a car, but the heat of the summer popped all those dings right back out. You’d never know it had been damaged at all!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Coincidentally in my Facebook memories this morning was when the wind knocked over one of our huge weeping willows. Luckily it was at the very back of the yard and went away from everything!

    Congrats on hitting that deadline, Leslie!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Losing a big willow would make me a bit weepy. We mourned Mr. Engelman and all the protection he gave our house, but thanked him for missing it on his way down!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I hate wind, and we get our fair share here in So Cal. Glad that headlamp came in handy and still works all these years later.

    As a camper myself, he’s definitely a keeper.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Leslie/Alicia, so glad you could stop by today and congrats on the new book! I know it’s wonderful.

    I’m with Mark re: wind here in SoCal. It’s very ominous, and we always worry that if a fire starts, it could turn into a conflagration. Those trees! Reminded me of when I was walking to middle school one day. I heard a giant crack and something brushed the back of my head. I turned and saw a huge branch had fallen off a tree – missing my head by inches.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Wind is the worst–and it scares the bejeegers out or our dog, as well. Given what’s going on in California these day with horrendous fires–and the resultant power shut-offs–Robin and I invested in a propane-powered generator last summer.

    Thanks so much for visiting the Chicks, today, Leslie–so excited about your new stand-alone!! Yippee!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Thanks for being here today, Leslie/Alicia! Congrats on your suspense debut!

    I haven’t seen whole trees fall over but have definitely experienced branches breaking off from strong winds. (Also, I had a friend who had a dream that a tree would fall over and moved her car the day before a huge storm happened–and the branch did end up dropping right into her driveway.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. Your friend’s dream gives me the chills — thank goodness she listened. Dreams play a part in Bitterroot Lake as well, along with the consequences of not listening to them…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Leslie, congrats on the new suspense novel— it sounds fab! And kudos to you for making deadline during a power outage! I need to buy a headlamp!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Leslie, loved your post–and we are all so excited for your debut suspense novel! It sounds simply amazing–great cover, too. Here in NH we don’t have a lot of dramatic weather–falling trees is about it (everyone yawns over the snow, and most people have generators). I did live briefly in TN and you cannot imagine my fear cowering in the bathtub with the dog (we didn’t have a basement–and my Mr. Right was always very un-Rightly on a biz trip). Friends told me I really should hang on to the toilet. I thought they were just messing with me…but no, that is the most secure thing in your home, apparently. Those green skies beforehand…I was sure I was in Oz. At night I just squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the freight train noise. In Memphis I got stuck in a parking garage when tornados came up during an outdoor concert. The name of the garage was “Parking Can be Fun.” (It was, in fact, not.) Congrats again!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lisa, I knew you’d visited Memphis— didn’t realize you had lived there! Did you experience an earthquake there, too, or just tornado warnings?!


    2. Lisa, that sounds terrifying. Southerners are baffled by our ability to tolerate the cold, but I find the thought of hurricanes and Southern tornadoes truly terrifying. (I have my own story of home disaster striking when Mr. Right was away — as you say, so very wrong!) Here’s to the relative safety of the Frozen North!


  10. Great post, Leslie, and congrats on the standalone. Eep! Can’t wait to read!!

    We have dramatic weather in the high desert of Oregon. The most memorable for me was heavy snowfall that broke several of our roof’s trusses, causing it to bulge ominously. The tip-off was sheetrock dust in the spot where I usually write! Naturally, I had to incorporate bad winter weather in my next book. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A broken truss?? Yow — that’s some serious wind! But I love that you stuck it in the next book. We’re writers — that’s what we do!

      Liked by 1 person

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