Thursday, May 06, 2021

Q&A with Alicia Beckman

From my Q&A with Alicia Beckman, author of Bitterroot Lake::
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title Bitterroot Lake appeared as I neared the end of the first draft, and like love at first sight, I recognized it instantly. My previous novels are cozy mystery—the light-hearted side of the mystery world—and I was headed down an adjacent road, with a proposal for a traditional mystery series. The acquiring editor thought the first had the potential to be stand-alone suspense and I knew she was absolutely right. That meant my working title no longer fit, and also meant using a pen name. I didn’t mind either change. Only a handful of my books have come to print with their original titles, and the pen name gave me a chance to honor my late mother.

Bitterroot Lake is the story of four women who reunite unexpectedly after twenty-five years and are forced by murder to reconsider the tragedy that tore them apart. It’s also a story of fractured friendships and family ties, of the connections between women across the generations, and of the ways a place can influence us.

Not far from my home in NW Montana is a small mountain lake called Little Bitterroot. The name worked so well for this book that I didn’t hesitate to borrow it. The real lake is fairly remote and not near a town, but the surrounding area is very much that of the fictional place.

The connotations of the word “bitterroot” fit the story perfectly. The bitterroot is a ground-flower with pinkish-lavender petals native to the Northern Rockies, wild and impossible to cultivate. Meriwether Lewis, he of “undaunted courage” as historian Stephen Ambrose titled his biography, borrowing a phrase from Thomas Jefferson, named the plant, which is sacred to the native tribes of Western Montana. It is now the state flower. It is pure loveliness, a brief life that returns each year. And yet, the name hints at secrets, that something deeply rooted has left a bitter taste, sown discord.

The unexpected gathering at the center of the story takes place at a lakeside lodge owned by the family of the main character, Sarah McCaskill Carter. And there is something inherently mysterious, even ominous, about “lake” in a title.

So the title is both geography and metaphor, taking us to a place and setting the mood for the journey. Ultimately...[read on]
Visit Leslie Budewitz's & Alicia Beckman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bitterroot Lake.

Q&A with Alicia Beckman.

--Marshal Zeringue