“Strangle” is the 4th book in my “diet club” series. It starts with the murder of waitress and aspiring actress/singer Sara Lee (obviously, everybody didn’t like Sara Lee). I waited tables for 17 years, but waited until I was no longer a server to write about it. In Strangle we get to know more about Ellie’s mom and her brother Tab, named for Tab Hunter. Two dogs, Scout and Ava, and one cat, Crusty Boogers, were winners of charity auctions. Ellie’s black Persian, Jackie Robinson, is alive and well, along with her homicide detective SO, Peter Miller. For those who haven’t read the first 3 books in the series, THROW DARTS AT A CHEESECAKE, BEAT UP A COOKIE and CHAIN A LAMB CHOP TO THE BED are now available in Trade paperback (at $12.95) and in several ebook formats, including Kindle.
2. This series (with such intriguing titles – Chain a Lamb Chop to the Bed, Beat Up a Cookie, Throw Darts at a Cheesecake) offers readers everything they could want in a good book: mystery, suspense, romance, humor, and even dogs and cats for animal lovers. How did you come up with the idea for this series?
First, thank you for such a nice compliment. After losing 55 (and a half!) lbs., I became a Weight Watchers lecturer. One night while watching my members weigh in, I thought: Wouldn’t it be funny if there was some maniac going around killing off dieters when they reached their goal weight? That became the concept for Throw Darts at a Cheesecake. My titles come from a Gilda Radner quote about dieting. Along with Woody Allen and Erma Bombeck, Gilda Radner was, and still is, one of my favorite philosophers.
3. Tell us about your next book.
My next book is a “glitzy mystery” called SOAP BUBBLES, due out this April. It revolves around three women affiliated with a popular soap opera. When one of the women is accused of setting fire to the studio, which leads to the death of the soap’s director, the other women, both very pregnant, sleuth to find the real arsonist/killer.
After that, my alter-ego, Mary Ellen Dennis, has a book due in December. Circa 1861, it’s called STARS OF FIRE and is a “paranormal history-mystery-romance.”
I’m also working on a new mystery called GYPSY ROSE LIEBERMAN, starring a Vaudeville ghost who was – oops – sawed in half by her magician husband.
4. You are a prolific writer, with several standalones published, and you also write historical romance under the pseudonym Mary Ellen Dennis. Do you have a preference as to genre?
When I wrote my first novel (the one where diet club members get killed off at goal weight), I thought I was writing a “book” rather than a genre. Go figure! It took me 7 years to sell the series. I kept getting rejections that said Cheesecake was “too funny.” I deciphered that to mean there wasn’t enough mystery, so I kept deepening the mystery elements with every rewrite (probably a dozen in all). I also changed my buzz words from “funny mystery” to “humorous psychological chiller.” Once I did that, it sold. My forte is humor, but I love writing historical fiction as Mary Ellen Dennis. One of my favorite Dietz books is EYE OF NEWT, where I used Mary Ellen’s historical research: Salem, 1692. I plan to write a second Sydney St. Charles “reluctant witch” book. Working title: “Toe of Frog” (aka “The DaVinci Toad”). It takes place at a horror convention (my sister, Eileen Dietz, played the demon in “The Exorcist” and often attends horror conventions, and I tagged along for one convention).
5. You have a background in singing and acting. How did (or did) this lead you to writing?
I worked for a small newspaper in Texas, writing several columns under different names. As “Eileen Starr” I reviewed myself in a community theater production of Damn Yankees (I was “damn good”). But much as I enjoy singing and acting, and will sing at the drop of a hat when asked, any place, any time, my first love is writing. I did use my acting/singing background for SOAP BUBBLES.
6. What inspires you as a writer?
My greatest inspiration is my husband, novelist Gordon Aalborg (aka Victoria Gordon). Not only because he inspires my books’ romantic elements, but because I know he’s going to read/edit my manuscript when it’s finished and that makes me sharper, writing-wise.
I rise between 6 and 6:30, gulp down my first mug of caffeine, read what I’ve written the day before (which launches me into my story) and then let my Muse take over. My Muse, Calliope, has never failed me. I write a minimum of 8 hours every day (except during football season when I break to watch my Denver Broncos).
8. What do you think works best for you in regards to promoting?
As a free-lance editor, I’m often invited to talk to writers groups. As an editor for a major publisher, I attend conferences as a guest editor. When I appear on editor/agent panels, the first question is almost always: “What are you looking for?”
First panelist: “I’m looking for a good book.”
Second panelist: “I’m looking for a good book.”
Me: “I’m not looking for a good book, I’m looking for a good ‘voice.’ And here’s what I’m NOT looking for. . .”
So I’ll tell you what I’ve found doesn’t work, at least not for me. “Gimmicks” like pens, magnets, keychains, etc. Lately I’ve been peppered by unbidden email: authors’ announcements (of a new book) and newsletters. Before I delete the emails, I make a mental note not to read that author. Answering every post on a loop may work for others, but not for me, especially if the post goes something like: “I have an airplane in my book, Summer of Death and Destruction, too, only my plane doesn’t crash during a blizzard.”
What does work well, for me, are T-shirts with my book’s title. Not the cover; the title. I have never walked through an airport without someone asking what BEAT UP A COOKIE or FOOTPRINTS IN THE BUTTER means. Whereupon, I whip out a business card or bookmark. Attending conferences is good PR, especially if you’re a nice person. I’ll sign copies of my books in the ladies’ room. I don’t know if David Morrell signs books in the men’s room because I’ve never really visited the men’s room, but he once plopped himself down on a staircase to sign a book for me. He’s a nice person!
9. What do you love about writing? What do you dislike the most?
I love the fact that I can’t hardly wait to get to work every morning. I love creating characters. I love painting myself into the proverbial corner, then thinking really hard in order to escape. I love rewriting (no, honest, really I do). I love when a fan tells me she/he enjoyed my book. No matter how many times that happens, I swallow a lump in my throat and try to keep my eyes from tearing up. As an editor, I love it when “my” authors are nominated for major awards. I dislike stopping for the day. Seriously. If I don’t stop I’ll burn out, but it took a while for me to understand that.
10. The Dames love romance, and the story about how you met your husband is so sweet. Can you tell us about that?
I was living in Colorado Springs and Gordon was living in Tasmania. We “met” through the Novelists Inc (NINC) listserv and decided to collaborate on a romantic suspense (FINDING BESS, published in 2004). While writing “Bess” via email attachments, we fell in love and Gordon asked me to marry him. I said I thought we should meet face-to-face, first. He invited me to visit him in Australia. I said I had a deadline on a book. He said, and I quote, “Silly wench, I have a computer.” The honeymoon in Tassie worked out well <g>, so we wed two months later at a NINC writers conference. Gordon wrote his own vows and I sang “Evergreen.” We moved to Vancouver Island, bought a Heritage cottage, and last month we celebrated our 9th anniversary. However, I doubt we’ll ever “do” another book together because Gordon is now writing thrillers (THE SPECIALIST and DINING WITH DEVILS) that take place in Australia.
11. Tell us about Vancouver Island, where you now live.
It’s paradise. I live 2 blocks from the water in a little town called Sidney, and can see Washington State’s mountains in the distance. Actually, on a clear day I can see forever <g>. I’m involved with community theatre and my favourite show was a production of Oliver. That said, my soul resides in Colorado, where my mysteries are set.
12. Do you have pets? If so, please tell us about them. If not, what’s your favorite
My mostly Norwegian Elkhound, Pandora, crossed the Rainbow Bridge last January. She was 14. Gordon said no more dogs for at least a year. I said we’d start thinking about another dog in 6 months. So we compromised on 6 months <g>. And “rescued” our 4-year-old chocolate Lab, Magic, July 4th. Since then, Gordon has trained Magic with hand signals. She’s so happy (with us), she wants to please. Other than Magic, I have a stuffed vulture that perches atop my modem. I call it my “deadline vulture” and have named it Michael Seidman, after my first editor.
For more information about Denise Dietz: http://www.denisedietz.com
Bonus! Christy and I got our wires crossed on this one and both of us sent questions to Denise who was kind enough to answer both sets–in spite of being sick! As a result, we have a couple of bonus questions for you:
Bonus # 1—You’ve received several awards and some outstanding reviews for your writing but what is your most cherished reader reaction to your work?
I was in the middle of a book tour and had a long wait in between planes at the Dallas/ Ft. Worth airport. Feeling claustrophobic, I decided to walk outside and breathe in some fresh air. I had a nice natter with a young woman. When I mentioned that I was an author, she said, “Have I ever heard of you?” Exhausted, I merely replied, “I doubt it.” She said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Denise Dietz.” She said, “OMG, Beat Up a Cookie! I loved that book!” I was flattered and gobsmacked, and I’ve never forgotten that incredible experience.
Bonus #2—What part of the craft of writing has improved since you wrote your first book?
Holy cow! Just about everything. When I first began I used excessive dialogue tags, including animal sounds: growl, purr, croak, bray, chirp. Now I use no tags at all, or “said.” When I first began writing I had a bad case of synonym-itis, a deadly, if you’ll excuse the pun, addiction. Although I honestly believe that my mysteries have no socially redeeming values whatsoever and that I write to entertain, my recent books seem to have more “depth.” Or so I’m told.