Today’s Dames’ Dozen is a heady mix of mystery and beer with our guest author, Lesley Diehl. Pull up a chair, grab the brew of your choice and enjoy as Lesley tells us how she mixed the two together to get A Deadly Draught!
First, let me say how pleased I am to be your guest today. And let me introduce my protagonist, Hera Knightsbridge, who invites you to join her in her initial sleuthing adventure.
Money is always a problem for her microbrewery, but now drought makes water scarce for all the breweries in the Butternut Valley. Worse, Hera discovers a rival brewer murdered in his brew barn, making Hera the authorities’ favorite suspect. To clear her name, her only choice is to join forces with an unlikely partner, the new assistant deputy sheriff, Jake Ryan, her former lover from law school days. There’s unfinished business between these two, and it surfaces again and again as they pursue a killer who finally turns on the indefatigable Hera as the next victim.
2. Your book features a strong heroine in Hera Knightsbridge who is not only adept at solving mysteries but also a microbrewer. How did the idea for the character and her occupation come to you?
I wanted a protagonist who did something unusual, something not everyone was involved in, and something where women were in the minority. I seized upon two ideas, taxidermy and micro brewing. It was easy for me to rule out taxidermy because I knew I had to do research to make the book work, and I wasn’t excited at the idea of an apprenticeship skinning animals. Now, the beer thing? Well, that had appeal. The microbrews I’d tried, I’d liked, so it seemed like a fun area for research. And it was. I found all the brewers I interviewed to be generous and helpful people. They were welcoming and gave me all the time I needed. I’m sure I asked some very stupid questions. Did I mention that they are patient and tolerant also?
3. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now?
I’d love to. I live in rural Florida half the year. It’s a place undiscovered by most northerners unless they are avid bass, bluegill, and speck fishers. And aren’t afraid of large reptiles. I was born on a farm in Northern Illinois, so I love the country life and am especially fond of cows. And do we have cows here!
I have completed a manuscript set in this area and am working on another. In both, the protagonists are snow birds or “winter visitors” as they are called here who have discovered the lakes, pastures, and cowboys of the pinelands and scrub palmetto. Not many authors set their work in this area, and those that do, often write dark and violent books. In contrast, I have created funny, sassy heroines whose amateur sleuthing brings them in contact with native Floridians, some charming, others slimy. There’s a bit of romance, usually featuring more than one love interest, I mean, these woman are exciting. They attract men. And, of course, alligators. My short story, Gator Aid that won the Sleuthfest 2009 contest featured one of these sparky ladies.
4. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
I think where I live drives much of my imagination. Setting is important to me. One of my friends said I was obsessed with alligators. Of course, I am. I’m surrounded by them down here. When the train comes through here at night, the coyotes howl. I’d heard that sound so often, I felt I should put them in my work. When I began to research them, I was so fascinated with the Northeastern coyote that I began to work on a manuscript in which a man in a community in upstate New York blames coyotes for taking his calves. Of course, they are not responsible (coyotes get very bad rap), but the issue creates controversy in the community and the man is murdered.
5. What is a typical writing day like for you?
I check my email first thing in the morning when I get back from my walk and usually before breakfast. I eat and then write for several hours. I also like to write in the afternoons. I’ve learned that if I continue to write after dinner, I cannot go to sleep, so I do most of my reading at night before bed.
Now that I have my book to promote, I’ll adjust this to my schedule of signings and appearances. And Glenn and I have our cottage in the Butternut Valley to work on. I like to intersperse writing, readings, and physical activity such as house renovation, working out and hiking. Sometimes I even get some time to play golf, a game I like and am very bad at.
6. Tell us a little bit about how you promote your work. Any tips for other authors?
All of this is new to me, so I model my efforts after those of other authors I know, and I’m privileged to know several. One, Deb Sharp, who writes the Mace Bauer series also set in rural Florida—very funny—is an inspiration. She travels the state, hits libraries, goes to conferences, does signings, attends festivals. She does it all. It’s footwork, but it pays off because she makes contact with her readers and that’s important. Word of mouth sells books. The other author, Jan Day, writer of children’s books, does the same, visiting schools to do programs. Again, it’s contact with people. I sold books at some unusual places, Curves where I did workouts and my local hair salon. Of course, I’ll also go to microbreweries for programs and signings and book placements.
In addition to in person work, I also use the internet. I started a blog http://anotherdraught.blogspot.com and I send messages to email contacts about it. My website is up www.lesleydiehl.com and I use internet groups and their digests to publicize my blog and interviews such as this one. The internet is a powerful resource and you never know just how it will work. For example, I sent news of my book, website, and blog to a high school friend of mine. She has an email list of all our classmates, so she forwards my news to them. I also make a point of replying to all emails.
7. What is your most cherished reader reaction to your work?
One of the microbrewers who was a resource for the information on brewing finished the book and called me. He said it moved quickly (oh yeah, no sagging middle!). He also was interested to know which thread of the story I was going to pick up in my next book. It’s thrilling to find that what you intended works, and people see it. Best of all, he said I didn’t make many technical errors on the brewing end of the work. That is high praise indeed from a man who knows his microbrews. You can bet those errors will be missing the next time around.
8. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
Glenn, the cowboy to whom I dedicated A Deadly Draught, influenced me. He has always written and always taken the craft seriously. I puttered around with fiction writing, but never tried a novel-length work. But here I was in a house where my partner was writing. I did it because I had to, then found I had to.
9. What part of the craft of writing has improved since your first book?
I was a professor of psychology for years and published articles in my field. You can imagine how I wrote when I began my first mystery. My sentences were long, complex, and convoluted. My dialogue tags were buried in equally long clauses. I insulted my readers’ intelligence by explaining everything to them. Back story? Yes. Lengthy descriptions? Yep. Adverbs? I loved them. Still do. Tell, not show? Of course. You get it. I committed every mystery-writing sin.
What didn’t I do wrong? I guess I did okay with dialogue. My first manuscript was 105,000 wordy words. I knew something was wrong, but somethings were right, so I read, joined internet groups on writing, attended conferences, listened to what other writers said, and joined a writing group.
10. Do you like to travel or is home your favorite place to be? Is there any place you’d like to visit but haven’t gotten to yet?
I’ve traveled a bit in my life. I went to Africa on a wildlife management safari, took a quick trip to Peru, visited France and Spain and have gone to Italy twice. Glenn I traveled the USA with our dog and two cats for two and a half years in a tiny 28 foot long motor home. It was . . . interesting.
Now we travel back and forth between Florida and upstate New York. We’ve talked of visiting Italy again because we loved Tuscany. I may have to do that because I think Hera should start brewing the innovative Italian microbrews, don’t you?
I still like wine and pomegranate cosmos. Because of the work on our cottage, I’m pretty good at demolition, painting, puttying windows, and supervising all construction projects in the house. I’m a natural born leader or, as friends like to say, I’m pushy. Glenn and I cook, we hike in upstate New York, and, every night finds me up late reading, usually a mystery. If I’m feeling particularly thick-skinned and know nothing can bring down my mood, I may play at golf.
12. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Out of all the places you’ve lived, do you have a favorite saying or expression you’d like to share with the readers?
Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors. He also said man is the only animal that blushes, or has a need to. He was a sharp observer of people and not overly romantic about them. I like his caustic wit as well as his use of words.
Along with Twain, I’m struck with the richness of the southern psyche, the resilience of their character.
Folks in my part of rural Florida are darn practical, results driven, and like to announce their determination on their trucks, “Git ‘er done,” being a favorite bumper sticker. And one creative soul declared on his pickup’s back window, “Got ‘er done.” It’s not poetry, but any snow bird who’s wandered into a pasture filled with scrub palmetto, flop-eared cows, and a Brahma bull can identify. Run for the gate, climb over, wipe the sweat off your brow, and smile. You just “got ‘er done.”