I’m happy to welcome Lesley Diehl today. She writes intriguing mysteries set in places she knows very well.
1. Lesley, thanks for joining us today. I recently read and LOVED your book Dumpster Dying. What or who inspired the character of Emily Rhodes?
In the winter we live in rural Florida. While I have warm regard for the people here, they are quite different in world outlook from my husband and me. Upon learning that I am a writer, many are quick to tell me they only read religious material. I assume this is a polite way of saying the chance of my selling a book to them is about as good as a gator in a swimming pool finding a mate.
The conservative nature of the community led to series of what if questions and from these questions sprang Emily and her story. What if no one in Emily’s little trailer park knew she and Fred were not married but only life partners? What if Fred died and left a will leaving his entire estate to his ex wife? What if everything was in Fred’s name and Emily had to go out and get a job? What job could a retired preschool teacher land? Milker on one of the large dairy farms around here? Not likely. So she becomes a bartender and takes on one of the Bible-thumping judges in the county to wrest Fred’s estate from the hands of his already too wealthy ex. And, oh yeah, to make things interesting for her, Emily finds a body in a dumpster.
For my review of Dumpster Dying, click the title.
2. I enjoy how you arrived at your plot! What-if questions are a fabulous way to go. Do your characters spring from real-life people, a combination of individuals you’ve met, or possibly from another source…like your imagination?
I hold my imagination responsible for creating my characters. I never copy someone from my life or anyone I’ve met or encountered although I do take bits and pieces of people and shake them around like vodka and vermouth in a cocktail shaker to produce a martini of character traits. I just recently found that my family members inspire me and pieces of them have found their way into my short stories. I come from a very odd family so I’m thinking these stories are just the beginning of a whole lot of writing.
3. Great bartender similes! I can relate to combining pieces of people, too. In perusing your website, I was drawn to the book A Deadly Draught. This one sounds like another page-turner. What can you tell us about how you came to write this story?
I was looking for an unusual occupation for my protagonist. At first I thought how about a taxidermist? But recognizing I’d have to do extensive research to make her come to life, I decided I wasn’t fond of the idea of plunging into chipmunk entrails up to my elbows. I cancelled that idea pretty quick.
On a brewery tour, our guide pointed out a room with an open fermenter commenting that we would not be allowed to go into that room because the yeast working to produce alcohol gave off carbon dioxide as a waste product. How exciting, I thought. I raised my hand and asked, “Could you kill someone in there?” and had to explain to my startled guide and the other folks on the tour that I was a writer of murder mysteries. Hera, my microbrewer, was born that day.
4. Oh, great description of how you arrived at the story in A Deadly Draught. Are you currently working on another book? If so, what can you tell us about it?
I’m always working on either a book or a short story. Right now I’m doing some editing for the sequel to A Deadly Draught which my publisher will release in May, 2012. It is entitled Poisoned Pairings and focuses on the pairing of beer and food with hydrofracking, a controversial drilling technique for extracting gas from shale, as a political backdrop.
I’m finishing Grilled, Chilled and Killed, the sequel to Dumpster Dying. It will be released sometime in the summer of 2012. And, oh yes, Emily finds yet another dead body.
5. Oh, I can’t wait! Great title, too. As a writer, I am sure you must be an avid reader. What books are currently on your nightstand?
I’m reading Harlan Coben’s books backwards so Deal Breaker is on my night stand along with several Robert Parker books. There’s usually an Elizabeth George book and often P.D. James there, but I think I’ve read all the Elizabeth George books.
6. Going back a bit, can you tell us about some of your favorite childhood books?
My love of mystery began with Nancy Drew which I could never check out of the library because all the other girls beat me to it, so I discovered the Dana girls. I graduated to Agatha Christie.
7. Oh, I had almost forgotten about the Dana girls! I adored them, too. Who are your top five favorite authors, and why?
Robert Parker for his ability to pack more meat into a sentence than most writers can get into a chapter; Elizabeth George for the density of her characters and the complexity of the interactions between her characters; PD James for her penetrating portrayal of the English countryside and its denizens; Janet Evanovich because she’s just so funny; and any writer of cozies as I search for another Agatha Christie.
8. Wonderful characteristics in those writers. Thanks! I gravitate to certain writers because of their prose. Can you think of a favorite line from one of the books you love?
Well, I may be paraphrasing it a bit incorrectly, but I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “Man is the only animal who blushes, or has a need to.”
9. I’m a big fan of Mark Twain and have some quotables from him, too. What can you share about your writing day? Do you have a special writing space and certain rituals?
I get up and walk several miles, then read my emails and reply to them, doing the business associated with writing. I may write in the morning left to me or in the afternoon. I try not to write at night or plot issues will keep me awake until I have to get up and address the problems they create. I do not spend hours writing at one sitting, rather, I intersperse my writing with other activities like trying to get the cat off the table or out of the garbage or off the other cat or away from the front door or out of the groceries. You know, exercise.
10. Ha-ha…it’s great to visualize your day. Let’s talk about marketing, which is often a challenge for authors. What works for you?
Who know what works if you’re talking about how any attempt to market translates into sales. My favorite marketing/promotion approach is doing programs at libraries or to interested groups. The internet social interaction sites are not so much fun for me, but I understand my presence there is important. Just how it works and if it works, I’m not sure, nor, I’m convinced, is anyone else. I’ve read about a number of roaring success stories, but I’m skeptical they can be repeated with the same degree of success. Promotional strategies can be quite time sensitive. An author can miss the curve, e.g., my book for 99 cents last year might have more impact than the book priced at 99 cents this year.
11. Oh, how true. We do the best we can, though. I’d love to hear about where you live. How does your home setting inspire your writing?
Did you know I own a cottage on a trout stream? A Civil War veteran built the house in 1874, and we are convinced a ghost inhabits it, name of Fred. He has become my literary muse. He has a wicked sense of humor, loves to play pranks, and just when I think I understand him, he surprises me. My micro brewing series is set in this same valley. Setting is important to me. I use it as another character. For example, it’s difficult for me to imagine my micro brewing mystery taking place anywhere other than in the Butternut Valley.
In Dumpster Dying, set in rural Florida in a town similar to that where I live part of the year, Emily is also a winter visitor, and this status and her interaction with the natives are what fuel much of the plot line. I even believe the alligator who swims down my canal is my Florida muse. His name is George, and he’s only got three legs. He’s disadvantaged in the world of large predators, but he seems to be thriving, probably because he’s been eating off the canal’s banquet table—birds and smaller gators. Alligators are the thugs of Florida wildlife, but their presence in my writing gives it an edge that is juxtaposed against the humor in the book.
I love the places I live, and I think the affection I have for my disparate worlds shows in my writing. I hope so.
12. I agree, Lesley, and the concept of settings as characters also intrigues me…so do animals as characters. Do you have any pets? If so, can you tell us about them?
We have two very spoiled cats. I suppose anyone who is owned by a cat can say that, so our cats are just the usual pampered felines. We rescued them from a campground in Key Largo. Since they both are grey, we refer to them by their special pedigree, “Keys Grays.” They are not grateful to be rescued and often threaten us with finding new, better parents. We try to ignore this kind of emotional blackmail by informing them that no one else would want them. They are unmoved by our attempts to frighten them into being better owners. Help! I think we’re being held hostage by cats far smarter than we are. Cat lovers will find all of this boring and familiar.
Thanks for joining us today, Lesley! I’m still chuckling as I picture your cats holding you hostage. I can actually visualize that scenario in one of your stories. I can’t wait to read the next one.