Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring author Lesley Diehl

Please help me welcome author Lesley Diehl.

Kari: What made you want to write mysteries?

Lesley: I’ve read mysteries all my life, beginning, as many girls did, with Nancy Drew. When I found all of the Nancy Drew books were checked out of the school and town library, I decided to try another Carolyn Keene mystery, The Dana Girls. Once I’d read those, the Nancy Drew books were back in and I could check them out. I got a double dose of Carolyn Keene, then graduated to adult mysteries.

At first I thought I should be able to solve the mystery before the end, then I found the mysteries provided me a challenging puzzle, a journey of sorts, and I went along for the ride the author provided. I thought the authors who wrote them were the cleverest people, and I wanted to be able to construct intricate plots. I like other genre literature and mainstream fiction, but nothing makes me itch with the curiosity more than does a good mystery.

Kari: Can you tell us about your newest release Dumpster Dying?

Lesley: Most peoples’ experience with Florida is Disney when they take their kids or grandkids there and the beaches, palm trees, warm weather, and blue waters of the ocean or gulf when they vacation or retire In Florida. I’ve loved those places also, but that is not the Florida I live in for half the year. In my Florida, herds of cattle roam the pastures, grassy areas distinguished from Texas and the old west by the palm trees under which these bovine creatures seek shade in the over ninety degree heat and the alligators which sit placidly beside the Big Lake or the many canals that cut through this land. And, oh yes, there are cowboys on horseback. I love cowboys on horses. I also am mighty fond of them without their horses, especially when they get all slicked up for a night in one of our county’s hopping country bars where the music entices a former country gal like myself to get up and do a little two-step.

I describe this Florida because it is not what most of us have experienced and, when snowbirds wander off the coastal highways and discover it, they are usually shocked to find there is no Macy’s, Neiman-Marcus or even a Ruby Tuesday’s anywhere in sight. Try instead the bar in my newest book, Dumpster Dying, where my protagonist, Emily Rhodes was employed as a bartender for part of a night and fired because she refused to serve the wealthiest rancher in the county because he was drunk. At her next job, bartender at the Big Lake Country Club in rural Florida, she lifts the lid of the club’s dumpster one night to discover the dead body of the wealthiest rancher in the county. The authorities are certain they have the killer since evidence at the scene points to Emily’s friend and boss, Clara, but Emily has doubts. She believes Clara is hiding a secret involving the dead man’s family, but unraveling how Clara and the rancher’s lives are intertwined competes with Emily’s own problems. Her life partner has recently died, and the only will she can locate leaves everything to his ex-wife. Despite the grief she feels over her partner’s death and the money problems it has created for her, Emily sets out to identify the rancher’s killer. She must outwit a vengeful widow, fend off the advances of the man she believes to be the murderer, get to know an adult daughter she’s never met, and flee a fire bearing down on the drought-ridden pastures and swamps of her adopted community. Suddenly, the golden years of retirement seem more like pot metal to Emily.

Kari: Can you tell us about the appeal of "Old Florida" versus new Florida with its beaches?

Lesley: I think I answered this one. The appeal is the cowboys. Really, there is more. This is Florida before the developers, before the interstate highways, a place where people live, not vacation. People here don’t dress up like cartoon characters or don bikinis to lie on beaches and have cabana boys bring them rum runners. Here the residents farm the land, herd cattle, fish the lakes, and live a life unmarred by high rise condos, housing developments, and, most of all, traffic and pollution. Bird life abounds, and Lake Okeechobee is still a fishing paradise. It is the people who make this place real for me. They are like me, and they are unlike me, allowing us to share some experiences and collide in other ways. Of course, all of this will change someday, and I’ll find the pasture across the canal from me will be turned into a mobile home park and the herd of horses running it will go someplace else. Cowboys will spend more and more time tending their cattle on all terrain vehicles, and spurs, when they’re worn, will be outlawed in the restaurants and bars. Until then, I’ll write about what it’s like to be a “winter visitor” in the county with more cattle than people.

Kari: What is your average writing schedule like on any given day:

Lesley: I get up and immediately check my email. Since I’ve become a published author, more of my day is dedicated to the “business” of writing than before, but I still try to write several hours each day. Some of that might be working on a short story, on a novel-length manuscript, revising previous work, writing notes on a future project, or constructing a synopsis, query, or blurb on a manuscript I want to send out to an editor or agent.

Kari: Have you ever thought of writing anything other than mysteries?

Lesley: I used to be a professor, so I wrote nonfiction, academic work all the time. I intend never to go back to that, but I do write poetry. I’ve played around with the idea of a mainstream piece of work, but I’ve never gotten an idea I thought I wanted to pursue more than I do the theme of murder and who did it. I have a manuscript I began last summer that I’m anxious to get back to. It is a mystery, but is perhaps more literary than any of my other work. I focus more on my characters than on the plot. I started it because I was interested in coyotes. We have many here in upstate New York and they are interesting creature, much larger than coyotes anywhere else in the United States. I’ve been doing some research on them and I have incorporated this into my work.

Kari: Who are your favorite authors?

Lesley: I love Elizabeth George, P. D. James, Martha Grimes, and Robert Parker. On the lighter side, there is Janet Evanovich, Susan Wittig Albert, and Mary Daheim. Oh, yeah, all of them are mystery writers.

Kari: Do you have any tips for your fellow aspiring authors?

Lesley: If you come from a background like mine, you will need to learn how to drop all that academic, stuffy, professorial, writing style. You will need to learn how to write mysteries, so here’s what I suggest:

Read everything you can get your hands on. It may be mainstream literature or romance or mystery, but read.

Join a writing group such as Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (internet group, SINC) and its affiliated unpublished group, Guppies. These groups are great for providing information about good books and courses (internet) on writing and for setting up opportunities for manuscript exchange.

Get yourself into a critique group. It may take you some time to find one that works for you. Contact your local library as they may know of writing groups in the area. Or start one yourself which is what I did when I moved to Okeechobee. A word of caution: Not all such groups provide good experiences, so you may have to shop around. Don’t be afraid to get out of a group and find another. The group should be supportive, but provide constructive writing feedback, more than just “ooh, that’s good” and less than “Wow, don’t leave your day job.”

Finally, write, write, write. Soon you’ll become a great critic for yourself. Oh, and don’t throw away anything. Save it. You can go back and see how you’ve grown. Or, if you’re like me, it will provide you with a few tears and a good laugh.

Kari: Thanks Lesley! That was awesome :-)

A Deadly Draught, Mainly Murder Press; Dumpster Dying, soon from Oak Tree Press

Sleuthfest 2009 short story winner


Kari Lee Townsend said...

Thanks again for being here Lesley!

Now bring on your questions, folks :-)

Tonya Kappes said...

Hi Lesley! I love the concept of your new book. I think it is so funny. I'm finding more and more mystery have that funny touch which I love. Thank you for all the advice.

Liz Lipperman said...

Lesley, I also love the funny touch and love that your heroine/sleuth is not right out of college.

Welcome to M & M. I'm looking forward to checking out your books.

Mary Martinez said...

Thanks Lesley. Great post and I love Florida. And I love the local dive bars. Thank you for sharing everything!

Deborah Sharp said...

Nice blog, Kari and good interview, too ... can't wait to read Deadly Draught and Dumpster Dying (out soon? When?), especially since I also set my books in the part of Florida that no one knows we have. You've described it perfectly!
Also some good tips here for aspiring writers. Kudos!
Deborah Sharp, Author of the Mace Bauer Mysteries

Kaye George said...

My Deadly Draught arrived today! I haven't even read it and already can't wait for the next one.

I'm a little slow!

Lesley said...

thanks for your comments. Dumpster should be out in November.


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