This week's author interview is with Lesley A. Diehl, a mystery author that hails from both New York and Florida (although not at the same time). Her recently published book, A Deadly Draught, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound. More recently, her story, "Murder with All the Trimmings" was published by Untreed Reads as a part of the Thanksgiving Mystery Anthology, The Killer Wore Cranberry. Please welcome to The Accidental Author, Lesley A. Diehl.
The Accidental Author: First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for the blog. Okay, now on with the interrogation. I see from your website that you were a professor of psychology. How do you feel that your previous career helped you in your writing?
Lesley Diehl: I was a lifespan or developmental psychologist, so I always write about the journey of life taken by my protagonist. The reader gets to see part of that journey, and it is all about change. I’ve always said murder is merely a catalyst in my work, a horrible event that propels the heroine to do something she might have done at another time in her life, but murder forces her to undertake that now. In my newest book Dumpster Dying, Emily Rhodes is a retired preschool teacher, tiny in stature, dependent in personality, but she finds herself when she sets out to help her friend who is accused of murder. This event comes together with another life changer—the death of her life-partner and loss of her retirement income.
AA: Have you taken courses for creative writing, or is it something for which you have a natural talent?
LD: I always liked to write, and I was encouraged by teachers in high school and college, but I went into psychology where my writing underwent a dramatic change from creative to scientific. When I returned to fiction many years later, I had to reteach myself to write creatively. I did so by reading, joining professional writers’ groups as well as writing and critique groups.
AA: Your short story, “Murder with All the Trimmings”, available from Untreed Reads, is a traditional mystery story with some decidedly non-traditional characters. What was your inspiration for this tale?
LD: When one of my oldest friends read the story, she said, quite correctly, that it was a story about my aunt. My favorite aunt is the woman, Aunt Nozzie, in that story. She was such a character, that, as anyone’s aunt, she would inspire a story.
AA: In “Murder with All the Trimmings”, the menu for the meal was decidedly outside of the mainstream. Having had a great deal of experience with Spam myself, I have to ask: do you personally enjoy Spam? If so, how do you like it prepared?
LD: I’m not crazy about Spam, but, having said that, let me add that I can and will eat about anything when I think I’m hungry. I was raised by parents who experienced the depression and taught to eat what was on my plate, so I always think I’m hungry!
AA: This is a bit of a “chicken or the egg” question, but when you are starting out a story, do you have a tendency to focus primarily on character development or plot?
LD: Both. I seem to get an idea for a character along with the plot. As I ripen the plot, the character seems to emerge clearly as well.
AA: About revising and rewriting, have you joined any writing communities online like Zoetrope or Critique Circle? If so, how valuable have you found them to be?
LD: I belong to several online groups such as SINC (Sisters in Crime Internet Group) and the Guppies subgroup. I’ve used them to exchange full manuscripts with another writer or to join one of their groups critiquing a first chapter or chapters.
AA: Do you let other people (family, friends, co-workers) read your writing for input? If so, how valuable do you find that input?
LD: I have a critique partner. She and I have exchanged work for the past four years, either when I’m in Florida (she lives in Okeechobee) or through the internet when I go back to upstate New York. She and I cofounded the Okeechobee Writers league.
AA: Most people who write also have an insatiable appetite for reading. Is this the case with you? Do you like to read the same kind of stories that you enjoy writing? What book(s) are you reading right now?
LD: Right now I’m reading Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile. I just finished Janet Evanovich’s newest. Burn by Nevada Barr is sitting on my desk and I’m working my way through John Sanford’s books. I read almost nothing but mysteries although I have a friend who gifts me what she considers “good” literature in an attempt to give me some culture. I prefer mysteries because I don’t have the patience for stories that don’t move quickly. I have a lot of reading I want to do, so an author better grab me immediately.
AA: You seem to have a great love for beer, especially microbrews. In fact, I see that your novel “A Deadly Draught” centers on the microbrewery community. Would you say that beer is one of your muses?
LD: I have gained great respect for microbrews as I’ve come to learn about them and have gotten to know several brewers well. I have two muses, however, as I explained on Monday’s Dames of Dialogue. When I’m in New York, my muse is the ghost who inhabits my 1874 cottage. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in Fred who likes to play jokes on me. My muse in Florida during my winter stay is the alligator who lives in the canal behind my house.
AA: Speaking of “A Deadly Draught”, this is a traditional paper book. Now that you have published with Untreed Reads, do you foresee yourself focusing on digital publishing more?
LD: I think a writer today would have to be made of concrete not to consider digital publishing. I’m hoping to send Jay Hartman a book length manuscript as a holiday gift—maybe he’ll publish it!
AA: If you don’t mind my asking, what types of projects are you currently working on?
LD: I’m over halfway through my second mystery with Hera Knightsbridge, my microbrewer. I’m polishing the manuscript for Jay Hartman about a writer whose house is invaded by guardian angels. I’ve finished a manuscript set in Florida featuring a Yankee who owns a consignment shop catering to the wealthy who were taken by Madoff. Of course, she discovers one of the matrons dead in her dressing room. On a more serious note, I’m trying to get back to a manuscript I began several years ago. It is set in upstate New York. The protagonist is the mayor of a small village and the owner of an auction house. Her husband has died and a man from her past reenters her life as a biologist hired to help the community understand coyotes whom they’re convinced are killing their sheep and calves as well as pets.
AA: If you had one morsel of advice for the aspiring writer out there thinking about transitioning from “writing for fun” to “writing for fun AND profit”, what would that be?
LD: Write, write, write. Get yourself into a good writing group. Join professional writers’ groups such as Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Go to writers conferences and attend their panels.
Lesley A. Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in Morris, New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office. Back north, she devotes her afternoons to writing and, when the sun sets, relaxing on the bank of her trout stream, sipping tea or a local microbrew.
Check out her website HERE and her Blog HERE.