Lesley Diehl Gets Cozy with Mystery
Lesley Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate 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, and gators make golf a contact sport. Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse. When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats, and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work. She is author of several short stories and several mystery series: the microbrewing mystery series set in the Butternut Valley (A Deadly Draught and Poisoned Pairings) and a rural Florida series, Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Killed and Chilled. She recently signed a three-book deal with Camel Press for The Consignment Shop Murders including A Secondhand Murder. For something more heavenly, try her mystery Angel Sleuth. Several of her short stories have been published by Untreedreads including one (Murder with All the Trimmings) in the original Thanksgiving anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry and another (Mashed in the Potatoes) in the second anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Second Helping. She invites readers to visit her on her blog and website: www.lesleydiehl.com / http://anotherdraught.blogspot.com
Please tell us your latest news!
I signed a three book contract with Camel Press. The first A Secondhand Murder will be released in September and I’m very excited about it. The protagonist, Eve Appel, first appeared in a short story I wrote for Mystery Writers of America Sleuthfest 2009 short story contest. I won first place. Yippee! But most important, I found Eve would not let go of my imagination, and I knew she had to become the main character in a series. It is called the Eve Appel Mystery Series. The second book will come out sometime in 2014 with the tentative title Dead in the Water. Here’s a bit about Eve’s first appearance in A Secondhand Murder:
There’s something odd about a fashionista from Connecticut who chooses to open an upscale consignment shop in rural Florida, but Eve wants to get as far from her bad marriage as she can. Selling clothing of once-wealthy, Madoff-injured society matrons to the thrift-conscious seems like her kind of therapy until she discovers the body of one of her West Palm clients on the dressing room floor. Not only do the police come calling, but soon her husband, the victim’s financially strapped family and friends, a hunky private eye with too much sex appeal to be honest, and a mob boss from Boston complicate her life more than Christmas shopping at Neiman-Marcus.
How much research do you do for your books? Have you found any cool tidbits in your research?
I do a lot of research for my books, most of it fun. For example, for the second book in the Eve Appel Mystery series, I took an airboat ride through the swamps of Florida. For the third book I’ll be visiting a game reserve in rural Florida so that I know something about sports shooting on private reserves. It’s a very popular pastime there and I know little about it. For another series set in Florida I’m researching mud bog racing or mudding, a sport requiring a 4 wheel drive truck and a lot of dirt mixed with water, aka mud. There’s a festival near where I live in Florida, but it costs like crazy to get in and is attended mostly by beer guzzling guys and naked babes. I think I’ll stick to the videos on the internet.
I know a bit about brewing beer because I spent time in microbreweries, picking the brew masters’ minds about the process to write my series about a woman brewer in upstate New York. It’s a great setting for murder. My protagonists in my Florida books also like to go to country bars and dance. So do I, so that research is easy.
What main genre do you write in?
I write cozy mysteries, most of them humorous. I do this because I can entertain myself as I write. I find no point to writing something that doesn’t tickle me. That’s only part true. The mircrobrewing series is cozy but serious. And of course I throw some romance into all my work.
What are your hobbies?
I go a fitness center and work out, a necessary pastime to keep winkles and sags away from my doorstep. But then I counter all that sweating, grunting and groaning by cooking. Hubby and I like to take turns at this, and we also cook together. Our favorite dish is bouillabaisse. While researching my microbrewing series, I Iearned to respect the many kinds of beer and love cooking with them. I especially like making sweet dishes using stout.
My Big Lake Murder Mystery series set in Florida features a retired preschool teacher turned bartender. To be certain my character can mix a mean martini, I’ve had to learn some mixology skills myself. I make a dandy Cosmo or pomegranate Cosmo.
I have a small garden which is being drowned this summer by all the rain, but I think I’ll get some nice crops of lettuce, beans and peas.
I read (too much, not enough sleep) and love to hike or go for long walks. We will be going to Nova Scotia in the fall.
I do some decorating, but on a budget. I buy many items at yard sales and consignment shops. I take the adage “Never pay full price” seriously. This is one hobby that fed nicely into my newest series with Eve Appel as the part owner of a consignment shop. I do research weekly.
Do you write full time? What did you do before you became a writer? Or Still do?
As I said before, I was a psychologist. I taught at the college level for 27 years and was a college administrator for several. I found I liked being in the classroom with students a lot more than sitting in the boardroom with other administrators which usually is a big snooze. Since the students one teaches never age from year to year, it kept me young. Sometimes I regret retiring from the academic life so early; I still have dreams about being in the classroom. I have many friends that were once students. It’s really wonderful being able to watch them achieve in their chosen careers and rewarding to think I might have played a small part in that.
Finding the writing life so rewarding caught me by surprise. I had written many scientific papers and had to relearn how to write creatively, but I embraced the process. I get a real chuckle out of developing complex plots and crating unique characters, and I draw on my background to make these people humans you’d like to meet or love to hate.
What is your writing process? Do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants or a combination of both?
I always wrote by the seat of my pants until I signed the three book contract. Because of the deadlines for the second two books, I decided I needed to outline to rely on, so I developed one for book two. It helped, gave me direction and jump started my writing when I’d left off for a time, but I violated that outline so much that when I read it now, it doesn’t look like the same book. I will also create an outline for book three. I find it’s a useful crutch.
Do you have a ritual when it comes to writing? Example….get coffee, blanket, paper, pen and a comfy place.
I get up, have my coffee while I read the paper and go over emails. I eat breakfast, then do promoting, e/g/ setting up programs, readings, signings, writing blogs, replying to emails. I then do yard work, go off to work out, and have lunch. Oh right, when do I write? Usually in the afternoons, and if I have difficulty getting into it, I clean out a closet or do some laundry. Physical organization of this sort usually clears my head so I can have a successful afternoon of writing. I write quickly and wish I had taken that touch typing course in high school. I am the world’s worst on a keyboard, redoing what I’ve put on a page takes forever. I usually do a chapter, 10 to 12 pages, in two sittings. I go back and revise that chapter before I go ahead to another. By the time I have an entire rough draft, I’ve revised it many times. I send out a chapter at a time to my critique partner. When I get back her suggestions, I revise that chapter.
If you could be one of your characters - Who would you be? And why?
I love Eve Appel because she’s such a spicy gal, and she’s tall and slender, something I’ve always wanted to be. She has quite a mouth on her, not for profanity, but for saying whatever comes into her mind at the time. She has few social graces and must rely on her partner, Madeleine, to smooth over hurt feelings. She’s smart, wise, impulsive and fun, has wonderful taste in shoes. I too love shoes, but with my chubby feet I can’t wear the spikey, strappy sandals she does. Lucky girl, and she can even run in them. She loves clothes and has a nose for a bargain, something she learned from me.
Can you please give us a sneak peek at any of your upcoming books?
Here’s a peek at the first in the Eve Appel Mystery series:
She pinned us with a very cop like gaze. “My first case as a detective and it has to concern you two.” The expression on her face said she wasn’t happy with us and was certain we were to blame for the incident.
“It’s not our fault,” I said.
“We didn’t do it.” Madeleine shook her head.
“Maybe, but where the two of you are, there’s bound to be trouble.”
She was, of course, referring to the incident at the spring rodeo in town. Somehow Madeleine’s curiosity about the bulls for the bull riding event led us to the pens where someone—I’d bet my share of the store on it being Madeleine—fell onto a lever or something. The gate swung open and about ten bulls stampeded through the rodeo arena and the fairgrounds, knocking over concession stands, leaping onto the merry-go-round and running off into the scrub until the cowboys rounded them up.
For a tiny person—Madeleine was only five two—she was very clumsy, except on the dance floor where she moved like a ballerina. Off the dance floor she moved like a tiny elephant on speed. Although my appearance was unusual for these parts, six feet without my strappy stilettos and spiky blonde hair—or maybe it was just unusual in general—I wasn’t clumsy or accident prone. I was Madeleine’s friend and, by association, Frida might think of the two of us together.
When you have writer's block how do you break free?
I’m not aware of ever having writer’s block. Sometimes I feel it’s hard to begin writing on a chapter. To jump start my writing, I’ll reread the chapter before which usually puts me in the mood for continuing. At other times, I know I just need to let the writing go for a few days or even weeks until the muse visits again, sometimes at four in the morning. My muse is the ghost who inhabits our 1874 cottage. His name is Fred and he has a sense of humor that rivals mine except he likes to play practical jokes like setting our truck on fire. I think he does this to get attention.
Is there a genre of book you would like to write but haven't yet?
I have two traditional mysteries begun, but not completed. One of them has a lot of dark humor in it. I’d love to get back to them someday.
What would be the best way for readers contact you? Do you have a website? Email address? MySpace site? Blog? Message Board? Group?
My website is www.lesleydiehl.com and I can be contacted through my email at firstname.lastname@example.org I also like readers to visit my blog which features some interesting interviews with other writers, bits of information about writing and meanderings about my life.
What is the best and worst advice you have ever received?
Everybody who writes gets the same advice: Write about what you know. I did that and wrote a mystery about a dead college president and a psychologist determined to solve the case. That was deadly dull. Sometimes what you know isn’t so captivating. Or, as in my case, what I knew I didn’t know how to write well.
The best advice I got about writing was another writer advising me to join Sisters in Crime and the subgroup Guppies. That changed my writing. I learned from them how to write mysteries. Reaching out to other writers is absolutely necessary for information and for sanity.
Do you belong to a critique group? If so, how does this help or hinder you?
I have joined a number of critique groups. The best one was one a fellow writer (now my critique partner, Jan Day Fehrman) and I started when I moved to Okeechobee, Florida. It was called the Okeechobee Writers league and is still in existence. Glenn and I belonged for about five years. The best thing about the group was that we established procedures for how the group would run early in its existence. We had a clearly stated goal, guidelines for how we presented material to the group and how feedback was delivered. Sometimes these guidelines were violated, but we always came back to them to center ourselves and what we wanted to accomplish. I think determining what the goal of the group is early is the most important aspect of a critique group.
What's your favorite genre to read?
Mysteries, of course.
When did you first decide to submit your work? Please, tell us what or who encouraged you to take this big step.
Someone told me to start calling myself I writer because I wrote and to tell others I was a writer. So I figured if I’m a writer, I need to find an outlet for my writing. I knew I was writing for an audience and not only myself. I began submitting my work to agents and going to conferences to solidify my identity as a writer. Winning the Sleuthfest short story contest in 2009 was a turning point for me. It gave me confidence that others found my writing worthy of notice. After numerous rejections from agents, I found a small publisher, then another, then another. Then I got an agent. I always do things backwards. Now I’m considering self- publishing several books. Backwards, right?
Spunky and outspoken Eve Appel moves from Connecticut to rural Florida intent on starting a new life, free of drama, and more importantly, her soon-to-be ex-husband. The rural Florida town of Sabal Bay, situated only an hour from West Palm, proves to be the perfect spot for her consignment store. Thanks to the recent economic downturn, Florida's society matrons need a place to discreetly sell their stuff and pick up expensive-looking bargains. But Eve's life, and her business with it, is turned upside down when a wealthy customer is found stabbed to death in a fitting room.
As accusations fly and business slows, Eve decides to take matters into her own hands. With the help of an unlikely bunch of friends--including her estranged ex, her best friend, a handsome private eye, and a charming mafia don--she struggles to find answers and save lives. Through a maze of distorted half-truths, dramatic cover-ups, and unrequited passions, Eve learns just how far the wealthy will go to regain what they have lost.