Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Interview with LESLEY DIEHL

The heroine in your most recent book makes beer. How did you come up with THAT occupation for a mystery protagonist?

I was looking for a protagonist with an unusual occupation, not one of the common jobs of amateur sleuths, but one with a clever hook. At first I thought perhaps I'll make her a taxidermist, but, since I knew I'd have to research my heroine's work, I had nightmares of being up to my elbows in chipmunk entrails. That's not something I thought my readers could admire or with which they might identify, however interesting and as jam packed with murder opportunity as the profession might be--who killed Peter Rabbit and then sent him here to be stuffed?

The other choice was mircrobrewer and my aha moment that clinched that one was a tour I took of a nearby brewery. The tour guide showed us the fermenting room where yeast were gobbling up the malt and transforming it into alcohol. The guide told us we wouldn't survive long in that room because it was filled with the by-product of fermentation, carbon dioxide. I raised my hand and asked, "Could you kill someone in there?" I think my question was unsettling enough that the tour guide was probably looking for another job that night, but I explained I was a murder mystery writer. Much rolling of eyes later from my tour companions and I was on my way to having a great female protagonist and a wonderful setting for murder.

Tell us about A DEADLY DRAUGHT.

Hera Knightsbridge left law school five years ago when her father committed suicide to take over the operation of his microbrewery, but things are not going well. There's little money to keep the operation afloat and she finds her nearest competitor, Michael Ramford, Sr. dead on his brewbarn floor. The last person she expects to find in charge of the case is her former lover and fellow student from law school, Jake Ryan. Jake is as aggravating and sexy as ever, and he finds Hera the same, spending the night grilling her because she is his favorite suspect for the murder.

To clear her name, Hera finds herself in league with Jake trying to uncover the identity of the killer. Their work is made more difficult by a draught threatening her water supply, attempted murder of another brewer, theft, and vandalism. And, of course, there is growing tension between Hera and Jake.

Has your “previous life” as a professor of psychology helped you craft your book characters?

My doctorate is in developmental psychology, the study of the lifespan. I see each individual's life as a journey framed by the question, who am I? We may answer this question differently depending upon where we are in life, but we grapple with identity over and over again, reframing the answer in terms of the challenges that may present themselves. To answer the question in young adulthood works for that time, but not necessarily for all the stages to come. Identity work is never finished.

In my writing, the murder is the event that catapults the heroine into considering who she is and her relationships with others, family, friends, lovers. It forces her to consider issues she might have put off until much later in her life. Murder in my work is always intimate, personal. I don't do murder for hire, or syndicate killing.

Think personal change and issues of identity and you understand how my background in psychology has shaped my writing.

You divide your time between upstate New York and Florida. Please share with us what you like about these two locations and how they affect the way you create the settings in your books.

It's about two aspects of these places--the location with its attendant natural beauty and the people I've met in these places. Then throw in how human greed threatens both people and nature and you have the ingredients for murder.

I grew up on a farm in northern Illinois, so my roots are country. The people I know in upstate New York (upstate is nowhere near the city or a city!) and those in rural Florida remind me of individuals I knew growing up. They are approachable, not perfect, but real. They feed one part of my personality, the rural part. I like the smell of manure-smells like home. On the other hand, I can get into travel, fine dining, great music and theater, even fashion. But then what does this country girl know? I think some country music is great music. On the farm our cows were milked to the Grand Ole Opry and to Mario Lanza.

You just sold another book—tell us about that!

Although set in Florida, Dumpster Dying is not just another story about sunny beaches and bikini-clad beauties. In it, Florida natives collide with winter visitors in murderous, yet often humorous ways.

Emily Rhodes, the new bartender at the Big Lake Country Club in rural Florida, 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.

Most of my writing is funny. Draught was not, but this one is. Think a menopausal Stephanie Plum escaping a herd of stampeding cattle by swimming an alligator-infested canal.

Oak Tree Press will release the book sometime this fall.

Except for A Deadly Draught all your short stories and other work are humorous (or attempt to be). How does this fit in with your background in psychology?

Laughing feels good. Writing funny situations feels good too. Why wouldn't I want my readers to enjoy themselves and why not write something that gives me that pleasure also? It's good for the psyche, liberating. You can feel yourself lighten in a mental sense when you laugh. I swear I weigh ten pounds less when a laugh comes bubbling out of me. It's healthy, and, like petting a dog or cat, it lowers blood pressure. Laugh on!

What are the addresses of your websites, blogs, and other online presences?

http://www.lesleydiehl.com/ is my website
http://anotherdraught.blogspot.com/ is my blog

I enjoy hearing from readers too at LesDieh60@aol.com


  1. Lesley, you have to be the only other person besides me who loves the smell of manure! You're right--it smells like home, but in a good way.

    So pleased to welcome you to the Oak Tree family. Great interview!

  2. Karyne Corum8/04/2010 12:23 PM

    Love the idea of the deadly pitfalls of the Florida community. Just because people get old, doesn't mean they get any less lethal.

    Can't wait to read it!

  3. Reading your interview gave me a feel for your humor. I can tell I'll be reading your books soon. Wonderful interview!

  4. Lesley: Great interview. Can't wait to read Dumpster Dying. Not long ago I read a book by a new author set in a Florida retirement community. It made me wonder what all happens in retirement and maybe you can't handle it when you are younger.
    Best of luck!
    W.S. Gager

  5. If "Dumpster Dying" is anywhere near as good as "A Deadly Draught" then I know I'll be enjoying it. I'm looking forward to the fall when the book will be out and I'll be back in Florida, but hopefully NOT dumpster dying !

  6. Lesley, congrats on the new book - can't wait to read it!

  7. Jack Everett8/05/2010 2:19 AM

    I wonder if Lesley knows that by changing the water source of a brew it changes the flavor. For example Guinness is brewed with water from the river Liffey but also brewed under licence to the same recipe all over the world, All of which taste slightly different from the original.
    This is the main reason why most breweries are built over springs.

    My name is Jack Everett an author from over the water-as the Irish might say- or over the pond as Americans say.

  8. Jack,

    Makes sense to me. The different types of wood comprising the casks in which whiskey ages makes a big difference--as does the distilling process. Seems that a change in ingredient would have the same, or a more significant, effect.

    Thanks for visiting the blog!

  9. jack everett8/05/2010 1:40 PM

    Thanks Linda, have you ever been to a distillery and sampled the 'angel's share?' This is the around 10% of brandy, which is matured in wooden casks previously used for port,which permeates through the wood and the joints and hangs in the air of the vault.

    My webpage is www.jackleverett.me.uk

  10. No, Jack, I haven't. I've never cared for beer and wine and have recently discovered a true fondness for whiskey. So far, my favorite is...you guessed it...Irish whiskey. (Does this have something to do with my maiden name [McHenry]?) I don't care for scotch and will settle for Tennessee whiskey, although the smokey flavor isn't my favorite. I have yet to sample bourboun and rye.

  11. Lesley, you're from northern Illinois! Me too. I love the smell of cows and horses. Hogs, not so much and my uncle was a hog farmer.

    The smokier the scotch the better for me! Unfortunately, I don't appreciate beer. My husband appreciates it enough for both of us.

    But--I haven't bought the book yet! I'll do so now!

  12. From one Oak Tree author to another, welcome aboard. I can't wait to read Dumpster Dying- I love a little bit of funny in my mysteries!

    Holli Castillo
    Gumbo Justice