Mystery author Lesley A. 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 where she devotes her days to writing, relaxing on the bank of her trout stream, and sipping tea or local microbrew. 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. Read more about Lesley at her website and her blog.
Lesley is giving away one copy each of Dumpster Dying and A Deadly Draught. If you’d like a chance at winning a copy, post a comment to the blog. -- AP
From a Flooded Basement to a Flooded Tunnel
I’ve been thinking a lot about disasters lately having just come through one myself. Although I was luckier than many others, having my once peaceful trout stream turn into a raging river licking at my back door is not fun. It’s terrifying.
A friend trying to cheer me suggested the flood would find its way into my writing. I suspect she’s right, but I’m not yet ready to translate it into fiction, an adventure for one of my characters to encounter and conquer. My terror like the flood needs to recede a bit.
When I do programs promoting my books, there’s always a member of the audience who wants to know if my characters are people I know or have met. My answer is no. These are fictional people whose personalities and lives are pieced together out of my experience, but none of them are real people. The widow of the victim in Dumpster Dying is no one I’ve ever met, but I created 1980’s big hair, garish make-up, and too tight Capris based upon a woman I saw across the room in my exercise class. I never meet the woman, simply encountered her daily. She was probably a very nice person and would be horrified to know I put her face on such a mean character.
My protagonists are not me, either. They are younger, more athletic, braver, and more adventurous than I. They may be what I would want to be, but they’re nothing like me nor like anyone I know. Hera Knightsbridge in A Deadly Draught is physically similar to a woman I knew who was studying to be a brewer. They are both tall, blonde and slender, yet my Hera did not sport the tattoos the real life person did, and Hera was not into sushi (that I know of) as was Alyssa, her real life counterpart in appearance.
In my writing hand, the parentage of my characters is obliterated. I think the same is true of events happening to them. Because my books have rural settings, I use natural disasters like floods, wild fires, tornados and attacks by wild animals (we’re talking alligators here, of course) to ramp up the excitement and to place my protagonists in jeopardy. Emily Rhodes in Dumpster Dying flees a wildfire and runs right into a slough filled with alligators. What could be more exciting and tell us more about the kind of stuff Emily’s made of?
Are these events taken from my own experience? Sure. But again, these are translations of my life and bear little resemblance to the encounters.
In Poisoned Pairings, scheduled to be released by Mainly Murder Press in May, 2012, Hera, the brewer, must flee down a flooded tunnel to escape some ruthless goons pursuing her. I never traversed such a tunnel, but I knew tunnels connecting buildings on my college’s campus often flooded. I wrote Hera’s experience before I had my recent encounter with an overabundance of water. Would I write it in a different way now? Perhaps now I might have written in more fear and less bravado on her part. But Hera is not me. She’s got more pluck than I. But then, she doesn’t have a moldy basement to clean out either. That takes another kind of pluckiness, one wrapped in a mask and rubber gloves, and holding a spray bottle of Clorox.
The final translation of what is on the page is the reader’s. The author must craft the work well enough to allow the reader’s experience to parallel the writer’s intention.
Will I plunge my protagonist into a flood? In the future you can bet there will be water of some kind, and it will threaten one of my protagonists. But right now, I have to go to the store for more Clorox.
Thanks for joining us today, Lesley! Readers, if you’d like a chance to win a copy of either Dumpster Dying or A Deadly Draught, don’t forget to post a comment, and check back on Sunday to see if you’re one of the two lucky winners. -- AP