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Friday, October 7, 2011


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


Liz V. said...

Hope all is well now. Isabel, rather than Irene, caused us endless problems, not to be imagined.

Best wishes for success of your books.

Theresa said...

Sounds like fun reading. Much success on both these books.

jeff7salter said...

Yes, please enter me in the drawing for your book.
And let me say something about your column today.
I like your answers to questions about who your characters are 'based' on and how much of your heroine represents you, etc.
As a reader, I've often wondered those same things and sometimes have made wild assumptions of my own.
As a writer (7 complete novel ms. un-pubbed so far) most of my characters are fabrications, but I often give them features which I've noticed -- as you indicatedin one instance -- at places I frequent. My 3rd ms. has a minor character who looks exactly like a guy I used to see often at the YMCA when I exercise. Never even spoke to him and my character has an entire backstory I fabricated. But I wanted him to LOOK like this guy.
As far as writing 'myself' -- in the characters of my series of 3 novels -- I have distributed some of my idiosyncracies among three different characters: the heroine, the hero, and the husband of the heroine's friend.

Patricia Gligor said...

I really enjoyed your post and I especially liked what you wrote about how you come up with your plots; that story is a "translation of life."
And, as to creating characters, I do basically the same thing you do. I always say that my characters are composites of people I know, have met or have just come into contact with.
P.S. I hope I win one of your books!

Lane Stone said...

Oh, Lesley. I'm so sorry about your basement. I love your book covers and the titles!

Lane Stone

Theresa Varela said...

When someone is involved in truly living a full life, I think it's impossible to separate daily experiences from the writing. What we decide to do with them is where our creativity comes in. Thanks for letting us know more about you!

Cindy Sample said...

I loved your post, Lesley, and I can sympathize with the clean-up. My current house has suffered leaks and water damage in 7 different areas. The most notorious being when I first used the jacuzzi in the bathtub and a flood poured down on my daughter as she sat at her bedroom desk.

Hmmm. I might have to use that sometime.

Thanks for sharing and for writing your wonderful series. I really enjoyed DEADLY DRAUGHT so I'd love to be entered to win DUMPSTER DYING. We both have a thing for the letter D!

Barbara Dorsam said...


I'm a big fan of cozies & your books look good! I greatly admire people who have the imagination to write books, but it looks like your life experiences provide you with part of your material. Good luck in your endeavor & please enter me in your drawing :)

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Anonymous said...

Too funny - I actually just returned from California Family Fitness, my local gym. I was on the exercise bike for forty minutes, and ten minutes into it, this guy sits at the bike next to me. He spent a good five minutes organizing his water and his music and his towel, and another five minutes getting the seat adjusted. Five minutes later, he was gone. I saw him on the way out in his coordinated gym outfit, and I thought, one day, you're going to be in a story of mine.

William Doonan

Lesley Diehl said...

Thanks for all your comments about creating characters and writing from life experiences.

marja said...

Interesting blog, and I truly enjoy your writing. Can't wait for the next book! And I like the way you include natural disasters. They can add so much to the suspense.