I retired from my life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed my country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter, I migrate to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office. Back north, I devote my afternoons to writing and, when the sun sets, relaxing on the bank of my trout stream, sipping tea or a local microbrew.
Tell us about the genre of your work.
I write cozies, stories set in small communities featuring an amateur sleuth, someone who comes to the detecting process reluctantly.
Why did you choose this genre?
I think it chose me. I am a country gal and I like village life. I do not have the credentials to write a protagonist who is a police officer, so my sleuths must be amateurs. Also, I want to accomplish something other than solving a murder in my work. I try to use the murder, which is always a personal thing for me, the outcome of hate or love, as a vehicle for propelling my protagonist into reassessing her life. She might have done this at some point anyway, but the murder compels her to do it now.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
My first book was A Deadly Draught, published by Mainly Murder Press and set in upstate New York in a microbrewery. This past February Oak Tree Press released Dumpster Dying with a rural Florida setting. My story “Murder with All the Trimmings” appeared in the Thanksgiving Anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry through Untreed Reads. They will also be publishing a short story of mine for Mother’s Day, “Mother Needs a Lift” and I have sold another book length manuscript to them, Angel Sleuth.
Tell us about your books, and especially tell us about your latest published book, Dumpster Dying?
Dumpster Dying. ISBN 978-1-61009-006-3 at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and order from independent book sellers; trade paperback (my newest book)
Emily Rhodes came to rural Florida for the cowboys, the cattle, and to do a little country two-step, not to fall head first onto a dead body in a dumpster.
Ah, the golden years of retirement in the sunshine state. They are more like pot metal to Emily Rhodes, who discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the Big Lake Country Club dumpster. With her close friend accused of the murder, Emily sets aside her grief at her life partner’s death to find the real killer. She underestimates the obstacles rural Florida can set up for a winter visitor and runs afoul of a local judge with his own version of justice, hires a lawyer who works out of a retirement home, and flees wild fires hand-in-hand with the man she believes to be the killer.
A Deadly Draught ISBN 978-0-9825899-2-2 at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com and order from independent book sellers; available in trade paperback and on Kindle and Nook.
Money is always a problem for Hera Knightbridge’s microbrewery, but now drought makes water scarce for all the breweries in the Butternut Valley. Worse, Hera discovers a rival brewer murdered in his brew barn, making Hera the authorities’ favorite suspect. To clear her name, her only choice is to join forces with an unlikely partner, the new assistant deputy sheriff, Jake Ryan, her former lover from law school days. There is unfinished business between these two, and it surfaces repeatedly as they pursue a killer who finally turns on the indefatigable Hera as the next victim.
“Murder with all the Trimmings” available on Amazon.com and Omnilit.com as a short story or as part of the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry.
Thanksgiving dinner is served by Aunt Nozzie with a side of murder and a turkey replacement. Since only the women in the family are still living, the high level of estrogen circulating at this family get-together is both hilarious and killing.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?
Many place names are real; often I concoct others by putting together common names from the area. For example, I created the name of the town on the Big Lake in Florida in Dumpster Dying by using the state tree (Sabal Palm) and joining it to Bay, thus Sabal Bay. Characters’ names pop into my head. I do not know where most of them come from. The name of my protagonist in A Deadly Draught is Hera Knightsbridge. I like the last name for someone who hand crafts beers. The first name was one that came to me. In the sequel to the book, which I am now writing, I explain her name, but you will have to read the book to find out its origin.
Sometimes I am forced by my editor or agent to change the name because it begins with the same letter as others in the book. So I comply, but secretly I always think of that character by the name I originally gave him or her.
My protagonist in Dumpster Dying is Emily Rhodes. Little did I know that the real Emily is a ten- year-old girl in Okeechobee. She showed up at my library book party with her social security card and her birth certificate to show me it was her real name. She was so excited I had named a character after her. It was the best moment of my writing life.
How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?
In my newest book, Dumpster Dying, Emily Rhodes was created out of one of my “what if” situations. What if two people were not married, but lived together for many years? What if everything was in his name? What if he died and the only will found left everything to his ex-wife? What if no one in the community in which they wintered in Florida knew any of this? And what if she couldn’t tell anyone because the community was so conservative the people would turn their backs on her? And then, to top it off, what if she was accused of murder? And better yet, what if I made this humorous? What does this make my protagonist? She is a retired preschool teacher who, because of the murder and her partner’s death, must finally at age 55 find herself, her background, and her identity. Oh yeah, what if she had a baby out of wedlock years ago and now the grown child shows up on her porch?
What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
Emily seems to have a number of antagonists—a sleazy lawyer, a Bible-thumping judge, the widow of the dead rancher who accuses Emily of having an affair with her husband, her fellow bartender who finds little to like about winter visitors. Not to mention one tobacco chewing detective whose idea of work is driving to the nearest bar, and another detective who cannot figure out if he likes her or wants to arrest her.
What is your favorite thing about your book?
There is some kind of magic that occurs when I write about rural Florida. I love it, but the having been raised on a farm in the Midwest, this is not unlike coming home. I am especially fond of cows and they have special cows here in Florida’s heartland—Brahmas who have huge, floppy ears and necks so wrinkled they look like they belong on ninety year olds. They even walk with a special walk, kind of arrogant like. This place works on me and I find myself writing the craziest stories. I love to write funny and this place makes me do it. I do not lift characters out of this setting, but it is somehow easy for me to put together someone who could live in this place.
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
I like mysteries because I like puzzles. Putting the plot together is fun and challenging for me, and sometimes surprising too. Many times I do not know who the murderer is until close to the end. Sometimes I think I know and find out I have it wrong!
Why and when did you begin writing?
I have always written. When I was a kid, I would write songs. I had no musical training, but I liked to make up tunes and write words to them. My dad played the radio when he milked the cows. It was tuned either to the Grand Ole Opry or to classical opera. I did both. Even though I did not know any language other than English, I would make up the tunes and the words and sing opera. Oh, did I say I was an only child? Alone on a farm you learned to amuse yourself.
What is your writing schedule?
I write in the morning and afternoon. I have learned not to write at night because it revs me up such that I cannot get to sleep and I am not a good sleeper anyway. My muse has a bad habit of visiting me in the wee hours and nagging me about plot lines.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
I have a number of manuscripts yearning for my editing attention and I am trying to finish the sequel to A Deadly Draught. I have begun work on a serious traditional mystery set in upstate New York that focuses on the eastern coyote.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?
Write, write, write and edit, edit, edit, but do not do it in isolation. Find a writing group that you trust. You may have to try out several to find one right for you. Find a critique partner; again, you may have to try out a number of them. Join professional groups. The best one for advice, feedback, information is the Guppies associated with Sisters in Crime. You may create in isolation, but you need contact with the profession and those in it to make your work the best it can be.
Remember, there are many roads to publication. Explore them to find out what fits your writing.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
Writers need to be flexible and to develop a thick skin. I look back on some of my writing from the past, writing I thought was great, and now I see how much my style has changed, and it needed to change. If I had been unwilling to hear criticism and to change what I was doing, I would not be published today. Writing is something you learn to do, not something you instinctively know how to do. You need a passion for writing, but you must also embrace the idea that you are learning a craft. Learn the rules, and then you can break them.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I love to cook. I like to walk and hike especially in upstate New York where I spend my summers. Glenn and I love to dance to country western music and island music. We also spend long conversations talking about writing. And, of course, I love to read.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
When a little girl from Okeechobee came to my book party in the local library and brought her social security card and birth certificate to prove she had the same name as the protagonist in Dumpster Dying, I thought that was my “made it” moment. I was so touched. I cannot imagine any better feeling. And she thought she was thrilled, I was delighted. I got a big hug too!
Want to know more about Lesley, check out her website and blog at:
www.lesleydiehl.com and http://anotherdraught.blogspot.com
Sleuthfest 2009 short story winner; "Murder with All the Trimmings" from UntreedReads
Sleuthfest 2009 short story winner; "Murder with All the Trimmings" from UntreedReads
All comments are welcome.