Welcome to the forty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with historical mystery novelist Diane Piron-Gelman (a.k.a. D M Pirrone) . If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Diane. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Diane: I’ve always been into words, both written and spoken. I was a voracious reader as a kid (still am!), and I also got bitten by the acting bug way back in second grade. So telling stories is a huge part of who I am. The only thing that changes is the medium: onstage, or on paper. I first started serious writing in high school, when a friend of mine and I fell in love with the Arthurian legend cycle and decided to write an Arthurian fantasy novel. We’d trade chapters and scenes back and forth, which meant each of us always had to have something to write. Great for discipline. Then, after I discovered the absolutely brilliant mystery writer Ruth Rendell, I decided I wanted to see if I could write that kind of book. So I started trying my hand at it, and found I really enjoyed playing around in the mystery genre.
Morgen: Is that the genre you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Diane: So far, I’ve written mysteries, with a strong historical bent. I have a science-fiction novel in mind as a future project (also with a historical bent, framed around WW II), and a fantasy novel dealing with telepaths, and also a purely chick-lit novel about a mother-daughter road trip that would kind of be Anne Tyler meets Thelma and Louise. I’ve got a couple of ideas for straight historicals as well. I do love the mystery genre, though. There are so many things to play with in it.
Morgen: But more / harder loose ends to tie up? What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Diane: My debut novel, NO LESS IN BLOOD, just came out this past March from Five Star. I’d say I’ve done about half the marketing; they sent out a bunch of ARCs and handled the entire ebook thing (it’s available for Kindle and Nook), but I then sent out even more ARCs to places that review mysteries, and I’ve been solely responsible for setting up book signings, seeking out blog tours and interview opportunities like this one, setting up my author website and Facebook page, and such.
Morgen: ARCs? Ah, yes, Advanced Readers Copy. Hopefully enjoyable hard work though. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Diane: I do have an agent for my second book, and she’s terrific. She and her staff—three women altogether—liked my manuscript, but thought it could be kicked up a notch to sell to the bigger publishing houses. So they tossed it around and brainstormed ideas, and worked with me to highlight certain elements of it that needed to be brought out more. They gave me detailed notes explaining what they thought needed fixing and why, but then left it to me to find my own way to solve the problem. It was a fabulously enriching process, and when we do find a publisher for this book, I’ll definitely credit my agent and her staff as vital to its success. That said, though, I’m not certain whether agents per se are as vital as they once were. The industry seems to be changing so much, and at lightning speed, that it’s hard to say. My experience has been good—but whether that applies across the board is kind of anybody’s guess right now.
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Diane: I’ve only had one acceptance so far—and yes, it was a huge thrill.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Diane: Rejections get easier to take when you remember that they’re not personal, and that the people making them have their own opinions and biases just like all of us do. If I get several rejections with similar comments as to why (when they do comment), then that tells me to take a look at whatever they’re talking about. Otherwise, I don’t take them much to heart.
Morgen: Very wise but easier said than done. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Diane: Currently, I’m working on the second in a planned series of historical mysteries set in Chicago just after the Great Fire of 1871.
Morgen: Ooh, one of my fellow Thursday night writers (http://www.northamptonwriters.org.uk), Dave, is from Chicago and is writing a crime novel based there – you could look him up on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001755711546). 🙂
Diane: My agent is shopping around the first book, A JUDGMENT IN ASHES, in which my main character—a rookie Irish detective named Frank Hanley—has to solve the murder of a rabbi that turns out to be tied to embezzlement, political corruption and organized crime. The second book, RANKS OF DEATH, has Hanley tracking down the killer of an abolitionist lawyer who served in the Civil War; the murder stems from events in that conflict, including the Camp Douglas conspiracy to take over Chicago in 1864, a former Confederate bushwhacker ambushed by our victim and out for murderous revenge, and a colleague of Hanley’s who is passing for white and is terrified that his secret may come out.
Morgen: Ooh. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Diane: I write most days, generally when my two boys are in school and my house is quiet. The best I’ve managed in one day is a four-hour stretch when I was on a roll, and then another hour later in the evening. That level of inspiration doesn’t happen often, though. My usual rate is more like 2 ½ hours in a day.
Morgen: That’s still good going (2½ a week would be good for me). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Diane: I plot things out a few chapters at a time, but I’m always open to my subconscious coming up with something that my conscious mind isn’t smart enough to.
Morgen: I love that.
Diane: I did outline NO LESS IN BLOOD and A JUDGMENT IN ASHES, but I ended up deviating from those outlines significantly about halfway through… largely because of questions people asked me or comments they made that helped me see things in a different light. I definitely need some structure, or I just flail. Too much, though, and the writing starts to feel forced.
Morgen: A fine balance. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Diane: I’m still not sure about my first mystery novel, a theatre mystery set in Bath.
Morgen: Ooh, great mystery location. I love Bath.
Diane: I had no idea what I was doing, story-wise… but the characters are fun, and the theatrical backdrop is something I know very well. Salvageable? We’ll see.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Diane: My favourite aspect of being a writer is when it’s really working, and I can go back and read out loud something that I’ve written and realize, “Hey, this is actually good!” I also write in at least two viewpoints for each book, often more—so I get to be inside a lot of different characters’ heads, and that’s fun.
Morgen: That’s interesting. Most writers would be scared of doing that. 🙂
Diane: Least favourite? Making myself write when I have no idea where my story is going or whether there’s any point to the scene/chapter I’m working on. It feels like trying to lift a hundred-pound weight while mired in Jello.
Morgen: What an image. 🙂 If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Diane: It’s always a surprise to me when a minor character I initially thought of as a throwaway—a character who’s there just for the logic of a scene or a location—ends up taking on a larger role than I planned.
Morgen: Isn’t that great?
Diane: There’s a beat cop in JUDGMENT IN ASHES who’s evolving into a sidekick for Hanley; they joke around about Irish vs. Germans and help each other out, even though Rolf was originally intended to be a third-spear-carrier-on-the-left kind of guy.
Morgen: 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
DMP: Never quit. Keep learning your craft, find a good writers’ group if you can, and read a lot. Multiple genres, too. And then just keep working.
Morgen: A bit of everything. What do you like to read?
Diane: I love mysteries, especially moody psychological suspense. Also historical novels (I’m a history nerd) and SF/fantasy. In contemporary fiction that doesn’t fall neatly into those genres, I like Amy Tan’s work a lot, also Anna Quindlen. I just finished reading THE HELP, which I thought was marvellous. Each narrative voice was so clear, and the story was positively gripping.
Morgen: The Kathryn Stockett book? It has a good reputation (apart from the author being sued by a woman who thinks it was based on her) and was a TV Book Club Summer Read 2010 finalist (http://www.tvbookclub.co.uk). Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Diane: TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT, by Lawrence Block. He offers excellent examples throughout his book of what is and isn’t good writing, and why the bad stuff is bad—and also how to take merely adequate writing and make it better. Plus, it’s an entertaining read.
Morgen: I have one of Lawrence Block’s books but not that one (sounds great). Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Diane: I found this one through one of my groups on LinkedIn, so that one’s pretty valuable!
Morgen: Thank you. 🙂
Diane: I’m really just getting my feet wet with networking, though. We’ll see how it pans out.
Morgen: Indeed. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Diane: I write under the pen name D.M. Pirrone. My website is www.dmpirrone.net, and I also have a D.M. Pirrone Facebook page.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Diane: I think writers will always be needed, because we’re the ones who create the content that people want to read. Humans have always been storytelling creatures, and writers are the best at it.
D.M. Pirrone is the nom de plume of Diane Piron-Gelman, a freelance writer and editor with nearly twenty years’ experience in both fields. No Less In Blood is her first mystery novel. A Chicago native, history buff and avid mystery reader, Ms. Piron-Gelman is a long-time member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She lives on the Northwest Side with her husband Stephen and two sons, David and Isaac.
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