Diane Kelly writes funny stories that feature feisty female lead characters and their furry, four-footed friends. Diane is the author of over three dozen novels and novellas, including the Death & Taxes white-collar crime series, the Paw Enforcement K-9 series, the House Flipper cozy mystery series, the Busted female motorcycle cop series, the Southern Homebrew moonshine series, and the Mountain Lodge Mysteries series.
Could you tell us briefly what your latest book is about?
Diane Kelly: In Snow Place for Murder, a real estate developer invites potential investors to the Mountaintop Lodge so he can pitch a new luxury resort. Misty Murphy, the owner of the humble lodge, is conflicted about hosting the group. While the new resort would bring jobs and money to the area, it would also bring tourists and noise, and disrupt the peace of the place. Locals, too, are at odds over the proposed construction. When the developer is found dead and buried in the snow, it’s up to Misty to determine who put the guy on ice.
Does one of your characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
DK: Definitely! Misty’s son Mitch was an especially fun one for me to write, though I put him through some tough situations in the story. I drew on my experiences with my own son in writing him. My son can be a bit of a smarty pants, but in a funny way that always makes me laugh. He knows just what he can get away with and what he can’t, and I carried that over into writing Mitch. J.J., too! Because I felt like I was channeling my own child into the character, Mitch felt especially real to me and I found myself wanting to protect him from the trauma of the murder.
If you could have lunch with one of your characters, which one would it be and why? And where would you choose to meet for lunch?
DK: Gus Bingenheimer, for sure! I’m an avid animal welfare advocate, and he’s a wildlife photographer, rescuer, and rehabilitator. I’d love to hear his stories about rescuing wildlife, and to learn more about what we humans can do to live in harmony with nature. That said, he might also be a killer, so I’d be sure to let others know our lunch plans and I’d have a can of bear spray at the ready to defend myself if necessary. We’d meet for lunch in the woods and have a picnic while keeping an eye out for deer, foxes, bears, and other wildlife.
What kind of research did you do while writing this novel?
DK: Because the victim is found buried in snow, I had to learn what that meant as far as forensics go. I performed a lot of research on temperature and how that affects the body after a person dies.
While writing your book, what was the most surprising thing you discovered or learned?
DK: I learned that adding salt to ice water actually makes the water colder. That surprised me, because I thought salt raised the temperature and that this was why salt melts ice on the ground. It’s a counter-intuitive scientific reaction – at least for someone like me who thinks science is essentially magic. Ha-ha!
How did you come up with the title to your book?
DK: I can’t claim any credit for the title. My author friend Cindy Kirk suggested it while visiting me at our vacation cabin in Beech Mountain, North Carolina, where my Mountain Lodge Mysteries are set. I then proposed the title to my editor and she liked it, too. I’d also offered Sled to Rights as a possible title, but nope. :) Having a network of other authors is critical. We share ideas and advice, and celebrate each other’s successes and milestones. Without other authors, writing would be a somewhat lonely profession.
What characteristics make your protagonist a strong heroine?
DK: She’s middle aged, so she’s suffered a few knocks in life. Her experiences give her perspective and patience. She’s also very determined. The mountains are her happy place, and she’s not about to let someone mess that up without paying the price.
How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing?
DK: Because Beech Mountain is a real place, I don’t have to do much world building. I refer to actual local sites in the books whenever possible. It’s a beautiful town, and there are many natural areas that I’ve had fun incorporating into the stories, such as Lake Coffey, Buckeye Lake, and local trails. My Mountaintop Lodge is fictional, as is the Greasy Griddle Diner, but in my mind they are located where an actual defunct lodge sits at an awe-inspiring overlook. In fact, that old lodge inspired my series. It’s been partially rehabbed since I started my series, and I’m eager to see how it turns out when they’re done with the remodel.
When writing a series how do you keep things fresh, for both your readers and yourself?
DK: To keep things fresh, I try to dig a little deeper into the main characters in each successive book, slowly revealing more about them. I also try to come up with very different victims each time, and have the motivations for the murders vary significantly from other stories.
When plotting a crime, where do you get your inspiration?
DK: I normally choose my victim, and then work backward from there, trying to choose a murder method that seems most appropriate for them. That leads me into some interesting methods of killing.
What strategies do you use to create suspense?
DK: In many of my series, I write chapters from the dog’s or cat’s point of view. They often hear or know things the humans don’t, which can add suspense. I also sometimes have the main character themselves be targeted by the killer when they get too close. It raises the stakes to have the protagonist be personally threatened.
When it comes to plotting your novels, do you have the whole book outlined before you write? Do you use any specific strategies or techniques?
DK: I’m definitely an outliner, though surprises still pop up during the writing process. But I simply can’t imagine starting a book without having a general roadmap. I’d find myself staring at a blank screen for hours if I didn’t outline. I use an outlining system that another author suggested at a writing workshop. I have a spreadsheet with five columns. The first column is the scene number. The next column lists the day and date, to help keep the chronology straight. The third is the setting, along with some details, such as – lodge fire pit, fire is crackling and smoke is shifting, casting shadows The fourth column lists the characters in the scene, and the final column summarizes the action and/or dialogue that takes place in the scene. I often go through several revisions of my outline before starting each book.
Could you describe your typical writing day?
DK: The morning is for checking emails, social media posts, exercise, and dog-walking. After a quick lunch, I sit down for an extended period of work on the story itself, either drafting new pages or revising. I try not to let myself get distracted by anything else during this time, though I usually check for important emails once more in the mid to late afternoon just to make sure I’m not missing anything that’s time sensitive. I don’t stop working until around six o’clock or a little later, when my husband arrives home from his job.
Books can transport readers to another world, another place or time. In real life, what’s your favourite place to visit and why?
DK: I love visiting Beech Mountain, North Carolina. We have a modest vacation home there, and it’s a great place to do writers retreats with author friends or just hang out and relax. Because I’m familiar with the place and because it’s ours, I can relax more than I might somewhere else where I’d feel the urge to get out and explore. I can also bring my dogs with me, which they love. We have favorite restaurants and favorite singers at the local wineries. It’s a familiar getaway, a home away from home.
What was the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
DK: “Butt in chair.” In other words, show up to write and treat it like a real job, not just a hobby. My mother used to repeat that quote that 90% of success is just showing up, and that’s very true when it comes to writing (and so many other things in life). You have to be disciplined to get a book written.
What do readers mean to you? Do you enjoy interacting with them?
DK: Absolutely! Thanks to the readers who buy my books or check them out at their libraries, I am able to have a career I love. I appreciate that more than I can ever express! But I am even more happy when I hear from a reader and they tell me that a book helped them through a particularly rough time in their life by giving them an enjoyable distraction while recovering from a medical issue or a personal trauma. Fiction is a wonderful escape and can be therapeutic. I love meeting readers at events and getting to thank them in person for the affirmation they’ve given me. The author-reader dynamic is a wonderful win-win relationship.
Here’s a sneak peak at Snow Place For Murder…
FUTURE SITE OF THE RETREAT ON BLUE RIDGE—AN ADVENTURE CAPITAL RESORT
The huge sign loomed over the two-lane mountain road, its colorful paint at odds with the subdued browns and grays of the surrounding late-fall forest, the modern luxury hotel depicted thereon an existential threat to the pines, hemlocks, and ubiquitous beech trees that gave Beech Mountain its name. A trio of does tiptoed past us. One glanced at the sign, twitched her tail, and snorted, as if offended by the project that would require her and her graceful, brown-eyed friends to find a new path through the woods to drink at the Elk River.
I felt a twinge of guilt in my gut. I’d soon host the developer of this project at my lodge, plus more than a dozen potential investors. Maybe I’d agreed too quickly. But I’d been flattered a venture capitalist from London had discovered my humble lodge and wanted to fill every room for five nights with guests. Midweek, too, Sunday through Thursday—nights that usually garnered only a few bookings. A hawk swooped overhead, its caw-caw- caw sounding as if it, too, were chastising me for my part in destroying thirty-five acres of pristine forest.
Biting my lip, I turned to Rockford Crowder, better known as “Rocky”, who stood beside me. As of recently, the handsome handyman at my Mountaintop Lodge had become a romantic partner, as well. “Did I make a mistake allowing Nigel Goodwin to pitch this project at my lodge?”
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About Vanessa Westermann
Vanessa is a Canadian crime writer. She is the author of Cover Art and other books. At the heart of all of her stories are strong female protagonists.