Monday, February 20, 2017

The Stiletto Connection (with Sisters in Crime)

by Paula Gail Benson
Diane Vallere

What do stilettos have in common with Sisters in Crime (SinC)? They are both significant factors in current national SinC President Diane Vallere’s writing life.

For example, her first manuscript, Just Kidding, won the RWA Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest, then became Designer Dirty Laundry, the first novel in her Samantha Kidd series. Her upcoming release in that series will be titled Cement Stilettos. The hashtag in the header for her website is #shoescluesclothes. (I’m thinking Diane should feel completely at home here at The Stiletto Gang.)

When she visited by Skype with the SinC Palmetto Chapter (Columbia, S.C.) this past weekend, Diane said that she attributed her writing success to membership in Sisters in Crime. She joined SinC after she left a lucrative job in the fashion industry to write mysteries. Her first publication was a short story in the SinC Guppy Chapter’s anthology, Fish Tales.

Diane with SinC Seal
This year, it seems particularly appropriate that a person who credits SinC with helping her to attain her goals should be SinC’s national President as that organization celebrates its 30th anniversary. For thirty years, SinC has been bringing media attention to all crime writers’ efforts, as well as providing grants to libraries and book stores to encourage mystery collections. Now, Diane continues that legacy of support and encouragement by emphasizing that SinC does not differentiate in manner of publication, but celebrates the different journeys of all authors in the mystery community.

The fact that she takes her own advice seriously is in clear evidence when you consider her body of work. She currently writes four series: Samantha Kidd (a designer shoe buyer who returns to the town where she grew up), Madison Night (an interior decorator who resembles and dresses like Doris Day), Material Witness (a business woman who inherits the fabric store where she was born), and Costume Shop mysteries (a former magician’s assistant who returns home to run her family’s costume shop--the first novel, A Disguise to Die For, has been nominated as Best Humorous novel at this year’s Left Coast Crime Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii).

Diane began her own press in 2011. Without her knowing, her novel had been given to an editor at Penguin. She turned down an offer to publish that novel with Penguin and went the indie route, then wrote a new series Penguin bought.

She continues to self-publish her Samantha Kidd books, while Penguin issues two of her series (Material Witness and Costume Shop) and Henery Press releases her Madison Night mysteries.  

One of the questions Diane received from the Palmetto Chapter members was about the following sentences found on her website:

She is also a firm believer in not just following your dreams, but in creating a roadmap of goals, tasks, and benchmarks to keep on track. She claims that being a textbook Capricorn accounts for her drive, though she's never been a big fan of being told there's something she can't do.

Diane laughed as soon as she heard the quote, because she had recently spoken to another group that had asked her about it. She said the most important thing about being a writer was finding ways to move forward and make writing a priority, because writing will be as important as you want it to be.

Another of Diane’s great talents is her ability to pack for a writing conference. Here’s a photo of her outfits for last September’s Bouchercon in New Orleans.
Diane's Bouchercon wardrobe
Don't you think her next project should be a coffee table book on how to pack fashionably?

Thanks, Diane, for writing excellent mysteries that also feature good fashion. And, thanks for your support of the mystery writing community, particularly in this special anniversary year for Sisters in Crime.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Reading as Escape and Relief

by Linda Rodriguez

Like many people, I wake in the morning dreading the new horrors the day will bring us from Washington, DC. Last week, I actually had to go to DC for a conference, and while there, I picked up some nasty respiratory bug. So I'm home now, in pain, exhausted, and weak from the long drive to DC and back, as well as the strains of getting around a massive conference in a huge and inaccessible conference center, and miserable with fever, coughing, and inability to breathe. I'm in no shape to read about more outrages against the Constitution and our entire democratic system. So I've been turning away from the media and all news.

Instead I've picked up a novel on my tottering TBR pile and spent the day pampering myself while I read that book. For a span of hours, I lived in another reality altogether, one as grim in some ways but with amazing adventures and fascinating backgrounds that took me completely out of my sinus-infected, exhausted, and in-considerable-pain self and the democracy-under-attack world we're living in at present. For that span of hours, I found relief from pain, illness, and the depression that Cheeto Hitler's accession to power has brought to the entire civilized world.

I think we tend to forget that novels can offer a kind of medicine to us, a remedy for the unpleasantness and despair of politics and welcome relief from pain and sickness. We often hear genre novels dismissed with the term, “mere escape.” But there's nothing mere about escape when it lifts you out of overwhelming grief or unbearable pain or the miseries of acute and chronic illnesses. At such times, escape can be a true lifesaver, allowing rest and healing to take place when both had seemed impossible.

So I don't want to hear any more cracks about the escapism of genre novels. Escape in times of trouble, even temporary escape, can truly be just what's needed. If my novels provide someone with a few hours' escape from great pain or fear or grief or stress, I will be happy to have provided those hours of relief to my readers.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Relationships – They’re Complicated

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Doesn’t it capture the good, the bad and the ugly in a relationship? Yikes! Hopefully it’s all good, but so often the best words to describe a relationship are, “It’s complicated.”

My husband and I ran errands on Valentine’s Day and watched with amusement as people made mad dashes into Edible Arrangements, CVS, and the grocery store for last minute candy, cards and flowers.  It took two seconds to make up stories about those couples and their relationships. The stories became wilder as the day progressed--funny, tragic, strained, hopeful. The wonderful part—from a writer’s perspective—is how deliciously complicated relationships can be.

“It’s complicated.”

What a wonderful relationship description. Messy, imperfect, human. The term implies a hint of mystery, half a cup of vulnerability, the other half trust. Heartache tossed with belief.

Can you think of any relationship in you life where “it’s complicated” hasn’t applied at some point?

In my life, beyond (my wonderful) husband, there are parents (don’t get me started on my father), children, siblings. Friends who’ve held and broken my trust. Pets who own pieces of my heart. I love them all but the currents, subtext, history and mutual flaws has woven a multi-dimensional tapestry that's still evolving. 

I’m wrapping up a novella this month that features several characters from So About the Money. While the who-dunnit is front and center, the relationships drive the story. The novella is a strange format for me since I’m used to telling wonderfully complicated stories with subplots, but it’s terrific for focusing on one character’s path. (And because I can’t resist, there is a small subplot with Detective JC Dimitrak wrestling with his prickly relationship with former cop, Frank Phalen.) The new story centers on Maddie, though; her relationship with her ex, an elderly gambler and his children… Well, it’s complicated.

What about you? Do you like your relationships stress-free or complicated? Real life vs. stories?

Cathy Perkins is currently working on an as-yet-untitled story in the So About… series.  She started writing when recurring characters and dialogue populated her day job commuting daydreams.  Fortunately, that first novel lives under the bed, but she was hooked on the joy of creating stories.  When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure.  Born and raised in South Carolina, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.