This week I’m pleased and honored to host mystery author Lesley Diehl. Lesley 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. 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, and gators make golf a contact sport. Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse. When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats, and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work.
Lesley is author of several short stories and several mystery series: the microbrewing mystery series set in the Butternut Valley (A Deadly Draught and Poisoned Pairings) and a rural Florida series, Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Killed and Chilled (just released by Oak Tree Press). She recently signed a three-book deal with Camel Press for The Consignment Shop Murders including A Secondhand Murder. For something more heavenly, try her mystery Angel Sleuth. Several of her short stories have been published by Untreedreads including one (Murder with All the Trimmings) in the original Thanksgiving anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry and another (Mashed in the Potatoes) in the second anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Second Helping. She invites readers to visit her on her blog and website.
Lesley’s newest book: http://tinyurl.com/begadns
I asked Lesley to write an article on what “the joy of story” means to her. She came up with a winner, and in the process introduced us to her new mystery novel, Grilled, Killed and Chilled. Here’s what she has to say:
Creating a New Character in a Series
A Joy for the Reader and the Writer
I fall in love with the characters I create in my writing. That goes for my protagonist, her friends, family and those who help her, like Detective Lewis the police authority who sometimes tries to rescue my protagonist Emily Rhodes. As fond as I am of people who appear in my first book in the Big Lake murder mystery series, Dumpster Dying, I like to add characters because I think readers want to meet new people, and I think this keeps the story vibrant and fresh. I also believe creating another person in my protagonist’s life is fun for me as a writer. It stretches my creative abilities. When it’s a character who makes several appearances in the story and adds to the list of suspects, brings the tension of a competing love interest or broadens the protagonist’s social sphere, the story takes on a psychological layering beyond that of the first book. It helps my protagonist grow, change, develop as a person. Not only can the reader find joy in the story, but so too can the writer challenged by the development of another character to add to plot twists and turns.
I’ve been introducing readers to new characters in my recently released book Grilled, Chilled and Killed, the second book in the series featuring Emily Rhodes, retired preschool teacher turned bartender.
In the first book, Emily hired her best friend’s father as her lawyer not knowing that Lawyer Hap worked out of his room in the Blue Heron Retirement Home where his exercise regimen included chasing the nurses and female residents around the place in a wheel chair. Hap has a head of hair that looks like Albert Einstein’s, prefers to wear a white suit and panama hat, both smelling as if they were recently packed in mothballs (they were) and exudes plenty of charm for the ladies.
Emily seems to be cursed with a penchant for finding dead bodies. This time the body is in a beer cooler truck at a barbeque festival. Of course, the question we all have is whether she can keep her sleuthing nose out of this case and let Detective Lewis do his job. We already know the answer is no, meaning Emily will get herself into trouble once again and may need Hap’s lawyerly skills to save her.
In Grilled, Chilled and Killed Hap has a new lady love, Lorelei Pratt who just happens to be the sister-in-law of the man Emily discovers dead in the beer cooler truck. Lorelei is a strong contender for the killer. Years back Lorelei’s husband was also found dead, and the authorities suspected she might have had a hand in his poisoning, but nothing was proved. While she had no motive for killing her husband, she has one for killing her brother-in-law. She hated him, especially hated the way he treated his wife Melanie.
Could Lorelei have done the deed? Here are some clues for why Emily thinks it’s possible.
First at a dinner with others:
Emily decided it was time to get off her Yankee origins and get back to the murder. “Never mind. You were talking about Everett. How are you related to him?”
“Melanie and I married the Pratt brothers. One was a drunk and a womanizer, the other, my dear departed Charles, the best man in the county. A good provider, loving husband and father, a good Christian man. Not much to brag about in the sack. Not like you, huh, Hap?”
Hap raised his glass in a salute. Lorelei smiled at him, then slid her eyes in Donald’s direction.
That’s more than I needed to know, thought Emily, and less than I need to solve this murder.
“Everett took after his scallywag of a father and Charles after his mother, a real gentle soul. Everett was the youngest in the family, the baby and spoiled rotten.”
“Did you know he was such a great cook?” asked Emily.
“The man couldn’t cook his way out of a tunnel with an exit sign pointing toward the door.”
“He won a lot of contests to be so bad at it.” Donald signaled the waiter for another round of drinks, but the waiter dashed by the table without a momentary sideways glance.
“I’ll tell you who the cook was. It was Melanie. And I’ll bet the recipe was her daddy’s. Everett was probably a thief as well as philanderer.” Lorelei slammed her empty Cosmo glass on the table. “Where’s a darn waiter when you need one?”
Oh, oh. This wasn’t going to be as easy as she thought. She wanted to talk to Melanie without Lorelei suspecting Emily had her at the top of the list as a murder suspect. Maybe she’d go at it another way, the way a Yankee with no manners would.
“Here’s my theory about the murder. I think one of his uh, women, did him in, probably got tired of waiting for him to get rid of Melanie or got jealous of one of his other women. Doesn’t that seem possible? I’d sure like to know what Melanie thinks about this whole thing, but Detective Lewis wants to see the motive as related to barbeque competition.” Emily sat back in her chair and watched the reaction on Lorelei’s face.
“Why wouldn’t you think of the wife first? Isn’t that what all the television shows say? You wouldn’t be wanting to back poor Melanie into a corner and pin this murder on her, would you?” Lorelei’s hazel eyes took on the color of storm clouds.
That’s a possibility, thought Emily, but she shook her head and tried to look shocked at such an idea.
“I met Melanie the night of the murder. She sure didn’t seem like a woman who had just killed her husband. She appeared to be in shock to me.”
Lorelei nodded in agreement. “Just so.”
Then at the country club:
“Where do you fit in this, Lorelei?”
“I know Melanie didn’t poison him because she saw the hell I went through when I was accused of killing my husband. Not only is Melanie not a violent person, she’s seen firsthand what false accusations do to a family. She’d never do that to her family. Not Melanie.”
Emily gulped. “You were accused…”
“My first husband died under suspicious circumstances. They never found the cause of death, but the authorities suspected me although they never brought charges. I finally moved away from Milledgeville. I’m sure your friend Daisy told you all this. She must have recognized me.”
“Uh, no. She didn’t.” Emily kicked herself for not insisting Daisy tell her about Lorelei.
“Anyway. Here.” Lorelei handed Emily a piece of paper with several names written on it. “You can get the jump on your detective friend. Between you and your detective friend, I like you better. I’m not fond of cops after what the authorities put me through with my husband’s death. Besides, women need to stick together.”
Lorelei got up from the booth without another word and wandered back to the bar where she and Donald took up their conversation where they’d left off. Soon the two of them were laughing. He reached over several times and patted Lorelei’s shoulder.
The woman certainly was full of surprises. She had to be twenty years older than Donald, yet she exuded a sexual attraction as alluring as a minnow for a fish. Emily dropped her glance to the paper in her hand. Five names. Emily raised her eyes to the twosome at the bar. She wondered if those were the only women Everett pursued.
Is Lorelei being too helpful, too sympathetic to Melanie’s plight, and too willing to provide a list of suspects for Emily to track down? Perhaps so. You know how I like to write about treacherous women.
Suspicious? Helpful? Octogenarian sex pot? You decide about Lorelei.
Do you like stories in which new characters appear or do you prefer the cast to remain the same from book to book? What adds to your joy in the story?