The time has come to start putting together those vacation reads--you know--the books you want to take to the mountains or the beach to read this summer. Our guest today in My Writing Corner has just such a possibility to offer. My guest is Diane Weiner, and her latest book is A Stormy Corner, another book in her Sugarbury Falls Mysteries series.
Diane is the award-winning author of the Susan Wiles Schoolhouse Mysteries, The Sugarbury Falls Mysteries, and The Sara Baron Tuned-In Mysteries. She tells us she is an animal lover as well as the mother of four grown children. She says she shares her Florida home with her husband and 3 precious cats. In her free time, she enjoys running, spending time with her family, and watching scenic British and Scandinavian mysteries under a cozy blanket with the air conditioner cranked down.
Tell us about your road to publication.
I was very fortunate to have my first and subsequent mysteries published by Cozy Cat Press. It’s a small press headed by Patricia Rockwell which specializes in publishing cozy mysteries. I sent the full manuscript and within weeks received a contract. That was in 2014 and I am still with them.
Diane, what do you enjoy about being an author?
I love the creative outlet it affords and the challenge it presents. Plotting and making the clues and pieces fit together in a logical way keeps me on my toes and it’s a thrill when my readers enjoy figuring out (or can’t figure out) ‘who dunnit.’
How do you come up with your plots?
I get plot ideas from the news (stand your ground, real estate fraud, scamming the elderly, smuggling) or from conversations. I once sat next to a woman at a dinner, and she told me about a friend who lost her hair because of a toxic hip replacement. It inspired the plot for Murder is Medical in my Susan Wiles series.
What is your latest book and how did you come up with the idea to write it?
My latest book is book 9 in the Sugarbury Falls mystery series and the title is A Stormy Course. The amateur sleuths in this series are semi-retired and live in Vermont with a teenage daughter. In this book, Henry and Emily take a cruise to celebrate their anniversary and get embroiled in a murder investigation. My husband and I love cruising and have been to the Caribbean several times (easy access since we live in Florida). Of course, that was a big influence on the desire to write this story. Also, an unusual story in the news called to me and is the motivation for the murder. I can’t tell you more because it would spoil the book!
Let's get a blurb:
Turquoise water, rum punch, and fun in the sun. What better way to celebrate 35 years of marriage. Emily and Henry Fox go on an anniversary cruise to the Caribbean expecting nothing less, but when Henry’s old med school buddy turns up dead in his cabin, it’s anything but smooth sailing. The captain chalks it up to an unfortunate accident but Emily and Henry know better. The deadly tarantula didn’t crawl from the Puerto Rican rainforest to the ship on its own furry legs. With the help of a retired detective, they search for the killer. Why did the victim and his wife have separate cabins? Who is the elusive girl in the fuchsia bikini? Was cheating at the casino the motive for murder? When crew members turn up missing and dead, the Foxes discover the ship itself is harboring secrets deeper than the sea. Secrets worthy of murder.
Want more? How about an excerpt:
“A Pina Colada never tasted this good.” Emily leaned over the cruise ship railing. An orange pink sun sank into the Caribbean while white ripples bubbled like champagne below.
Henry stood behind her, arms wrapped around her waist, equally mesmerized by the purring water and the pastel horizon. “This is a perfect way to celebrate our anniversary. I don’t remember the last time we went on a vacation, just the two of us. Not that college tours with Maddy aren’t fun.” Emily laughed. Adopting a teenager in their fifties was never part of the plan, but Emily counted her blessings. She took another sip, stabbed the cherry with the sharp end of the paper umbrella and popped it into her mouth. Henry kissed her cheek and leaned his head against hers. A gentleman in Burberry patterned bathing trunks and a Miami Marlins t-shirt tapped Henry on the shoulder. “No way. I knew it was you.” Henry said, “Anson? What the...? What are you doing here!” Anson said, “Shelby and I are taking a much- needed vacation.” Henry put his arm around Emily’s shoulder. “Em, this is Anson Seavers, from med school. Anson, my wife Emily. How long has it been?” “Too long. We said we’d keep in touch after we ran into each other at the AMA conference, but you know how it goes. Life manages to get in the way. Are you still practicing?” “Semi-retired,” said Henry. “We moved to Vermont a few years back. You?” “Gonna keep at it a few more years. We live in Ft. Lauderdale, so it’s not like I’m itching to escape cold weather.” “Nothing like leaving the beach and sweltering heat for more beach and sweltering heat,” said Henry. “Not my first choice. I’d have preferred Alaska, but I couldn’t convince Shelby to take a cross country flight when we’re a hop, skip, and a jump from Port Everglades.” “Happy wife, happy life,” said Henry. Emily glared at him. He cleared his throat and continued. “Hey, I saw your article in JAMA. The one about treating glioblastoma using interventional radiology.” “Yeah. FDA approved as of last year.” He looked over toward the pool. “It’s saving lives. Used it last week to save a thirteen-year-old girl who would have been dead by now. Nothing like tooting my own horn, right?” He looked behind him. “I gotta go.” Emily said, “Why don’t we have dinner together? I’d love to meet your wife, and you and Henry can catch up.” “Yeah. We’ll be there.” He looked over his shoulder, as if he were trying to avoid something. Or someone. “8:00, Taurus dining room, deck 4,” said Emily. “Um, sure. See you then.” He hustled down the deck and disappeared behind sliding glass doors. Emily said, “Did you catch him scanning the deck while we talked? Do you think something’s wrong?” “Nah. It’s getting late for dinner. He’s probably worried his wife is wondering where he is.” Emily said, “See that young lady?” She nodded to the left. Henry turned his head and looked both ways. “I see lots of young ladies. None as pretty as you, though.” He kissed the top of her head. “No, look at the one with the fuchsia bikini.” Emily pointed to a slim girl with long blond hair. “She’s got a pool towel tied around her waist. See?” “Yeah, what about her?” “She kept looking over here the whole time you and Anson were talking.” “Em, give your crime writer intuition a vacation this week, please?”
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Make the time to write most every day, even if it’s only for 30 minutes before work or after the kids are asleep. Learn about the craft of writing. There’s a lot of free information online. Go to writing conferences. Many now offer a virtual option (though going in person is a lot of fun.) Join an organization such as Mystery Writers of America or Sisters in Crime for information as well as support. And simply, just do it. If you want to write, write! If you love it, you’ll find ways to keep improving.
What’s your next project?
I am currently working on book 4 in my Sara Baron Tuned-In Mysteries. This series features an oboist who returns to her hometown in New York when a health crisis threatens her career. She helps with the family business and winds up falling in love. In Eerie Echoes, there’s a murder at a gender reveal party. At the same time, I’m polishing and querying my domestic thriller/mystery The Hit and Run.
You have many fans. I know many of them would love to learn the process you went through to find your publisher, Cozy Cat Press. What services does this publisher provide to the author?
Diane: I think finding Cozy Cat Press was one of those “meant to be” situations. Believe it or not, while my students were taking their final just before Christmas break, I googled “cozy mystery publishers” and found Cozy Cat Press. I loved the name! I sent a query letter to Patricia Rockwell as well as the actual manuscript for Murder is Elementary. I heard back from her within a short time and was offered a contract. I was ecstatic. I never would have made it as a self-published author because I would have gotten frustrated right away trying to format it myself. Cozy Cat hires a cover designer, who presents several options. I pick the one I like best, then work with her to tweak it. It’s a collaborative effort and I’ve been extremely pleased with each cover. Cozy Cat also edits. Book promotion is done as a whole rather than for individual authors. For example, we wrote a collaborative mystery called Chasing the Codex (I wrote chapter 17) which was promoted both by Cozy Cat and by each of us. Patricia also takes out ads for the company, which benefits all of us.
How did you come up with this clever series title?
Diane: I have to thank my husband, Bob, for coming up with Murder is Elementary as a title for the first book. The others follow the pattern. As far as the series title, I wanted to mention the sleuth as well as make it obvious that the mysteries were centered on schools. My younger daughter, Laura, came up with the “Susan Wiles School House Mysteries” series title.
Your early years were spent in upstate New York. Have you lived in New York all your life?
Diane – I grew up in Highland, NY, a small town in the Hudson Valley, about 90 minutes north of New York City. There were 180 kids in my graduating class. I now teach that many freshman in my section of Earth Science alone! I went to UNC Chapel Hill for college, and haven’t lived in NY since. I lived in Athens, Ohio following college graduation, then married my husband, who I met at a music camp in Northern Michigan. Together, we lived in Norman, Oklahoma, Mexico City, Mexico, and finally settled in South Florida where both of our families live.
How long have you been a vegetarian? What prompted you to make this lifestyle choice? Can you share a favorite recipe?
Diane: I have been a vegetarian for about seven years now. I’ve always been an animal lover, but after my daughter and I watched the movie Food Inc., we both swore off meat forever. There are so many alternative meal choices, that I can’t condone slaughtering and mistreating animals for food. It was an easy transition. Anyone who knows me knows I’m an awful cook, so I can’t say I have any great recipes to share! My children won’t let me live down the time I ran out of butter and substituted mayonnaise in their Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
Your first book, Murder is Elementary has been followed by others in the series all focused on education, do you have any plans to begin a different series in the future?
Diane: I’ve wanted to start a second series for a while, but didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do. I got my inspiration while writing Murder is Legal, my latest in the series (Book 6). Susan and Mike were invited to visit their friends who recently inherited a family cabin in Vermont. The book I’m writing now, Murder is Collegiate, introduces the new characters, Emily and Henry Fox. Susan and Mike visit Sugarbury Falls and, of course, are confronted right away with a murder involving their old friends. The new series, The Sugarbury Falls Mysteries, will feature Emily and Henry as the sleuthing couple. I plan to start that series over the summer when I have the luxury of being off school and writing all day long.
While writing your books, who is your target reader?
Diane: My target reader is anyone who enjoys a good, clean mystery. I think it especially appeals to teachers, grandparents, and retirees.
How do reader reviews influence your writing?
Diane: The positive ones give me bursts of energy to keep writing. I have modified my writing a bit thanks to more critical ones. I have made Susan a bit less impulsive and more sensitive to stepping on her detective daughter’s toes. And never again will I happen to make the murderer a minority. Thanks for sharing with us today, Diane. I know my readers will want to dip into one of your books, soon, and we’re all excited to be the first to know about the publication this week of your latest, Murder is Legal.
Diane Weiner dianeweinerauthor.com The Susan Wiles Schoolhouse Mysteries: Retired teacher turns amateur sleuth
At the school where I worked, one of the teachers, an aspiring administrator, was always trying to brown nose the principal by bringing her home baked goods. One day I wondered “what if he poisoned that cupcake he’s bringing her so he can take over her job?”
In my series, Susan Wiles is the character I want to be: a retired teacher, and a grandmother! She’s much more gutsy and outspoken than I am. I am pretty shy and cautious as a person. Our similarities are that we are both educators, and we both have close families. Our husbands and children are the center of our worlds.
The hardest part of writing is having limited time during the school year, as I am still working full time. I often write in the mornings before school and have to stop right in the middle of what I’m doing to get in the shower and get to work on time!
I am inspired to keep writing because my characters and the town of Westbrook are alive to me and I want to be in that world. I also value the joy reading brings to me and there’s nothing more satisfying than reading a review or hearing from a reader that they enjoyed my book and can’t wait to read the next one. It’s like I’m passing on the joy reading brings.
To a would be writer, I’d say to just write. Brainstorm ideas—don’t get caught up in trying to make things perfect from the get go. If you love to write, write. Go to writing conferences if you can, read about writing, and try a critique group. Reading your work to others can give you the confidence to keep going.
My latest book, Murder is Homework, is now available. It is book 9 in the series. I am currently working on the second book in my Sugarbury Falls series. A Deadly Course, set in Vermont with a married couple as he amateur sleuths, is available on Amazon.