I'd like to welcome Lesley A. Diehl to the blog today. Murder is Academic is the first book in a new series and was just released at the end of March.
Kathy: I live in WNY and enjoy reading books set in my locale. What made you decide on upstate New York for your series?
LD: I’ve lived in upstate New York on and off since 1970, but relocated here permanently for the summers after 2000. I spend my winters in rural Florida, so I enjoy country life year round.
Kathy: Having worked on a college campus for many years, I know the intrigue and drama that can be found there. Have you had similar experiences and did they influence Murder is Academic.
LD: I began writing Murder is Academic soon after I retired from classroom teaching in 1997. I worked in higher education as a professor and as an administrator for over 25 years, so I experienced both sides of college and university life. The politics are so intense in academe that they shouted for me to use them as the backdrop for a murder mystery since faculty often rage at administrators’ lack of understanding of the classroom, and administrators think faculty are naïve about finances and pressures from outside the institution. Since I sat in both chairs, I thought I could bring some clarity and sanity to the ruckus…as well as a little humor.
Kathy: Laura Murphy likes donuts and coffee. Do you have a favorite type of donut?
LD: My favorite donuts were the ones my mother made. She fried them in peanut oil, a very costly enterprise for us since we had little money when I was a kid on the farm, so she made them only once each year. We sure looked forward to those donuts! They were cake donuts, spicy and soft in the middle and crispy on the outside. I looked all over the house for her recipe and never found it. I discovered a bakery in Cooperstown, NY, near us, that makes similar cake donuts, so I can always take a drive over the hill to buy some. I try not to do that too often.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
LD: I knew I had to write an amateur sleuth, not only because I didn’t know enough about police procedures and private detective work to allow me to write them, but I also I got hooked on Nancy Drew as a kid and then on Agatha Christie. My cozy mysteries include humor because I like a good laugh both when I’m writing and when I read.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
LD: I’ve written and had published a number of short stories that might be considered a bit noir, where the humor is dark. I also have written some poetry. I think I’m now in a transition period, thinking of moving into mysteries that have a noir edge to the humor. My microbrewing mystery series is a traditional mystery, not a cozy mystery.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
LD: Murder is Academic is the first book in cozy mystery series featuring Laura Murphy, an opinionated, brilliant and snoopy professor of psychology, the best person to find out who killed the college president because she knows all the campus secrets. And, oh yeah, she finds true love in the process.
My other cozy mystery series feature protagonists who, like Laura, can’t resist sticking their noses into murder. From Emily Rhodes (Dumpster Dying, Grilled, Chilled and Killed), retired preschool teacher turned bartender who stumbles onto dead bodies (literally!) to Eve Appel (A Secondhand Murder, Dead in the Water) Connecticut fashionista turned consignment shop owner in rural Florida, whose adjustment to life among cowboys, gators and cattle is anything but smooth, these gals are pretty unstoppable when it comes to chasing down bad guys.
For fans liking more traditional mysteries, I have also published a microbrewing series (A Deadly Draught, Poisoned Pairings). In this series Hera Knightsbridge operates a small brewery in the Butternut Valley of upstate New York. Her brewery operates on a shoe string so Hera juggles keeping her brewery open with the murder of her closest competitor, the killing of a student in her brewery, drought followed by floods, and the looming threat of hydraulic fracturing.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
LD: It’s a tossup between Laura Murphy because she is a psychologist and professor as I was and Eve Appel who loves bargains. They represent the two sides of me, the academic and the shopper. Not a bad mix, huh? My favorite bad guy is Toby Sands, a fat, tobacco chewing dirty cop in the series set in Big Lake Country in rural Florida. He makes appearances in Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Chilled and Killed, and I’m planning to have him in the third one of that series also. He just won’t leave my protagonist, Emily Rhodes, alone!
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
LD: I divide my time between rural upstate New York and rural Florida. Things are always happening in the country. Spend your time listening to people in my village talk about their neighbors’ lives and you’ll have the inspiration for a lifetime of books.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
LD: It’s really simple. I laughed at what I wrote and enjoyed crafting the work. I thought other people might find it entertaining also.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
LD: Elizabeth George because I love the attention she pays to developing her characters. They are so complex, so multi-layered. I like people like that, so it’s no surprise I’d like characters who share that complexity.
Robert Parker because I think he was the king of saying more in one short sentence than others manage in several pages. I think he was an awfully irreverent person, and I like that for spicing up the party.
Mark Twain, the most irreverent writer I can think of. He and Parker might like to tussle with one another, and wouldn’t it be fun to listen to that and George’s take on it?
Nevada Barr, who writes the park ranger Anna Pigeon. Anna must be more scarred from her physical injuries than any other female protagonist I’ve read. Imagine how she, Jesse Stone, Spencer, Lynley, and Barbara Havers might entertain each other and make Twain laugh with their take on contemporary life.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
LD: I just finished a book I’ve wanted to read for years, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I’m amazed at how compassionately she weaves the story of fiction with the reality of the Congo experience. It’s a masterpiece.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
LD: I garden when I’m at the cottage in upstate New York. We have small raised beds of vegetables and a large perennial flower garden. Last year we canned jam, dill pickles and applesauce. I’m returning to the life I had growing up on the farm. We have no animals, but we love growing our own vegetables. We also work on our 1874 cottage. This year we’re renovating our front porch. Both my husband and I love to cook, and eat, of course. When we have time we like hiking in the state parks near us. We are contemplating a river cruise in Europe this fall as we both like to travel, but because both of us are writers, we don’t find the time to do as much as we’d like.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
LD: Homemade pickles, regular, kosher and spicy sour dough starter, butter, yogurt, many kinds
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
LD: I intend to do a third book in all my series.
In my Eve Appel mystery series, the third book is already written.
For the microbrewing series and the one with Emily Rhodes, I only have two books out and will do a third one.
For Laura Murphy, the second book is already written. For the third book, I only have an idea for it.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
LD: I get to write. It’s the way I entertain myself. I also like being with other writers and readers.