Author and actress Diane Piron-Gelman, aka D. M. Pirrone, with her extensive knowledge of history, writes the kind of books that span several decades and pull at your deepest emotions.
Thank you for joining me on my blog today, Diane. First would you please tell us what genres you write.
I write mainly mystery/suspense, contemporary and historical. The novel I’m working on at the moment is a bit of a departure for me. There’s a crime at its heart—a stolen infant—but the story itself is less about the crime than about its effect on the lives of the characters over a period of roughly 20 years. So I guess that puts me in Jodi Picoult or Anna Quindlen territory, mainstream women’s fiction.
Wow! Jodi Picault is my most favorite author in the whole world. Are you a plotter or a pantser? (You write by the seat of your pants and the story is all there in your head.)
A combination of pantser and plotter, I’d say. My first two books I outlined as I went along, maybe six or seven chapters at a time. Then, as plot ideas occurred to me based on what I’d written, or weaknesses in the story arc became apparent, I’d change stuff and outline ahead a little more. For my third manuscript, a sequel to the second, I winged it a lot. The stolen-child book that I’m working on now is totally seat-of-the-pants… including much of the story line itself. I know my characters, and I know generally where I want them to end up, but how I get there? Total mystery, until I start writing a scene or a chapter and my subconscious clues me in. It’s a little scary, but it seems to be working so far.
When you plot, what method do you use?
When I do plot things out in advance, the only real method I have is to keep asking myself two questions: “Why?” and “Then what?” I write while my husband is at work and my boys are at school, so I have the house to myself and I can prowl around muttering out loud. It’s amazing how much quality thinking I can get done while sweeping floors, washing dishes and folding laundry, if the ideas just won’t come while I’m sitting at my laptop.
Great advice for other fiction writers. Do you ever write a detailed list of your character’s habits, likes, dislikes and family members?
I do some of that, sure. It’s useful to know the big things that shape a character, and family members can provide fodder for plot events or additional stories beyond the one I happen to be working on at the time. An example: in my second book—the first of a historical mystery series set in Chicago just after the Great Fire of 1871—the major female character, Rivka, has a brother who left home to fight in the Civil War. He doesn’t appear in the book, and they never found out what happened to him. For the second book in the series, I have him turn up on Rivka’s doorstep with a wife and stepson, after about a decade’s absence, and with a lot of explaining to do.
Little stuff about a character can be fun for the author, whether those details make it into the book or not. Things like a character’s favorite song, if they have a weakness for chocolate or they love swanky shoes, or they’re pack rats and live buried in clutter, are touchstones for me in understanding how they see the world.
What do you think today’s readers want and how does it differ from readers of the past?
I think the biggest difference between then and now is the speed with which things have to happen in a story. If you look at the great Victorian novels, the authors linger over descriptions and motivations in a way few books do now. Modern-day readers want in on the action, and they want it right away. This same desire for immediacy and intensity, though, is great for those of us who like to go deep into our characters’ psyches when we write and show the story unfolding from distinct points of view. There’s less of the omniscient, “camera eye” kind of writing nowadays—the kind of thing Agatha Christie used to do, where you’d be inside every character’s head at once in a less vivid way, instead of adopting a particular strong point of view for an entire scene, chapter or book.
My thoughts exactly. I find it hard to read books that were written a few decades ago because there seems to be so much fat to wade through, and I just want to get to the meat. What book do you want to feature in this post?
My debut suspense novel, NO LESS IN BLOOD, is the only one published thus far (though my historicals are out with an agent and are being shopped around in New York, so hopefully that will change soon!).
In 1893, 17-year old mining heiress Mary Anne Schlegel flees her small town in upper Minnesota for an independent life in the big city of Chicago, and vanishes. The discovery of her fate more than a century later upends the life of Rachel Connolly, an adoptee desperately seeking her roots. Rachel’s search for her birth mother leads her deep into a shrouded family past and threatens to uncover a secret kept for three generations… a secret one of her newfound kin just might be willing to kill for.
Did you self-publish or query and hope a publisher would accept your work?
I queried agents for a good couple of years about NO LESS IN BLOOD. They all liked the writing, but weren’t clear about why they didn’t want the book. So I persevered, and finally one agent told me what she saw as a flaw in the manuscript—that Rachel, my main present-day character, wasn’t as vividly drawn as everyone else. I re-read my book, decided she was right and reworked Rachel, then re-submitted, this time to small presses where I thought a new author might have a better shot.
How did that work out for you?
Five Star/Cengage loved the book and took it. I had the impression from several agents that the dual timeline might also be a problem in selling it to larger publishers, because my book was harder to pigeonhole from a sales point of view. From readers’ comments I’ve gotten, though, they really like the interwoven stories from past and present. So the “problem” from a marketing standpoint has turned out to be a strength.
Agents don’t know everything, but one thing I have learned is that publishers do not accept work unless it is really good, so I congratulate you. What do you do to promote your writing?
I’m involved with two organizations for mystery writers, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, that offer opportunities for networking and promotion at book fests, conventions and such. I’ve also reached out to local libraries in the Chicagoland area and have done a few readings, which are great fun. In the virtual world, I’m part of an online marketing group whose members met through LinkedIn, and we promote each other’s work via blurbs posted on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest and so on. I just attended a marketing seminar on how to use social media for promotion more effectively, and I learned a lot that I plan to put into practice over the next several months—my marketing group notwithstanding, I know I’m not using my social media platform as well as I should be! Blog interviews like this one are new to me, but a terrific opportunity for which I’m very grateful to my fellow writers. In addition to this one, I recently did an interview at ECS Universe, Toi Thomas’ blog (http://ecsuniverse.blogspot.com/). A great site, very entertaining. That was back in January—the week of the 23rd, I think.
What advice do you have for your fellow writers/authors?
Someone once said, “Writers write because we have to.” I think that’s true; when a story gets ahold of you, it won’t let go until you’ve written it. And once you’ve written it, you want readers. So my advice is, never give up. There are plenty of obstacles to publishing success, however you happen to define it, in this business—but if you keep working, and keep honing your craft, and keep your eyes open for opportunities to figure out how to get your writing noticed amid the crowd, eventually you’ll get there. Also, learn to love the work. Whether the writing part or the promotion part, it never stops—so we might as well enjoy it.
Again, great advice for other authors. Tell us about your next project.
I’m about a third of the way through my latest novel, tentatively titled THIS DARK AND TROUBLED TIME. The main character is Claire James, a college student who discovers that the woman who raised her isn’t her mother. In a moment of despondency over her own lost baby, Rita stole Claire as a newborn and has spent the past nineteen years moving with her from place to place, always a step ahead of those she fears will find them and take Claire away. Meanwhile, the parents Claire left behind never fully recovered from her loss—and their seventeen year-old son, Danny, has grown up believing himself a mere replacement for the sister he never knew. The story ranges from present to past and back, exploring the effect of loss and the meaning of love as well as the impact on two families’ lives when the truth comes to light.
Why should we buy your book?
NO LESS IN BLOOD is a fast-moving suspense novel, a unique blend of contemporary and historical mystery that draws you in and keeps you there until the final page. A review quote from mystery author Carl Brookins says it best: “The novel is one of searching. Police are searching for a killer. The killer is searching for his daughter. And a lonely adopted woman, with little to go on, searches first for her birth mother, and then for family, possibly lost forever, in the unconcerned mists of a previous century. The solution to the several mysteries will determine who lives and who dies… In the end, the novel is about relationships, good and bad, and it speaks in universal terms to anyone open to others.”
D.M. Pirrone is my nom de plume; as Diane Piron-Gelman (the real me), I’m a freelance writer and editor with nearly twenty years’ experience in publishing. A history buff and avid mystery reader, I’m also an adoptee, with personal experience of the desire to find one’s roots. Aside from brief sojourns to Berkley, CA (for drama school) and the British Isles (junior year abroad), I’ve lived in Chicago for the past 23 years—mostly on the Northwest Side, with my husband Steve and our two sons, David and Isaac. Chicago history remains a source of endless fascination for me, as do time periods like the Civil War/Reconstruction, Tudor-era England, the WW II era and just about anything to do with Ireland. In addition to writing, I’m also an actress, and spent 15 years doing stage productions in the Chicago area before having children and starting my freelance editing business, Word Nerd Inc. I’ve just launched a new career as an audiobook narrator, which for me is a fun acting job. In the end, whether onstage or on the page, for me it’s all about the words.
Well you’ve sold it to me. I’m going to go out and buy the book, just from conducting the interview.Here’s where readers can find out more about you and your work:
Author website: http://www.dmpirrone.net