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Author Interview: Diane Vallere

Diane Vallere is a national bestselling author who writes funny and fashionable mysteries. She spent two decades working in the fashion industry before "trading fashion accessories for accessories to murder." She's the author of forty novels in multiple series, including her Material Witness Mysteries and Costume Shop Mysteries, as well as her Madison Night, Samantha Kidd, Sylvia Stryker, and Mermaid Sister mysteries. Diane has been gracious enough to take a few minutes to talk to me.

 

Let's start with the obvious question. Is the fashion industry as "cutthroat" as you make it seem in your books?

There is a competitive element to the fashion industry, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had a lot more fashion-related/inspired murders in my Killer Fashion series than have taken place in real life!


Diane Vallere

One thing people might not immediately recognize when they think about the fashion industry is how far-reaching it is. You have designers, showroom staff, factory employees, truck drivers, retail store employees, buyers, material suppliers, advertisers, investors, models, publicists, event planners, and more. A fashion show will pull in a different set of professionals than a seasonal market event, and a new product launch for one category (sneakers) could be very different from another (designer shoes). Fashion is a $1.7 trillion dollar industry, and when you’ve got that much money at stake, you’ve got motives for murder.


You just celebrated the release of your fortieth book, RANCH DRESSING: A Killer Fashion Mystery. After writing so many mystery novels, do you find it challenging to come up with new and unique story ideas? How do you nurture your creative muse to keep your stories fresh?

Ideas tend to come to me when I least expect. Often ideas hit me when I have no time to write them, so I jot down a few lines to capture the nugget of inspiration and get back to ithe idea when I have time to flesh it out into a book. More often than not, a title follows on the heels of the idea. When I’m suitably enthusiastic over a title and concept, I know the book will get written. (Some days, when my writing-brain needs a break, I will work on cover design for a future book, which may be a latent form of visualization for those days when I feel like a book is never going to be finished.)

RANCH DRESSING by Diane Vallere

Let's talk about your new book. Without giving any spoilers, tell us something unique about RANCH DRESSING that we won't find in the jacket copy or PR material?

Back when I wrote the first book in the series, my character was on her first day at a new job. She had just found her boss dead in an elevator, and, lacking any direction for her work day, was familiarizing herself with the files in his office. I wrote that she found an article on western fashion, which told her how outdated the files were, because the western trend hadn’t circled around for a while.


When I wrote that, I knew someday I’d write a western/cowboy-fashion book. I knew putting Samantha Kidd (my protagonist) in western wear was going to be met with resistance. It took me fifteen books to get back to that idea. The real kicker is that when I went back to the first book to check the exact reference, I discovered that I’d edited that reference out of the final manuscript! So the actual inspiration for RANCH DRESSING came from the equivalent of a deleted scene.


Let's chat about writing for a moment. Every writer has their own specific nuances when it comes to writing. Some have a special place set aside for writing. Some outline their plot, while others "fly by the seat of their pants." Tell us about your writing process.

I started out as a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants) but with guiderails. Reading taught me about pace: having twists at the 25-33%, 50%, 66-75% marks, introducing all suspects by page 75, holding backstory until after page 50, giving the character an emotional journey in addition to a mystery to solve.

PLEASE DON'T PUSH UP DAISIES by Diane Vallere

I write in a linear timeline and I keep a spreadsheet to track my word count so I always know which part of the story I’m at. Along the way I picked up additional advice: end the book where you start it, provide a deeper description of settings that are important, don’t introduce characters by name if they only make one appearance in the book.


Two years ago, I realized all of this advice was turning me into a plotter without me knowing it, so I went all in. I read seven books on plotting back to back and the lessons started to gel. My favorite has been SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL, which gives me a structure to follow but allows me a lot of freedom to still “pants” large chunks of the book. I still get the most joy when some unexpected twist comes to me while I’m writing and I have no idea how it’s going to resolve.


As far as writing locations go, I started writing while working a full-time job, and I wrote during my lunch break in a retail stockroom and on airplanes while flying to different cities. The desire to write trumped the need for perfect conditions—a lesson that has stayed with me. These days I spend a few hours each morning writing from my local Panera.


You edited the award-winning essay collection PROMOPHOBIA: Taking the Mystery out of Promoting Crime Fiction for Sisters in Crime. What would you say is the single most important piece of advice you'd give a crime fiction author about promoting their book?

Single most important: do the promotion that feels right to you. PROMOPHOBIA offers sixty-three essays on book promo, some which are in direct opposition to each other. Every time I read the book, I came away with ideas—not always what was in the book, but sometimes a related idea that was inspired by something in the book. But what I love about the collection is that it includes marketing fails too, which shows every effort we make won’t work. That takes some pressure off the belief and frees us up to try new things.


I’ve long thought the only thing that sells books is visibility, so finding out where your readers are and then letting them know about your book is really key. That might be a bookstore or a convention, it might be social media or craft fairs or something else. But if you don’t enjoy whatever it is you’re doing, it will feel like work, and you won’t be consistent enough to make a difference.

PROMOPHOBIA Edited by Diane Vallere

Oh, and start a newsletter list!


Let's shift gears for moment and talk about reading. What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?

This is probably a funny answer, but back when I was in my teens, I discovered the Connie Blair mysteries by Betsy Allen. The series features a mystery-solving young adult who grew up in Bryn Mawr, PA, who wants to work in a big city instead of staying at home working at the family hardware store.


Book one (THE CLUE IN BLUE) takes Connie to a mystery in a department store, book 2 (THE RIDDLE IN RED) (my favorite) has Connie working at an advertising agency, and book three (THE PUZZLE IN PURPLE) sends her to art school. Connie has a very different experience in each book, traveling to different countries, working her way up the professional ladder while she solves mysteries. The series was never as popular as Nancy Drew (or Trixie Belden, another favorite of mine), but I know the series had a big impact on me. There are only twelve books in the series.


A few years ago, I tracked down the family of the author, who died in 2001. (Betsy Allen is a pseudonym). I had the pleasure of having a video call with her son, who lives in Vézelay, France, and her grandchildren, both of whom are adults living in Europe.


What can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?

2024 is turning out to be a busy year for me. I have a new space cozy coming out in June (WARPED ON A MOON TREK), followed by THE GLASS BOTTOM HOAX (Madison Night Mystery #12) in October. There is a new Samantha Kidd short story, “Tread Man Walking” in MURDER IN THE AIR, and two additional projects for later this year that haven’t been formally announced. When that’s all done, I’d love to start something new. My mind keeps returning to forensics, which I love but haven’t explored in a series. I’ve also been reading a lot of historical fiction and historical mysteries, and I’d love to go back in time and dabble in that too.

 

To learn more about Diane and her books, you can visit her website at www.dianevallere.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.


You can purchase RANCH DRESSING at these retailers.


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