SOUTHWEST WRITERS GET THE FACTS

An Interview with Author Charlene Bell Dietz

In her search for “the parts of life that really matter,” Charlene Bell Dietz discovered “if you throw your heart and soul into what you care about,” the little things you fuss over disappear. She developed a firm foundation for creating plots and characters during a long-term career in education, plus time spent volunteering in the scientific community and caring for elderly relatives. The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur (2016) is her debut novel inspired by the real life of her mysterious aunt. Look for Charlene on her website and on Facebook.


Book and AwardsWhat is your elevator pitch for the book?
In this novel a workaholic bio-medical scientist, Beth Armstrong, is torn between saving her sabotaged ground-breaking, multiple sclerosis research or honoring an obligation to care for her chain-smoking, Cuba-Libre drinking, ex-flapper aunt.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur crosses the traditional genre lines because the story intertwines corporate espionage with a generational battle-of-wills family saga. Even though I received kind and even complimentary rejections, I discovered most agents and larger publishing houses weren’t willing to put time or money into something this different.

Tell us about your main characters. Will those who know you recognize you in your main protagonist?
Being a nursemaid ranks a notch above catching the plague on Beth’s scale. She’s an obsessive professional dedicated to keeping her science institute a world-class organization. Unlike Beth, her aunt would prefer anything deadly to losing her independence under the care of her compulsive niece. While a murderous culprit runs loose in the science institute, frustrating Beth at every turn, her raucous aunt entertains Beth’s neglected husband with nightly cocktails and stories from the Roaring Twenties.

No one who’s read this story has ever mentioned that Beth reminds them of me. That’s a relief, because at first Beth might not be likeable to readers. I write a lot of short stories, and having my characters change from beginning to end is always on my must-do list. In this book, and also in my next book, I hope readers notice how at the end even my secondary characters have grown and changed from the beginning.

Why did you choose Colorado for the setting?
For over twenty-five years I volunteered at Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute at Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque as their lay person for the Institute Animal Care and Use Committee. I read researchers’ protocols, participated in their monthly meetings, and helped the committee with their biannual inspection of all the animals. Since my story took some artistic license with what I know about research science institutes, and because my story highlighted the economic espionage act with some nasty characters, I needed to remove any suspicion concerning my imaginary story with my connection to the Sandia Laboratory institute.

Denver became the logical place for several reasons. When I was in grade school, I spent many summer days running all over the city with my young cousins via city bus. As kids do, we believed we owned the place—from the Capitol building stairs to the Aladdin Theater on Colfax to the elevators in the Museum of Natural History. Denver 005As an adult, I continued to spend time there visiting relatives. I know the city. The size of Denver allowed me to invent a science institute without identifying its exact location. I also needed a small, mountain town several hours away for my protagonist’s family home. I’d once lived in Cañon City, Colorado, so it became my Valley View—with artistic license again.

How did the book come together?
When my mother died, her mysterious elder sister needed help. You guessed it. Her photo is the one on the cover of my book. She kept most of her antics as a flapper secret, but after an evening of rum and Cokes, she dropped names of people, places, and dates. Without her knowing, I took notes on anything handy—napkins, grocery receipts, envelopes, whatever I could put my hands on. When she died five years later I didn’t really know her story, but it needed to be told. Most of it is fiction, but still researching, editing, rewriting, getting rid of all the bad advice and keeping the good parts, plus finding a publisher took me well over ten years.

What did you enjoy most about writing the book?
Listening to my aunt’s voice in my head as I wrote made the writing easy. She seems to have won the favorite character award for this story, and I know why. When this aunt kicked up her heals as a teenager running away to Chicago, she gave up her college career. Probably because she didn’t get a high school diploma, she read all the time so she could prove she wasn’t stupid. She did seem to know everything about everything. I’ve discovered tremendous enjoyment in writing about strong women who follow their passions.

Is there a scene in The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur you’d love to see play out in a movie?
From the first conflict on page one to the final emotional last page, I wanted the reader to live every scene. Because of this, my writing style doesn’t use a lot of physical descriptions except when connecting bits of it to motives, emotions, and the characters’ deep internal conflicts. In my opinion, the whole book would make a tension-filled, eye-appealing movie—especially if Maggie Smith played the aunt (big smile here).

Your second book in the series (The Flapper, the Imposter, and the Stalker) will be released in the fall of 2017. What are the challenges of writing a series?
In The Flapper, the Imposter, and the Stalker the reader learns more about the ex-flapper aunt as a young woman. In 1923 this beautiful, bright teenage girl flees to Chicago looking for happiness, love, and an escape from being murdered. Since it’s a prequel to the first book, I had no problem creating it as a standalone. In the first book I give the reader hints about some of the aunt’s antics in the Roaring Twenties. Readers of the prequel may believe they’ve heard some of these tales before; however, now they’ll learn the full story behind all of her misbehaving.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
Before being awarded the 2016 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award in the First Book category, or being selected as a finalist in the International Book Award, I would have said the best compliment happened when a professional editor told me she couldn’t get my characters’ voices out of her head months after she’d finished working with my book. All the other compliments I’ve received naturally made me feel good inside—but kind of like your mom saying, “Good job, sweetie, I’m proud of you.” You know authors; we have fragile egos when it comes to our work. Having those award judges select my book from all those submitted totally validated my writing ability.

You mentioned you took lots of notes when your aunt told some of her stories from her flapper days. What have you done with them, and where can readers buy your book?
The notes are amusing to read. I never knew what might come out of her mouth: funny, inappropriate, or heartfelt. I’ve slid each of them into sleeve protectors in a three-ring binder. Along with photos, these are items I take to show-and-tell after a book club has read the book. When a book club reads The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, I’m excited to come, answer questions, and show them the rest of the story. Book clubs can message me through Facebook or email me at chardietzpen@wildblue.net. Op Cit in Taos and Santa Fe, along with Collected Works, has copies of my book, as does Bookworks, Treasure House Books, and Barnes & Noble in Albuquerque. Naturally, it can be ordered online, too.

What writing project are you working on now?
Whenever I need a break, I write short stories. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers published one last year in their anthology.2016 Anthology Cover Colorado Gold 001 I’m submitting two more for consideration in other anthologies. In a few days I’ll get back to the third book in the Flapper series. This one takes place in time right after The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur. Right now I’m about fifty percent through the first draft.


KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.

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THE TRUTH BEHIND WINNING

What do you think when you enter a contest?

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The answer depends on your personality: how seriously you take yourself, what you think about your work, and certainly your competitive nature.

Me? I’m inclined to throw in a touch of magical thinking, If you want it too much, you shall not have it.

Naturally, a little voice way down deep whispers–but maybe. That’s when the internal monkeys start their chatter. Silly, there’s a typo no one caught. What about the passive voice in that one chapter? You can’t have your protagonist so stressed the reader doesn’t have a chance to breathe. Look here at so-and-so’s book. Now this author knows how to write. Sigh.

Last November, my book, THE FLAPPER, THE SCIENTIST, AND THE SABOTEUR, won the First Book New Mexico-Arizona 2017 Award. Of course, I’d entered the competition, but I never expected to win. After all, I listened to those monkey voices, besides no one knows my book publisher–no big name there–and no funds for promotion either. I needed a different attitude, one of no expectations.

Think about all the freedom you enjoy when you have no expectations. I went to the awards banquet last November, relaxed, full of smiles, and happy to be in the company of my author friends. When they announced my name, I felt total disbelief.  Certainly they’d made a mistake.

The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur

New Mexico-Ariziona 2016 First Book Award

Even though I believe in my own work, being a voracious reader causes lots of grief. I’ve read some phenomenal books and wonder how authors create those deep conflicted emotions or conjure up surprising and unusual plots.

Yesterday, when the email came announcing I’m a finalist in the International Book Awards for 2017, my head felt light and my stomach felt jittery.

What do you think when you win?

Going back to my magical thinking, if I want it too much, I can’t have it, puts me in a terrific place. Yet, I’m a firm proponent of positive thinking, so to not be negative I had to eliminate winning from my mind along with all expectations.  Disappointment no longer exist, and now I can truly celebrate others who win.

On the other hand, winning took away my relaxed, comfortable feeling.

Well, now what?

We write isolated. Most of us go to critique sessions and listen to other tell us what they think needs tweaking or changing. We revise, revise, and revise. Finally we have our work professionally edited. We’re using other as our yardstick, measuring the quality of our writing. We never truthfully know how our writing  will be received by the reading public.

Now once again I’ve cornered that relaxed feeling because today I learned the value of winning. Winning validates our work.

How do you approach winning or deal with losing?

 

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Some Visuals for The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur

The Brown Palace Hotel almost becomes another character in my story during Chapter 14. For those of you who haven’t enjoyed the ambience of this magnificent hotel, here are some photos.

2011 Brown Place downtown DenverDowntown Denver: This is the street between the former Girl’s School on the left and the Brown Palace on the right.

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Interior of the Brown Palace: This is where the former Gentlemen’s Smoking Club was located, the seating area on the left. Just to the right is a door leading to the basement where the tunnel was.

2011 Brown Place The old girls' school

Here is the former Girls’ School. Enough said, because we don’t want to give away any of the story. I’ll post more photos soon.

Have you been to the Brown Place Hotel, stayed there, or had tea in the lobby? Tell us what you liked most.

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BOOK-LAUNCH PHOTO CELEBRATION

_EE41444Several years after I started writing, one of my dearest friends said, “When this book gets published, I’m throwing a huge party.”

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She thought she had a couple of years to prepare. Eight years later, on June 12, 2016, she, her husband, and another close friend created a book-launch celebration that left me almost speachless.

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Danielle Foster, co-owner of Bookworks Book Store, Albuquerque, NM did the honors . . . .

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When I worked for Houghton Mifflin Publishing, now HMH, I did many displays. I found this a useful transferable skill.

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New Mexico deserts make people thirsty. Guests found a well-stocked bar out on the patio.

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And what a lovely patio!

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Guests inside enjoyed food, conversation, and a book presentation.

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While everyone enjoyed the day conversing, drinking, and eating . . . this poor author couldn’t party. She had to sign all those books. Life is tough.

Photos: Courtesy of Professional Photographer, Eban Bell http://www.ebanbell.com and my brother, Bruce Bell

 

 

 

 

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DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU SUBMITT YOUR MANUSCRIPT?

Last year at the 2015 Colorado Gold Conference, I moderated a lively panel discussion by incredibly sharp-witted agents and editors.  I had no idea why they asked me to moderate this panel, but I have to say, I enjoyed every second of it. Well, not really. I didn’t like having to fuss with the microphone.  But once I found the right spot and finally got it clipped on–everything from then on was a hoot. What can I say. The panel took each question and ran with it full of energy and humor, leaving the audience with wonderful insight.

In preparing questions, I asked the panel about things I didn’t know. If I didn’t know the answers, probably the audience didn’t either.

Here are two question with profound answers.

Q: What happens right after you receive a manuscript you love?

Their collective answer stopped me cold.

Did you know if they love your manuscript, they have to sell it to their team? They may only have forty-five seconds to a few minutes to sell your book to a team of five to twenty people. Can you sell your own book to someone in that short of time? Could you sell it to a team of twelve when each may have their own favorite book to push? I knew I couldn’t.

My own query letters weren’t going to cut it. What query letter could possibly be powerful enough to do this work? This led me to ask the next question.

Q: What do you need from the writer to successfully sell his/her book to your team?

All of them agreed on this next answer.

They needed a shorthand way of describing your book to their team mates. The way they can do this is with comparable titles. Then they started giving riotous examples of what not to do: Annie of Green Gables meets the Motorcycle Diaries, or some such nonsense.

Anyway, it all came down to the fact these talented professionals spend hours researching comparable titles to showcase your manuscript. It’s draining and time consuming. Another huge frustration for these agents and editors is finding people to write cover blurbs for your book after they’ve acquired it. As one editor said (something like this) “Thank you for writing a blurb for XXX. Would you write a blurb for this other great book? Also, I have another great book….And another great book….”

Now you get the idea. Everyone agreed these writing conference are where you meet and build relationships with current and future authors. When you become more than heart to heart writing companions, these writer friends will read your stories. If they’re your friends, then you can ask them to write good stuff about your book so you can put their words on the back of your covers. Right? There’s a plus for them, too.  When you sell your book, the blurbs on the back of your cover help to advertize  their books too.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Each one of you who is about to send off a query letter should stop. Rewrite that letter and include comparable titles with a couple of blurbs from respected authors. Now you’ve given the agent or editor ammunition to take to their sales meeting. They can quickly shoot out a description of your book and then hit the bulls eye using the validation blurbs from those other authors.

Pssss~~I did this. My book will be coming out in a few weeks. I’m excited! Really-really excited!

Have any of you sent comparable titles and/or blurbs with your query letters? How did it work for you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If praise is given for what’s expected, then why strive to excel?

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If you slow down so everyone can catch up, then no one reaches his or her full potential.

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