Diane Bailey, Author of Murder a Cappella, Talks Writing

My guest today is Diane Bailey. Diane joined Sweet Adelines when she was living in Los Angeles in the 1990s and has had a special fondness for it ever since. She competed at her first International in San Antonio, a whirlwind week filled that produced enough experiences and memories to provide the inspiration for Murder a Cappella. While this is her first novel for adults, she has worked as a writer and editor for her entire professional career. She started as a newspaper reporter and entertainment journalist in Los Angeles, and currently specializes in books for children and young adults. She has written about 25 non-fiction books, on topics ranging from sports to states to celebrities, and has also completed three novel manuscripts for children. She also operates a freelance editing service, working with authors on content and developmental editing.

Anne – Welcome to the Muriel Reeves Mysteries, Diane. If you’re comfy, let’s talk writing! When did you first realize you were destined to be a mystery/suspense writer?

Diane - I didn’t, exactly. There was no epiphany during which I slapped my forehead and said, “Of course! No more insurance sales for me! It’s mystery writing all the way!” Murder A Cappella is actually a joint effort—I co-wrote the book with my stepfather. I was interested in creating stories in general—although they did not necessarily have to be mysteries. He was intrigued more specifically by the mystery format. So we each brought our own preferences to the project. I contend, however, that the act of writing is in itself akin to solving a mystery. You are searching for a story, unraveling it based on the things your characters reveal to you. Good books—the ones I enjoy, anyway—show you the “mysteries of life,” if you will. What I enjoyed was putting the external mystery plot within that framework.

Anne – Tell us about your debut book.


Diane - Murder A Cappella starts with a bang. Actually, it starts with two bangs—one for each woman gunned down in front of the Alamo. When the Sweet Adelines, women who sing barbershop, come to San Antonio, Tina Overton soon finds that bullets and barbershop don’t mix. Secrets lurk behind the sequins, but Tina vows to uncover the truth. What she finds goes to the heart of Sweet Adelines, and when she won’t accept the easy answer, Tina becomes a target herself.

Anne – It sounds just like my kind of book. Would you share an excerpt with us?

Diane – You have to ask?!

The Dead Sing No More.


The protester rotated his black-inked sign. Sweat beaded on his forehead and trickled down the sides of his face. Eighty very humid degrees had coaxed the jackets off most people crowded onto the Alamo plaza, but this guy sported a black blazer buttoned up the front.


I squinted at his words, as if that would unravel their meaning. Which dead? Why here? Suddenly, the man swiveled, almost as if he sensed my scrutiny. His expression sent a chill down my back that did nothing to cool me off. I looked away.


Creep.


If the guy wanted to preach to the choir, though, he’d picked the wrong one. People chattered in small groups, and watched the stage, ignoring him. He might as well have been dressed up as Davy Crockett trying to sell mattresses. Whatever. I would not let him ruin my afternoon.


Next to me, Angela pointed to the protester’s sign. “Well, duh. There’s a news flash. You think he’s talking about the Alamo’s dead?”


“I guess. Probably one of those overly zealous, Texas-patriot types.”


“Why should he care if we sing?”


I gestured at the quartet onstage. “Well, let’s be fair. That is ‘Down by the Old Mill Stream.’”


“I said if we sing, Tina, not what. Anyway, he should be protesting their outfits.”


“Not exactly a Rhapsody in Blue.” I grimaced at the quartet’s bright blue pantsuits. They dripped in folds of fabric, making the singers look like oversized crayons melting in the sun. “Why hasn’t anybody clued them in?” 


“Because this is the first time anyone’s seen them. I heard they were getting new costumes, but this is their big debut.” Angela tucked the program in her purse and pretended to shield her eyes from the hideous sight. “This is why we always ask for help when we need it. Costume Catastrophe, Exhibit A.”


Her words slid off me as I stole another glance at the protester, whose gaze still seemed focused in my direction. He hoisted the sign higher, his jacket bunching across his burly frame just as a gust of wind flapped the poster board. I flinched, as if he menaced me in particular, but no one else seemed to notice, and behind him, the gray stones of the Alamo fortress stood solid and unperturbed.

Anne - Of the characters you’ve created, does one hold a special place in your heart? Why?

Diane - I write a lot of children’s fiction, as well as adult, and some of my favorite characters are in those books. My middle grade novel The Jack Factor retells the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. In that book, I have a special fondness for Jack, who I created as a good-hearted, teeth-grittingly cheerful, idiot-without-the-savant. Some of the lines I gave him still crack me up! In Murder A Cappella, my favorite character is Angela, my main character’s best friend. Tina (the main character) was too new to the organization to have the depth of knowledge and adoration for it that Angela did, plus she was busy solving the mystery, so Angela became the perfect vehicle for all that I love about Sweet Adelines.

Anne - What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself from writing?

Diane - I’ve been a professional writer ever since I graduated from college. That doesn’t mean that everything I wrote I got paid for, but it means that producing pieces of writing in pursuit of an income was foremost in my mind. To that end, I had to learn to write a lot of different things, even if I knew nothing about them, and even if I didn’t care. One of the things that frustrated me when I first began writing fiction was when the story wouldn’t come, when I couldn’t simply order it to get out of my brain and on paper, as I had trained myself to do with non-fiction. I’ve come to realize that when I write fiction, it’s tied up with my life in more ways than I notice at first. That doesn’t mean the plots mimic what’s happening in my life, or that the characters are my doppelgangers. It means that I tend to want to work on pieces whose themes echo something that I’m dealing with in my real life, rather than force myself into another project that is contradictory to my attitude at the moment. So I guess I use fiction as an outlet and vehicle for exploration more than I realized when I first started. The trick then is to preserve the integrity of what you’re writing, to appropriately channel what you’re feeling without letting it take over your characters’ story.

Anne - Any words of advice for struggling, unpublished writers?

Diane - As a freelance editor, I work with a lot of beginning and intermediate writers. One thing I find myself hammering on over and over is emotion. I find that writers often tend to shortchange the emotional payoff of a scene. Emotions can be difficult to write, and that may be part of it. Also, as writers we are constantly advised to keep things moving, and not get bogged down, and I fear many writers interpret this as an exhortation to skip over parts that might slow down or look inward. NOT SO! As readers, we want to be involved with the characters. If you’ve gone to the trouble to put your character in an emotionally charged situation, then give me the juicy part—how she reacts. I also spend a lot of time making sure the action is true to the character, and dealing with pacing, but those things differ from manuscript to manuscript. One thing I wholeheartedly believe, for any writer, is that you should not be afraid to write bad stuff. Eye-rolling, cringe-inducing, delete button-embracing crap. Spew it all out, because it still counts. You’ve got to wade through the bad to get to the good.

Anne – Final question, Diane. Where can readers find you online?

Diane – At my website, blog and www.sweetadelinesmystery.com

Anne – Thanks so much for dropping by, Diane. Kudos on your debut novel Murder A Cappella.

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3 comments:

marja said...

Great interview, Diane. Actually, you were quite inspiring. And your book sounds like something I'd enjoy. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your feelings about writing. So many times, we writers know only about ourselves - have no clue what other writers are feeling, don't khow how others deal with situations. Good job.

Diane Bailey said...

Thank you both for your comments. Marja, I hope you do give the book a look! I'm glad you found my remarks enlightening. It's true that we writers often live in our little insular worlds, so I do enjoy finding out how my thoughts and processes coincide--or conflict--with those of other writers.