Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Spunky Senior Author, Lesley A. Diehl, Likes and Writes About Senior Sleuths

Lesley A. Diehl

Lesley A. Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York.  In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport.  Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse.  When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats, and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work.  

She is author of several short stories and several mystery series: the microbrewing mystery series set in the Butternut Valley (A Deadly Draught and Poisoned Pairings) and a rural Florida series, Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Killed and Chilled (to be released late in 2012).  She recently signed a three-book deal with Camel Press for The Consignment Shop Murders including A Secondhand Murder.  For something more heavenly, try her mystery Angel Sleuth.  Several of her short stories have been published by Untreedreads including one (Murder with All the Trimmings) in the original Thanksgiving anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry and another (Mashed in the Potatoes) in the second anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Second Helping.  She invites readers to visit her on her blog and website.


Agatha Christie, Dorothy Gilman and Me By Lesley A. Diehl

I’ve been reading several of the Mrs. Pollifax books, ones I never got to before.  I love the character.  She wears well over the years as does Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.  Both, in their individual ways, could be considered spunky senior sleuths.  Perhaps they age so well because the boomers are getting older and can identify with them more easily now than when they were younger, yet I read and loved Miss Marple in my teens and twenties and Emily Pollifax in my thirties.  What is it that makes these women so appealing to young readers and older ones alike?

Christie did a magical thing when she took the image of the meddlesome old spinster in town and turned it on its head to create Miss Marple.  This is a woman who resides in the idyllic English village, quaint shops, narrow streets, one doctor, an old stone church.  Peaceful, yet murder often comes to visit, and Miss Marple welcomes the challenge of solving the crime.  She’s not meddlesome, rather she’s observant and brilliant, but more than those qualities, she possesses kindness and the ability to listen.  People confide in her, often young  people.  Criminals underestimate her, assuming age to be an infirmity to deduction,  while she proves it only adds to her arsenal of reasoning.  She’s a spry elder who gets around the village with ease.  Those whom she does not know in the town, she knows of or can learn about through her other contacts.  She’s the woman you want living next door to you if you’re not a criminal.  She provides  better security than an alarm system. 

The village, the manners and the customs of Miss Marple’s life take us to a time we may find had more charm and face-on encounters than the present does.  It’s a transporting read, away from the stress of our own, more fast-paced lives.  The escape value of the stories alone is reason to read Christie, yet there is also something timeless about the character in her likeability, her intelligence and her ability to defy our own prejudices about what older people are like.

Gilman’s Emily Pollifax takes the best of Miss Marple and adds other dimensions to her.  Younger than Miss Marple and part of a larger community, Emily Pollifax is a woman who refuses to let life leave her behind.  She has taken karate lessons and sometimes uses them to fight off the bad guys.  Although she dresses in keeping with her age, she loves hats for example, sensible shoes, of course, Gilman gives her a most unlikely avocation, spy for the CIA, and takes her detective off on assignment to countries from old Bulgaria to a rebellion-torn African nation to Syria.  Emily Pollifax is no less a brilliant problem-solver than Miss Marple, but where riding a bicycle in the village might be the most physical Miss Marple might get, a karate-chop and 
a ride on a camel would not be unlikely for Emily Pollifax. 

The world has become Emily’s village, yet these two women sleuths share similar personalities.  Both inspire confidence.  Young people share secrets with Emily Pollifax much as they did with Miss Marple.  Both look their ages, making them fit in where a younger sleuth might be noticed or seen as suspicious.  Who would suspect a little old lady of being a CIA operative?  The bad guys still can’t believe a grandmotherly type could outthink them.  These women surprise many who know them as well as those who dismiss them.  They are perfect sleuths.  They are senior sleuths.

I don’t think a writer can improve on the formula used by Christie and Gilman, but I have tried to update the senior sleuth a bit.  Emily Rhodes, my protagonist in Dumpster Dying, the first in my Big Lake mystery series(the second Grilled, Chilled and Killed is due out soon from Oak Tree Press) is a retired preschool teacher who winters in rural Florida.  Her life partner has died leaving no will, and everything is in his name.  To support herself, Emily takes on a bartending job at the Big Lake Country Club where she discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the dumpster.  

I’ve tried to adhere to what I think works in Christie and Gilman.  My protagonist is retired, in her fifties, and was a preschool teacher, someone who wouldn’t be perceived as a threat to any bad guy.  In addition, I made her small in stature, only about five feet in height, not likely to frighten off any killer.  She’s smart, but does  most of her reasoning on her feet.  I’ve also made her the kind of person others confide in.

There are differences between my senior sleuth and Christie’s and Gilman’s.  She’s a bit bolder than Marple and Pollifax, and sometimes she takes foolish chances.  Although Mrs. Pollifax marries again in the Gilman books, there’s not much romance in them.  I give my protagonist the attention of two men, one a detective, the other a bass fisherman.  Several plot twists involve family secrets.  I think these departures from the Christie and Gilman approach make the book read more contemporary and quicken its pace as well as make the plot more complex.  I also have ramped up the grittiness of the setting by making the wilds of rural Florida figure into the plot.

I am no Christie or Gilman, but I think writers can do well examining what has worked in favorite books and emulate some of that in their own work.  I hope what I’ve used from these mistresses of crime and the differences I’ve introduced make my books both enjoyable and novel reads.

My website:


The threat of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a controversial technique to extract gas from shale, invades the Butternut Valley .  Hera Knightsbridge and her fellow brewers fear it will pollute the brewers’ most precious ingredient, water, as well as destroy the beauty of the valley.  And then murder visits her brewery.  When Jake is called away, Hera must find the killer on her own and confront a murderer as well as ghosts from her past.


Emily Rhodes came to rural Florida for the cowboys, the cattle, and to do a little country two-step, not to fall head first onto a dead body in a dumpster.  Ah, the golden years of retirement in the sunshine state.  They’re more like pot metal to Emily, who discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the Big Lake Country Club dumpster.  With her close friend accused of the murder, Emily sets aside her grief at her life partner’s death to find the real killer.  She underestimates the obstacles rural Florida can set up for a winter visitor and runs afoul of a local judge with his own version of justice, hires a lawyer who works out of a retirement home, and flees wild fires hand-in-hand with the man she believes to be the killer. 

Buy link for all my books on Amazon:

Lesley's website:

Please welcome Lesley A. Diehl by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Spunky Senior Authors and Talents wants to wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Our seniors are waiting in the wings to offer more revelations about their lives in the upcoming weeks. Thursdays are usually the unveiling days, but sometimes not, depending on technical difficulties.

One such difficulty happened to Barbara Becker Holstein, when the Sandy Storm caught her in its grip, and she couldn't get her post over here for November 15. Don't worry, we're working on an alternate date for her. Also, we have others also lined up.

In the meantime, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Morgan Mandel, Blog Owner

Friday, November 9, 2012

Please Welcome Spunky Senior Author and Teacher of Teachers, Peggy Williams

Peggy Williams is co-author of the mystery On the Road to Death's Door, writing with Mary Joy Johnson.  She also freelances writing corporate and educational videos, screenplays, magazine feature articles, and her own blogs: Musings of a MadCityWriter and Reflections of a MadCityScribbler.  In her day job, she is a public school teacher in Madison, Wisconsin where she and her husband Mark raised their two children.  She is an ecstatic brand new, first time grandma!  Raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she considers herself a Yooper by birth, but a Cheesehead by choice.

I started writing when I was in junior high, when a group of my friends and I gathered together to write the next great Beatles movie after A Hard Day's Night and Help came out.  We sat around evenings and weekends brainstorming, writing, and reading what we had just written--and laughing!  There was tons of laughter. Writing was fun.  And it never occurred to me that it might be hard. 
I know differently now. While writing has never been particularly difficult for me, it certainly is work. And it's not always fun.  But perhaps because of that first, early collaborative experience, writing is a part of who I am.
Teaching children to write is also a part of who I am. When I do my job well, my young students invariably think of writing as no more difficult than reading or talking--and they see it as fun and rewarding.  As a kindergarten and then first grade teacher, I have always believed that young children can learn to write even before they learn to read. Sometimes a story is represented in drawings and simple words or even just letters. And sometimes a story that just has to be told can be dictated to a supportive adult. But the process starts early in life.
In my first grade classroom, my favorite time was when a group of children gathered at a side table to plan their chapter books about space exploration or lost wolves or the adventures of the myriad princesses and witches that inhabited their stories.  Understand that a "chapter" might be only a page or two long, but these young students understood that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end and they loved creating their own storybook characters.
Every year, as a class project we would write individual letters to the President of the United States.  Imagine the message these young children got about the power of the written word when that envelope with the seal of the presidency and the return address of the White House came in the school mail bearing a signed photo and a letter of greeting from whomever was in office at the time.
And one time, after a student inadvertently bumped and broke our classroom globe, a letter to the principal from the class explaining what had happened and asking for a new one garnered us a brand new globe with up-to-date country designations. The power of persuasive writing!
Our school is located not far from a nature conservancy, so that we often have visitors on the playground of a rather wild nature. Every year it seems, my first graders would spontaneously take it upon themselves to create posters warning others in the building to "Bewar the wld trkys!" 
And it is amazing to see what six and seven-year olds can produce when encouraged and supported to write free form poetry.  They speak from the heart on a wide range of topics. And interestingly, the opportunity to let go of the conventions of punctuation and paragraphing often allows even those who struggle with other academic challenges to feel successful in voicing their thoughts and feelings through poetry. 
My greatest delight was that the children groaned when writing workshop came to an end each day, and that they often chose to write during their free time.  Social writing sets the environment for this kind of enthusiasm.  Skill is not so important; though I certainly worked to help the children grow in their skills. But publishing is probably the clincher, just as it is with adults.
I found that turning "Show & Tell" into "Read & Share" gave the children a forum for reading aloud their work to an appreciative audience.  Typing their stories, letting them illustrate them, and then stapling or binding them and putting them into our classroom library gave them a sense of accomplishment, just as publishing my book gave me a thrill.  And of course, posting their short work out in the hall shouted to the rest of the school that we were a classroom of writers.
I'm not in the classroom anymore. I provide support to teachers now and focus on larger curriculum issues and teacher training in my building.  But every once in a while I have the opportunity to provide "intervention" in writing to a struggling student or to model a lesson for a younger teacher in a classroom.  That's how I get my kid fix. And that's how I remember that being a writer doesn't have to wait until you are all grown up. 

PEGGY'S BOOK: On The Road to Death's Door
Emily and Stan Remington’s maiden voyage in their newly inherited, second-hand RV goes awry when a body falls off the top of their vehicle. The retired small town police officer and her husband, a retired history professor, find themselves at the center of a murder investigation involving a politician, a corporate executive, and a hippie priest. Emily butts heads with the local sheriff as their search takes them from a backwoods cabin in Wisconsin’s scenic Door County to the Bishop’s Chancery in Madison to an abandoned island in the infamous Death’s Door Straits.  
Left to right, Peggy Williams & Mary Joy Johnson
On the Road to Death's Door is the first in the series by Peggy Williams and Mary Joy Johnson. On the Road to Where the Bells Toll, which takes place in Boston, will be available soon.

On the Road to Death's Door may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Musings of a MadCityWriter
Reflections of a MadCityScribbler

Please leave a comment to welcome Peggy Williams to Spunky Senior Authors and Talents.