After two decades working for a top luxury retailer, Diane Vallere traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. Diane is the president of Sisters in Crime and writes four mystery series. She started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.
You started your career in fashion. How did you end up writing mystery novels?
I grew up reading Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew and always wanted to write a children’s mystery series —- but I had no ideas. It wasn’t until after I discovered Janet Evanovich, and Lawrence Block and Sarah Strohmeyer, and all sorts of other wonderful mystery series that I realized what I really wanted to write was an amateur sleuth mystery with humor. Shortly thereafter, I had the idea for Samantha Kidd, a former fashion buyer who turns amateur sleuth after a wrong-place/wrong-time situation makes her look guilty of. . . you know.
Your Samantha Kidd Mystery Series features a fashionista who gets involved with murders. How did your own career prepare you for writing this book?
I was working as a buyer at the time, and I think I must have been having a bad day because the idea of “former” fashion buyer sounded pretty good! Definitely the sense of what it’s like to work in retail fashion helped me shape Samantha, but even more so was my own sense (at the time) that I had a great career that zillions of women would want, but I wasn’t happy. From there, the idea of giving it all up to move back home and try to simplify and start over became something very appealing. Samantha was able to do that long before I did.
Your Madison Knight series involves an interior decorator who is particularly fond of the 60s and Doris Day. What about that era draws you to it?
I’ve always loved 60s style, but was in a particularly dark emotional place when I saw my first Doris Day movie (The Man Who Knew Too Much) and, because I loved her so much in the movie, I went on to watch all of her rom-coms with Rock Hudson, James Garner, and the rest of her leading men. The movies are sheer eye-candy with all of their bright colors, fun fashions, and snappy lines. When I started reading about Doris Day (the person), I learned that her life wasn’t perfect at all, but that she kept picking herself up and dusting herself off every time something bad happened, and I found that quality admirable.
Your writing is labeled humorous mystery. Is it hard to make mystery books funny, given the serious nature of murder?
It is hard to know when to try to be funny and when to be serious, yes. I think people do grieve in different ways and sometimes cracking jokes is a way to function. I also think there is a lot of humor in awkward situations, and in a murder mystery, there are always awkward situations.
You are president of the Sisters in Crime. What is this organization and what does your role involve?
Sisters in Crime is a national non-profit that advocates for the professional advancement and development of women crime writers. We have over 3600 members and 50 chapters. On a grand level, my role involves supporting women authors. Drilled down, that involves speaking to writing groups about the publication journey, initiating discussion groups to answer questions about channels to publication, strengthening our relationship with libraries, and continually questioning where we are today vs. where we were in 1987 when the organization was founded, and what we can do to go even further. Nothing would get done without the dedication of the entire board of directors, who are equally passionate about ways to support our membership.
You have been nominated for a Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery the last three years in a row. How has that affected your writing?
Being nominated for a Lefty Award has been a highlight of my career. I don’t think it’s changed my writing, but since I tend to point out to my boyfriend when I think I’m funny, the nominations have served as evidence that I’m not the only one who thinks so ????
I love the Twitter hashtag you promote on your site, #shoescluesclothes. What is that about?
Back in 2011, I was accepted for publication in a short story anthology. It was my first publication credit, and when it came time to write my author bio (limited to 50 words!), I ended it with this sentence: “She started her own detective agency at age 10 and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.” As my career continued to develop, I noticed that whenever I said that line (or it was read by someone else introducing me at an event) the audience smiled. So I kept it and now use it on social media as part of my author brand.
You had 212 rejections before you got signed to Bookends Literary Agency. It seems your persistence paid off. What advice do you have for those who are trying to break into publishing themselves?
Yes, is that TMI? Fun Fact: it’s pretty widely believed that the Kindle reading device changed the publishing industry, right? Well, the Kindle came out in 2007. That was the same year I got serious about finding an agent. So while I was sending out query letter after query letter, writing different projects, obsessively following the blogs of agents who offered advice, the whole publishing landscape was changing. Oh yes, the economy tanked too -— what fortuitous timing!
But what I learned through that was to develop a thick skin. To recognize that a response—even a rejection—put me one step closer to my goal. I went from being a nobody sending out query #1 to an author who had different projects to send out, and some agents even acknowledged that when they wrote back, so even before I was published, I was making a name for myself.
It turns out that I jumpstarted my own career when I chose to self-publish my first book–a decision that directly led to signing with an agent and getting two series placed at a major publisher—but I would not have known what I was doing or how to handle myself if not for those rejections first. In a weird way, the rejections gave me confidence to self-publish. Without having researched the industry over those years, refining my pitch, getting feedback that felt close but not quite there, I don’t know that I ever would have felt I was “ready.”
What books did you love to read as a child and what do you read now?
I already mentioned Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, but I also read Connie Blair, Cherry Ames, and The Three Investigators. And Encyclopedia Brown. And These books by Scott Corbett that I never hear anybody talk about: The Lemonade Trick, The Limerick Trick, The Mailbox Trick. Come to think of it, I should collect those before they’re all gone! But it wasn’t just mystery for me. I also loved Judy Blume and Beverly Clearly, and read Sweet Dreams Romances in my teen years. All of this in addition to classics like The Count of Monte Cristo and Great Expectations (lest you think I didn’t get a decent education!).
Do you have anything further you’d like to tell our readers?
Thank you! Without readers, there would be nobody reading my books except for me!
Dianne has one of the most creative websites I’ve come across, with mystery women giving you access to secret pages. I encourage you to check it out!
Read my review of Pillow Stalk
Read my review of That Touch of Ink
Read my review of With Vics You Get Eggoll
Read my review of The Decorator Who Knew Too Much