Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ten Questions from Tara: Interview with @DianeStingley #giveaway

The Case of the Invisible Dog: A Shirley Homes Mystery
Welcome. You’re here to promote The Case of the Invisible Dog, a cozy mystery. Tell me, please, what was the inspiration behind this story (or series)? How did it come to you? Readers, here's a blurb:

In the start of a charmingly imaginative cozy series sure to delight fans of Carolyn Hart and Diane Mott Davidson, Diane Stingley introduces a blundering detective who believes herself to be the great-great-granddaughter of the legendary Sherlock Holmes.

After failing to launch her career as a Hollywood actress, Tammy Norman returns home to North Carolina, desperate for a regular paycheck and a new lease on life. So she accepts a position assisting Shirley Homes, an exceptionally odd personage who styles herself after her celebrated “ancestor”–right down to the ridiculous hat. Tammy isn’t sure how long she can go on indulging the delusional Shirley (who honestly believes Sherlock Holmes was a real person!), but with the prospect of unemployment looming, she decides to give it a shot.

Tammy’s impression of her eccentric boss does not improve when their first case involves midnight romps through strangers’ yards in pursuit of a phantom dog—that only their client can hear. But when the case takes a sudden and sinister turn, Tammy has to admit that Shirley Homes might actually be on to something. . . .

When I was growing up in southern California, a local television station featured the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies every Sunday afternoon for a while. That became my family’s “after church” ritual for the run of the series and was my first introduction to Sherlock. When I read the stories later on I loved the atmosphere that Conan Doyle created, and I still love reading those stories on a rainy afternoon. I also love how the mystery genre has evolved over the years, with great, quirky heroines featuring such a wide range of personalities, and decided that I wanted to challenge myself to see what I might be able to create. I didn’t initially set out to make my series with any sort of Sherlock Holmes tie-in. I wanted a unique character and began toying with the idea of creating a modern female detective with some Sherlock Holmes character traits. But as soon as I gave her a name—Shirley Homes—she quickly took on a life of her own. Her relationship with her assistant, Tammy Norman, was evident from the first second I put them on a page together. (Let’s just say that Tammy does not share Dr. Watson’s worshipful attitude towards Shirley that he had towards Sherlock). Within a few days their characters and relationship were as familiar to me as if I’d known them for years. I get to have fun with the Sherlock Holmes mystique and tradition, but behind the spoof is a great deal of genuine heartfelt affection.

We focus a lot on heroines here on Book Babe. Tell me what makes your heroine(s) strong.

In my series, it is Tammy Norman, Shirley’s assistant, who is the lead character. Shirley’s unshakeable belief that she is the great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes is, unfortunately, not matched by his celebrated intelligence or deductive skills. Tammy narrates the book, as Dr. Watson did, but she is also the one who actually solves the case. Not that this bothers Shirley who remains remains blissfully unaware of her personal shortcomings, absolutely convinced that she is a private detecting genius, and has no problem rewriting history as it happens in order to make sure that she receives all the credit.

Tammy has suffered a series of devastating setbacks in her professional and personal life. She moved to Los Angeles to become an actress, and has now returned home to Springville to try and put her life back together after losing both her career and the man she thought was her soul mate. Tammy has great doubts about her future and finding a place for herself. Acting was her lifelong dream, and without it she isn’t sure if she will ever find a place to belong. Some days it is a struggle for her simply to keep going. But in spite of her doubts, she keeps hanging in there, never losing her sense of humor or her ability to laugh at herself. And when Shirley puts them in awkward and/or dangerous situations (which happens quite frequently), it is Tammy who has to figure out how to get them back out. As the case progresses, she becomes more and more intrigued with the Mystery of the Invisible Dog, and discovers she has a natural ability to sort through clues and solve puzzles. Still not quite steady on her feet, she keeps walking, one step at a time, until the case is solved. Having to keep going when she isn’t sure where she even wants to be takes a lot of strength on Tammy’s part, although she still doesn’t give herself enough credit.

As for Shirley, she is like a force of nature: unstoppable. And she has absolutely no concern about what other people think of her (their opinion is seldom positive). Nothing and no one can change her mind. On the surface she may appear to be the stronger character of the two, but as the series progresses that may start to change . . .

Do you see any of yourself in your heroine?

I do. I had started this series and was just getting into it when a chain of events made it impossible for me to have any free time to write. My mom also became seriously ill around then, and after she died, I was so drained from the challenges of the previous years that I didn’t think I had the heart or the energy to go back to writing. I went through a whole process of making peace with that when a friend I hadn’t spoken to in years called me out of the blue, and after a lengthy “catching-up-on-things” conversation, called me back a couple of days later and offered me an opportunity to stay at his home so that I could finish the book. It was completely unexpected, so I understand what Tammy is going through, trying to figure out what to do with her life now that her dream appears to be out of reach.

Was there any particular part of this story that was the hardest for you to write? Tell me why.

This book was really fun to write. The only scene that was difficult turned out to be the golf club scene. My agent is an avid golfer and we went through many, many revisions before he was able to give it his final approval!

What kind of research did you do when you penned this novel? Did anything surprising come up in your search?

I didn’t really do a lot of research for the novel. I was just inspired by my love of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and let Shirley and Tammy lead me along for the ride.

What would you like readers to gain from reading your book? Is there a strong moral? Do you hope they will laugh, learn something about a particular subject/person, ponder a point?

I definitely hope they laugh. And I hope that they will sympathize with Tammy’s struggles and gain some insight into how hard it can feel when you have to rebuild your life. Her conversations with Phil McGuire, her therapist, are mined for humor, but underneath is the pain of the depression she is battling.

I would also like to think that some readers who have only heard about Sherlock Holmes but never read any of the original stories might be intrigued enough after reading The Case of the Invisible Dog to check them out.

Your book takes place in Springville, North Carolina. If I were a tourist, what would you recommend I see in this town/country? 

My novel is set in the fictional town of Springville, North Carolina. North Carolina is a beautiful state—I personally love the mountains in the western part of the state. The small towns that I based Springville on don’t really have tourist attractions. What I would recommend, instead, is to come for a day or two and walk around. Eat at the local restaurants, shop in the local outlets, visit the library, the park, etc., talk to the people, and get a feel for that town’s unique flavor.

Moving on to personal things...if you could time travel to absolute any time and place in history, where and when would you go and what is it that draws you to this time period? What would you do whilst there?

I think I would like to go to New York City in the early 1960’s. There was so much great music and energy and ideas coming out of there at that time. I think the world was a lot younger then, and I get the sense that people thought anything was possible. I would love to hear some of those voices live and in person—like seeing Dylan playing at a coffee house before he made it big.

There are so many books out there nowadays... What makes your book stand out from them?

I think having the Sherlock Holmes character told from a female point of view is a fresh approach. Readers have the fun of following a Holmesian mystery in the style of Conan Doyle, which has attracted readers from his first appearance, but updated to reflect all that has changed since Conan Doyle first put pen to paper. I particularly liked tweaking Sherlock’s misogyny and arrogance, and turning them upside down.

I’m a dog mom, so I always ask this. Do you have pets? If so, tell me about them and do provide pictures.

Sadly, I don’t currently have any pets. I hope to change that as my circumstances change, and want to adopt at least one rescue dog and cat. My dream would be to buy some land and fill it up with rescue animals!

Stephen and Barbara Kozma graciously offered to let me stay at their beautiful home near the Gulf of Mexico in Southwestern Florida while I finished The Case of the Invisible Dog. Along with the sunshine, tropical breezes, and dips in the pool, I also enjoyed the company of their two delightful cats, who quickly became my writing buddies: Catsonova on the left and Diablo on the right. Their mom and dad didn’t break the news that my book was about an invisible dog until I returned to North Carolina. Neither of them took the news well, and a solemn promise has been made that book four in the series will feature a feline in the title (unfortunately book two and three in the series have already been named, an explanation both cats greeted with absolute disdain before resuming their naps).

As I mentioned earlier, a friend graciously offered me his home to stay in while I wrote the book. He and his wife were the parents of two delightful cats, who quickly became my writing buddies. I’ve included their photos and a little bit about them below. Since I have returned to North Carolina, I have been adopted by my neighbor’s two dogs next door—Bella and Scrappy. We take periodic breaks together on our back porches, and if I’m ever stuck in my writing, a few minutes in their company clears out the cobwebs in my mind!

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