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I received this book for free from a book tour. This review is voluntary. My opinion is not influenced in any way.Dumpster Dying by Lesley A. Diehl
Series: Big Lake Murder Mysteries #1
Published by Creekside Publishing on December 10, 2016
Genres: Cozy Mystery
Source: a book tour
Buy on Amazon
Ah, the golden years of retirement in the sunshine state. They’re more like pot metal to Emily Rhodes, 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.
How I Create Characters
Lesley A. Diehl
Author of Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Chilled and Killed
One of my longtime friends told me that she couldn’t help but think of me when she read the protagonist in one of my books. The book was from the first manuscript I wrote and, although it has been through many revisions, the protagonist was me because the book was based upon my experiences. When I first began writing mysteries, I did what many recommended: I wrote what I knew. I also created characters from people I knew, myself included. There are many problems with that approach. First, what I knew was being a college professor and university administrator, not fascinating stuff. I now know how to make it more interesting, but at the time, I simply wrote close to what I lived.
An additional problem with letting experience dictate what goes on the page is that it can stifle creativity. Instead of crafting events and people, I stayed close to my history and people who surrounded me. Writers always use their own lens to produce characters and plot, but, when that perspective is too narrow as all our experiences often are, we run the risk of generating flat plots and dull people.
That first manuscript was fun for me to write, however. It was therapeutic to make people I had encountered whom I did not like the villains in my work. Those first words were a purge for me. After that early attempt, I began to understand what creating characters and plots were all about. The key word is “creating”, meaning “fashioning, inventing, originating.”
To do the creative stuff of writing, the writer must disconnect from agendas that have nothing to do with writing; no axes to grind, no worries about finding an agent should creep into the creative process, no doubts about whether or not the writer can accomplish the task, no getting in the way of the flow of words. The latter is something I often see in beginners’ work. They have a good idea for a story, but they won’t get out of their own way to tell it. Their sentences walk around the action, diluting tension for the readers. Or they decide to be “literary” in their description of an important scene, making the reader want to shout, “Get on with it!”
How do I create my characters now? They are almost never based upon anyone I know or have met. I may take a physical attribute from a person I’ve noticed because I consider it a way to define the character in a short-hand manner. Emily Rhodes in the Big Lake murder mysteries is very short. Her stature is a way of indicating the difficulties she encounters, e. g., her problem with slinging a bag of garbage into the dumpster resulting in her falling head first onto the body in it. Being of tiny stature has psychological consequences also. Emily had often come to depend upon others to stand up for her, a habit she comes to regret when she finds her life partner, Fred, has put everything in his name and left a will with his ex-wife as beneficiary. Emily must learn to stand on her own two size five feet.
Toby Sands, the bad boy cop, came about through some odd maneuvering. I mashed together some stereotypic traits of a bad southern cop: short, big bellied, bigoted, often lazy, and over-estimates his abilities, but knew that was not enough to make a memorable character. I then added a “special” one that I could use as that short-hand way of designating all the others. I made him a tobacco chewer, focusing on what this horrible habit did to his teeth, his breath, his chin and the smell of his clothes and his office. It made for an unpleasant character, but one I didn’t want to be evil, but pathetic. Toby’s lack of manners, charm and his disgusting physical presence makes him the epitome of pathetic. No one really fears Toby, but they do try to avoid him. In Grilled, Chilled and Killed, Toby adds his own touch—a beard and mustache. You can guess how that looks!
I also like to take a unique gesture and pair it with a physical description that is its opposite. For example, the owner of the Brunt Biscuit is a slim, androgynous-looking man who withdraws a switch blade from his pocket and uses it to cut his steak. I think the description has staying power and makes it unlikely that a reader can read about this character without recalling that picture. Similarly, Emily meets a couple on the golf course. He is crippled and uses a wheel chair and crutches to walk, but he’s a whiz at playing golf. I later use his frailty to mislead several pool sharks into betting on a game and losing to him, an unexpected outcome for the full-of-themselves young men
Creating characters is more fun for me and for my readers than simply taking someone from real life and depositing that person into one of my books as a character. What do you think?
Dumpster Dying by Lesley A. Diehl is the first book in the Big Lake Murder Mysteries Series. This series is set in Florida and features Emily Rhodes. Emily finds herself wrapped up in a murder case, and, eventually, a second case. With the police watching her, suspicion cast on her boss/best friend Clara, a person from her past showing up, a court case, and a possible new love interest (or two), Emily is up to her ears in stress.
In Dumpster Dying, the author was able to write a story that had me guessing the outcome until close to the end of the story. To me, that is the mark of a good mystery. The mystery itself gets 5 stars from me. I am rating the book a bit lower because I had a hard time liking Emily throughout the whole book. A lot of the times, it seemed like she overstepped her boundaries or didn’t act appropriately in a situation. That being said, I did like her enough that I didn’t want to stop reading Dumpster Dying and I was looking forward to reading the next one. I really enjoyed the Florida setting for this story.
Be sure to add this fun series to your TBR!
Be sure to stop by tomorrow for my Grilled, Chilled and Killed post.