Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Steel Magnolias and Dead Bodies

Interview by Sandra Parshall

Lila Dare and Laura DiSilverio are the same person, but their writing styles and subjects are completely different. Laura drew on her long career as an Air Force intelligence officer when creating Charlotte “Charlie” Swift, a former Air Force investigator turned Colorado private eye, for the thriller Swift Justice, which comes out this fall from Minotaur. Lila takes a lighter approach to crime in the just-published Tressed to Kill, first in the Southern Beauty Shop Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. Today I’m talking to Lila. She'll give free copies of her book to two of the people who leave comments today. If you want to be entered in the drawing for a book, please include your e-mail address.

Q. Tell us about Tressed to Kill and your protagonist.

A. I think of Tressed to Kill as “Steel Magnolias with dead bodies.” It’s set in the Deep South (the fictional town of St. Elizabeth, Georgia) and focuses on the five
women who work at Violetta’s salon. Grace Terhune, my protagonist, is Violetta’s thirty-year-old, recently divorced daughter who has returned to St. Elizabeth from Atlanta after her marriage blew up. This series is as much about the relationships between the five women as it is about finding murderers.

Q. What made you decide to write about a hairdresser? Have you ever worked as a hairdresser?

A. I have never worked as a hairdresser, but I spend lots of time in salons. I’ve always been adventurous with my hair and will frequently tell my stylist to do whatever he wants. Haircuts can be transformative, can’t they? In make-overs, it’s frequently the changes in hair (style, color, length) that make the biggest difference. I like to write about the power of transformation, whether it’s something little like a hair style or as huge as an attitude change.

Q. What is special about southern hairdressers? How do they differ from, say, Chicago hairdressers?

A. We all—hairdressers, soldiers, writers, politicians—grow out of our environment and our culture. I was born in Georgia and lived in Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia, and I think there’s something about the rhythms of the South, especially small-town or rural South, that’s different from the frenetic pace of northern or midwestern cities like Chicago. Maybe it’s being closer to the land. Maybe it’s the heat that slows things down because you’re dripping with sweat twenty seconds after stepping out of an air-conditioned store. Maybe it’s the inherited genes of debutantes and slaves and plantation owners bestowing a more mannerly, measured approach to daily living. Whatever it is, I think it has eroded somewhat under the onslaught of global connectivity and mobility. But you can still find it in pockets like St. Elizabeth.

Q. What attracted you to mystery writing? Do you find plotting a mystery easier or more difficult than you anticipated?

A. I’m attracted to mysteries because I love plotting! When I first started writing, I was an outliner and I’d take weeks working in red herrings, twists, suspects. Now, I write by the seat of my pants and don’t always know who the murderer is for sure until I’m almost done with the book. My writing has more energy now and I can always go back and work in plot details during

Q. Is Tressed to Kill the first novel you wrote, or do you have several unsold manuscripts in a closet like the rest of us? Tell us about your road to publication.

A. I have several manuscripts stored in the basement that should never see the light of day: a romance, a Regency romance, and a mystery. I also have the first two books in another series (the books that got me an agent) that have never sold but that I haven’t consigned to the basement yet. I’ve been writing full-time for almost six years, now. It took me 2½ years to find an agent and another two years before we made a sale. Now, I have two books coming out this year and
contracts for several more through 2012. Perseverance and continual improvement are key!

Q. Has the publishing process – working with editors, seeing your cover for the first time, etc. – lived up to your expectations? Has anything surprised you? What have you learned that you wish you’d known ahead of time?

A. The thing that has surprised me the most about the publishing process is the looong, draaawn out timeline. I spent twenty years in the Air Force and was used to complicated, million-dollar, multi-player projects getting accomplished quickly. In publishing, it can be a year and a half between selling a book and seeing it on the shelf, even if you already have a completed manuscript. It was hard for me to get used to the slow pace and stop expecting things to happen instantaneously.

Q. How do you fit writing and book promotion into your life (especially with children around)? Are you able to keep a regular schedule for writing, or do you have to be inventive about finding the time?

A. Luckily, my children are school age (10 and 12), so I can keep a regular schedule. After I walk Lily to middle school and Ellen to elementary school, I make a cup of tea and plonk my butt down in the chair until I’ve got 2,000 words done. Then I grab a quick lunch and work out at the Y and come home to do promotional stuff before picking the girls up from school.

Q. Who are some of your favorite mystery writers – people whose books you want to read as soon as they come out? Have your favorite writers influenced your own writing?

A. Elizabeth George, Cornelia Read, David Liss, early Dick Francis, Lee Child, Craig Johnson, S.J. Rozan. I hope they’ve influenced my writing subliminally, by giving me a greater sensitivity to pacing and rhythm, to characterization and conflict.

Q. What advice can you offer aspiring writers, based on your own experiences?

A. PERSEVERE! Keep writing. Keep learning. I’ve become a much better listener and observer in the years since I decided to write full-time, and it’s paid off in my relationship as well as in my writing. Don’t give up after ten rejections or thirty-two or eighty. I have more than that stinking up my file cabinet. Take another class, join a new critique group, and keep writing. Love the process. Getting published is a wonderful achievement, but if you don’t love the process of writing, you won’t be fulfilled.

Visit the author's websites at and


Sheila Connolly said...

I have to say, you must be one of the most organized writers around! Does military training help?

(And I don't need to win a book because I got one, signed by you, at Malice!)

Lila Dare said...

Hi Sheila--I will confess to being organized. My husband would say "obsessive" (as if there's something wrong about alphabetizing spices). I may have been attracted to the Air Force because I'm organized; although, I think executives in most businesses have to have decent organizing/planning skills.

Lynn Barker Steinmayer said...

I wish I had organizational skills. I seem to be a crisis of the moment kind of person!


Pat Batta said...

This schedule sounds ideal. Is it the norm, or the objective that you manage some, or even most, of the time to meet? I did have one year in my life when I wrote for the same three to four hours a day six days a week, but at that time I lived with other people. Now that I'm alone, more outside activities are needed, and no matter what time of day I schedule my writing it gets interrupted a lot. I guess I need to select activities with a eye to protecting my writing time better.

Pat Batta

Rae Hallstrom said...

If you had never joined the Air Force or worked in any kind of intelligence operation, do you think you would be writing today? If so, how do you think your writing would differ?

Lila Dare said...

Pat--I deliberately manage most of my time. I protest the hours from 8-12 pretty fiercely; i.e., I don't make hair or doc appts during those times, go shopping with friends, or work out. I schedule lunches with friends or other outings for the afternoons or evenings. If I don't get my writing done early, somehow it just doesn't get done . . .

Lila Dare said...

Good question, Rae. I think I would be writing today, regardless of other career choices along the way, but I don't know if I'd be writing about the same things. The themes that I see running through my writing--the importance of family and of living an honorable life are two that I see myself returning to--aren't really career-oriented, so maybe I'd be writing about the same things but in a different way or genre? Impossible to know, isn't it?

Kari Wainwright said...

My WIP has a hairdresser for a protagonist, but in this first book, she doesn't get to the salon much due to being injured.

Still, I've had a lot of fun interviewing my hairdresser every time I get my hair cut, as well as watching every TV show I can find that deals with that profession.

I look forward to meeting your protagonist and her buddies.


E. B. Davis said...

I write during those morning hours too. When writing, my worst problem is getting to the gym. My workout schedule takes a hit as does my house. I just bought Tressed to Kill, and am looking forward to reading it. Hope it's a hit.

Laurissa Kastle said...

You've motivated me to set a writing schedule, and most importantly, to stick to it.

I've always had difficulty sitting in one place for too long, and I'm easily distracted. I'm going to work on changing that. I want to finish my first manuscript!

Thanks for the great post!

Lila Dare said...

Kari--Can't wait to read your hairdresser book. Where is it set? I thanked my stylist in my Acknowledgments because he was my primary source of research.

EB--I have to make it to the gym (or at leats go for a long walk--having a dog is good motivation for that) almost every day or my writing suffers and my family suffers from my crankiness. My house, on the other hand, like yours, takes a big hit. I used to fuss about it, but now I just try not to think about it.

Lila Dare said...

Laurissa--Some days I strugge sitting at my desk for 2,000 words, too. I switch it up sometimes and sit on my exercise ball, which seems to make me feel I'm not just sitting still, and I work at the kitchen table some days, or at Panera, so I don't feel so "trapped" in my office. Good luck with your novel!

Lila Dare said...

By random drawing, Pat and Kari win the free copies of Tressed to Kill. I'll contact you via email to get your home addresses.