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 www.liladare.com and www.lauradisilverio.com.