Wednesday Author Interview: Meet Diane Gilbert Madsen
You’ve GOT to Love This Cover, Right?
Today, Bookin’ It is happy to welcome mystery writer, Diane Gilbert Madsen. Diane, could you tell us a bit about how you became a writer? When did you decide that’s what you wanted to be, and what steps did you take to prepare for a writing career?
DGM: Like so many English majors, I have the writing gene. Impossible to escape fate, even though I had a career in the business world for many years. I’ve tried to combine the two in my Literati Mystery series. Writing a novel is not a thing you do, rather it’s a thing that happens to you. One day it becomes inevitable. I prepare to write a new book by doing a lot of research, developing what I hope is a good plot and some interesting characters. You find yourself in a writing career after you publish the first book, start getting fan mail, and write the second.
BI: I’m finding a bit of that out for myself. Were you inspired by any particular authors, past or present, and what is it about their work that impresses you, or moves you?
DGM: I write the Literati Mystery Series. The third in the series is The Conan Doyle Notes: The Secret of Jack the Ripper, obviously inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle led a very interesting life and accomplished much more than just writing the Sherlock Holmes adventures. He introduced downhill skiing into Switzerland; was one of the first to propose a tunnel connecting England and France; was one of the first to drive an automobile in England; helped change the judicial system by calling for an appeals process; and he was an energetic champion of divorce reform. One question I always had was why he had never written anything about the Jack the Ripper murders – the most sensational case of the time. This was the first Serial Killer case, and the press made it a worldwide sensation. It seemed odd that he never created a story in which his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, caught the Ripper. I began doing research, and found some intriguing facts and incorporated them into this new Literati Mystery.
BI: Wow, I never knew any of that about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. How interesting, and I can see why you would wonder about Jack the Ripper. I have a feeling I know the answer, but may I ask what genres you read most often for pleasure…those books you gravitate toward the minute you walk into a bookstore?
DGM: I love mystery stories. My husband, Tom, swears that I walk, talk, eat and sleep mysteries. I’ve been that way all my life. I devoured the mysteries on the shelves in my local library then went on to larger libraries and then to bookstores. I do read biographies and thrillers and adventure stories, too, but as they say – make mine mystery. It was a thrill to finally see my books on those shelves.
I particularly like mysteries with interesting sleuths and settings and topics that provide opportunities to learn something out of the ordinary, such as mysteries set in Venice, or mysteries having to do with art forgery or history or counterfeiting or industrial espionage. If the author has done a good job of research and writing, the reader can have a great time learning something new without feeling as if it’s School 101.
BI: I know what you mean. I feel that all the best books teach you something new, in addition to being entertaining. About your writing process—do you have a dedicated workspace, and are you consistent with the amount of time you spend writing each day?
DGM: I write and do research in my office, which my family calls The Bat Cave. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of research for a project, it gets so messy that my husband Tom says he’s afraid to enter. Since I live in Southwest Florida, I often take a break for a swim in my pool and then go back to the computer. Of course, sometimes I don’t make it back.
BI: My personal Bat Cave slops over into the entire front half of the house, I’m afraid. But lucky for me, my husband tends to be oblivious to things like that, so I don’t catch too much flak from him. Do you use visual aids, like Inspiration Boards/Photos or maps of your book’s setting? What reference books or other material do you consult most frequently as you write?
DGM: For The Conan Doyle Notes , I put a photo of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on my desk. I use biographies, histories, autobiographies and whatever else I can find including films about my subjects. You never know when you start where your search will take you, and that’s what’s so much fun about research. For The Conan Doyle Notes,I used materials I’ve collected through my life, as I was interested in Doyle and the Ripper murders for many years before I started doing the research and writing.
For my second Literati Mystery, Hunting for Hemingway, I purchased a portable Corona #3 typewriter of the same vintage as the one Hemingway had in the story I was writing. It’s from the early ‘20’s and the carriage folds down to fit neatly into a leather case. I used it for inspiration, and it was easy to picture the young Ernest Hemingway carrying his portable Corona #3 throughout Europe, writing his dispatches for the Toronto Star newspaper.
BI: I like the research process, too, and there’s a surprising amount of it involved, even when you aren’t writing something with a basis in history, so I can only imagine how much you had to dig through. When you have an idea for a new book, do you sit down and start typing, or do you start with an outline, and figure out all the major plot points first? In other words, is your working style structured and organized, or more organic and free flowing?
DGM: I always run the basic plot line through my husband Tom. He’s a great sounding board and often helps me flesh out details along the way. I do a synopsis and then expand it to include major plot points. I don’t do an elaborate outline as some writers do. However, I always know the beginning and the end. And I always know who my villain is. That way, I try to be fair with my readers and give them sufficient clues throughout the book. A study done on Agatha Christie’s work said she provided readers with a clue every eleven pages. Once at a conference I attended, a fairly well known author said he didn’t know who the murderer was going to be in his new book until the last chapter. I wondered whether he had to go back into the book and insert the clues.
BI: You sound very organized, in the best way, and I can’t imagine not knowing who your villain is until the end. I agree with you, at the end of the book, surprised readers should be able to go back through and see the trail of breadcrumbs you’ve left behind. Otherwise, they have no real shot at figuring out whodunit, and isn’t that why most readers love a good mystery?
Now back to your preferences—eBooks or print? Why?
DGM: I prefer print for research and for pleasure. But I also use my Kindle. The Kindle has attracted a lot of new, young readers who otherwise might never enter a bookstore or a library, and this is a good thing. It also helps folks who can’t read as well as they once did with enlarged print capabilities. So I like to think of the e-book as an added bonus.
BI: Ah, a nice, balanced answer to that question. It always amazes me that many writers don’t see the benefits of using both. (And the ability to set font sizes is a real plus to me.) Now it’s time to learn about the books have you published, and where we can buy them.
DGM: My Literati Mystery Series features DD McGil, Insurance Investigator, probing the true mysteries and secrets that famous authors have in their past.
As I was taking my Masters in 17th century English literature, what I found fascinating was reading a work and then speculating on how the story might have continued after the final page. I extended this to the lives of authors, many of who led adventuresome lives away from their writing, with many incidents that led to ‘what if’ speculation. I decided to combine my conjectures about incidents in authors’ lives with my other passion – mysteries – and create the Literati Mystery Series.
The series gives readers an intriguing blend of mystery and history. If you think you know all there is to know about Robert Burns or Ernest Hemingway, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you’ll discover some interesting – and deadly – mysteries afoot. All the Literati Mysteries are set in today’s world of academic and corporate treachery. There are three books in the series. All my books are available on my website: Diane Gilbert Madsen
The Conan Doyle Notes: The Secret of Jack the Ripper questions whether the identity of one of the greatest criminals of all time, Jack the Ripper, was deduced by Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Conan Doyle frequently collaborated with Scotland Yard on real-life cases. What did Conan Doyle know and why he was silent about this case? Available at: Amazon or at MX Publishing.
Hunting for Hemingway is based on a real incident in Ernest Hemingway’s life when his first wife, Hadley Richardson, packed all his work in progress manuscripts into a suitcase that was stolen at the Gare de Lyon railroad station as she boarded a train to meet Hemingway in Switzerland. Although he offered a reward, Hemingway never got any of his work back. What really happened to it? A Chicago academic claims he has recovered the manuscripts, they are worth millions if they are genuine. Insurance Investigator DD McGil, aided by her antiquarian book dealer friend Tom Joyce, are hired to authenticate them or prove them fake. When the academic is murdered and the manuscripts stolen, their quest puts them on the trail of a killer, and the hunter becomes the hunted. Available here on Amazon.
In A Cadger’s Curse, the past meets the present based on an exciting incident in Robert Burns’ life in the 1700’s when an artifact worth millions is uncovered in Chicago in the 21st Century. Is it real or is it faked? And who would kill for it? And how is it all connected to the corporate problems at HI-Data and to DD McGil’s dead fiancé? Available here on Amazon.
BI: These all sound really intriguing, and appropriately, mysterious. Are you currently working on a new book? When do you expect it to be available?
DGM: I’m currently working on several projects. One is a screenplay about Ernest Hemingway that my agent will be submitting to a Hollywood producer. I’m also working on the 4th Literati Mystery entitled, The Cardboard Palace. Additionally, I’m writing a non-fiction book about the Sherlock Holmes stories entitled, Cracking the Code of the Canon: How Sherlock Holmes Made his Decisions. In this book, I categorize all the Holmes stories. I’m also writing several articles, including one on the Holmes story entitled The Devil’s Foot,and one on The Priory School. Another article of mine on the Holmes story, The Cardboard Box, will be published in the Fall issue of The Baker Street Journal.
BI: Wow, Diane! You are one busy writer! I’m very impressed, since cobbling together one romantic suspense novel at a time pretty much eats up my whole life. You have inspired me. Last question. What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?
DGM: The best things for me are doing all the research for a new book and also meeting mystery fans. I love the whole research process. You never know what you will uncover, and I’m always excited about the various twists and turns where different avenues of research take me. Meeting fans of my work and getting fan mail is always a thrill. Mystery fans are delightful – so intelligent and friendly – and they always are curious about the writing process, so it’s fun to share “how we do it.”
DGM: The worst thing about being a writer is the long hours I spend in my “Bat Cave.” Hemingway said, “Writing is easy. Just sit down at the typewriter and sweat blood.” That’s what all writers do, but it’s a game of chance very few win big. John Steinbeck said it best, “The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”
Thanks so much for interviewing me, Marcia.
BI: Thank you very much for taking time from such a busy schedule to talk to us today. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about you and your books, and I can’t wait to read them. I know many of my regulars here are going to want to check them out, as well. Thanks, again.
Diane Gilbert Madsen with the Infamous Corona
Diane Gilbert Madsen is the author of the award winning DD McGil Literati Mystery Series including A Cadger’s Curse, Hunting for Hemingway, and her newest, The Conan Doyle Notes: The Secret of Jack the Ripper.
Formerly, Diane was the Director of Economic Development for the State of Illinois where she oversaw the Tourism and the Illinois Film Office when The Blues Brothers and The Hunter were being made. She later ran her own consulting firm and is listed in The World Who’s Who of Women and Who’s Who in Finance & Industry.
She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the International Association of Crime Writers, the Chicago Writers Association, and the Florida Writers Association. Diane was an invited speaker at the International Hemingway Colloquium held in Havana Cuba last year.
She has published articles in the PBS Expressions Magazine; The Hemingway Review; Mystery Scene Magazine; Mystery Readers Journal; Sisters in Crime Newsletter, The Write City Magazine, and the forthcoming fall issue of The Baker Street Journal.
Angel, In Her Cat Bed
Diane lives with her husband Tom and Angel, their Japanese Chin, at Twin Ponds, a 5-acre wildlife sanctuary on Cape Haze in Englewood, Florida.
Find Diane’s Books
Find Diane on Social Media here: