I’m Darlene Dziomba. I’ve been working in Fiscal Operations and Financial Planning for the University of Pennsylvania for over thirty years. I’m an animal lover. My parents always joked that from the time I learned to walk, I could not pass a dog without wanting to pet it.
Pre COVID, I volunteered at the Animal Welfare Association, a local New Jersey animal shelter. I hope to return to it when the virus dissipates. I miss the staff and the dogs. I had an idea for a book where the amateur sleuth worked at an animal shelter, and the Lily Dreyfus series was born. I have one dog, Billie, an irresistible terrier mix I adopted from AWA.
I had an idea for a book where the amateur sleuth worked at an animal shelter, and the Lily Dreyfus series was born. I have one dog, Billie, an irresistible terrier mix I adopted from AWA.
Clues From The Canines – Lily, an Adoption Coordinator at Forever Friends animal shelter, learns her boyfriend is dead via a dog surrender. Her pack rallies to sniff out the killer.
What brought you to writing? I was in Toronto, attending Bouchercon, and listening to a panel of writers who all had protagonists in animal-related professions. I thought to myself, “I’ve never read a book with an animal shelter employee as the protagonist. I wonder if I could write that?”
I had never attempted to write a book and had a lot to learn. I joined a Writers Workshop, took numerous online classes, and found a coach to assist me. I’m proud of myself for having brought this idea to fruition.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? I work a full-time job besides my writing job. It is challenging to manage writing, editing, revising, maintaining a blog, maintaining a social media presence, promotions, getting enough sleep, exercising, and long walks with Billie.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Yes. I am a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppies, and two regional SinC groups, SinC Fl Gulf Coast and SinC Grand Canyon Writers.
I am extremely grateful for the internet and Zoom. I’ve attended informative talks, taken craft classes, built a network, and found professional service providers.
How long did it take you to write your first book? How long to get it published? It took two and half years to have a fully written, well-crafted book. I queried agents for two years without much success. I was reluctant to self-publish because I knew an agent would be able to advise me and help me achieve the most success.
The pandemic influenced my decision to self-publish. More than anything else, I wanted my parents to be able to hold a book in their hands with my name on the cover. They are in their eighties, so I didn’t feel I could wait however many years it would take to find the agent and publisher willing to accept my work and decided to self-publish.
From start to finish, it took four and a half years to bring Clues From the Canines to fruition.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Most of my characters are based on real people. My protagonist is not. Friends ask if Lily represents me and seem surprised when I say no.
The character of Martin is based on the person who was my supervisor at the animal shelter. He was quite the character, and we engaged in a lot of pithy exchanges. Ironically, I had to tone down Martin’s personality. He offended every single beta reader.
I had one friend point blank ask for a character. She plays a major role in the sequel Up Close And Pawsonal.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am not sure “outline” adequately describes what I do. There are psychologists who would love to study my need for the obsessive detail of my plotting template.
I took a course called “Plot Thickeners” with Simon Wood. He showed me a phenomenal plotting method. Then I added to it.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Once the world has conquered COVID, I hope to travel again, and eventually, I will retire from my day job and write full time.
As far as writing, I will keep producing Lily Dreyfus books as long as I can continue to come up with creative plots. For now, getting the first book launched is so exciting. I am basking in being proud of this accomplishment.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Be open-minded. My coach likes to say that she enjoys working with me, “Because you’re smart enough to realize that you need help.” It was important for the process to have beta readers who would be critical and push me to make the book better. One doesn’t need to change their base story, but new writers should toy with the ideas that are offered to them and see if they would enhance the story.
How do our readers contact you?
Thank you very much for hosting me today.
FOUR CUTS TOO MANY – Sarah Blair, who finds kitchens more frightening than murder, gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in the culinary school where her friend teaches serves up a main corpse. Sarah soon discovers that there’s no time to mince words when it comes to finding the real killer.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (Four Cuts Too Many, Three Treats Too Many, Two Bites Too Many, and One Taste Too Many). Her short stories, which have been named Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer finalists, have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Malice Domestic Murder Most Edible, Masthead, and Jukes & Tonks. Debra is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and president of SEMWA. She previously served on Sisters in Crime’s national board and was the Guppy Chapter president.
Do you write in more than one genre? Although my six novels are all traditional or cozy mysteries, my published short stories range from non-mystery literary works to different mystery genres. During my time as a judge and a litigator, almost all of my writings were non-fiction legal articles and book chapters.
What is your writing process, and what is most challenging about it? My true nature is to be a pantser who listens to the voices of my characters but only writes when the muse strikes me. I repeatedly tell myself I need to get up and write every day, but I constantly fail to do so. This was the exact style I used when I wrote the first Sarah Blair book, One Taste Too Many; however, after Kensington contracted the first three books, I faced several challenges. First, each book now had a deadline for submission, which meant I had to produce on time. That was a challenge I could easily meet. What was more difficult was that for each book, my New York editor wanted a detailed synopsis. It was emphasized to me that it needed to be detailed. Consequently, I spent weeks working out the plot of Two Bites Too Many and finally submitted an eighteen-page synopsis. My editor had only one comment: “Next time, double space.”
Although I wouldn’t say I like thinking the books out in advance, and I often must send my editor an email with a little change – like I discovered there needed to be a new character added to the cast in Three Treats Too Many. I have learned to write and appreciate having shorter, double-spaced treatments for each book.
Has any association membership helped you or your writing? When I announced that I was going to write mysteries, I was told to join Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. These two organizations provided classes and mentoring guidance that helped me develop my skills and understanding of the craft and business aspects of writing. They also have proven invaluable in helping me make friends at all levels of writing and who generously share their expertise and encouragement.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? The basic premise of the Sarah Blair books is that Sarah, who was married at eighteen, divorced at twenty-eight, with the only thing she got out of the marriage being RahRah, her Siamese cat, is starting over with no skills and a lack of confidence. As the series proceeds, Sarah evolves. She acquires new skills, including those needed to solve murders, and she grows in terms of her confidence level. Sarah’s interaction with the people around her set up several personal interaction sub-plots in each book. Whether the sub-plot revolves around family, friends, community groups, or her pets varies based upon the main plotline. I also work in social issue subplots, including economic development, mental abuse, ageism, and animal rescue. The key to these subplots is to make my point without banging the reader over the head with it. My goal is to have readers enjoy a carefully crafted whodunit but walk away with subconscious thoughts raised by the subplots.
What kind of research do you do? When Maze in Blue and Should Have Played Poker were orphaned, I knew I had to write something new and that I wanted it to be a cozy mystery. Having spent a great deal of time in small southern towns when I was litigating for the Department of Labor, I knew I could capture their essence in any book I wrote. I also had no problem making my sleuth an amateur. A problem arose when I thought about the fact that most cozy mysteries include crafts or cooking, and I hate both. Once I decided there had to be readers out there who hate the kitchen as much as I do, I had a hook for my series – a woman more frightened of the kitchen than murder. Despite Sarah’s unfamiliarity with the kitchen, I had to learn about it in order to write the kitchen scenes realistically.
Consequently, I approached several restaurant owners, chefs, and waiters in Birmingham, Alabama, which has become a foodie town. They graciously told me their stories and took me through their kitchens. From each person I interviewed, I learned something new that appears in the various books. For Three Treats Too Many, I wanted to write about a community motorcycle group and a veterinarian’s office. To get these things right, I interviewed a few individuals who collect motorcycles, and I shadowed a veterinarian for a day. I believe the more hands-on research I do, the more realistic and enjoyable my books are.
Website – www.DebraHGoldstein.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/
Twitter – @DebraHGoldstein
Instagram – debrahgoldstein
Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/debra-h-goldstein
Four Cuts Too Many and the other Sarah Blair books are available from indie and big-box bookstores but can also be purchased online.
Four Cuts Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)