Friday, June 17, 2011

Interview with Author/Editor Denise Dietz/Mary Ellen Dennis

Interview with Author/Editor Denise Dietz/Mary Ellen Dennis
By Jacqueline Seewald

DeniseDietz is a much published author who also happens to be the acquisitions editor for Tekno Books, the book packager for Five Star/Gale. Denise recently had a new historical romance come out from Five Star/Gale entitled HEAVEN’S THUNDER: A COLORADO SAGA. You can check it out at

You can also find ordering information on Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble online and Borders.

Hi, Denise, thanks so much for joining us today at the Author Expressions blog. First, let me congratulate you on the excellent review HEAVEN’S THUNDER received from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.

Question: Could you tell us a little about the main characters in your new novel and also about the plot line?

I think the best way to describe Heaven’s Thunder is to quote some of the cover copy:

Mary Ellen Dennis’s spellbinding new saga encompasses the Cripple Creek Gold Rush, the union rebellions of Mother Jones, and the birth of silent movies.

Fools Gold Smith, born in the “cribs” of a mining town, raised in an elite parlor house, idolized as silent-film heroine “Flower Smith,” is the central figure in this precisely detailed chronicle. Equally memorable is John “Cat” McDonald, an outlaw’s offspring, a rodeo star, and silent-film hero “John Chinook.” Then there is Kate Lytton, wealthy, pampered granddaughter of a Denver entrepreneur, who becomes embroiled in the 1913 Ludlow coal strike. Their interwoven stories make for a compelling novel, rich with a vibrant sense of time and place.

From life on cattle ranches to the drawing rooms of the wealthy, from the bedrooms of bawdy houses to the wooden platforms of the Ludlow Tent Colony, the author paints not only rooms but intimate portraits of the husbands, wives, sons and daughters who walked their space. From parlor girl, pauper and prospector, to patriarch, plutocrat and profligate, the characters are very much alive. Filled with the essences of its setting, blending love, hate, passion, greed, self-sacrifice, human frailty and strength, Heaven’s Thunder is an authentic tapestry of its time.

Question: Do you envision this novel as a stand alone or part of a romantic series?

For now, it’s a stand alone. It took me 10 years to write my saga and 12 years to market it. The Big Pub House editors said they loved the evocative writing but, “Nobody likes sagas.” When I mentioned Lonesome Dove, The Thorn Birds, John Jakes’ North and South (Heaven’s Thunder has been compared to all three), Barbara Bradford and Anya Seton (plus a dozen other bestselling generational saga authors), NY said, “Those are the exceptions.” I said, “Why can’t I be an exception?” and was told, “Because nobody likes sagas.”

Question: What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Widowed at age 35, I moved to Colorado Springs. I chose Colorado because of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, even though I don’t agree with her “philosophy” and didn’t know anyone who lived in Colorado. I then began researching my adopted state and learned that two actors had drowned in the Colorado River while filming a silent movie.

Wow, I thought, wouldn’t that make a good book?

My second thought: Of course, I won’t kill off my hero and heroine.

My third thought: Silent films were shot in Colorado???

I gave my characters a backstory, starting with their parents and their births. I do that for all my books, before I start writing them, but Fools Gold Smith and Cat McDonald really tugged at my heartstrings, and I knew I had to tell their stories from the very beginning—before they began their careers as silent film stars “Flower Smith” and “John Chinook.”

The “very beginning” was the 1893 Cripple Creek gold rush.

Question: Can you tell us about some of your other published novels?

My most popular mystery series stars diet guru Ellie Bernstein (in the first book, diet club members are getting killed off at goal weight), but I’ve always wanted to write romances. I started with a paranormal time-travel, HALLIE’S COMET, published by Five Star in 2004 (it’s now up at Kindle). In 2007 I reinvented myself as historical romance author Mary Ellen Dennis, whereupon Five Star published THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER, inspired by Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman. “Landlord” received starred reviews and was chosen as one of Booklist’s Top 10 Romances of the year. I sold the paperback rights to Sourcebooks and the novel will be reissued this August, along with an 1875 circus historical: THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH.

: What made you start writing?

In the third grade I wrote a story called “The Pencil Who Grew Up To Be a Stub.” We were supposed to write a one-page story with an ink pen. I wrote a 5-page, first-person story with a pencil (my protagonist) and received a failing grade. In high school I wrote and illustrated a children’s book, HERBERT THE GIANT, about a giant who lived in a town of nearsighted people. No one knew he was a giant until a peddler who sold glasses came to town. Publishers told me they liked the concept but “the words were too big.”

Undeterred, I wrote short fiction and penned my first [adult] book when I was a lecturer for Weight Watchers. As people were weighing in, I thought: Wouldn’t it be funny if there was some maniac running around murdering skinny people? With that thought, THROW DARTS A CHEESECAKE, the first in my 4-book “diet club” mystery series was born. I don’t always write in my head, but I once overheard someone say that Miss America had to be very intelligent (as well as beautiful). After a silent snort/chortle, I began writing a story—in my head—called THE LAST GREAT AMERICAN BEAUTY PAGEANT about a male beauty contest (with a twist). This was 15 years before the first TV reality show. The horror/suspense story is now at Kindle for 99-cents.

Question: As acquiring editor for Tekno Books, what advice would you offer to those newbies who have novels they would like to submit for consideration?

It sounds like a cliché, but telling rather than showing will land you in the rejection pile fairly quickly. If a writer tells me about a character, I feel no emotional connection. Another no-no: Please don’t make your heroine TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) by having her check out a noise in a dark basement without, at the very least, a rottweiler by her side. Be careful about overusing a word. Check your manuscripts for “just” and “well” and “that.” Tied with overuse of a word would be dialogue tags like “You’re so funny,” he laughed. You can’t laugh and talk at the same time. Try it. Nor can you talk while you are grinning or (my favorite) exploding: “I swear I didn’t do it!” she exploded. I get an image of Wile Coyote landing at the bottom of a steep cliff. Speaking of animals, I don’t like animal tags: growled, brayed, chirped, crowed, etc, and be careful of eyes. I like them to stay on one’s face, not drop to the ground (where they could get stepped on) or sweep the room. And if your character tosses her head, make sure somebody is there to catch it.
I like to give new writers the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. I wrote a scene set in an opulent NYC apartment for my women’s fiction novel, Soap Bubbles (published by Five Star Expressions, now at Kindle). I described the living room in detail, including the eclectic collection of paintings on the wall. It was written from the POV of my soap opera star protagonist. An author I admired read the chapter and complimented me on my narrative; said she felt like she was there. Then she said, “But how does Delly FEEL when she looks at the room?” I rewrote the scene, keeping all my details. Except, when Delly looks at the wall she wishes she could step into a painting. Here’s the rewrite:
"Delly stepped into an enormous living room and blinked at the brightness. The walls and ceilings were pure yellow, the floor a highly-glossed parquet. An eclectic mixture of paintings crowded the walls. Delly recognized Andy Warhol, Peter Max and Renoir. Her gaze lingered on the Renoir, and she wished she could step into the painting. In a Renoir there were no cameras panning for a close-up, no directors screaming for another take, no rejection. Renoir’s flowers have no smell, but they don’t die. Renoir’s people have no smell, but they live forever. Once she had believed that actors lived forever."
Note that I managed to get some of her backstory into one paragraph. This is also an example of what I was talking about before: showing vs. telling. I could have said: “Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe print reminded her of her last acting role,” and that wouldn’t be wrong. But it doesn’t really tell you how Delly FEELS. Can you see the difference?

Denise, thanks so much for being our guest today. You’re a fine writer and editor and we’re honored.

Those of you who have comments and/or questions, please know that they are welcome. So feel free to join the conversation!


Ellis Vidler said...

Deni, Does that make me exceptional? Because I love sagas and have read most of those you mentioned. Your cover blurb is interesting and I love the cover. It's definitely going on my TBR list. Nice interview!

jenny milchman said...

Love the saga of your saga, Deni! I'm sure you didn't love it at the time--but that circular reasoning...maddening. Good for you to persevere, while at the same time giving a voice to new authors at Tekno. Thanks for this interview, Jacquie.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Ellis, Jenny,

Thank you both for dropping by and commenting.

Betty Gordon said...

Deni, good post. The saga will remain a love of many readers. As a writer, I appreciate the time and effort you had to devote to this work. I look forward to reading it.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Darn. I wish I could step into a Renoir painting too. How nice it would be to wander in the midst of eternal flowers.

Enjoyed learning more about your writing journey, Deni.


Earl Staggs said...

I enjoy reading anything from you, Deni. You always drop nuggets of good advice with humor. Best regards.

J. H. Bográn said...

Great interview, Deni. One complete neatly-packed writing class, too.

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Deni. Thank you! Can you post the addy for submissions for newbies?

Jean Henry Mead said...

Good advice. A fellow Western historial writer, I look forward to reading your latest novel from your neighboring state of Wyoming.

Cait London said...

It is a beautiful cover and sounds like a fascinating story line. Best on all, Denise.

Alice Duncan said...

HEAVEN'S THUNDER is a brilliant book, and I think everybody needs to go out and buy a copy! Instantly.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Great blog, Deni. Love your reminder of the importance of "show don't tell."

Pauline B Jones said...

Fun interview! And your writing saga is great motivation. Congrats on the release!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Excellent interview, Jacqueline! Hi're my favorite editor (of course) so I always enjoy learning more about you.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting interview--thanks! I liked especially your demonstration of "showing, not telling" in the rewritten description (with feeling) of the room.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

In the interview I did with Alice Duncan last month, Alice was kind enough to provide the specifics of how writers with new mystery novels can submit to Tekno Books for Five Star/Gale consideration:

Here are the specific submission guidelines for people who want to submit to Five Star:

For previously published Five Star authors, please submit your queries directly to:

Rosalind Greenberg, Senior Acquisitions EditorTekno

For authors new to Five Star, published or unpublished, please submit your queries directly to:

Deni Dietz, Associate Editor
Tekno Books

Please send a query email letter requesting the Five Star submission guidelines.
*Remember to include your name, address, and sub-genre
*Rosalind Greenberg or Deni Dietz will send you all the information and forms that you will need to submit your manuscript properly.
*Please be aware that the volume of submissions we receive is enormous. Because of this, we do not accept simultaneous submissions, hardcopy submissions, or partial manuscripts, but we will respond to you as quickly as possible.

So there you have the complete submission guidelines. Read ‘em, and follow ‘em, if you want anybody to pay attention to your submission (not that I want to sound harsh or anything, but it really is important to follow directions).

Hope this helps!

Sharon Ervin said...

Enlightening. Thank you.

Barbara Graham said...

Congrats Deni on your newest release. I thought your description of wanting to walk into a Renoir painting was fabulous.

June Shaw said...

Excellent comments. Thanks, Deni.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Barbara, Sharon, June, thank you all for stopping by and commenting.

Deni Dietz said...

Sorry I'm late responding to all your wonderful comments. I'm honored that you took the time to stop by, and I'll be doing a "blog tour" soon for 2 new releases. First, THE LANDLORD'S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER, inspired by the Alfred Noyes poem "The Highwayman" -- but with a happier ending :)

"Landlord" was a 2007 Five Star Expressions, picked up by Sourcebooks for mass market paperback. It's due out in August, along with a fun 1875 circus historical, THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH.

I *just* returned from the Historical Novel Society's conference, the reason why I'm late answering comments. Please forgive me (she said, tossing her head and hoping husband Gordon Aalborg, aka Victoria Gordon, is there to catch it!)

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Jacqueline: thanks for interviewing Deni. Sounds like a great book. I just met Deni, at the HNS conference in San Diego. She was on the run but we got to chat a bit.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Joyce and Deni,

So great the two of you met at the conference! Joyce, you're going to have to blog about the conference and fill in our readers (including me). We'd all love to hear more about it.