Recently I had the great pleasure of starting the Leonardo Di Vinci Mystery Series with the book THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT. This series is written by Diane A.S. Stuckart. Presently there are two books in the series, but 2010 will bring about the third book. The second book in this series is called PORTRAIT OF A LADY. I was lucky enough to win PORTRAIT in a giveaway Diane held, and through my communication with her on that giveaway, I conned her into agreeing to a blog interview! Poor thing didn't know what she was getting herself into before she agreed! But she was a great sport. And folks, she is one fascinating person. I'm so excited to share with you my interview with Diane Stuckart!
Q: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT was your foray into historical mystery. Before that you wrote some very successful historical romance novels as Alexa Smart and Anna Gerard. What made you decide to shift genres?
Diane: My historical romances were what I termed "women's action/adventure"…more plot driven than character driven, and with a mystery subplot. By about the time that my 5th book--DESERT HEARTS, written as Anna Gerard--came out, historicals were waning in popularity. The editors and readers were looking for contemporary romances that focused more on f-e-e-e-lings, which just wasn't what I wrote. So I dropped out of romance and wrote short fiction for awhile. I'd always wanted to try my hand at straight mystery, however, so when an opportunity came up a couple of years ago, I jumped on it.
Q: With your historical mysteries you’re writing under your own name. Why did you choose pseudonyms for your historical romances? Is there any significance to the names Alexa Smart and Anna Gerard? And likewise, what made you choose to write under your own name for the historical mysteries?
Diane: Alexa Smart IS my name (middle and maiden names) and I thought it was a much more interesting and memorable moniker for writing historical romance. When I switched over to a different imprint at the same publisher, however, the editor wanted me to write under a new name. Anna Gerard is part of my first name combined with my husband's first name. By the time I started writing the Leonardo da Vinci mysteries, I'd already been writing short stories as Diane A.S. Stuckart and thought the separation between Diane and Alexa/Anna was still appropriate with the genre change.
Q: First historical romance and now historical mystery. What’s the allure for you of setting the novels back in history?
Diane: I was born a century or more too late! I have always loved a good swashbuckler or western. Besides, once you gloss over such things as dying in childbirth and lack of flush toilets, the past is far more romantic and seemingly filled with greater possibility. And, taking the 60s out of the mix (love watching reruns with those mod 60s styles!), the costuming back then is much more exciting.
Q: You’ve noted that after finishing your liberal arts degree you took a job in none other than retail! Even though you’re writing historically, did you have any notable experiences in retail worm their way into your writing (i.e. ideas for characters, settings, dialogue, etc.)?
Diane: I have successfully purged almost all memories of retail from my brain, LOL!
Q: Did you always have aspirations of writing? What was the motivating factor that really got you going toward the publication of your first novel?
Diane: My hard-assed junior high drama teacher ("Do not incur the wrath of an Irish temper!" she always proclaimed most dramatically while we quaked in our tennie runners) gave me an A for a paper I wrote on Lon Chaney Jr. (don't ask me why I chose him as my subject, save that I always loved horror, as well). The light dawned, and I realized I was good at something. I went on to join the high school paper and then majored in journalism in college, intending to work on a newspaper. Unfortunately, entry-level jobs for journalists paid minimum wage back then, and I couldn't take the pay cut. So I put writing aside for several years, until my husband, bless his heart, insisted I go to a writers' conference he'd heard about on the local radio. I did, met some new writing friends, and things progressed from there.
Q: Who, if anyone, would you say influenced you in your writing?
Diane: Since I was an introverted, unpopular little girl with glasses, I read read read all through grade school and junior high and high school. But I was not a high-brow reader. I loved popular fiction…the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, anything "witchy" (I was Goth before anyone knew what Goth was, LOL), then graduated to Sherlock Holmes and romantic suspense, took a slight jog to read everything James Michener and James Herriot wrote, and then moved on to historical romance. As far as genre fiction, my greatest influences were Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels, Nora Lofts…and definitely Sergeanne Golan and the "Angelique" books for historical romance. Sex and sword-fighting, what a combo!
Q: The Leonardo Di Vinci mysteries are such a unique concept for the mystery genre. How did you ever come up with this idea? And why choose Delfina as his protégé?
Diane: My editor asked if I'd like to do a mystery series with Leonardo da Vinci as the sleuth, and of course I said yes. That's all they gave me…and so I rushed down to B&N for a copy of his notebooks and started plotting away. Delfina was created out of necessity. I could not see myself writing from Leonardo's viewpoint, as he was a genius, and I am…not. Besides, there's nothing worse than your protagonist constantly bragging on how brilliant, handsome, and talented he is, but that was indeed a huge portion of what made Leonardo, Leonardo. And since I always admired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work, I thought that a Holmes-Watson type of partnership would be perfect for these books. I also wanted to add a female element to the books, and the "Yentl" aspect I thought would add another layer of intrigue.
Q: Since you are writing a historical mystery, there is obviously some unique research required, how do you go about your research? Did the chess and tarot themes come as a result of your research or did you first want to write a book with chess in the plot and then pursued the research?
Diane: I buy the heck out of research books--books heavy with photos/illustrations and kid's books are particularly useful--and have them in a big pile beneath my desk as I write. The chess imagery came to me in a dream while I was trying to plot the first book, and it proved a perfect theme and motif for a historical mystery. I stumbled over the story of the missing Tarot cards in the Visconti-Sforza Tarot deck in one of my research books just as I was wrapping up GAMBIT, and I knew right away that would be a great follow-on theme for PORTRAIT. Besides, I always wanted to try my hand at Tarot reading, and this was a great excuse.
Q: Dialogue is one of the coolest elements of historical fiction novels for me as a reader. Some of the words that come up are funny or unique or mysterious. I guess mostly because they are different. Since you need to be so familiar with your dialogue, do you ever find yourself using it in regular conversation?
Diane: Only at a Ren Faire, LOL! But I do tend to be a bit more polysyllabic in my corporate memos than is strictly necessary.
Q: With the Leonardo Di Vinci mysteries series there is THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT, PORTRAIT OF A LADY, and a third book to be released in 2010. Will there be more Leonardo after that or are there other projects on the horizon?
Diane: I'd love to do more Leonardo mysteries, but that is up to the publisher. In the meantime, I'm working on proposals for both another historical mystery series and one that is a contemporary cozy. We'll see what shakes out.
Q: Now I’m going to ask you to share some tidbits about yourself with us. On your book jacket, you are said to be a martial artist. Can you tell us a little about that?
Diane: I could, but then I would have to kill you! Seriously, I was always a major Bruce Lee fan and loved martial arts movies, so at the ripe young age of 40 I finally began taking classes in American Karate. I also studied Aikido for a short time, and then moved on to Tae kwon do and made my way up to red belt before my sensei closed his studio. By then, however, I'd landed on my head and been punched in the face a few too many times for my aged body to take any longer, so I switched over to yoga..and now, to belly dancing. But I still miss it! And I still have my hakama somewhere.
Q: And you are one of the founding members of the Gold Ghost Paranormal Society. The society searches for ghosts in the South Florida area. How did this society come about for you? Were you involved in anything like this in Texas? What exactly does the society do to find ghosts?
Diane: I've always been interested in the paranormal (hey, I'm interested in lots of stuff; that's why I'm a writer) but the group I tried to belong to in Texas (long before the advent of TV's Ghost Hunters) flaked out before I could do any investigating. But once I made my way to Florida, I joined a "Meetup" that was looking to form a formal group, and that's how GCPS was born. We use the more scientific methods of evidence collection… digital recorders, cameras, video, miscellaneous meters, and so forth…and investigate private homes and public sites which are thought to be haunted. We're a volunteer group and never charge for our services.
Q: On your website, I read, “When she's not writing or working at her day job, Diane spends her time doing yoga (she's a registered yoga teacher at the 200 hour level), gardening, and making sure the pets don't get eaten by stray gators.” Holy cow! First of all, how do you fit it all in? That’s a lot to juggle in addition to the Gold Ghost Paranormal Society! Are stray gators a regular problem for you? And for my readers – Diane has four dogs and two cats (a woman after my own heart)! Finally, I’m curious to know what the day job is.
Diane: Well, I am never bored, LOL. Luckily, no gators have made it to our yard yet (we're out in what I call suburban country on acre+ lots), but our first year here, someone about a mile down the road had a 13-foot gator crawl out of the canal behind his house and lie in wait on his front porch. My husband and I drove past just as animal control had finished tying up the gator, and all neighbors were busy taking pictures. Did I mention that we live in Florida? As for the day job, I'm a materials supervisor for a contract manufacturer of electronic assemblies. (Now you know why I enjoy historical time periods so much.)
Q: With everything else that you have going on, do you have any time to read for fun, yourself? Is there anything you’d recommend to folks who enjoy the Leonardo Di Vinci mysteries?
Diane: Unfortunately, I'm usually so pressed for time that I have to give up recreational reading and stick to research when I read at all. And I'm always paranoid about someone else's style seeping into mine, so I stay strictly with contemporary mystery while I'm on deadline. But one author who is awesome is Judith Merkle Riley. Her THE MASTER OF ALL DESIRES deals with Nostradamus, and she's written several other novels set around that time period. I recently picked up a copy of Peg Herring's MACBETH'S NIECE (she and I were on a panel at SleuthFest in February) and am looking forward to reading it.
Q: And finally, I like to ask this question of everyone I interview: there is a book out called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. What would be YOUR six-work memoir?
Diane: "I should have had a V-8." Oops, that one is already taken. How about "I've always wanted to try that."
Many thanks to Diane for answering all my questions! What a sport!