Our guest this week is Diane Kelly. Diane's debut novel, Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure, won the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award and is in bookstores now. Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte will follow in March 2012, with Death, Taxes, and Extra-Hold Hairspray coming in June 2012. As a CPA and tax attorney, Diane spent several years at an international accounting firm where she had the pleasure of working with a partner later charged with tax fraud. She also served a stint as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas under an AG who pled guilty to criminal charges related to the tobacco company lawsuits. Given this work history, Diane decided self-employment might be a good idea. She also realized her experiences with the white-collar crime made excellent fodder for a novel. Her fingers hit the keyboard and thus began her humorous mystery series.
Could you share a bit about your book, Death, Taxes, And A Skinny No-Whip Latte, and its characters?
The book is the second in my series starring IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway and is set in north Texas. In this book, Tara and her partner, Eddie, go after a violent criminal named Marcos Mendoza who is running a vast – and illegal – financial empire. Of course he’s not paying the taxes due on the illegal income, either. Despite Tara and Eddie’s best efforts, things don’t seem to be going their way. But they must stop Mendoza before he kills again. If anyone else dies, the murder will be on their heads. No pressure, huh?
Tara is a sassy and unconventional heroine, with an itchy trigger finger. With her exceptional gun skills, she’s known as “The Annie Oakley of the IRS.” She’s involved with a sweet and sexy landscape architect named Brett. Problem is, Brett has a hard time dealing with the dangers of Tara’s job.
Tara’s boss, Lu “The Lobo” Lobozinksi, steals several scenes in this show. Readers love Tara’s chain-smoking, order-barking boss. She’s a tough broad with a sense of style all her own. Everything in Lu’s wardrobe hails from the 1960’s, as does Lu’s 8-inch strawberry-blond beehive hairdo.
What inspired you to write books combining mystery and humor?
Humor is a wonderful coping mechanism. I find myself using humor at emotionally intense times, and I try to find the funny aspects of life’s irritations so that I don’t go bonkers. Adding humor to my writing came naturally for me. The humor in the books offsets some of the darker elements in the storyline.
Was it difficult to write humor into a subject that might be potentially boring?
Not really. The humor flows naturally from the quirky characters and over-the-top situations. The humor is probably essential for a book starring an IRS agent dealing with tax crimes. Not sure anyone would want to pick it up otherwise! The humor makes the subject of white-collar crime interesting and palatable, much like the humor in M*A*S*H made war funny and the humor in Scrubs made working in a hospital and dealing with sick people funny.
Do you have a favorite character in this book?
Besides Tara, I’d have to say my favorite character is Lu. She’s a little off, with her out-of-date fashions and somewhat masculine ways. But at heart she’s a great boss who really cares about the people who work for her. She challenges them to do their best and trusts them to get the job done – no matter what.
Do you have a favorite scene you can share with the readers.
There’s a scene at Lu’s “retirement party” that is a pivotal turning point in the book. The scene shows Tara’s determination to get the bad guys at all costs. I love when I can dig deep into Tara and show that she’s resilient and resourceful and tenacious. That’s when she’s at her best. There’s another intense but hilarious scene at a border crossing. I can’t say more without spoiling things, but it was a fun scene to visualize and write.
With your background in accounting and what you’ve experienced first-hand, how do you keep real life separate from your story world? Do you feel yourself basing characters on real people and writing scenes based on real events? Or can you tell that?
Many of the crimes in my books are based on things I’ve faced in real life. For instance, in book #1 (Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure), Tara goes after a con artist running a foreign currency exchange scam. I based the scam on a situation from work where a client asked me to review an investment contract that was totally fraudulent. In my next upcoming book, (Death, Taxes, and Extra-Hold Hairspray), Tara faces a preacher who may not worship a golden calf but who’s milking his church like a cash cow. I got the idea for that book from the prevalence of fake church tax scams. Seems everyone is trying to call themselves a minister these days!
As far as characters, I’ve developed them using different facets of real-life personalities that have made an impression on me. For instance, I once worked under a chain-smoking, order-barking female partner, but she didn’t have Lu’s sense of style or a beehive hairdo. I admired her for being a trailblazer for women, though, and I think I’ve brought that out in Lu, also. I tend to think of my characters as being amalgamations of personalities I’ve come across.
What challenge or struggle do you face when you tried to build emotional bonds between the characters? How do you, then, go about addressing the part you struggle with?
Tara’s emotional bonds are constantly strained by the risks of her job. Her boyfriend fears for her safety, as do her parents, yet at the same time they respect her job and try to be supportive. She also struggles with her obligations to her boss, coworkers, and the pursuit justice. A major emotional struggle that begins at the end of book #2 occurs when a new romantic interest arrives on the scene. The biggest struggle is for Tara to feel the emotional tension, yet stay true to herself.
To address these struggles, I have to really put myself in Tara’s mind and think, “If I were Tara, what would I do?” She has to make some difficult choices, both personally and professionally. I have to force myself to think with Tara’s brain.
Which is more important in your stories character or plot? Do you outline before you write?
The characters are more important, by far. This series is, at heart, the story of a young woman trying to find her place in the world. The plot is about her attempts to achieve that goal.
I outline extensively before I begin writing. I write much more efficiently with a clear roadmap. A few detours still spring up to surprise me along the way, but at least I know where I’m going and the primary route I’ll take to get there. I do my outlines on a spreadsheet. Go figure, huh?
What did you learn from writing your first book Death, Taxes, and A French Manicure?
So many lessons! Some quite hard.
The biggest lesson was that persistence pays off. There were so many times I was kicked to the curb, but being told “no” only made me more determined to find an editor willing to take a chance on me. I’m like Tara in my tenacity. I worked my butt off, revising and revising and revising over a period of years until I had finally learned enough about the craft of writing to have a marketable product to pitch. Then I hustled, entering dozens of contests and attending numerous writing conferences, anything to get my work in front of editors and agents.
I also learned the importance of having people on your team who believe in you and your work. I’ve got fantastic critique partners, a wonderful editor, and a very encouraging agent. It’s critical for writers to have people who “get” their work and cheer them on. Otherwise, things can be tough.
What do you find most rewarding about your writing career? Most disappointing?
The writing process itself is so much fun and is a reward in itself. I love to be able to spend hours “working” on something that doesn’t feel like work! And when a total stranger emails me to tell me how much they liked my work or posts a positive review, it’s such an affirmation. My hope with my stories is to bring some laughter to people’s lives, and when they tell me I made them laugh it makes me feel good. The world needs more laughter!
I suppose the most disappointing thing is that once a writer gets published, he or she is now running a small business and thus has to do a lot of administrative things that take time away from writing. But it’s a small price to pay for a dream come true.
If you could give writers one small piece of advice, what would it be?
Sack up. Publishing isn’t for wimps. Be brave, be bold, and, most of all, believe in yourself.
What’s next for you?
More Tara Holloway books! We are in the process of finalizing a second contract, which will include an e-novella to be released this fall and three more full-length books to be released in spring, summer, and fall of 2013. I’m thrilled!
Finally, where can we find you on the web?
Thank you for visiting the blog today. If you have any questions or comments for Kelly, please post them below. Check back on Friday for the first chapter of Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte.