Friday, May 13, 2011

The Cat in the Hat Has Nothin' on Me! A Day in the Life of Deni Dietz and Mary Ellen Dennis

Denise Dietz, who also does Community Theatre, is the author of the Ellie Bernstein/Lt. Peter Miller “diet club” series, Footprints in the Butter - an Ingrid Beaumont Mystery costarring Hitchcock the Dog, and Eye of Newt. Her alter ego, Mary Ellen Dennis, is the author of The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter (inspired by the Alfred Noyes poem “The Highwayman”), Stars of Fire, and Heaven’s Thunder – A Colorado Saga (May, 2011). Although Deni’s mysteries take place in Colorado, she and Mary Ellen live in a heritage cottage on Vancouver Island. They are both owned by a chocolate Labrador retriever named Magic, who likes to play Wimbledon ball-dog on the nearby tennis courts.  Visit or for book covers, more Chien panels, and (candid) photos.
Coming in May/June: FOOTPRINTS IN THE BUTTER - an Ingrid Beaumont Mystery co-starring Hitchcock the Dog: a full-cast audiobook with an original song by Bill Royal (lyrics by Ingrid Beaumont )!
Coming in June: HEAVEN'S THUNDER - A Colorado Saga - by Mary Ellen Dennis: "Compelling characters, fascinating historical details and a great story line make Heaven's Thunder a must-read."  Jasmine Cresswell

by Deni Dietz

As an author (with two names) and an editor, I wear many hats, including a Denver Broncos cap for editing and a cap that say FIFTY CENTS FOR YOUR SOUL while writing my Denise Dietz mysteries. However, I picture my short red hair "cascading to my waist" when I shift into Mary Ellen Dennis, my romance-author persona.
My mornings begin at 6:30, in front of my computer, with my first mug of caffeine (the mug says THINK THIN). I answer business emails -- personal emails wait till evening. On any given day I respond to queries, read submissions, line edit a manuscript, throw in some writing of my own to meet those pesky deadlines, answer a guest blog interview (or two), and I always wonder where the heck the time went when I walk my chocolate Lab, Magic, at 4 pm. Magic and I visit a nearby park, where she like to play tennis.

The best part of being an editor is when I offer a first-book author a contract. In my mind I do a Snoopy dance. And I flash back to my first offer, a two-book contract for THROW DARTS AT A CHEESECAKE and BEAT UP A COOKIE, starring diet club leader Ellie Bernstein. I had received so many rejections (most stated that my book was "too funny"), I didn't lose my breath, jump for joy, or babble incoherently. I simply stared at the phone's receiver as if it were a Steven Spielberg alien. Now, 15 books later, my contract offers come via email. Whereupon, I lose my breath, jump for joy, and babble incoherently.

I've been asked if, as an acquiring editor, I choose the kind of authors I read, or if I cater to the market? My answer is that my reading tastes are too eclectic to choose the kind of authors I read. I devour everything, from historical romances to generational sagas to "cozies" to thrillers. Frankly, I'm not looking for a good book. I'm looking for a good voice. It's virtually impossible to cater to the market. By the time a book goes through the publication process, the market could be glutted with vampire serial killer books, somebody-or-other's diary, paint-by-numbers craft mysteries, cowboys with illegitimate babies (they didn't know about), amateur women sleuths with male nicknames, and/or Dan Brown clones.

In a newspaper interview I was asked, "If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?" Here's my answer:
One of my favorite movies is Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, where Hume Cronyn and Henry Travers are always trying to plot the perfect murder. But, in truth, I plotted the perfect murder for FOOTPRINTS IN THE BUTTER - an Ingrid Beaumont Mystery co-starring Hitchcock the Dog (recently recorded as a full-cast audio, with an original song by Bill Royal). In the first chapter I killed off my ex-husband, clunked him on the head with a miniature statue of The Thinker. Alas, the murder wasn't perfect after all. Partly due to an elephant joke (How do you make a statue of an elephant?) my amateur sleuth solved the case. Could I commit the perfect non-literary murder? Doubtful. I can't even tell a fib without my cheeks turning scarlet.

I was also asked what advice I'd share with aspiring authors dealing with the current shifts in the publishing world?
After I tell them "If you drop a dream, it breaks" (in other words, don't give up!), I add the following: If an aspiring author decides to e-publish, pay for a professional edit. If an aspiring author is not an artist, pay for a professional cover. If an aspiring author is a "luddite," pay a professional formatter. There are many to choose from. My recommendation is Nina Paules: Here's a recent piece of advice from NYT columnist David Brooks that I've taken to heart. Toss a coin when you have to make a major decision. Let's say you are trying to decide between traditional publishing (heads) and digital publishing (tails). Let's say the coin comes up heads, but you really want to go digital, so you think: Two out of three. That's when you know what to do! It's not how the coin falls, but how you feel.

Finally, my alter-ego, Mary Ellen Dennis (who tends to wear a Stetson on top of her flowing red tresses), is somewhat serious rather than goofy (like Deni). Her pre-Civil War historical, STARS OF FIRE, which touches upon slavery and women's rights, came out in 2010. Her favorite book of all time, HEAVEN'S THUNDER: A COLORADO SAGA, will be available this June. The title is from a Shakespeare sonnet that includes the lines: "The strong-neck'd steed, being tied to a tree, Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he." Mary Ellen is nuts about horses. If you don't believe me, check out her website: Mary Ellen's THE LANDLORD'S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER, inspired by the Alfred Noyes poem "The Highwayman," is coming out in paperback and ebook. "Landlord," circa 1790s, includes mystery elements, 13th-century ghosts, and an escape from Newgate Prison. Along with a Mary Ellen history-mystery-romance that revolves around an 1875 circus, Landlord will hit bookstores in late July/early August.

Holy cow, it's time to put one of my hats on. Hmmm...which one?
Do y'all have different hats? If yes, what are they (and what do they say)?
Hugs back at'cha, Kaye.


Ellis Vidler said...

Deni, that was interesting. I'll have to put Mary Ellen Dennis on my list. I'm sure I'll like the books. Horses, the Old West, a highwayman? How could I not! Good post.

Brenda Buchanan said...

Great post, Deni. Your books sound wonderful. I applaud your skill in being capable of writing in two genres. I am a one trick pony myself.

I loved this line: It's not how the coin falls, but how you feel.
So true.

Best to you,

Brenda Buchanan

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I have to admire how prolific you are. I enjoy reading your novels and you're obviously a fine editor as well. Great advice for new writers and those of us that have been at it for some years.

Jacqueline Seewald
THE TRUTH SLEUTH--coming May 18, 2011

Susan Oleksiw said...

By the end of the post I was exhausted just thinking about all you accomplish in one day. I loved your advice to new writers about never quitting--so true! And also good advice on epublishing--follow your heart. When I looked at your photo of Magic, I thought about how often I rush to the door to wipe down our lab when he comes trotting in soaked and muddy.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Deni - It was great meeting you at LCC and an honor to be on your panel.

Kaye and others - if you haven't read The Landlord's Black-eyed Daughter, go get it. It gives new dimension to the poem.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Deni, Welcome!!!! Always fun to have you (AND Mary Ellen) here to play.

Hi, Everyone - Thanks very much for stopping by!