You might be thinking, well, it’d be fun to switch around. Write a true crime this year. A mystery next year, then a different mystery the next. That’s not Diane. She puts out multiple books each year - and when a true crime is gone to print, she’s not through because in a year or so she’ll most likely have to do an update on the book.
Today, she’s going to talk about her split personality. How she can switch from doing hours and days of hard-core research on horrific crime to making fiction characters come alive in readers’ minds.
Please welcome Diane Fanning.
Maybe it’s because I was born on a cusp. Or maybe because my moon is in Gemini. Or maybe, simply, because I’m just not right. But I find myself very comfortable leading a double life.
I feel at home assuming two writer identities—one in non-fiction as a true crime writer, another in fiction as an author of mysteries. I seldom get confused about which hat I am wearing except for the times, like many writers, I forget that my fictional characters are not real people.
A lot of people make the assumption that because I have started writing fiction, I will stop writing true crime. In fact, I regularly get email from my True Crime fans pleading with me to continue writing those books. At this point in time, I have no intentions of abandoning that genre. Working in two worlds, teaches me something new nearly every day and makes me feel complete and fulfilled.
The first lesson I learned was that writers need to be voracious readers of every genre. I learn something about the craft from every book I read, no matter the genre or area of focus. A writer can pick up a useful tool from a nonfiction book about butterfly migration that can be used to add uniqueness and complexity to a fiction endeavor. Although constrained by reality, you can learn much about plotting and character development in a novel that can be applied to true accounts to keep the reader turning pages. Most important of all of these lessons, in my opinion, is the value of suspense.
Anything and everything that you read needs a strong element of suspense—something that keeps your reader turning the page because you’ve raised questions in your readers’ minds and made an unspoken promise to provide answers. Take a simple children’s book like ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by P.D. Eastman. Despite the cute drawings and continuous repetition, the book contains a very existential question about identity. And Eastman promises an answer by the time the book ends.
Another benefit of having a split personality as an author is that it fulfills so many of my loves and needs in life. Writing non-fiction gives me the pleasure of digging with abandon into infinite piles of documents, musty newspapers and vignettes of history—I’ve loved research since my first high school term paper. Certainly there are some opportunities for research in writing contemporary fiction but you must always be on guard to not let it consume your writing time. With a True Crime book, the research is the life blood of your work.
Additionally, in writing non-fiction, I have to speak to a lot of different people in diverse walks of life for assistance in the research aspect, for interviews, and for observation in various settings—there is simply no end to the one-on-one contact. And, in general, I really like people and enjoy the social interaction in the work sphere.
Finally, with True Crime, I know that I can make a concrete and positive difference in people’s lives. There is nothing more fulfilling than a mother telling me that one of my books saved her daughter’s life or getting an email from a domestic violence center who finds one of my true accounts important and an essential read or knowing that one of my books helped obtain a new trial for a wrongfully convicted woman. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Fiction writing, however, satisfies different needs. At times, I crave solitude and there is nothing more solitary that working week after week crafting and polishing a novel. It gives me a break from reading autopsy reports, looking at crime scene photos, crying with victims’ family members. It’s an escape to a welcoming world where I as a person cease to exist.
Writing fiction also provides an outlet for limitless expressions of creativity. In my non-fiction world, I am tied to facts, constrained by circumstances, bound tight by the truth. With fiction, the facts are of my choosing, the circumstances of my making and the truth only what I say it is and nothing more. If I don’t like the bad news in chapter four, I simply re-write it. If I don’t like my main character’s new best friend, I cut her from the manuscript. If someone is really getting on my nerves, I bump them off using any method I want without causing any grief to real people.
With a foot in fiction and another firmly planted in non-fiction, it might sound as if I am straddling a great divide. But to me, it feels like one place—a world of my own. I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
Thank you, Diane!
Diane’s latest book, Mistaken Identity, is now available online and in your favorite book store. Here’s the cover blurb:
In a cozy suburban home a woman’s body has been carefully laid out on a bed. She looks perfect, except for a single gunshot wound to the head. In the bathroom a bloody male corpse, missing both its head and its hands, is in the tub. When the victims’ thirteen-year-old son reacts to the deaths in a strange way, claiming his father is immortal and has sold his soul to the devil, Homicide Investigator Lucinda Pierce suspects that this family has something to hide.The comment section is open for you to ask questions or tells us about your own split personality.
Lucinda must uncover the secret that holds the key to the investigation, but news from her home town brings back painful memories and she must first overcome her emotional wounds, if she is to solve the case.