Thursday, April 08, 2010

Diane Fanning

 Diane Fanning writes true crime books and mystery. And she’s really good at both. You might have caught her on TV programs like 48 Hours, 20/20, and Forensic Files, the blog, Women in Crime Ink, her personal blog, or at book signings or speaking engagements. She not only writes nonfiction and two mystery series, she’s a strong promoter, which authors have to be if they want to continue writing and selling. (We’ve talked a lot about that here on SFH.)

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.

 My dual authorship, however, seem to befuddle a lot of folks. It is most evident at the release of a new fiction book. Now that MISTAKEN IDENTITY, the third in the Lucinda Pierce mystery series, is available on-line and in brick-and-mortar stores, I find myself explaining my dual writing roles quite often.

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.

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.
The comment section is open for you to ask questions or tells us about your own split personality.
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  1. "... sold his soul to the devil ..."
    Hey, that's cool. I did that long time ago, like Dorian Gray. Makes life more interesting. And I'm looking forward to an enjoyable destiny in Hell, with geology field trips at day time, black metal concerts in the evening and *** all night >:)))

  2. No writing in the afterlife? Perhaps I can take a pass on Hell. As I remember, Dorian didn't have such a sweet time either, Cold As Heaven. Considering Diane writes mystery and true crime, her character probably doesn't have a sweet time either. :-O

  3. Really enjoyed this guest post and learning more about "split personality" Diane and her writing. I think many of us authors have a bit of split person's dwelling in us, hmm? And that book blurb is VERY fetching.

    The Old Silly

  4. You are so right that it satisfies different needs. I express myself in my fiction - I strive to help others in my non-fiction. Despite the differences, I've found that each contains elements from the other.

  5. Very enjoyed and informative post. It's easy to see how and why you write in both genres. They tend to balance each other. Wishing you much success in both areas. Now I have new books to add to my wish list.

  6. Good morning, one and all. It is a pleasure to be here on Helen's blog today. And nice to find other writers who can relate to my split personality. Words can be magic and it's invigorating to use them as many formats as possible.
    Mason, I'd love to hear from you after you've read one of my books.

  7. Hello Diane and Helen, I love the concept of working in 2 genres. You mention the butterfly migration example ... Alice Hoffman actually used the monarch migration effectively in The Ice Queen, it was a very moving part of the story. Bringing that nonfiction side to the fiction gives such authenticity to a novel. I write fiction, and have completed a memoir ms as well, which involved some music research. Though the music hasn't made it into my fiction, the research has. It's a great tool for ideas and development in fiction. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  8. Enjoyed the post, thanks Helen and Diane.

    I cannot imagine writing two genres, fascinating.

  9. I think research can add value and depth to fiction, as long as you don't sound like a researcher in your fiction. And writing non-fiction has helped me learn how to research and find information quickly and accurately, which will help in my research for fiction. Diane could probably teach a Master's class on this.

  10. Oh! I forgot to mention that today while Diane is holding court here, I'm over at the Blood-Red Pencil talking about a grammar rule (and probably creating havoc since I'm giving the okay to break the rule).

    Blood Red Pencil

  11. Very interesting post, Diane and Helen! I'd love to write some non-fiction, but thought I might need to take on another pen name. (3 different names. Oh boy...)

    I totally agree on the reading. It really makes a huge different in our writing....

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  12. Elizabeth-Riley, I know I could never keep multiple names straight so my real name, my fiction name and my non-fiction name are all the same.
    For a period of time when I worked in radio, I had an on-air name. I never knew how to introduce myself.
    I don't know how you do it.

  13. Hi Diane and Helen,
    Great post. I especially agree with the statement that "writers need to be voracious readers of every genre."
    I have learned so much from reading books in many genres and age levels.
    Donna Volkenannt

  14. Donna,
    I've been a voracious reader all of my life. In Kindergarten, I had to stand in the corner for smuggling bugs in my nap blanket and reading instead of sleeping. When I was told to go play outside, I often grabbed a book, climbed a tree and read up there.
    So, when anyone tells me they don't have time to read, I feel like I am speaking to a person from another planet--it does not compute. LOL

  15. I used to climb in trees to read, too, Diane. And read under a blanket in bed.

  16. Great guest blog with some very interesting and useful tips. Thanks for sharing Diane with us on your blog, Hel!

  17. I may need to develop this split personality.

  18. Where did you hide your flashlight to read under the covers, Helen?

  19. As I recall, I hid it under the pillow, then would tent the covers over my head so I could sit and read.

  20. Originally, I had it under my pillow but one night, while sleeping, I knocked it on the floor and scared both me and my sister pretty badly when it hit the wood floor. It woke my mother, too, who confiscated the flashlight.
    When I got a new one, I had a new plan.
    I had a variety of shoe boxes under my bed--rocks in one, sea shells in another, etc. One box had a flashlight with baby doll clothes on top.

  21. True crime stories are truly fascinating--as they say, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

  22. This is a great combined post. I write Christian articles and devotions AND I write scrifi/fantasy stories. They are two separate entities, so I can definitely relate :)

  23. Lynda, you for sure sound as though you know about split personalities!

    Diane, I can see where your love of mysteries began.

  24. I have written a lot of science papers last 15 years, and this week I have started to work on my first novel ... yes, seriously. And I probably have Tourette's syndrome and a couple of other syndroms I don't know about. Does that qualify for split personality? >:)

  25. A split personality, in the writerly manner, is not a a scientific classification--therefore, it can be what you define it to be. And it does not require you--or even encourage you--to sprout a second head.

  26. Lynda--Glad to see I'm not alone!

    Heidiwriter--That is so true. There is a lot to be learned about human nature when you plunge into the life and behaviour of someone committing the ultimate crime.

  27. Cold as Heaven, you're certainly starting to have a second personality. Science papers and now a novel.

  28. As a crime buff I enjoyed this insightful interview. I like Diane's comment that true crime writing helps make a difference--there may not be fortunes to be made in that genre, but it certainly can have a positive impact on the reader.

    Keep up the good work.

  29. Diane,
    Thanks for filling us in on your work--I'm a fan of both fictional and true crime (major Ann Rule admirer) and will have to check out your books when the need to read some real crime strikes. I'm impressed that you can shift gears between fiction and non-fiction. I have to stick to fiction myself, my personality refuses to split no matter how I offer it the opportunity--particularly when it hears that writing about real life would require more research! The idea of a secret identity is rather appealing though....hmmm...

  30. It was a pleasure to interact with all of you. Helen, thanks for having me as a guest on your blog.


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