The Writer in the Mirror by Dianne Emley

Yesterday I reviewed Cold Call, the first book in Los Angeles Times bestselling author Dianne Emley’s Iris Thorne mystery series, which is being reissued after a bit of a hiatus. Today I am pleased to welcome Dianne to talk about her walk down memory lane revisiting books she hadn’t looked at in well over a decade.

Dianne EmleyThank you, Elizabeth, for allowing me to share your blog today. Thank you also for your terrific review on this space yesterday of Cold Call, my debut novel that was published in 1993. Cold Call was the first of five books in my mystery series featuring Iris Thorne–a savvy, sexy, and sassy investment counselor who prowled the streets of Los Angeles in her red Triumph sports car in the “greed is good” late 1980s and early 1990s.

The Iris Thorne mysteries, long out-of-print, are being reissued as e-books and trade paperbacks. Cold Call and the series second, Slow Squeeze, are out now. The remaining three—Fast Friends, Foolproof, and Pushover—will be out in 2012.

Cold Call holds a place in my heart as not just my first published novel, but it was also the first novel I’d ever written. While toiling in business middle management, I harbored a faint yet persistent dream to be a novelist. I wrote Cold Call over three years, writing from 4:30 to 6:30 on weekday mornings before I went to my day job and on weekends. When the book was sold at auction to Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster, it was more than a dream come true. I was overwhelmed—so overwhelmed that I was sick for two days. My editor’s comment was, “I hate to see what’ll happen to you if you hit the New York Times bestseller list.”

Before republishing the Iris Thorne books, I decided to first reread them. After all, I hadn’t looked at them for fifteen to twenty years. People often ask me if I read my own books. Nope. I don’t. Honestly, once the book is published, I don’t know an author who does. Of course, rereading the Thorne books inevitably led to some “gentle” editing. The passage of time let me see the books with fresh eyes and I learned some interesting things.

Like most first-time novelists, my first book was a smidgen autobiographical, yet I denied that Iris was me. I acknowledged that we shared certain traits. We were both thirty-something women, freshly minted MBAs making our way in the then male-dominated business world. We were both single, blonde, clothes horses with active social lives. Oh, and we both drove a 1972 Triumph TR6. Still, I insisted, “Iris is not me.” Rereading the books through the lens of time, I have to admit that, yeah, she was me–but more of a superhero version of me. She had a better job, made a lot more money, lived in a hipper apartment, was bolder (I had an embarrassing tendency to blush), savvier, and always had great comeback lines. If only real-life dialogue could be edited to perfection.

It was interesting to encounter this doppelganger of my younger self. Was I really such a slave to fashion? Did I really have my thumb so acutely on the pulse of trends? Did my social life really consume so much of my time and energy? Some of Iris’s materialism stems from the go-go era she inhabited, but it’s also a generational thing. She was young, single, carefree, and enjoying her life in what was a more innocent time. Good for you, Iris.

Another realization was the looming tsunami of high technology that was about to wash over us. In Cold Call, the brokers in Iris’s firm use phones with cords. Few people had “car phones.” Iris’s computer monitor has a blinking green cursor. Her phone message machine at home has a tape. When I first started editing the books, I thought I’d update these technological references. But the books are so of their era, I left those as is. Except for…

Cold Call by Dianne EmleyPolitical incorrectness. There were language and situations in those books that could have come out of “Mad Men.” Did I “cleanse” it to today’s standards? No, I did not. However, I did smooth out a few things that rankled my enlightened sensibilities. For example, in Cold Call, the original first sentence began: “The cripple walked down the street…” In 1992, my first editor (who would become my longtime editor and friend), advised me to remove “cripple.” I refused. “That’s what that character would call himself,” I protested. Reading it anew, the word sounded harsh. Was harsh. It was coming from the omniscient narrator, who is me. I changed that first line to “Alley Munoz walked down the street…” and let the reader see his handicap rather than be told about it. I changed other references to “cripple,” unless it came out of the mouths of those among Iris’s crass coworkers who would indulge in slurs of all types.

During my light editing, I smoothed out other language and sentence structure, but did nothing else, honoring the books as they were. While I’m a more skilled writer now, I came to realize that back then, I was a more fearless writer. Now that I make my living as a writer, I’m always reaching higher while also striving to be innovative and fresh, yet I’m ever mindful of the readers’ (and the market’s) expectations. I didn’t have those constraints when Iris first hit the L.A. freeways in her sports car. In the UCLA Extension fiction writing class where I started Cold Call, the instructor (who would become my mentor) spoke of “the reader.” I remember thinking, “Wow. People I don’t know will read this?” I now realize that I can learn a few things from that debut novelist I once was.

Before I revisited the Iris Thorne books, I mostly recalled the wheels churning behind their amateur sleuth plots. While those books are far from cozy, I wanted to go darker. This drove me to write about a real-life sleuth—Detective Nan Vining—who inhabits a dark world indeed. Reading the Iris Thorne novels with fresh eyes let me appreciate how fun they are. How fun Iris is. They are great books. I’m delighted to introduce them to new fans and enjoy them again with Iris’s original fans.

Dianne Emley is a Los Angeles Times bestselling author who has received critical acclaim for her books, which include the Detective Nan Vining thrillers (The First Cut, Cut to the Quick, The Deepest Cut, and Love Kills) and the Iris Thorne mysteries (Cold Call, Slow Squeeze, Fast Friends, Foolproof, and Pushover). A Los Angeles native, Dianne’s never lived more than ten minutes away, except for the year she lived in Southern France. She now lives in a hundred-year-old house near L.A. with her husband Charlie and two over-indulged cats. To learn more about Dianne, visit her website.


  • […] It was interesting for me to revisit my first books and the debut author I was then. I blogged about it here. […]

  • Naomi Hirahara

    December 14, 2011 - 7:53 PM

    Great blog post, Dianne! I only read my books when I have to write a new one in the series and I have to return to the rhythm of the protagonist’s voice.

    I’m glad that you didn’t update the technology — yes, the novel is a document of its time. Just finished the first Stephanie Plum and it mentioned phone booths and even Katherine Turner! (I didn’t mind the phone booth, but the celebrity references jarred me a little.)

    I haven’t had an opportunity to read your Iris Thorne books yet, but I’m excited to dive into them!

    • Dianne Emley

      December 14, 2011 - 11:04 PM

      Thanks for your comment,Naomi! Yes, would have been a shame to erase the 80s… They were fun.

  • Gayle Bartos-Pool

    December 14, 2011 - 1:38 PM

    How very interesting visiting an old friend, even if it is just a younger you, Dianne. Most of us don’t change radically, we just age like good wine.

    • Dianne Emley

      December 14, 2011 - 2:15 PM

      Yes, fine wine indeed, Gayle. Thanks for commenting.

  • Sabrina Ogden

    December 14, 2011 - 11:57 AM

    What a wonderful post. I found the same comment interesting, too. My first thought was that maybe you had lost your own voice and style over time, but in your comment to Colleen you make it clear that that isn’t the case. Which makes sense, really. We can always mature in our work without losing ourselves / voice. This post is a great reminder of that.

    I’m really looking forward to reading this series… and learning more about the “superhero version” of you! Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Dianne.

    • Dianne Emley

      December 14, 2011 - 12:37 PM

      Thanks for your comment, Sabrina. A writer losing her/his voice would be rather like losing your personality. It’s what makes your work uniquely “you.” When rereading my first book, I sensed a fearlessness that maybe only I would take away from it, as I was reconnecting with the person and writer I was then.

  • Charles Wingfield

    December 14, 2011 - 11:47 AM

    Strange to go back and read all those pop culture references. It was a fun time and it’s really cool that the books are being reissued!

    • Dianne Emley

      December 14, 2011 - 11:51 AM

      Thanks, Charles. The pop culture references are a hoot to revisit. I’m delighted to have these books out again.

  • Dianne Emley

    December 14, 2011 - 10:53 AM

    Thank you very much, Julie.

  • Elizabeth A. White

    December 14, 2011 - 10:48 AM

    While I’m not an author, I found this particularly interesting:

    “While I’m a more skilled writer now, I came to realize that back then, I was a more fearless writer. Now that I make my living as a writer, I’m always reaching higher while also striving to be innovative and fresh, yet I’m ever mindful of the readers’ (and the market’s) expectations.”

    Would really be curious to hear whether other authors had had any similar revelations.

    • Lucious Lamour

      December 14, 2011 - 11:16 AM

      That IS interesting. I would think it would be very difficult NOT to have market expectations in mind while writing. Then again, I’m not a writer so what do I know? 😛

      • Dianne Emley

        December 14, 2011 - 11:48 AM

        Thanks for your comment, Lucious. I write suspense, so I’m always trying to think a few steps ahead of the reader, luring her/him down a path. The plots of my books now are more suspenseful and tighter than my first books.

    • Colleen Collins

      December 14, 2011 - 11:20 AM

      I found that comment interesting, too. My first book was published in 1997, and although I wouldn’t say I was a more “fearless” writer, I was truer to my voice in that first book. I wasn’t trying to fit a mold, no editor or agent had asked me to change my style. That first book resonated with readers (to this day, I get comments from readers, even reviewers, who remind me about that book and its characters).

      Really enjoyed the interview with Dianne Emley.

      • Dianne Emley

        December 14, 2011 - 11:39 AM

        Thanks for your comment, Colleen. I feel as if my voice is always my voice. It’s changed as I’ve changed over the years but probably has been influenced by editors. But in reading my first books, I put my hero, Iris, in situations and had her doing things that I would think twice about now and in some cases, wouldn’t have done. I now cringe at some of the things she does, while realizing that’s part of the charm of the books.

  • Julie Morrigan

    December 14, 2011 - 9:59 AM

    Interesting and insightful – thank you, I enjoyed reading. I wish you continued success with your writing!

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