Earthquakes and Fast Friends by Dianne Emley

I’m pleased to welcome back LA Times bestselling author Dianne Emley for a continuing look at her Iris Thorne series. I’ll be reviewing the series’s third entry, Fast Friends, tomorrow. Originally published in the early 90s, it’s been an interesting experience for Dianne to revisit books she hadn’t looked at in nearly a decade.

Dianne EmleyThank you Elizabeth for again letting me contribute to your blog. This is my third posting about my experiences revisiting the five books in my Iris Thorne Mysteries series that was originally published by Simon and Schuster during the 1990s and have been out-of-print. I’ve gently edited all the Iris Thornes and am releasing them for the first time as e-books and trade paperbacks.

Today I’m discussing Fast Friends, the third Iris Thorne mystery, which is again on-sale. In the fall, Foolproof, Iris #4, will be rereleased. The fifth and final Iris Thorne, Pushover, never before published in the U.S., will be out in 2013. The primped and polished first two Irises, Cold Call and Slow Squeeze, are available now.

Fast Friends is my most personal book so far. It was originally published in 1997 and I wrote it from 1994 to 1995. It was inspired by pivotal events in my life at that time, events that shook me (sometimes literally) to the core and that inspired me to take a look back at who I was once upon a time, where I came from, and how far I’ve come since.

While I was writing Slow Squeeze, the second Iris Thorne Mystery, a dear friend who I’d been close with since the third grade died suddenly at thirty-eight after a brief illness. Laura was a larger-than-life figure for me. She was bold and brash and never minced words. She flew fast and wild while I was more measured and careful. She had big plans for her life and achieved many of them. I’m tall but she was taller, with lush dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, and a pretty yet strong face. Although we were the same age and very much fast friends, I looked up to her like an older sister and often sought her advice. Like sisters, we got into spats—some involved yelling–but that was Laura and that was me back then too.

Laura’s passing made me think a great deal about friendship, especially about the friends we make as children and how sometimes those friendships transition only with difficulty into adulthood. Laura and I had made the transition, even though we grew in different directions and there were periods during which we didn’t speak regularly. The bond didn’t fade with time and distance. Whenever we next spoke or saw each other, we picked up right where we left off.

Emley House

The house where Dianne and Laura played,
and which Emley’s father and uncle built.

When we were fourteen, her family moved from our hardscrabble Northeast L.A. neighborhood to a sedate suburb thirty miles away. We wrote letters, talked on the phone, and I spent summer weeks at her house. The years before she moved, we saw each other daily in class and spent many hours at each others’ homes. Those years coincided with a troubling period in my life and Laura and her parents provided a much-needed refuge for me.

During my childhood, I had close contact with someone who had a nervous breakdown, as it was called in the 1960s. This was manifested in wild, frightening, and sometimes dangerous delusions and behaviors. I was an unwilling participant in some of these paranoid, schizoid episodes. I remember looking into this person’s eyes, like Iris Thorne looks into Dolly DeLacey’s in Fast Friends, and seeing insanity. I’ll never forget it.

Ultimately, this individual was briefly committed to a mental hospital and underwent electroshock therapy, as happened to Dolly in the book. Shock therapy has been humanized since then but it was brutal in the 1960s. The description in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest nails it. After this person returned home, there were no further psychotic episodes. Things were eerily calm yet still far from normal. Life continued on tenterhooks.

I’m not a person who dwells in the past. I spent my young adult years trying to distance myself from my history and spent little time thinking about the traumatic events that occurred when I was a young teenager. But after Laura died, I was drawn back to that period of my life. It was a story that I now felt compelled to tell.

Fast Friends by Dianne EmleyA real-time catastrophe–the Northridge earthquake of 1994–happened while I was writing Fast Friends. The unpredictable nature of quakes makes them especially frightening but it also opens up a world of criminal possibilities. I started thinking…. What if someone commits a murder and carefully arranges the scene to frame someone, only to have the frame-up thwarted by an earthquake?

The core of Fast Friends takes place in 1971 when Iris Thorne was fourteen and her family is undergoing a crisis. Iris’s family–her father Les, mother Rose, and older sister Lily–make their first appearances. I thought it was time. I didn’t want Iris to exist in a void. She’s very much a product of her background. The novel is set in the hilly, lower-middle-class Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood where Iris (and Laura and I) grew up.

Next door to the Thorne’s modest home is a ranch belonging to the DeLacey family. Wayward Paula DeLacey, who was inspired by my friend Laura, is Iris’s best friend. The focus of the DeLacey family is mentally ill wife and mother Dolly—tragic yet heroic in her own way. Each family member responds differently to Dolly’s illness. Some manipulate it for their own ends. Paula is angry at her mother for her bouts of insanity but fearful that she’s inherited “the crazy gene.”

The story is bookended by two major earthquakes. In the early morning of the big San Fernando earthquake in 1971, the dramas being played out in the Thorne and DeLacey families collide–resulting in a murder that will remain unsolved for over twenty years until the 1994 Northridge quake reveals long hidden secrets. I was living in Los Angeles during both those earthquakes, experiences I’ll never forget and that are too crazy to not fold into my fiction.

Fast Friends is the story of old rivalries, family dynamics, local politics, and murder. It’s also about the enduring quality of friendship and coming to terms with childhood traumas from the safe haven of adulthood. Thanks, Laura.

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.


  • Charles Wingfield

    May 9, 2012 - 8:06 PM

    What an interesting, and sad, story. Glad you could at least use the experiences for your writing.

    • Dianne Emley

      May 9, 2012 - 8:37 PM

      Thanks, Charles. It was a sad, unsettling time, but I can mine it over and over again for my fiction. A bit of revenge on fate.

  • Craig Faustus Buck

    May 9, 2012 - 1:23 PM

    Hi Dianne,

    I find your whole Odyssey to revisit early works fascinating and I admire your discipline to only gently edit. I’d be thrashing the hell out of mine. Reminds me of when John Fowles rewrote The Magus to such an extent that its new edition was a literary media circus. Can’t wait to read it. Cheers, Craig.

    • Dianne Emley

      May 9, 2012 - 8:39 PM

      Thanks, Craig. When I went through the Iris Thornes, I resisted restructuring. I honored the books as they were and just polished them.

  • Shannon

    May 9, 2012 - 11:18 AM

    It may seem like a minor thing to some people, but I love when authors work locale and real events into their books. You used the LA riots in the last one, and I think it’s cool that you worked the earthquakes into the plot of this one. Enjoying this. The series and your look back at the writing of it. Hope there will be another post to go with the next book when it’s re-released! 🙂

    • Dianne Emley

      May 9, 2012 - 12:19 PM

      Thanks, Shannon. I love this quote from F. Scott Fizgerald: “A writer wastes nothing.” And why wimp out and not use everything? If not literally, then metaphorically. When I wrote the Iris Thornes, it was a crazy period for L.A. and for me personally. Regarding the next Iris, FOOLPROOF, I’d love to blog about it here, if Elizabeth will have me!

      • Elizabeth A. White

        May 9, 2012 - 12:25 PM

        “Of course you can, don’t be ridiculous!” (Hey, you quote F. Scott Fizgerald, I’ll quote Balki Bartokomous. 😉 )

        • Dianne Emley

          May 9, 2012 - 12:56 PM

          Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m honored to participate in your blog. Exploring my Iris Thorne series has been fun.

  • sabrina ogden

    May 9, 2012 - 11:01 AM

    This sounds emotionally amazing. “…inspired me to take a look back at who I was once upon a time, where I came from, and how far I’ve come since.”

    At times, a journey such as this seems too agonizing to endure, but is often necessary if one wants to fully live their life and find any happiness.

    Fast Friends sounds like a wonderful read, and I’m really looking forward to reading all of the books in the series.

    Wonderful post, Dianne.

    • Elizabeth A. White

      May 9, 2012 - 11:07 AM

      I didn’t know that the story was based in fact when I originally read it, and it was charged even then. Once I found out the back story it took the book to an even harder hitting level emotionally. The series definitely took a little detour – a good one – tone wise in FAST FRIENDS.

      • Dianne Emley

        May 9, 2012 - 12:27 PM

        Thanks, Elizabeth. With each of the Iris Thornes, I tried to stretch and challenge myself. I was surprised when I revisited FAST FRIENDS to see how close to the bone it was. Thanks for allowing me to share this journey on your blog.

    • Dianne Emley

      May 9, 2012 - 12:23 PM

      Thanks, Sabrina. I think with the distance of time and after having landed in a good, stable place in life, it gives one the strength to take that mental journey back. That’s how it was for me, anyway. Thanks for your comments and I hope you enjoy meeting Iris Thorne.

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