MA: D.M. Pirrone is the nom de plume of Diane Piron-Gelman, a freelance writer and editor with nearly twenty years’ experience in both fields. No Less In Blood is her first mystery novel.
A Chicago native, history buff and avid mystery reader, Ms. Piron-Gelman is a longtime member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She lives on the Northwest Side with her husband Stephen and two sons, David and Isaac.
Thanks for being my guest today, D.M. It sounds like you’ve always enjoyed writing.
DMP: I’ve always been into words, both written and spoken. I was a voracious reader as a kid (still am!), and I also got bitten by the acting bug way back in second grade. So telling stories is a huge part of who I am. The only thing that changes is the medium: onstage or on paper.
After I discovered the absolutely brilliant mystery writer Ruth Rendell, I decided I wanted to see if I could write that kind of book. So I tried my hand at it, and found I really enjoyed playing around in the mystery genre. Meanwhile, I was acting in non-Equity (union) shows in Chicago and working a day job as a staff writer and editor for FASA Corporation, an SF/fantasy roleplaying game publisher. There’s a lot of fiction in those games, so that job gave me plenty of practice in writing action-packed adventures and more atmospheric, “color” pieces designed to give players the flavor of the game universes. Plus, editing other people’s work let me see where certain flaws were in my own writing.
MA: What an interesting job! I’m not much of a gamer (does Pong sound familiar?), but my kids are. I have watched them play those RPGs and never really gave much thought to the writing effort behind them. What brought you to writing novels?
DMP: I like to say I write novels because I don’t know when to shut up on paper… More seriously, though, I chose to write novels because I like to write big, complex stories that need more words to tell than you typically have in a short story. I’m also a history nut, and so far everything I’ve written spends at least some time in a past era. To fully convey the nitty-gritty of earlier times, you need room as well.
MA: You’ve enjoyed a professional career in the writing business in various facets, so I assume this helped prepare you to be an author?
DMP: My professional career is as an editor, which I think helps my writing… Some of my characters are partly based on real people, though I tend to take bits and pieces of people I know and blend them. That way, I get enough real-life experience to let the character ring true, without actually depicting a specific person on the page.
MA: Tell us about your first novel!
DMP: My debut novel, NO LESS IN BLOOD, is a mystery with a strong element of suspense. It’s about Rachel Connolly, an adoptee who goes looking for her birth family and ends up a target for murder because of a hundred-year old legacy that she never knew existed. The legacy stems from the disappearance of a young rich girl, seventeen-year old Mary Anne Schlegel, who left her small-town home in northern Minnesota and vanished at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Rachel’s and Mary Anne’s stories unfold together throughout the book, which takes place partly in the present and partly in the past.
MA: A period novel, too. How did you craft Rachel’s and Mary Anne’s characters?
DMP: I’m an adoptee myself, so I used my personal experience to describe Rachel’s feelings about family and identity stemming from that. She’s not completely autobiographical, but there’s a lot of me in her. For Mary Anne, I drew on every teenager’s desire to break out and join the world on her own terms—an impulse given greater strength in her case by the realities of the time period in which she lived, where women’s roles were greatly restricted on the one hand, but there was also a sense of greater freedom just over the horizon.
MA: What are their strengths and weaknesses?
DMP: Rachel is a lot braver and tougher than she thinks she is, but those strengths haven’t been called on until the events in the novel. She sells herself short a lot and thinks of herself as a wimp because she’s nervous about what she calls “stupid things,” like talking on the phone to people she doesn’t know well or driving the S-curve along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. She’s very bright and funny, and she also takes things to heart—which can be a weakness or a strength depending on how it’s applied. As for Mary Anne, she’s stubborn—a weakness and a strength combined. She has a dream, and she’s going to achieve it… but the same stubbornness that lets her defy her father and leave home also gets her into serious trouble. She has a lot of courage too, but is more aware of it than Rachel is. Both of them have a lot of heart.
MA: And the antagonist(s)?
DMP: NO LESS IN BLOOD has a couple of bad guys, only one of which is an actual killer. That one, a con man with a violent streak, is largely based on a thoroughly unpleasant person I had the misfortune to know during my early twenties. He’s long gone from my life, thank goodness. The other bad guy is driven to what he does by a combination of greed and fear—specifically, fear of losing his shot at a sense of belonging that he’s never had. The legacy ties into that, hence the greed; but he’s less greedy for the money per se than for what else he thinks it will bring him.
MA: Other than helping shape Rachel’s character from your own life’s experiences, did any real world people, places, or events influence your story?
DMP: The small town of Birch Falls, where a large part of the story takes place, is a blend of two real towns up in Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range: Hibbing, where my brother and sister-in-law live, and Taylor’s Falls (where we visited Judy Garland’s house once). As to plot events, not really. I made those up out of whole cloth.
MA: So what’s next in your writing career?
DMP: My agent is currently shopping around the first of a planned series of historical mysteries, set in Chicago just after the Great Fire of 1871. The principal characters are Francis Hanley, a rookie Irish detective with a checkered past, and Rivka Kelmansky—the headstrong, misfit daughter of the rabbi whose murder in his own synagogue turns out to be Hanley’s first case. Hanley and Rivka form a strong emotional attachment in the book, though neither of them acts on it much (it being 1872, and with the cultural divide between them). I plan to develop that relationship throughout the series, which I’m hoping will run to at least 4 books. I’m about halfway through the second one now, which centers on the murder of a former Civil War soldier and abolitionist lawyer who knew one too many secrets about one too many people. Hanley has to figure it out, and the process is going to cost him.
MA: That sounds like an interesting series! Any plans to continue the story from your debut novel, perhaps a sequel?
DMP: I don’t as yet have any plans for sequels to NO LESS IN BLOOD, though a few people have suggested it. The Hanley/Rivka series will feature both of them throughout.
MA: Thanks, D.M., for being my guest today. I would encourage my readers to check out your website for more information about you and your stories: http://www.dmpirrone.net/