“A mystery novel is like a puzzle,” says Lesley Diehl. “You have to make all the pieces fit.” As an author of murder mysteries, Diehl has an advantage when working out the logical puzzle at the heart of the book’s plot—she formerly worked as a psychology professor at the State University of New York College at Oneonta for nearly 30 years.
Her background in the social sciences not only taught Diehl to think logically, it helped her to understand people — how they think and their motivations. Today she has published multiple novels and short stories, and she’s having “more fun writing than I think I ever had being a psychologist.”
Diehl’s interest in psychology began at Central, where she had the chance to work as a research assistant for a visiting professor studying animals. Originally interested in biology, she found psychology allowed her to combine animal research with behavioral research. Diehl also dabbled in creative writing at Central, and English professor Jim Graham encouraged her to continue.
But during graduate school to obtain her Ph.D. degree, and subsequently as a professor and researcher, the demands placed on Diehl’s writing were somewhat constraining. “That type of academic writing is so restrictive, so rule-bound, that my creative endeavors fell to the wayside. I sort of forgot about the creative writing,” she says.
Retirement offered Diehl and her husband a chance to branch out. They moved to New Mexico and both decided to take up writing. She started a mystery novel – always her favorite type of book to read – and “the first draft was really, really dreadful,” she says. “But I learned the craft.”
Success followed quickly. Diehl entered and won a short-story contest for a mystery-writing conference, and soon after her first manuscript was accepted by a small press in Connecticut. Those events “spurred me on and gave me the confidence that I could do what I wanted to do,” she says. She is currently completing a six-book contract.
Where do you get your ideas?
I’m always watching people, often eavesdropping on their conversations when out to dinner and making up stories about who they are. I do a lot of research. I didn’t know anything about microbrewing, which was the setting for my first series. I did research where I interviewed microbrewers and visited breweries.
Do you use creative thinking differently in your role as a writer than you did as a psychologist?
I think much of what a psychologist, a professor and a university administrator does uses the logical side of the brain, while writing requires both the ability to create characters and plots, setting, the flow of the work and also the logic to take the reader from one point to another to solve the murder.