Guest Blogger ~ Charlene Bell Dietz



Charlene Bell Dietz

We’re all drawn to what we don’t understand. It must be a primeval survival instinct. We have our daily world, which mostly consists of routine habits and familiar surroundings. But when something quirky intrudes, we find ourselves on high-alert mode. Like at night, when our usual surroundings fade into shadow, and we hear a strange noise, we stop to listen. The appeal of experiencing what’s unknown in the safety of our own cozy world creates our great demand and interest for the mystery novel.

Many authors preach “write what you know” to wanna-be writers. To me this doesn’t make sense. What motivates us to solve problems and engage in dreams comes from our not knowing. Writers are readers, and reader’s read to experience something new and maybe learn. As authors, we need to write what we don’t know.

If you don’t know something how can you write about it?

Maybe you’ve dreamed of being a double agent. Possibly you’ve longed to experience what it would be like to be in a Witness Protection Program. Perhaps you’ve wondered how it would feel to have the hot breath of a serial killer on your neck just before your heavy wrench smashes his face into the dirt. Only human beings can enjoy danger safely, living vicariously, through the words spoken or written by others. No other animal on our planet has this luxury.

My first novel, The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, Kirkus Reviews (starred review) started with scant knowledge about an estranged aunt who was an ex-flapper. Inspiration for this novel came to me because her story felt too important to ignore. My ancient aunt had slammed into my busy life, vying for attention with my demanding career. This redoubtable, chain-smoking, rum-drinking woman made a game of criticizing me, turning the air blue with smoke and cuss words, and enchanting my husband.

I’d come home exhausted from my job of problem solving as an administrator in a heavy-handed bureaucracy of educators and also from my layman position, working with a veterinarian to evaluate research protocols at the Lovelace Respiratory Medical Research Laboratory. Every evening, I’d find this tipsy woman telling outrageous tales of her Roaring-Twenties life as a flapper in dangerous 1923 Chicago. She never revealed much about her own antics, except on occasion she’d toss out tidbits of her wild life like delicious appetizers.

Too good not to be told:

What if I combined this ancient flapper’s ramblings and fabrications with today’s devastating corporate espionage problems, using what I did know about biomedical research labs? Then this would be much more than just another Roaring-Twenties flapper story. Even though I’d fashioned an unusual combination, I thought it might be quite an intriguing mix. However, I knew nothing about the 1920s and even less about corporate spying.

Playing around with my knowledge of bits and pieces, tiny kernels of ideas developed into miniature tales. I shuffled them together using fictional characters, places, events, and conflicts. For my strange story to be engaging, each character would have to be connected with the others characters through powerful motivations. This meant even my secondary characters must be three dimensional. I had huge holes in my knowledge. I needed to know more.

Use what you know to figure out what you don’t know:

After untold hours of researching, I made likely guesses to fill in as many empty spaces as possible. I buried myself under a search and find mode. I had started out knowing only the Hollywood version of a flapper’s life along with scraps of information my aunt had given. This wouldn’t do, and I knew nothing about corporate espionage, but spies have always intrigued me. The more I learned the more fun I found in bringing my Flapper, Scientist, and Saboteur to life.

Writing the unknown:

I believe your story deserves to be startling and robust. I always research more than I can possibly use. Then I select only what’s rich and on target. For fun, I throw in some quirky stuff. Here’s the best part: I put all of the above together, mix with my wildest imagination, edit, delete, select the most powerful verbs, revise, revise, revise, then polish my story—with joy.

My award winning stories happen because I dare to write what I don’t know. How does your imagination help you write what you don’t know?

The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur intertwines a corporate espionage mystery with a generational battle-of-wills story between a dedicated professional intent on fighting chaos to restore order and a free-spirited aunt who needs her niece to live in the moment.

Beth Armstrong, a Denver biomedical scientist, wrestles with the impossible choice of saving her sabotaged, groundbreaking cure for multiple sclerosis or honoring an obligation to care for her cantankerous old aunt. Playing nursemaid ranks just a notch above catching the plague on Beth’s scale, yet her ex-flapper aunt would prefer catching anything deadly to losing her independence under the hands of her obsessive-compulsive niece. 

While a murderous culprit runs loose in the science institute, Beth finds her whole life out of balance. Unpredictable nefarious activities at the institute–which is rife with suspects–cause Beth to wonder if she can trust anyone, while at home her chain-smoking aunt entertains Beth’s neglected husband with nightly cocktails and raucous stories from the Roaring Twenties. The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur creates a compelling mystery intertwined with a generational battle-of-wills story between a dedicated professional intent on fighting chaos and restoring order, and a free-spirited aunt who insists her niece listen to her heart and learn to live in the moment.

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Charlene Bell Dietz, raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, now lives in the central mountains of New Mexico. She taught kindergarten through high school, served as a school administrator, and an adjunct instructor for the College of Santa Fe. After retirement she traveled the United States providing instruction for school staff and administrators. Her writing includes published articles, children’s stories, short stories and mystery and historical novels, winning awards from NM/AZ Book Awards, Writers Digest, Public Safety Writers, and International Book Awards, along with earning two of the coveted Kirkus Reviews (starred review) and having two books named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2018.

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Guest Blogger -JL Greger

Mystery Writers Are Like Scientists

No way you say.

Wait! I think I can convince you that writing a mystery novel is similar to conducting a science experiment.

  1. Writers and scientists both do a lot of sleuthing. Granted, scientists try to quantitate their observations more than writers. And writers’ descriptions of their observations are hopefully more colorful than journal articles.
  1. They both organize their observations into a whole, which writers call plots and scientists call hypotheses.
  1. They both test and refine their “whole.” Writers edit their prose; scientists run additional experiments.
  1. Both require a lot of hard work to gain occasional flashes of insights. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, they’re “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Why did I drag you through this discussion? I’m trying to explain why so many scientists and physicians became writers of mysteries and thrillers. Consider Michael Crichton (a physician by training), Kathy Reichs (a forensic anthropologist), Robin Cook (a physician). I’m also explaining how as a retired biology professor I came to write mystery/suspense novels with tidbits of science. My latest thriller is I Saw You in Beirut.

Through this discussion, I hope you learn how bits of science add realism to a mystery.

Did you know? In the early 1960s, scientists identified zinc deficiency in peasants in Iran. At that time, two to three percent of the villagers in some regions of Iran didn’t pass the physical for the army because of stunted growth. Dr. James Halstead, Sr. who was married to President’s Roosevelt’s daughter, Anna, headed the research team at Shiraz. Surprised?

I created Doc Steinhaus, a fictional character in I Saw You in Beirut, who worked on the project in Shiraz as a grad student. He was a logical way to “show not tell” readers about Iran and advance the plot. Let’s face it most foreign agents don’t look or act like James Bond, but they can be a lot more nuanced.

What’s thrilling in I Saw You in Beirut? A mysterious source of leaks on the Iranian nuclear industry, known only as F, sends an email from Tabriz: Help. Contact Almquist. Intelligence sources determine the message refers to Sara Almquist, a globetrotting epidemiologist, and seek her help to extract F from Iran. As Sara tries to identify F by dredging up memories about her student days with Doc Steinhaus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her work in Lebanon and the Emirates, groups ostensibly wanting to prevent F’s escape, attack her repeatedly. She begins to suspect her current friendship with Sanders, a secretive State Department official, is the real reason she’s being attacked.

Maybe, John Addegio’s comments will convince you that smart scientists make this mystery a real thriller. “Greger writes about international agencies and scientific exigencies with authority, and I SAW YOU IN BEIRUT is a thrilling spy tale with compelling female actors asserting their intelligence in both exotic and domestic, male-dominated, high-stakes political environments.”

Where can I get I Saw You in Beirut?CF I Saw You in Beruit 300 copy

The paperback at Amazon: and the eBook from Nook:

Bio: JL Greger’s thrillers/mysteries include: Malignancy (winner of 2015 Public Safety Writers’ annual contest), Ignore the Pain, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Coming Flu, and I Saw you in Beirut. The Albuquerque area is the home base for her stories, but Sara (like the author) travels to Cuba and Bolivia in Malignancy and Ignore the Pain, respectively. Her website is: