I seem to be inexplicably drawn lately to writers from Pennsylvania, and today’s guest lived even closer to my mother’s people than most. Diane Vallere comes right from my mother’s neck of the woods. Indeed, my mother once lived in the town where Diane graduated from High School.
Diane now lives in Los Angeles, (which is where my husband was born). She is here also to tell us about herself and about a new book which was released last month.
DV: Hi, Tonette!
Diane, you used decades of experience working with a ‘top luxury retailer’ in fashion and fashion accessories to help you with several, if not all, of your series: The Costume Shop Mysteries and The Material Witness Mysteries, (I love that name!) I, too, had ‘fashion accessory’ experience with a top retailer. (Actually, I ran Blue Light Specials at a Kmart in Idaho to sell purses and scarves for a few months 36 years ago. LOL! A far cry from Neiman-Marcus.)
DV: My mom worked at Kmart and I remember back-to-school shopping fondly!
Here I’d like to show some book covers, Diane, with some of my favorite titles, such as Some Like it Haute, Pearls Gone Wild, Masking for Trouble
Can you give us some insight into your work and how you used your knowledge in your stories?
DV: First, thank you for inviting me! It’s particularly fun to spend time with someone who has a connection to the town where I grew up (and set my Samantha Kidd mysteries).
I didn’t set out to specifically use my work experience in a book, but in an industry where you constantly hear the advice, “write what you know,” I guess it was inevitable. I had, for a long time, wanted to write a mystery series (I grew up reading Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Connie Blair, and others) and loved the mix of personal growth and puzzle, but had no solid ideas. After discovering authors like Janet Evanovich and Sarah Strohmeyer, I realized there was such a thing as grown up Nancy Drew and that’s when the idea clicked. I was working as a fashion buyer at the time, and immediately I imagined a former fashion buyer who gave up her career and moved back home, only to discover a dead body on her first day of work. Samantha Kidd was born!
Your “Sylvia Stryker Outer Space Mysteries” even has the protagonist in charge of the crew’s uniforms! How did you decide to delve into science fiction?
DV: The Sylvia Stryker Outer Space Mysteries are more mystery than sci-fi. Sometimes I come up with crazy ideas, ones that I haven’t seen done, and setting a mystery series in outer space was one of them. The fantastically talented Stuart Gibbs came out with SPACE CASE shortly after I had my idea, and it was genius, and that was that, at least for a few years. One day it occurred to me that Sylvia could be in charge of uniforms on her space ship, which made it feel right to me.
You are a detective at heart, since your biography says that you started a detective agency when you were 10! “Samantha Kidd” is a former fashion buyer-turned-detective in her /your mysteries series of the same name. How much of her is you? How much of her life is what you’d like to have done?
DV: Samantha Kidd seems like the person I once was, probably around college age, except I took a left turn and she turned right. She definitely feels like the kid-version of me! But the whole idea of her giving up her glamorous job to move back home, simplify, and try to find out what would make her happy in life was something I was definitely feeling at the time. I was able to fulfill a lot of that by writing about her journey.
What did you actually “detect” at age 10?
DV: I helped solve the case of the missing pencils. It involved much sorting through lost and found, surveilling the client’s behavior, and a bit of profiling. The case was solved when I presented the evidence that the missing pencils slid off of the client’s desk and rolled under another student’s chair. Case closed!
What events lead you from northeastern Pennsylvania to L.A. ?
DV: I first moved from Pennsylvania to Dallas, TX to enter the buyer training program for Neiman Marcus. After nine years, I moved to California. The first move was corporately professional, and the second move was about quality of life and fulfilment of dreams. It was me making a significant statement to myself that writing was something I wanted to pursue.
“The Pajama Frame” [The Pajama Game] is your new book in “The Madison Night Mysteries”, Madison being an interior decorator. Please tell us about it.
DV: Madison Night is an interior decorator who has modeled her life, style, and business after Doris Day. She was born on Doris Day’s birthday and her parents used to gift her the movies each year until they died when she was in her twenties. Now she studies the look of the actress’s movies to train her eye toward mid-century decorating and considers Doris Day (the person) a role model.
All of the titles in the series are take-offs on Doris Day movies, such as “Pillow Stalk”, [Pillow Talk], “That Touch of Ink”, [That Touch of Mink]. I am a fan of those movies. I was particularly fond of Tony Randall, who often had a supporting role. (I met him; he was a real gentleman.) What inspired you to choose Doris’ movies as a base for the series? Do you do any research other than watching and rewatching the movies?
DV: I didn’t see my first Doris Day movie until I was 39. I was going through my divorce, and I was watching a lot of Hitchcock movies (also for the first time). I saw THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and was immediately taken with Doris Day, which led to watching PILLOW TALK, LOVER COME BACK, and the rest of her canon of fifties and sixties comedies. I just fell in love! Years later, I had the idea for Madison Night. PILLOW STALK was the first non-Samantha Kidd book that I’d written, and where Samantha is the kid version of me, Madison is the adult version of me who had been knocked around a bit by life.
As for Tony Randall, yes, I love him too! (have you ever watched DOWN WITH LOVE? There is a wonderful documentary in the extras called UP WITH TONY RANDALL). I did introduce a therapist in THE DECORATOR WHO KNEW TOO MUCH who I think of as the Tony Randall character. He doesn’t get a ton of page time, but in my head, from that point on, he’s working on things in the background.
Your “Material Witness” protagonist is named Polyester and you also own-run “Polyester Press”. Please tell us why you chose this fabric for a name and about your venture into publishing.
DV: I came up with “Polyester Press” the night before I had to filet he paperwork for my company, and as soon as the name popped into my head, I knew that was what I wanted to use because it made me smile.
Polyester used to be the joke of the fabric world. Even now, there are fabric purists who refuse to use it. But it changed the way women dressed, made fashion more accessible and durable in the sixties, allows us to pack stuff that doesn’t wrinkle, holds color, and will probably outlast us all. I figure it’s okay to be the thing people laugh at–because I’m writing humor!
As for Polyester Monroe, well, I will admit that when I named her, I was thinking it would reinforce Polyester Press. But also, I thought about a girl named Polyester (she was born in her family’s fabric store on a bed of polyester) and how that name would shape her through life. She would have heard every joke, been made fun of and grown a tough skin. Also, while most people call her Poly, when people call her Polyester, she knows they’re trying to belittle her, so it puts her on alert.
What do you do when you aren’t writing? Do you have any hobbies?
DV: I love old movies (good ones and bad ones; THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD is cued up for tonight), Midcentury modern decorating and design, shopping, fashion, makeup, going to the beach, anything involving cats. I play way too much online Freecell (for some reason, it helps me achieve focus!), sew (occasionally), and like messing around with graphic design. I’m also a bit of a webinar junkie and take lots of courses to continue learning.
Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to be with us, Diane. Please tell our readers how they can learn more about you.
DV: I send The Weekly DiVa Newsletter, (get a free book for signing up: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/wiowcemcgo) which goes out on Sunday mornings plus have ShopTalk, a closed group on Facebook.
Other places to find me:
My W: https://dianevallere.com/
PP W: http://polyesterpress.com/
After two decades working for a top luxury retailer, Diane Vallere traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. THE PAJAMA FRAME, #5 in her Madison Night Mad for Mod Mysteries, came out February 2018. Diane also writes the Samantha Kidd, Sylvia Stryker, and Lefty Award-nominated Material Witness and Costume Shop mystery series. She started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.