MED: I acted and sang professionally. I was a journalist and wrote various columns under different names. I once reviewed myself in a play (I was very good!). I worked as a lecturer for Weight Watchers and one night, watching my members weigh in, I thought: “What if a maniac was killing off dieters when they reached their goal weight? What if people were eating as if their very lives depended on it?” It took 12 rewrites before a publisher offered me a two-book contract for Throw Darts at a Cheesecake and Beat Up a Cookie (written under the name Denise Dietz), starring diet club leader Ellie Bernstein. Having learned my craft, I began writing romance (my first love). But my romances always have a bit of a mystery and my mysteries are romantic.
MED: Calliope Kelley, star equestrian, has always wanted to be a lady, or, as she calls a lady, a “Mary.” When her circus is torched by a mysterious evildoer, Calliope manages to save the 7-year-old granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope. She is told that her fiancé, cat tamer Brian O’Connor, was trampled and killed during the fire, so she assumes a new identity: Mary O’Connor. As a ward of the affluent Stanhopes, she becomes engaged to their son, the charismatic black sheep of the family. But she soon discovers the brutality—and vindictiveness—that lurks behind his handsome façade. She is trapped by a deceit of her own making, until she is rescued by Bret Johnson, a.k.a. Jocko the clown, a circus attraction from her past. Bret now owns a gambling establishment, the Cirque de Delices, and has always been in love with Calliope. Unfortunately, Calliope is certain that Bret, as Jocko, was the “evil leprechaun” who torched her circus. Despite that assertion, she agrees to play Cirque Hostess and chair the poker games. Then Brian O’Connor reappears. . .
MED: The story is based on Alfred Noyes’s poem, The Highwayman but with a happier ending. Publishers Weekly wrote: “Feisty author Elizabeth “Bess” Wyndham is inexplicably attracted to highwayman John Randolph Remington. From the moment he picks up one of Elizabeth’s books, Rand is haunted by the story’s uncanny similarity to his disturbing recurring dreams.” Unraveling the mystique of those dreams is a recurring theme, and it leads to the possible betrayal of Rand, by Bess, during the novel’s exciting climax. My favorite scene is Bess and Rand’s escape from Newgate Prison.
MED: My dad knew Emmett Kelley, one of the most famous clowns in history. Emmett would appear with a broom and dustpan, smack-dab in the middle of a huge spotlight. He’d step outside the spotlight and start sweeping it into a smaller circle. Then, smaller. When the spotlight was no bigger than a dinner plate, he’d sweep it into his dustpan. To me, a little kid, it was magic! My heroine, Calliope Kelley, is named for Emmett Kelley.
The seed for my circus theme was planted when I researched my generational saga, Heaven’s Thunder, and learned that the circus had visited Colorado in the early 1900s. A big circus. With elephants! And what was then called a cameleopard (giraffe). Curiosity piqued, I ferreted out background data, read dozens of books. Although no one circus is the basis for The Greatest Love on Earth, P.T. Barnum’s comes close.
MED: Yes, but I was lucky. I found a terrific book that included circus dialect. I learned that members of the audience were called “gillys” and a wee piggy danced a figure eight to the song “Root, Hog or Die.” Here’s a funny research story. I set a scene in a woodsy area. The scene included a hand-built merry-go-round. It was a love scene, and in my mind I pictured the horses going up and down, up and down, up and…problem was, I didn’t know what kind of music an 1875 merry-go-round would use. Since I always double-check Internet research, I called my local research librarian, who told me that musicians played instruments (think: Mary Poppins’ Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), which wouldn’t work for my love scene, of course. But even more devastating, I discovered that an 1875 merry-go-round horse didn’t go up and down. So I had to build a gazebo 🙂
MED: A bareback rider. I love horses. I attended grad school in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I lived in a little house near a pecan grove and I’d ride my horse, Arapaho, bareback.
MED: My diet club series is very popular, but I hit the bestseller lists with Footprints in the Butter – an Ingrid Beaumont Mystery costarring Hitchcock the Dog – now available as a full-cast “romantic mystery” audio book (www.SirenAudioStudios.com). “Footprints” was written by my alter-ego, Denise Dietz. The hardcover edition of The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter received starred reviews and went into 4 printings, and I’m extremely grateful to Sourcebooks (www.sourcebooks.com/author/mary-ellen-dennis.html) for making it available in paperback. All of my books, including my ebooks, are at my website (www.denisedietz.com), and most include excerpts.
MED: First, aspiring authors should remember that the name of the game is emotions. If the sad bits don’t make you shed a tear, you’ve likely done it wrong. If the sexy bits don’t turn you on, they likely will fail to do it for your reader. You need believable characters in believable situations, with REAL emotions your readers can share. Second, never give up. Because: ”If you drop a dream, it breaks!”
The Greatest Love on Earth – Out Now from SourcebooksSet in the exotic world of a 19th century circus, Dream Dancer sweeps readers into deathdefying feats, dangerous rivalries, and a love that has all the thrills and romance of the greatest show on earth.
Bold, beautiful star equestrian Calliope Kelley has two passions in life: her father’s circus and daredevil animal tamer Brian O’Connor. When the circus is destroyed by fire and Brian disappears, Calliope changes her name and becomes engaged to another man. But then Brian returns and everything in Calliope’s new life goes topsy-turvy…
A quick note from me, I am over at The Unread Reader today and talking about what I do when I am not reading.